Author: gary

Employee Retention and Attraction #3 – Kill the Performance Review

Fear and trepidation – that’s what almost everyone feels as they meet with their boss for their annual performance review. Bosses have it worse! They also have to write performance reviews for each of their direct reports (which they dislike doing), and review performance reviews written by their direct reports.

So why the fear and trepidation? Because we know that we’re going to be criticized, to be told that what we’re doing is not quite good enough. That’s the purpose of a review, isn’t it? Here’s where you’re doing ok, and here’s where you need to improve. It’s a one-way discussion – how we fit into the job description. Nothing about where we can grow personally. We’re just a cog in a machine.

Given that virtually NOBODY likes them, why do we keep doing them? What if there were a better way? How about this – instead of a top-down monologue of judgment “here’s how you measured up to our standards”, create a 2-way conversation. The underlying tone and expectation can be two equal parties working together to help the employee AND the organization thrive. For the first meeting:

  1. Agree jointly on the expectations of performance for the position, and how they will be measured (SMART goals).
  2. Agree jointly on the expectations for growth of the incumbent, both professional and personal, where applicable (for example, communications skills). Ask the incumbent where they would like to grow and how the organization can help.
  3. Agree on the resources and support that the organization will provide to help the incumbent succeed.
  4. Agree on communication style and frequency. For example:
    1. Weekly verbal check-ins.
    2. Texts and/or e-mails frequently and as appropriate.

i. Attaboys or attagirls when something has been done well

ii. Help with overcoming obstacles. Instead of “you missed the mark (implicitly blaming the incumbent), assume that the incumbent did the best they could with what they had available. Ask “What happened? How can we work together to get the desired result? What does the organization need to do so that you can succeed?” This is a classic TQM/Lean approach.

    1. Monthly scorecard review of the agreed-upon SMART goals:

i. Holding the incumbent accountable for performance, and asking what could change to help the performance improve.

ii. Holding the organization accountable for resources and support, and modifying the goals to reflect availability of resources and support.

iii. Agree on adjustments to the goals, based on what you now know.

For subsequent meetings, jointly assess how well each party has achieved its goals – that includes how well the organization has supported the employee (steps 3 and 4). Instead of the “you failed” attitude when a goal was not met, try “What happened? What can we learn from that? If we still want to hit the goal, how can we do that?”

This will help your best and brightest want to remain with you, because they will feel valued and respected. Morale increases, at no additional expense. What’s not to like?


Retain Your Employees #2 – ESL

One way to retain employees is to help them grow. That establishes a VERY strong bond between employee and employer. ESL (English as a Second Language) courses help people whose English is limited grow both professionally and personally. The Conference Board found improved English proficiency correlates with increased employee engagement and retention.*

All you would need to do is to provide the space (e.g. the cafeteria or a conference room), the materials (readily available), and the instructor. Here’s some random ideas on how to get started:

  • Contact the local high school or community college to learn what they have available and a list of potential instructors.
  • Inquire about federal, state, county, or local grants to defray your cost.
  • Contact your local Chamber of Commerce – they might know of other employers who would like to add employees to the class (and who would share the cost).
  • Don’t have a good space at your facility? A local hotel or retirement center might be willing to provide space at no charge as long as they could put a couple employees in the class. Or a local church might offer space at no cost or low cost as a ministry to the community.
  • As a gesture of hospitality, provide modest munchies. People learn better when they’re not hungry, and sharing food builds connections. A local grocery store or restaurant might be willing to provide the food at their cost or no cost to help support the program.

If you so choose, you could also make these courses available to employees’ family members, again strengthening your employees’ loyalty.

Don’t have any non-English speakers? Perhaps ESL courses would entice them to join you.

One final thought: offering such a program helps your image with your other employees and your greater community as well. When you compare the cost of such a program to the improvement in employee retention and attraction, this should have a VERY high financial ROI. Win-win all around.

Let me know how this works for you.


*English Classes Help Retain Immigrant Workers, February 20, 2021,

Work-Work Balance

Four days before my August wedding, my boss told me, “Gary, we can let you have the weekend off for your wedding, but you need to be back here Monday morning. We’re behind schedule.” [I had scheduled the two-week vacation several months earlier.] I replied, “I’m only going to get married once in my life, and my wife starts teaching school in three weeks. We can’t delay our honeymoon. I’ll see you when I get back.” My boss replied, “I’ll remember this on your performance review.” And she did. I got an F- on attitude, and the very large consulting company pushed me out the door, saying I was not professional and not fit to be a consultant. “Professional” to them meant that they owned my time 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. I learned later that this was standard operating procedure for this firm – work the consultants until they drop. And the 10% who put up with it became partners, perpetuating the culture. (I am still married to the same wonderful woman.)

In the 1970s when I was traveling the country helping clients implement manufacturing software, the most common refrain I heard from their professionals, middle-aged and older, was “I wish I had spent more time with my children.”

Fast forward a few decades. One of my relatives was working for a multi-national high-tech company. His boss was an Indian ex-pat who had no family here and no interests outside of work, so he worked 14-16 hours/day AND expected all his subordinates to do the same. So my relative would frequently be on the phone at 2 a.m. to India, or Germany, or wherever in the world someone he needed to talk to him. He left the company.

By contrast, the Oregonian publishes a list of the Best 100 Companies to Work For annually. These companies have people lining up to work for them. Many don’t even have to advertise their open positions. One example is Cascade Corporation in Fairview. When they have an opening, they ask their workforce whom they know that would be a good fit.

PS – many years ago, the department that dealt with people was called Personnel. The name got changed to Human Resources. I strenuously object to that term – people are not “resources” to be moved around a chess board, or used like financial or physical assets and discarded when they are used up. They are, or at least can be, partners in creating great products and services. To view them as “resources” dehumanizes them and implies that their only value is how they can benefit the company.

The choice is yours. You CAN keep and attract the best and brightest. All you have to do is treat them as if they matter, as fellow human beings in this adventure called life.

I welcome your feedback

Gary Langenwalter

Increasing Employee Retention and Attraction

How do you attract the best and brightest and retain them? That’s the common refrain among virtually ALL leaders, in all sectors – for-profit, not-for-profit, government… everywhere! Here’s a list of ideas, in no particular priority or order. I’ll be blogging Monday afternoons each week on at least one of them starting April 4. Let me know additional topics that you’d like to see included.

  1. Listen to your employees
    1. Take a survey
    2. “Stay” interviews
    3. Focus groups
  1. Engage your employees
    1. Triple Bottom Line

i. Include employee values/goals/dreams into your organization vision, mission, and products and services

    1. Be transparent

i. Open your books

    1. Continuous Improvement Teams
    2. Company sponsored social events
    3. Profit sharing
  1. Invest in your employees – help them grow
    1. Professional training
    2. On the job coaching
    3. Life skills for employees and their families

i. Parenting

ii. Financial acumen

        1. Budgets
        2. Credit cards and debt

iii. Relationship improvement

iv. ESL

  1. Be flexible with your expectations
    1. Flexible hours
    2. Remote work arrangements
  1. Respect your employees
    1. Predictable schedules
    2. Fair pay

i. Vs. market

ii. Owners / employee ratio of pay

    1. Parent vs. Partner
    2. Job – role vs. coronation
    3. Kill the performance review
    4. DEI

Leadership That Works!

Our culture has it all wrong! We imagine the best leaders to be authoritative, with the leader being in front. Being bold and decisive and fearless. Being the person that the employees defer to. After all, that person is the boss, so their decisions must be right. And since this style of leadership is in our cultural DNA, it must be the best, right?


Let’s look at actual data. Sipe and Frick compared the results of three types of leadership over a ten-year period: “traditional” (using the S&P 500), “Good to Great” from Jim Collins’ book with the same title, and servant leadership. Here are the results.

The actual numbers are:

  • Traditional – 10.8%
  • Good to Great – 17.5%
  • Servant – 24.2% – MORE THAN DOUBLE traditional leadership!

According to Sipe and Frick, a servant leader:

  • Has character
  • Puts people first
  • Is a skilled communicator
  • Is a compassionate collaborator
  • Has foresight
  • Is a systems thinker, and
  • Leads with moral authority.

I attended a celebration welcoming a new business, Home Instead, to our community last fall. At the end of the event, the CEO, Todd Barth, worked unobtrusively alongside his employees in cleaning tables, putting chairs away, etc. The unglamorous, unappreciated, behind the scenes work. His actions exemplified servant leadership.

Want you and your employees to enjoy work more? Want to attract and retain the best and brightest? Try servant leadership – it costs nothing except for a changed mindset.

I hope that you and yours stay well and have a wonderful year,


Bringing Light into Darkness

We are now at winter solstice, where the days are the darkest. What is it about light that draws people to it? Light brings warmth. Light brings clarity by allowing us to see things more clearly. Think of the root of the word “enlighten.” Light wakes us up and increases our energy levels. Light brings us joy – think of the root of the word “delight”. And if you’re in a dark room, just lighting one match makes a HUGE difference! One match vs the entire dark room – and the match wins!

These truths also operate in an organization, in groups of people. So how does a leader bring light to their people? How does a leader help people find their own light? The answer is very simple, although sometimes not easy to do. To bring light to your people, “all” you have to do is to BE light. To let the best parts of you shine forth (notice the verb). To wish the best for others, and to encourage them to be their best. To spread good will. You can be an “enlightened” one, and invite your people to likewise be enlightened.

I promise that if you do that, your life will, in turn, be richly blessed. Yes, there will still be problems and obstacles and disappointments. But your people will be right beside you, willingly, because you mean so much to them.

May you have a joyous holiday season, filled with light.

Gary Langenwalter

COVID Blahs?

Feeling blah? Been feeling that way for a while? Me too. In fact, many, if not most, people I know are feeling that way underneath everything else. Sort of like a blah fog has enveloped our society. This saps our energy, like driving with the emergency brake on.

My theory, completely unencumbered by double-blind scientific analysis, is this: Humans are wired to be social animals. To be near each other, to hug, to smile, to see each other up close. That’s ingrained in our psyches and emotional DNA. But then came COVID. And we were told to practice “social distancing.” Staying apart from each other and covering our faces has disconnected us from each other at a deep level. We have lost the intimacy of being close to people, to seeing each other’s reactions. For example, when I crack a bad pun, I can only see the reaction in someone’s eyes, not their entire face. And without that feedback, cracking bad puns no longer brings me any joy, so I have (mostly) stopped. My inner spirit feels numb. THAT’s the true cost of social distancing and COVID.

Unfortunately, as many of us were vaccinated and starting to return to a more normal way of interacting, Omicron arrived and breakthrough cases started ramping up, so we had to re-mask and re-social-distance. And we were all so weary, so worn down, so numb from 18 LONG months of social and emotional deprivation. What’s even more frustrating and demoralizing is that we’re not sure if, and how, this will end.

In the interim, I encourage you to feed your soul and other people’s souls as best you can. Encourage yourself to spend time with friends and acquaintances. They crave contact, just as you do, and need your support, just as you need theirs.

I hope you can have a wonderful holiday season,

Gary Langenwalter


Want to improve your outlook on life? Give thanks. It’s that easy. And that rewarding.

There’s lots of ways to do this. You can call someone or Zoom them, or post a link on FaceBook or Twitter, or send them an e-mail. However, buying a Thank You card and sending it via snail mail might be more meaningful, because personal snail mail is so unusual. And a Thank You card is something physical that the recipient can save on their desk and re-read in the following days, smiling and feeling connected to you each time they read it. Just a few short sentences will mean a lot to the recipient.

Additionally, since a person’s mind can only focus on one thing at a time, while you’re remembering what you’re thankful for, your body will relax and you’ll feel better yourself.

If you want to really stretch yourself, at noon every day think of twelve things that you’re thankful for. After the obvious few (family, health, friends, etc.), the search for the final topics becomes more interesting.

I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving


My Brother-in-Law Was Murdered by a Friend

It was completely unintentional, but he is still dead. My sister and my brother-in-law were in a small group meeting recently, in which someone was unknowingly carrying COVID. Net result: 4 couples came down with COVID. Seven of the people, including my sister, survived. My brother-in-law did not. None of the 8 people who got COVID was vaccinated, and I’m assuming they were not masked in the meeting. Obviously, none of the 8 people intended to infect the other 7, including their spouse. It “just happened”. But he is still dead.

My sister has lost her soul mate. They were high school sweethearts; they almost lived in each other’s pockets. They had just bought his dream car – a 2006 Mazda Miata – to take road trips. Now he is gone.

A few years ago, they were riding their motorcycles on a mountain road when my sister saw her husband almost get hit by a log truck coming around the corner toward them. She made him sell his cycle, because she did not want to see him get killed. How will her decision to not insist that they get vaccinated affect the rest of her life?

Please learn from their pain. This was completely preventable! For the sake of your loved ones and friends, please get yourself (and them) vaccinated. And wear masks and maintain physical distance and social closeness.

Gary Langenwalter

Eat That Frog!

Mark Twain said that if you have to eat a live frog, do it first thing in the morning so that you’ll get the worst thing of your day out of your way. The rest of your day will be much better by comparison. In his best-selling book Eat That Frog!, Brian Tracy has a corollary – if you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.

What is your frog? It’s NOT the annoying little action you’ve been putting off, like washing your car. No. It’s the most important, biggest task on your plate. The one that looks daunting, even overwhelming. Why do it first? Because it’s important. Doing the important tasks first sets the foundation for long-term, sustainable success. It also provides a psychological high, which boosts your productivity and creativity for your other tasks.

I have demonstrated that truism on this website in the recent past. My intention, my commitment to myself, was to post a blog each week, preferably on Wednesday, and no later than Thursday afternoon. I allowed myself to be distracted by lots of excuses. But that’s all they were – excuses. And the psychological lethargy that this inaction created also affected my performance on other tasks. It made it easier to procrastinate on them, too. You can think of this process as the rudder of a ship – the rudder is small, but it determines where the ship goes.

So now I’m renewing my intention to post weekly, for 2 reasons:

1. For myself – posting requires me to ruminate on a subject of interest to thought leaders. And to clarify my own thoughts sufficiently that I can create a cogent blog, one which I hope will be valuable to the readers

2. For the readers – I hope that this helps readers become more effective leaders, and to have richer, more meaningful lives. Because my passion is for EACH person to have a rich, meaningful life – to live it powerfully and boldly.

What do you think? I’d really appreciate hearing from you.

Gary Langenwalter