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Employee Relations: A Lesson from “The Godfather”

In the iconic movieThe Godfather,” Al Pacino said, “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies even closer.” I was recently inspired to put a positive spin on this sentiment when it came to my management philosophy: “Keep your employees close, but your best employees even closer.”

This theory proved to be true for me as my staff and I worked toward opening a new location in a new market recently.

When we started the project, I began sifting through a rather big pile of resumes I had collected over the last year. As I started to comb through them and reach out to people who had experience in our industry, approximately 20 percent of the applicants had either found other employment outside our industry or did not want to get back into our industry because of the bad taste this awful recession left in their mouths.

The fickle nature of employment was even more evident when I received a couple calls over the last month from employees at companies just like ours, seeing if there were job opportunities within our company. These people were already working for good companies or suppliers and were at the top of their respective pay scales. When I questioned the reason for their calls, the prospective employees told me they were “testing the water to see if they could improve their positions.”

Normally this kind of call would be great, but all of the sudden I broke out into a cold sweat thinking about how many of my own employees may be making these calls. Yikes! So I looked long and hard into the truth oracle—for me, that is the mirror in our bathroom when I am shaving.

There are many good people in our company whose pay has been frozen, or have been living in fear of job loss for the last several years, due to economic conditions. Even though we try to follow best practices and review employees annually, some workers’ reviews were overdue; raises were non-existent or nominal at best.

I tell you all this because I feel the economy is getting better (although not as fast as any of us want). I don’t want myself—or any retailers—to wake up and find our best employees walking out the door. Given the straw poll statistics from my own hiring experience I mentioned earlier, we could be facing a big shortage of good, qualified employees on our staff. Our quality employees are a huge part of what has always set us apart from the big boxes.

Keep in mind that retaining employees is not always about the money.

When we asked our company’s recent successful hires what makes an employer attractive, they answered an “open environment, with a clear vision and direction.”

Engage key employees by keeping them informed about your mission and goals and include them as you plan your visions for the company.

Foster an environment where any idea is good enough to listen to. Promote this strategy by asking line managers to poll team members for ideas, then transferring those ideas to ownership or senior management.

Share successes and failures. Be as transparent as possible about what ideas have worked and what you have tried that hasn’t worked with employees.

I have a dear friend who is a hugely successful businessman. I joke with him about how he never has made a mistake, and he says, “I have made mistakes; I just don’t tell anyone about them.” I laugh, but I disagree with him.

Communicating success is very important, but communicating mistakes is just as important. Sharing mistakes as well as successes helps strengthen a team—one that is loyal not only to a paycheck, but also to a vision and a direction.

As the economy gets better, retaining good employees will be essential to success. So remember to keep your employees close, but your best employees closer. 


About Tony Brookhouse

Tony Brookhouse is chief of operations for the multi-store Koopman Lumber based in Whitinsville, Mass. Brookhouse attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., before managing a high-end clothing store in Indianapolis and then managing Meijer stores. He also spends time working with Northeast Retail Lumbermen’s Roundtable and NRHA.

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