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Attracting, Growing, & Retaining Great Employees – Thinking Outside the Box

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08/01/2009 - The idea of starting a new business venture is daunting enough by itself, but realizing that your success is seriously dependent upon the quality, performance, & productivity of others to deliver your company's products or services can really make a business owner shake in her boots!

That's exactly how I felt when starting SENIORx PATIENT ADVOCATES two years ago. But I clearly realized that if my business was dependent upon what I alone could produce and deliver, I knew I'd never make it.

So I began to think about how I would attract great workers. I started by thinking about what I would want in a job if I were looking for one today. That was easy. The list of requirements rolled quickly off the top of my head – interesting, intellectually stimulating, and meaningful work; a flexible work schedule so I could travel with my husband when he had time off or visit my dad or granddaughter out of state at the spur of the moment; no corporate structure, politics, or game playing; reasonable pay, but I'd settle for less as a trade for the flexibility; benefits maybe; an attractive, easy to get to office location so that I might even walk or ride my bike to get to work; up-to-date office equipment, tools, and resources to keep me on top of things; great co-workers & an easy-to-get-along-with boss.

Then I began to wonder…are there others out there who might be looking for the same things? I learned this was, in fact, the case. I also discovered there were a lot of employee prospects to choose from because these workers didn't want a full-time, fixed schedule gig. They have a boat load of experience and talent. Some had done the "corporate thing" and decided they weren't doing that again. In some cases, a spouse held the primary wage and benefit earner spot in the family so the worker prospect didn't have to work or produce a minimum income. Some prospects were retired and looking for a little extra income. Either way, they wanted to bring their talent and expertise to the table, do something that made them feel good at the end of the day, didn't need a steady paycheck month after month – but appreciated the extra income, and liked the idea of being in on the ground floor of building a new business and that they could be a part of its success.

Starting a new business, I needed flexibility too. Wages are generally an employer's largest single expense. I didn't need a full time staff to start out. If things were slow, I wanted the flexibility to say to my workers "why don't you take off early for the day." I could reduce my wage expense. And they'd be happy for a little extra time off. On the contrary, if things took off faster than I thought and I needed more hands on deck, I could ask my workers to take on a few more hours. It was a win-win solution!

It seemed too good to be true, but I threw out the idea to prospective employees about the flexible, part-time work schedule and my new business concept for SENIORx PATIENT ADVOCATES – "To empower seniors & those with a disability the right to access & understand health care systems & the ability to make knowledgeable, informed decisions regarding their health care." I offered them a fair, hourly wage for a "part-time/flex-time" position. I explained to my team (a variety of very experienced workers, mostly 50 years or older) the coverage hours I wanted and let them develop their own schedules. They work together to cover each other's vacations and days off. Sometimes one member of the team needs an extra few days off for something unexpected so others on the team fill in – knowing that they may need their co-workers to cover for them the next month.

Things are working great! My workers are happy. They are motivated. And they are producers. They bring great ideas and experience to my business and tell me often how much they enjoy the challenges and flexibility of their work. They go the extra mile. And I tell them often how much I appreciate their efforts.

Building a new business from scratch is tough enough, but attracting, growing, and retaining a viable work force with this flexible work concept has worked. It has also allowed me the ability to focus on other important aspects of developing a successful, new business. I encourage employers to think outside the box! Our workforce is aging and lots of talent will be walking out your door over the next several years if you don't think of new ways to attract and retain the best employees. Think "part time/flex time".

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