Aloha mai kākou, it’s October 1. Let’s Ho‘ohana

This month’s Ho‘ohana theme is one that’s been clawing at the door whimpering for more attention like a new puppy wanting to sleep in your bedroom with you. We’re going to talk about labor recruitment and retention.

In a time where unemployment is at record lows, how do you get great people to work for you? How do you keep the ones you have?

We scratched the surface with this back in June’s Ho‘ohana when I wrote on Hiring. I was surprised at the number of responses I got back then. I didn’t share them with you because I got enough “yeah buts” to discourage the most ambitious recruiter out there. The struggle with hiring, and with keeping good staff so you don’t have to keep on hiring in a vicious circle, was something I kept hearing about all summer long.

Well summer is over, and I keep hearing about it.

Then last week, our local media entered the gloomy picture. Howard Dicus of Pacific Business News shared some commentary on his KHON-TV2 morning news segment about a recent job fair on O’ahu, where “a record number of employers for the fall job fair competed for workers in an exceptionally tight job market.” I thought to myself, oh boy, here come the violins.

Employers I talk to continue to feel that employees have the “upper hand” and that they can’t help but give in by lowering their expectations and performance standards.

Don’t. Please don’t.

You will disappoint your customers, and your business will take a very damaging hit: you know that.
So don’t go there.

However, there is something you may not be thinking about because it’s not as obvious: The good employees you already have want to work with other good employees. The moment you drop your standards and settle on a mediocre hire is the exact moment the stars you have will dim a little in their disappointment with the way you operate.   It won’t be long before they start wondering if it’s time for them to start looking around themselves to “trade up.”

And there’s a lot of temptation and opportunity out there for them to do so.

Good employees want to work for good employers who run quality operations and businesses of high standard. Good employees want to be proud of you and the company they work for. Working for second-rate employers is a not-so-good reflection on their own worth and credibility, and good employees don’t take that risk.

In today’s job market, they don’t have to.

The same morning I listened to Dicus, I tried to catch up with a backlog of unread newspapers over my coffee, and I happened to see this September 20th headline in the Honolulu Advertiser’s Business Section: Job-seekers call the shots. Among the statements I read were these:

“Hawai‘i had the lowest unemployment rate in the country in July at only 3 percent (update: we still do)” The state Dept. of Labor and Industrial Relations has predicted that Hawaii’s low unemployment rate will continue through the end of the year (yep, probably)” Hotels and tourist-oriented businesses that disappeared from job fairs after Sept. 11 are now looking for hundreds of workers (and the temporary-hire retail season is creeping up on us; retailers feel this coming holiday season may be one of the best they’ve had in years)” Busch [one of the job fair organizers] expects 5,000 job candidates to attend the job fair””

Wait, hold up, Howard Dicus said that right now there are less than 4,200 people on the State’s unemployment rolls. (Howard never lies.) What does this tell you? The people you want to work for you, those high-caliber, experienced, quality applicants, are already employed somewhere else.

Folks, this is the part of this competitive labor market we’re in that you must key in on. You, the perceptive, smart business person, the one who will be a better recruiter (and boss) than the others. You, the one who will win the hiring game. How did Busch’s quote end?

“ ” many of whom are already employed and curious about finding better jobs.”

The next day I watched the local news stories with interest as they covered the job fair, and guess what? They got the most traffic when people were on their lunch breaks from their other jobs. Besides trading up, with our high cost of living in Hawaii, many feel they need to handle two jobs – ouch. Yet it largely depends on which professional segment you are trying to attract. Here’s another view on the economy: Income climbs 2.5% in Hawai‘i.

Well, let’s focus this month on getting your labor pars healthy:

  • Stick to your high standards and fiercely protect your reputation. Do it for your customers, and do it for your good employees.
  • Understand that in today’s job market, already-employed people are the ones that you need to recruit. That’s just how it is, so you must be way smarter than listing your job openings in the classifieds. Smarts and integrity go hand-in-hand, and great employers don’t steal other’s employees. They don’t have to.
  • You’ll have to work hard at keeping the good employees you already have, so their attention never strays again. You have to pay them well, but money satisfies basic needs, and not all of them. (We touched on this in May’s Ho‘ohana.)
  • You need to let your employees know they can “trade up” within your company – and how they can do that.

We’ll talk about these things more in the month to come.
Yes, the numbers don’t lie. There are only so many people to fill so many jobs, and I’m not pretending to know what the answer is for everyone. But we in the Ho‘ohana Community are not like everyone else. We’re not ruthless, we’re smart. We don’t steal employees, we attract them like bees to honey. We recruit well, we manage with Aloha, and our businesses are the ones that will succeed.

Let’s talk story.


  1. Doug Murata says

    Just a couple…in many Hawaii workplaces, a looming crisis is ahead. The Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age and the generation behind is nowhere as large as the Boomers. We are headed for a huge demographic imbalance in supply and demand. Although temporary, it will nevertheless be disruptive, for a while.
    Across America the Boomers numbered 76 million while the next generation numbered 53 million. The generation after that (those born 1980 and on) who are just entering the workforce numbers 73 million, almost as large as the Boomers.
    Additionally, the generational differences in terms of values, behaviors, expectations, etc. are significant and employers need to recognize and plan for that in the way they manage the generational diversity.
    This suggests to me huge opportunities to make positive changes in our workplaces to take advantage of the emerging diversity. The generations that succeed the Boomers are well educated, ambitious, and have a decent work ethic. But they need to be managed differently.
    Employers have an opportunity to reinvent their workplaces to attract the best of the new generation. I think that is the strategy that will succeed.

  2. Roger Potter says

    On the theme: Labor Rentetion & Recruitment
    This has been a bug with me for years. I have been in
    Hawaii for 33 years – and have listened to both sides.
    Keeping employees and Good employees is something Hawaii’s companies on the Whole are failing at.
    Why – answer is 3 fold.
    1st problem is the educational system here and its operation.
    I feel Hawaii has the worst school system – but very dedicated teachers – however, even thou that is the case – there are still students that are going to rise above all others.
    It is how they(the ones that will rise) are looked at and
    treated and how some people/teachers/leaders – view as
    leaders. You are going to have ‘natural born leaders’
    that teachers are going to try and control or styme. Why
    because they are either afraid or the students are
    ‘naturals’ or better than the teachers. The other problem is ‘conform’ – if there was ever a Killer for Creativity – it begins in the school. Then there are
    leaders and there are Leaders – unfortunitley some Real
    Good Followers are looked upon as leaders.
    2nd problem – companies and hiring.
    I am a firm beliver that companies want to hire the best.
    The problem is that they hire the wrong people thinking they are the right people.
    How does this happen. Recruitment: Some business owners
    and I feel way too many are afraid to hire people that know more than the owner does and are deathly afraid of
    hiring anybody that has a ‘strong sense of self’ – instead they only look for ‘team players’ whereby everybody must agree before anybody/anything can move
    forward – and they must look to and depend on the onwer
    before anything can happen. If the owner is one that is forward thinking challenged – then the company becomes stagnatted and the onwer wonders why.
    There is a saying that is still ‘strong’ today and I feel
    is another crippler on businesses. That is ‘Hire people to make you the Boss look good’. I have studied this saying and feel that if the boss ‘Must’ hire people to
    make them ‘look’ good – then that is how Bad they(the boss) really are.
    Employers should hire ‘A team’, and every company needs a
    team – But – the team that businesses should form is a
    Team that is comprised of individuals who know who they
    are and what they are and are good at it – people who can
    take off from the same launch pad in the morning – do what needs to be done – come back to the same landing pad
    and go over any things that need to be taken care of –
    and become as ‘one’ when a problem arises.
    Employers should hire people that are not afraid of going out and letting everybody know that that company and its products exist. Every employee should be given a
    company policy manual, but aside from that the owner
    should allow them to function as they can – and not force
    them to ‘conform’ – that the bosses way is the only way.
    Rentetion: I feel that althou pay is a definite reason why employees fail to stay – I feel a Larger item is Allowing the employees the freedom to Function, and have
    a say in how things are done. A side to the pay issue
    is – every sales person should not only be given a wage –
    but must also be given a percentage of everything they sell – and stop the quotas. If an employee knows that
    they are Valued, Appreciated, and are an Asset to the
    company Verbally by the boss – you might put a major damper on employees leaving.
    The other area that involves both recrutment and rentetion is Human Resources – I feel that they should be
    held accountable for every employee that either failes to
    produce or leaves. Why? When a person or people start a
    business they have a pretty good idea of what they want
    to see in the people they hire, but after the company gets bigger – and they can’t do the hiring themselves –
    then it’s what the HR people are taught in school and what they feel the traits should be. HR people could be
    hiring people the owners wouldn’t.
    I remember 2 books I have read – one was called ‘The 100
    best companies to work for’, I think now out of print? These companies hired the best and let them function. The other book was by Lee Iaccoa – who stated – if I’m not mistaken – the job of a boss is ‘hire the best’ and let them help you run the company.
    Thank You

  3. Doug says

    The month of November is almost upon us…I want to suggest that for the November’s Ho‘ohana Rosa consider the topic of organizational change. It is a personal favorite of mine and especially so in Hawaii, where I have seen such a struggle over change. I have been involved with change for much of my career, mostly in corporate settings.
    I never cease to be amazed at how difficult it is to change the status quo…how even the most intelligent leaders/managers fail at it. Anyway, enough said. If Rosa agrees, let’s talk story about change.

  4. says

    Mahalo nui to Doug, Roger, and those who privately shared comments with me on October’s Ho‘ohana. We’ve skimmed the issues with labor and recruitment here in our islands—it’s a biggie—and we still have much work to do: it will take creativity, courage, and commitment. Hopefully our talk story this month has served to light some fires.
    Doug, I do like your Ho‘ohana suggestion for a future month, and promise we’ll visit the topic of organizational change in a coming issue of Ho‘ohana. For November I’d like to talk story on something I just mentioned above, something we in Hawaii have a pressing need for. It is something called for in labor and recruitment, organizational change, and many of the other issues we face. It is something that every candidate running for public office in Tuesday’s General Election claims to have, something we need them to have. That something is Courage, the Hawaiian value of Koa.
    We’ll start this new talk story tomorrow. For today, enjoy your ‘ohana, and have a happy Halloween!

  5. Doug says

    I like Rosa’s choice for the month of November, and I appreciate her agreeing to talk story about organizational change another month instead. Courage is also one of my favorite subjects, especially in the context of change. So I may weigh in with comments of my own in the days to come about Koa.
    Thanks Rosa.