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Replacing Retiring Long-Term, Trusted Employees (Part 1)

“I have a long-time, trusted employee who’s planning to retire this year. I’m concerned about losing that experience with today’s labor market. What steps can I take to smooth the transition and get the right person on the job?”

Healthcare Laundry: William Muse, United Hospital Services, Indianapolis, Ind.

William Muse

This can be a tough subject given the difficulty in our current workforce in recruiting and onboarding new talent.

That said, I am a firm believer in cross-training throughout an organization. If you are trying to recruit to fill a skilled position of a retiring staff member, it is going to be very difficult to do so with enough time to train and retain the knowledge and experience you are losing.

If you take a proactive approach, though, and share knowledge and skills throughout your teams, you are better prepared for events such as retirement, sudden sickness, etc.

That said, the sharing of information and skills across team members can lead to additional benefits as they better understand your processes; they can also contribute to process improvement while contributing to and improving the overall customer experience.

Consulting Services: Jon Witschy, Spindle, Woodridge, Ill.

Jon Witschy

First of all, congratulations! It’s never easy to lose a quality employee, but losing one to retirement is a testament to your business. You’ve created a culture where they’ve remained for the long haul.

If we’re referring to a production employee, you’ve hopefully been tracking performance (… or you should start right now!). The data will therefore be available to identify who would do best in the role, based on their productivity on the same or similar tasks.

Pair them up with the experienced employee (e.g., put them on adjacent lanes of an ironer, station them next to each other at hand-fold tables, etc.) for a period of time and see how the “replacement” achieves the performance you have come to expect from the veteran.

Whether or not you specifically state, “You’ll be shadowing this person next to you,” there would typically be an inherent improvement, simply from the nature of working together. In fact, your best option is that person who will rise to the level of “the competition.”

If we’re referring to a supervisor or manager, consider your existing employees. Identify those with an aptitude for the job itself or with leadership skills in general.

As Jim Collins sets as a goal in “Good to Great,” you should hopefully have the “right people on your bus”; you might now have an opportunity to shift them around to put someone in their new “right seat.”

Also, simply ask the retiring employee who might fill their shoes; they know what’s required for their job and may even have someone in mind.

If we’re referring to engineers (other than promoting someone from tech to chief, which would be handled similar to the manager replacement described previously), you may be required to go outside the business.

Now, we hit the issues of the current labor market head-on. However, while someone already in the industry might be a good fit, but perhaps costly or even unavailable, a trade school graduate would present a good option.

You could bring them on in advance of the retirement and start the transfer of information from the old to the new staffer.

Best of luck. Replacing quality with quality is tough, but there are opportunities to do so.

Hotel/Motel/Resort Laundry: Kelly Reynolds, Sea Island Acquisitions, Sea Island, Ga.

Kelly Reynolds

Step 1: Since it is very late in the game to groom a replacement, you need to sit down with the prospective retiree and decide who the replacement will be.

Step 2: Once you have a candidate lined up you need to let them know what the plan is.

Step 3: Now that everyone is on the same page. Have the replacement start shadowing the retiree. They need to know not only WHAT the retiree knows, but they also need to know how the retiree does things.

They also need to know who the retiree knows and their contacts for getting things done. If you keep notes on this activity, it can be useful if the replacement leaves or doesn’t work out.

Step 4: Every four months have a quick meeting with each person one at a time first then with each other. Find out how things are progressing. Concentrate on areas that may be progressing slower than the others.

If it is not going to work out, it is best to discover it early. Also, the one-on-one meetings can sometimes give you a little different picture than the group meeting.

Step 5: The employees need to know that management is supportive and willing to help in any way they can. The reason is that it is an investment in the company’s future and the employee’s future.

This goes for the retiree as well. They are an important asset otherwise you would not be going to these lengths to replace them. Even after retirement they can help with questions, part-time fill-in if needed, or at least let them know they have not been forgotten.

This is a good example for the remaining employees to have faith that their company actually cares about success in the long term and cares about them. Many times retired employees will let you know when they are ready to be left alone.

Step 6: Check in with the replacement every few months, at least, and ask them how they are doing. If you need to call the retiree to ask for input or questions, most will be happy to help.

Nobody likes to feel like they have been forgotten, employed or otherwise. Before calling or e-mailing anyone not on duty, make sure they are okay with it. There are some people who want to get away for good but most will appreciate you still thinking of them.

Tomorrow, read suggestions from commercial laundry, equipment manufacturing and chemicals supply experts.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].