A recent case study in the Globe and Mail features an employer who understands the importance of an often underestimated workplace issue; employee retention. Razor Suleman, chairman of Achievers, a Toronto-based employee rewards and recognition software company, ironically lost 40% of his own staff in six months, inspiring him to take action toward increasing employee engagement. The steps taken to resolve this issue highlight important lessons for all business owners who seek to decrease turnover and increase the motivation of their own employees.


Mr. Suleman attributed the sudden loss of almost half of his workforce to circumstances typical of high growth companies; he lost focus on internal management in his preoccupation with meeting growing customer demand. It can be all too easy for business owners to become distracted with keeping up with the market, focusing outward at the expense of keeping an eye on operations internally. Left unmanaged, divisions, departments and entire companies can lose focus, cohesion, and efficiency, resulting in frustrated employees looking for the nearest exit.


Although Suleman’s actions were prompted by the recognition of a serious problem and some sobering retention statistics, his actions taken to correct the situation are best employed proactively. In order to build a unified, dedicated workforce, several factors must be considered:


Develop actionable goals: The first thing the chairman did to get the company and its employees back on track was to write a five page handwritten document, articulating his vision for Achievers and outlining the way he wanted the company to run. This document, created in 2006, continues to be the ‘blueprint’ for internal operations, and is displayed prominently for all employees to see. Suleman’s decision to not only articulate his goals but to develop processes designed to achieve them is a valuable lesson for business owners. Ensuring your company is internally managed in accordance with your vision gives direction to processes and procedures, and serves to unify employees toward common objectives. Further, a specific outline of actions helps to keep business owners focused on internal management, as they can clearly see which actions they have been keeping up with and which they have been neglecting.


Facilitate Communication: A main element of the plan Suleman drafted for Achievers is increased communication between employees and departments. The chairman recognized that it was difficult to empower employees who were unclear on the intended direction of the company. To remedy the isolation between departments and lack of information sharing, Suleman implemented a daily, company-wide meeting entitled ‘all hands on deck’. Fostering group cohesion is simplified when all employees are informed of and involved in the company’s progress. Managers should look to implement formalized communication channels in order to facilitate the transfer of information and sharing of knowledge, helping with the coordination of departments and teams.


Recognize Employee Efforts: The final phase of Suleman’s retention plan was to motivate employees through a formal process for company-wide recognition. Eight core company values were developed, and each week all employees became able to vote for a colleague whom they felt best emanated one or more of these values. The chosen employee would receive company-wide recognition, which turns into points that can be redeemed for gifts or travel discounts. This program is a great example of aligning company and employee incentives. By rewarding behaviour consistent with actions that improve company performance, employees are both increasingly motivated and efficient. Designing incentive plans with company goals in mind will enable managers to benefit from the productivity and engagement of their employees.


Just a short year after losing almost half of his workforce, Razor Suleman’s retention plan came to fruition. Achievers became the smallest company in history to be placed on the list of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. This success story should make business owners stop and reflect on what they are doing in terms of employee retention, and how the lessons learned from Achievers can be used to complement initiatives to increase productivity, now and into the future.


EKSiT focuses on leveraging technology to provide business owners with clarity about their exit options, strategic enhancement opportunities, and the realization of the value they've created.