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Mar 1, 2000 12:00 AM

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Finding and keeping skilled employees in today's tight job market is no laughing matter. In some cases, finding employees to produce the work has become a bigger challenge than finding the work. And, once employees are on board, keeping them happy and productive is key.

"Companies must now sell themselves to employees," observes Debra Thompson, president of TG & Associates (Tuscon, AZ), an HR consulting firm that focuses on the printing industry. "In the current job market, most people reading the want ads are not the ones printers want to attract. Companies must instead get the attention of those employees who are already working, attracting them with a more challenging career path, a better work environment, or maybe better benefits."

Many companies are realizing this and taking care not only to put programs into place to attract new talent, but recognizing that different employees are motivated by different things. One employee may consider childcare an essential benefit, while another may be more interested in rolling over a 401(k), while still another may be most concerned that payday is weekly rather than biweekly.

No longer is a one-size-fits-all approach to motivation workable. "Once a company finds top performers, it's important to pay attention to individual needs and do what it takes to satisfy them," notes Thompson, who addresses these issues in a just-released three-part "HR how-to" series.

With good employees in such high demand, the best approach may be to ask what it takes to present your company as an employer of choice rather than telling potential hires "Here's what we do," and hoping for the best.

Granted, there will always be employees with a ho-hum attitude toward their work-regardless of how hard you try to reward and motivate them. But for those who want more than a paycheck, there are a wealth of ideas from printers both large and small that don't cost a bundle.

Got Suggestions? If it's Friday at Kohler and Sons in St. Louis, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is being broadcast over the PA system and Charlie Kohler, chairman of the board, is suited-up in baseball attire as "Charlie Hustle 2000." His mission? To scout out great ideas, both in the front office and throughout the plant. The firm's TQM program, now in its fifth year, is supported each year by an employee suggestion round-up. When an employee gives Charlie a suggestion, he immediately rewards the employee with a raffle ticket (called a "Lucky Chucky") as part of Kohler and Sons' "Idea Grand Slam."

In Kohler's "Great Catch of the Day," program employees are recognized for catching production errors. Whenever an employee discovers an error, he or she is presented with a Great Catch certificate from a supervisor. Employees also may give out Great Catch certificates when they spot a co-worker going the extra mile on a particular job.

At the end of each month, names are randomly drawn from all Lucky Chucky raffle tickets and Great Catch recipients. Three employees are awarded movie passes to a local theatre. One suggestion is selected as the Idea of the Month, and that employee receives a gift certificate to a local restaurant. One idea is chosen as the Idea of the Year and the lucky winner is given the choice of a weekend trip to a Marriott Resort or a color television. All suggestions and Great Catch recipients are acknowledged monthly in the company's internal newsletter, Kohler Quotes.

"The results have been impressive," reports Kevin Kohler, president. "We generated more than 100 ideas last year, the most significant in the prep area. One idea that related to file integrity saved us approximately $60,000. This year, we're renegotiating with our trash company based on an employee suggestion, and we're also saving about $1,000 by buying cheaper ball point pens."

Different Strokes... At Multicraft Litho (Newport, KY), president Debbie Pfaffl wanted her staff to focus on reducing spoilage. The company had recently purchased its first six-color press and spoilage rates were above the industry average. So, Pfaffl set up a rewards program where each time an employee caught an error that would have resulted in spoilage, that person was immediately awarded five "Multicraft Bucks." The employee could either get $5 immediately or save the Multicraft Bucks and exchange them for merchandise that is worth more than the accumulated value. "Because some of our employees are focused on immediate gratification and others on longer-term rewards," explains Pfaffl, "when we structure incentive programs, we're careful to consider these different personalities." In addition, if the employee makes it through an entire quarter spoilage-free, a full day's pay is awarded and the employee is publicly recognized at a monthly meeting. "We're thrilled with the results," notes Pfaffl. "Our spoilage rate on the new press is now approaching industry standards."

Get Everybody on the Same Page One of the keys to moving a firm in a cohesive direction is to let employees in on management's objectives. "We always try to let employees know where the company is headed. That way goals can be translated into objectives that are measurable, which we can then reward. This ensures a common understanding between management and employees about the definition of success," explains Multicraft's Pfaffl. In 1999, the company wanted to increase business 20 percent from its existing client base, either by selling more to existing accounts or increasing average order size. As an incentive to the sales staff, the company paid a bonus commission rate on increased gross sales generated from the company's top 20 accounts.

"We've found that if the goals and reward system don't change, people begin to take the awards for granted, losing focus of the goals, so we keep a program in place for one year at the most," explains Pfaffl. Other programs the company has used include rewarding sales staff for increasing profitability and new account development.

Money Matters Certainly in the sales arena, money matters. Recognizing this, Andrew Simmons, president of Moby Digital Printing (San Diego), has instituted a graduated bonus program for his sales reps with commissions starting at 10 percent, then moving to 15 percent as the rep's volume increases. In addition, at $500,000 in sales, the rep gets to choose a car valued at $20,000, and at $1 million, he or she gets to choose a vehicle valued at $50,000.

"Because it's so hard to find good employees, I try to be as flexible as possible," explains Simmons, whose company covers 100 percent of childcare costs. "I allow all employees to have flex time. If an employee has something that needs to be done during the day, as long as the work gets done, they can do it." Simmons also tries to promote a sense of community at his company. Recently he treated his employees to a benefit for the San Diego Zoo called the Critter Party. With ticket prices at $150 per person, Simmons considers the $5,400 an excellent investment in his 36 employees and their guests, promoting teamwork and camaraderie amongst employees while simultaneously supporting a client.

Thrill of Recognition At the C.J. Krehbiel Co. (Cincinnati), employees who have found a better way to do something or who have come up with a suggestion that saves the company money are recognized in the company's quarterly newsletter, Press Check. The publication is circulated to the company's 225 employees as well as to clients and suppliers. A brief write-up explains the employee's idea and how it will benefit the company. A photograph of the employee is included as well. "We think it's important to get the word out when our employees make a contribution. It builds morale and it's something they can share with their families," explains Rick Hastings, vice president of marketing and sales.

Have Some Fun! Dallas-based Williamson Printing sponsors an employee appreciation event every month. At Christmas each year, company president Jesse Williamson dresses up as Santa Claus. The company training room is then transformed into Santa's Workshop, complete with poinsettias and holiday decor. The event is heldon a weekend afternoon in December with cookies and punch for everyone, drawings for gift certificates, toys for the children and of course, photographs with "Santa." Williamson also sponsors a company picnic, softball teams and a pumpkin-carving contest. This year the big event will be the Spring Chili Cook-Off. The $78-million, 500-employee firm runs three shifts so those employees who are working will be brought chili samples at their workstations. Departments form teams. Each team must bring an outside burner to the company parking lot, where the event will be held, and all cooking must be done on site. The company's owners and suppliers will be judging with the winning department receiving a pizza lunch. "This is a Texas-style event. We expect to get all kinds of ingredients including rattlesnake and rabbit," explains Tony Lalumia, vice president of human resources. "It works on a number of levels, instilling cooperation within departments and fostering teamwork."

Show Some Appreciation At Williamson Printing's company store, employees can get all sorts of items with the Williamson logo ranging from baby bibs to T-shirts and jackets, but rarely do employees buy. Typically merchandise is given to employees as a "thank you" for a job well done. "An accounting department employee who worked a lot of overtime for year-end closeout was told to pick something from the company store," explains Williamson's Lalumia. "Or, a salesman may tell a CSR to go pick out a golf shirt as a thank you for extra effort on a difficult project."

Reviews: Once is Not Enough "We have a number of 20-somethings," explains John Baicy, president of Immedia Print in Winston-Salem, NC. "We let them have real responsibility and we truly hold them accountable."

The 17-employee company, which runs small duplicators and high-speed copiers, reviews employees twice a year. Each review is both a salary and performance review. "Employees don't always get a raise," explains Baicy, "but for those who do not get a raise, they are told what to work on over the next 60 days in order to get the raise." Twice annual reviews are very uncommon in the industry, but Baicy believes that it keeps performance in the forefront of employees' minds rather than the review being an annual event that is soon forgotten. "I think our employees like the more frequent reviews," notes Baicy. "It gives them more consistent feedback on their performance and it gives me more opportunities to be a nice guy."

Invest in Career Development At Mojave Copy & Printing (Victorsville, CA), owner Howard Kack recently sent his manager to a Dale Carnegie class on human relations development. "It was an investment for both of us," explains Kack. The class was 14 weeks and required her to drive half an hour each way. The fee was more than $1,000, which is a sizable investment for a company with 11 employees and $1 million in sales. "Our employees are my most important asset. I want them to know that if they are willing to invest their time to learn more about the business, then I'm willing to invest in them," Kack says. He regularly sends employees at all levels to seminars on team-building and communication skills. Following each seminar, the attendee must make a five-minute report on the content at the next staff meeting.

Promote Teamwork At the Monday morning staff meeting at The Master's Press (Dallas), company president Charlene Sims is in attendance with her wad of $2 bills. The meeting starts with the production manager reporting on a highlight of the week, recognizing an employee who has done a particularly good job, or someone who stayed overtime to get a project out the door. If there are more than two highlights for a particular week, the 10 employees vote by secret ballot on best. Once a winner is chosen, Sims peels off three bills. "It's not a lot of money," explains Sims. "The purpose is to recognize the employee in front of his or her peers."

Sims also uses "Appreciation Notes" to stimulate teamwork in her shop. An appreciation note is written by one employee about another employee who has helped out, maybe cleaning a press or doing something that's not in his or her job description. Every other Monday on payday, Sims draws two appreciation notes and the winners are awarded a $25 bonus. Sims also picks a third slip and the person who wrote the note gets a $25 bonus. Originally, only the person who helped was given the bonus, but in order to motivate employees to express their appreciation to fellow workers, she began giving an award to one of the writers. "It helps build an atmosphere of teamwork," notes Sims. "It makes employees understand the value of pitching in."

Aside from motivational strategies, printers can go a long way to attract employees by having a progressive outlook. Everyone wants to work for a company that has a bright future and an excellent reputation in the community. If your company has a cutting-edge prepress department or is fast becoming the Amazon. com of the graphic arts industry, make sure you are getting the message across to potential employees. If an employee perceives that your company is staying on top of the technology and will remain a viable place to work, that will go a long way when it comes to attracting and keeping talent. Kohler and Sons, for example, has expanded its tag line to "specializes in high-quality offset printing and interactive media." Being a good corporate citizen-contributing to the arts or supporting employees who are involved in local organizations-also can differentiate your firm in applicants' minds. Promoting from within and empowering employees is another way to emphasize that you're offering a career-not just another job.

"The most validated principle we know about managing people and performance is 'You get what you reward!'" declares Bob Nelson, author of 1,000 Ways to Reward Employees and founder of Nelson Motivation Inc. "Although this is a common sense observation, it is far from common practice in most organizations today. Look around you and you'll find this to be true: At your next team meeting, do you start on time or wait for those who are late (thereby rewarding tardiness and punishing those who are on time)? When you finish a project are you 'rewarded' with two additional projects (and the person who misses his deadline gets an additional 30-day extension!)? Are the majority of rewards in your organization given out for just showing up to work (health care benefits, standard raises, paid holidays and vacation, picnics and parties, birthday cards, anniversary awards, turkeys at Christmas, etc.) or for specific individual or group performance that has occurred?"

Nelson presents more than 2,300 examples (by his own count) in 27 categories from no-cost recognition to low-cost activities to more formal award programs and point systems. "The workplace is rapidly changing," warns Nelson. "You can no longer get the best from your employees by lighting a fire beneath them . . . you need to find a way to light a fire within them."

Here are some other useful books on the subject:

*Streetwise Motivating & Rewarding Employees, by Alexander Hiam (Adams Media Corp.)

*Rewards That Drive High Performance: Success Stories from Leading Organizations, by Thomas B. Wilson (Amacom)

*Aligning Pay and Results: Compensation Strategies That Work from the Boardroom to the Shop Floor, by Howard Risher (Amacom)

*Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute, by Ken Blanchard (Berrett-Koehler Publishers)

*Rewarding and Recognizing Employees: Ideas for Individuals, Teams, and Managers, by Joan P. Klubnik (Briefcase Books)

*How to Recognize & Reward Employees (Worksmart Series), by Donna Deeprose (Amacom)

*Innovative Reward Systems for the Changing Workplace, by Thomas B. Wilson (McGraw-Hill)

*People, Performance and Pay: Dynamic Compensation for Changing Organizations, by Thomas P. Flannery (Free Press)

*The Positive Power of Praising People, by Jerry D. Twentier (Contemporary Books)

*Care Packages for the Workplace: Dozens of Little Things You Can Do to Regenerate Spirit At Work, by Barbara A. Glanz (McGraw-Hill)