This article on chamber staff retention is part of the Meeting the Needs Series that is designed to help chamber professionals meet the individual needs of certain market segments. See the footer of this article for a list of posts in this series.
Chambers of commerce are often a bit of a “training” ground or “springboard” for businesses that are hiring in the community. Chambers hire staff that works hard on behalf of businesses in the area. By doing so, these chamber staff members often catch the eye of hiring managers and business owners. These bright staffers are frequently lured away with higher salaries, more extensive benefits packages, and shorter work days. It’s hard to compete but we’ve got some great strategies for you so keep reading.
While you can’t tie them to their desks, you can give them pause to leave without doing anything illegal. Here are a few ways to ensure you’re offering them everything you can within your budget.
Know What They Want
No employee is exactly the same as another. Make sure you know how the individual likes to be rewarded and praised. Understand what they see as a nice perk and what’s an absolute must have. Some things to consider that could be granted with a small budget might include:
- Occasionally working from home
- Flexible start and end times (as long as work is covered)
- Ability to get out of the office (some people just don’t want to sit behind a desk all the time)
- Volunteer hours (they get out of the office to spend time on something they are passionate about and the chamber is represented in the community)
- Snacks or treats on occasion
When an employee starts, take the time to ask them what types of rewards are meaningful to them. Do they like public presentations or private thanks? Do they like gift cards, bonuses, or a day off when they go over and above? That’s not to say you can provide all of these things but they are good to know if the opportunity comes up.
Pass Along Praise
Always pass along praise from your community and members to your chamber staff. You can create image quotes and frame them. Write them on their whiteboard. Print them off and attach the paper to a special treat with a ribbon. Anything to make them feel special and know that the praise they received made you proud of their efforts.
Give Them the Spotlight
A good leader doesn’t hog the spotlight. Look for ways to help your staff shine. One easy way to do this is through reworking your chamber staff page. Here are the basics of what you need:
Pictures of your chamber staff
Chamber staff pictures should be professional and friendly but not look like someone’s yearbook or a Glamour Shots photo. While everyone wants to look their best, you also want members and potential members to be able to recognize your staff from the pictures.
Group photos are nice but it is sometimes difficult to tell who is who or see faces clearly. If you want to include group photos, include single shots as well.
If your staff is small, include your board members on the same page under a different header.
Titles should be listed under individual photos. You can have some fun with creative titles as a hover-over. This will cause people to spend more time on page.
Method of contact
Business today requires some method of contact even if for the executive director. Email is the preferred method of contact for lots of people out there, especially Generation X and Y.
A Great Example of a Chamber Staff Page
The Columbia, South Carolina Chamber’s staff page is wonderful. It’s friendly and inviting. In fact, the pictures look like the staff is comprised of the friendliest people on earth. They’re smiling, but it’s not forced. They’re outdoors looking professional and enjoying themselves. There’s a cohesive look to the shots but they’re not cloned pictures and when you click on them, it downloads their contact info on a v-card.
Create Training Opportunities
Very few people want to stagnate in their positions and you certainly don’t want the kind that do working for you. Ensure your staff remains fresh by offering training opportunities. These growth opportunities can be in the chamber world by attending Institute or an online chamber learning. You can also give them a chance to learn a specific skill for the betterment of the chamber like social media, for instance. Ask your staff what they’re interested in and use some creative ways to ensure they are able to receive the training that is important to them.
This tip is not chamber-industry specific but certainly very important to those in your charge. One of the main tasks in management is to ensure that obstacles are removed from the path. Often obstacle removal is not something they can do for themselves. It takes a manager or director to smooth the path. Don’t leave them to struggle. Find out what’s taking their time and make it better. Frequently, it’s the grind that becomes unbearable.
One thing some companies are doing is using Facebook Messenger chat features on their website to make those really quick questions that usually occur on the phone quicker through chat. Look for ways to make things more efficient for your staff.
If you want to increase longevity for your staff in the chamber industry, you need to help them practice self-care. Working long hours can be grueling. But it can also be very rewarding. Have candid conversations about this topic. Some people live for the added activities surrounding chamber life, while others are worn out by them.
Keep communications open and look for fun ways to incorporate breaks. You can hold walking meetings between you and your staff or offer flexible hours immediately after a big event. You can even bring a wellness member in for ideas.
Introduce Career Pathing
At first glance, this can seem difficult. After all, many chambers operate with a small staff and it may only be a two-person office. In those cases, the only spot your employee can move into is yours. So you have to get creative. You can do this with:
- upgrading responsibilities and a change of titles
- charting a learning path toward skills they’re interested in acquiring
- creating opportunities for career conversations (know what they want and when)
- introducing them to mentors or being one
So what about your Millennial staff? While Millennials need a lot of the same things your other staffers do, there are a few additional ways to keep them as loyal employees.
3 Additional Tips for Retaining Millennial Chamber Staff
Once you hire them, you need to give them a reason to stay. You need to:
- Tell your story. Gen Y wants to be a part of something big. If you haven’t started telling your story for your chamber members, you definitely have an added incentive if you have Millennial employees. Romance them with the “why” of what you’re doing and they’ll respond with exuberant interest.
- Offer flexibility. Chamber employees work a lot of hours and they’re often working when others are playing (or sleeping). Because of this and the Millennials interest in work/life balance, you need to give them some flexibility when it comes to work hours. Okay, you don’t NEED to, but if you want them to stay around you will.
- Make time for coaching. Millennials love feedback and they need it. If your CEO doesn’t have time for the feedback, pair them with an ambassador who can help mentor them.
If Millennials felt that the chamber was the place to be heard and learn the ropes of business, it’s likely you’d never have to recruit again. They have amazing things to contribute but they have a list of expectations you may not have seen with previous generations. Experiences (experiences, not experience) mean more to them than material things. If you can provide these opportunities, you’ll have a loyal employee.
Still, it’s important to know that no matter how many of these things you do, millennial staff at the chamber (and elsewhere) view loyalty differently. They will eventually leave. And that’s okay. Because what you’re doing is giving them those important early experiences that will make them a strong part of your community’s business fabric and an advocate for the chamber.
Retaining your chamber staff is important on many levels. It’s less costly not having to train again and again, it keeps institutional knowledge in your office, and helps you better meet the needs of your members. But you can’t hire good people and expect them to stay put if you don’t invest in them and ensure their needs are being met.
Wondering about how to meet the needs of other specific demographics? Read the previous articles in our Meeting the Needs Series.