It may seem like an absurd dichotomy to talk about employee retention in the face of a layoff economy. In an era when many corporate giants, high-tech firms and consulting agencies are announcing job cuts as a way to return to profitability, what's the point in considering how to motivate employees and keep their loyalty? In fact, as many corporate managers realize, the same factors that motivate employees can also help influence a company's profits. Hire well and treat your employees well and your bottom line will give you something to brag about.

This month we look at six books on employee motivation and retention, the antidote managers need to combat uncertainty in an age when corporate layoffs seem an inevitable piece of the landscape.

Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High-Turnover to High-Retention by Gregory P. Smith is a terrific how-to book for employee retention. After outlining the staggering costs associated with employee turnover (from $5,000 to $125,000 per turnover) Smith provides practical solutions to help any workplace retain employees and increase revenues. Using solutions from companies like Disney, USAA Insurance and Earthlink, he addresses absenteeism, teamwork and performance appraisals and shows how innovations from these companies helped retain the best and brightest and brought the also-rans up to a higher level of employee satisfaction and motivation. Some of his solutions are down-right down-home, like employee newsletters and flexible benefits, but these are solutions that work, and that's the bottom line. What works for employees will make employees work better.

Loyalty Rules! How Today's Leaders Build Lasting Relationships by Frederick F. Reichheld argues that too few companies take the high road to business practice. Instead, many focus single-mindedly on financial results at the expense of building the human structures necessary to create loyal employees and customers. Reichheld cogently argues that low-road strategies, like layoffs, may create short-term financial gains but don't give companies the tools they need when the going gets rough. In Loyalty Rules! he skillfully maps a plan for attaining employee loyalty and avoiding future layoffs. He does this by setting high standards for employee performance and compensation. In effect, his message is this: Don't set the bar too low for employee accountability, and you'll never have to show anyone the exit door.

Don't Kill the Bosses: Escaping the Hierarchy Trapby Samuel A. Culbert and John B. Ullmen addresses the internal company forces that kill loyalty and reduce employee motivation. Let's face it: layoffs are often the result of larger issues at work in any company. Culbert and Ullmen identify the factors that allow managers to walk away unscathed when an assignment fails, but allows them to fire the very people they hand-picked to achieve bottom-line results. Too often, they point out, the hierarchy of a company allows and encourages failure as long as the boss doesn't have to take the blame. That's a striking theory, but one that makes most of us shake our heads in tacit understanding! The authors carefully illustrate how and why hierarchy traps the innocent and makes the untrapped more wary, to the detriment of the company's bottom line. Two-sided accountability, they say, is the solution and this book makes it easy to understand and create. Motivating employees comes from giving them incentives to succeed. Learn how with this powerful new book.

How does an Olympian win a gold medal? How do tennis stars become Wimbledon winners? They find extraordinary coaches to unlock their athletic potential, that's how. In The Coaching Revolution by David Logan, Ph.D., and John King the authors argue that athletes aren't the only performers who need coaches. So do employees. Logan and King say productivity, efficiency, reliability and profitability (the equivalent of a dozen home runs) are the results of coaching people to success. In this smart and funny book, the coach becomes part-time psychologist, Olympic trainer, manager and motivator. He wants to takes a company athlete from "Duh, I don't know what's wrong with our company" to "Aha, I think I've got it" to "Wow, I've got the big picture" culminating in "Shazam, I solved the problem." Winning results happen when managers follow the finely tuned training regime which Logan and King have developed and which they encourage you to copy. Get out your coaching whistles and take your team to play-off victory.

The Talent Edge: A Behavioral Approach to Hiring, Developing, and Keeping Top Performers by David Cohen helps businesses identify what top performers do differently than the majority of their peers. Understanding the key employee shows companies how to hire better talent in the future through a process called behavioral interviewing. This unique interviewing process matches the right employee and the right job with much greater success than traditional interviewing, says Cohen. It allows companies to find employees whose resumes may not exactly match a job description, but whose talent and values do. This is a human resources book every HR manager should read. But CEOs should spend an evening reading it as well; it will make them reconsider the role HR decisions play in a company's overall health. In lean times, having the best and brightest means having the most creative solutions to lagging stock prices, outsourcing dilemmas and marketing failures. The Talent Edge will make a difference.

Finally, The War for Talent by Ed Michaels, Helen Handfield-Jones and Beth Axelrod is another excellent choice for executive reading. In this eye-opening report, the authors compile five years of research, including 13,000 CEO surveys and case studies of 27 companies. They identify five imperatives companies must develop to attract, train and retain employee talent. By developing a talent mindset the authors show that positive and successful companies embrace this change in management thinking. This book explains to the weary executive chasing success why it is imperative to rebuild a recruiting strategy, weave development into the organization and differentiate and affirm employee talents. In the age of layoffs, the right man (or woman) for the job becomes a meaningful phrase, not a tired truism.

Sharon Secor is a business writer in Minnesota.

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