Success Stories

Relationship Marketing Weekly: Employee Retention Edition

Gregg Bryars is a SVP of Operations for a 1.5 billion dollar national healthcare services corporation that incorporated a relationship marketing strategy to improve employee retention over the past three years.. With a US employee base of over 4,000, they improved employee retention by an average of 33%.  Relationship Marketing Expert Kody Bateman interviews Gregg Bryars on this week’s Relationship Marketing Weekly: Employee Retention Edition!

Kody: Kody B here coming to you live from my cabin in Island Park, Idaho. We are up here on a Harley trip doing some work here at the cabin. Very excited about our show today. Relationship marketing at its very best. I’ve got one of the greatest guys that you can learn from on the show today. I’m going to tell you right now. Get out your pad, get out your pencils and pens and take really good notes because this guy is a wealth of information. This is Gregg Bryars at Atlanta, Georgia, Senior Vice President of Operations for a $1.5 billion healthcare business. Gregg, welcome to the call today brother. How are you doing?

Gregg: I’m doing fantastic. Thanks for having me Kody.

Kody: Excellent. Well, I will tell you. We’re going to jump right in because there’s a lot – I mean we could probably spend an hour or more with you because of a lot of the information that you have. We’re going to jump in. We will keep the show short for everybody. But like I said, be ready with your pad and pens. We will get started here.

First of all, most people that are getting on here, we had a headline pre-promoting the show that said that you have implemented a program that increased retention by 33 percent. On average 33 percent across all your offices and amongst about 4000 employees. So we’re talking big time stuff here. This is a billion plus dollar enterprise. We’re talking big stuff and I don’t think Gregg that people fully understand how significant a 33 percent retention increase is for a company of your stature. Could you just kind of give us perspective of just how big that is?

Gregg: Sure and thanks for the kind words. So over the last three years in particular, we’re really focused on niche. As we look at it, we estimate the cost to rehire and onboard an employee to be somewhere between $10,000, $12,000 each. So when you look at that kind of improvement over that three-year period, it’s significant. It’s multimillions of dollars. It allows us to take those dollars and pour back into the company investments that will even further increase our retention.

So that’s the hard dollar cost, Kody. Here’s the soft dollar cost. Every time we increase retention – and believe me, we track this. We see employee engagement improve. We see employee productivity improve and all the parts to the quality about our business. So besides the hard math of what you think that savings is, it is exponential to continue increasing your employee retention. As this market continues to improve, it’s going to be a tougher and tougher employee market to handle and keep your employees.

Kody: So is it safe to say that a 33 percent retention gain results in tens of millions of dollars to the bottom line? Is that an exaggeration?

Gregg: It’s not an exaggeration. You could certainly hard key into that $10 million quite easily and you want to take some of that obviously to my public stakeholders. But you also want to take that and reinvest it in your people, but yes.

Kody: Right. So it’s substantial. I mean this is a big, big deal. So everybody is wondering, “OK. Well, how do you do it? I mean what kind of things do you do?” This is where I hope everybody is ready to take some great notes because this guy – I want you to not only listen to his logic but listen to his heart because that’s the key to – I believe it’s the key to your message Gregg. It’s not only your smarts, your knowledge, but what’s in your heart. So talk to us. What do you do? What kind of things do you do to get that increase?

Gregg: Well, we started with this long cord that we have where we tie everybody to their desks and their chairs. That’s what we start with. No, I’m kidding obviously.

Kody: Right!

 Gregg: It’s very simple and very complicated at the same time. I’ve been blessed to grow up a very blue-collared person. But let me start with something that my team always hears me say and they always hear me say, “We speak from the janitor to the manager, not from the manager to the janitor.” So the first and foremost thing is you need to value your people. You need to let your people know their value and I don’t care at what level.

I mean you and I will get some level of respect Kody because we have titles and such. But your frontline people might not get that respect in general and might not get it from the management team, which is terrible. So first and foremost, what you got to do in these places is truly mean and value your employees. Go out and be with your employees when you’re in an operation or when I’m in an operation.

Kody: So you travel around and go – because there are several offices and you travel around and visit those offices. You mentioned to me the other day some of the daily things that you do amongst the team. Can you just share that real quickly with us?

Gregg: Sure, I would be glad to. I mean when I am traveling and going into an operation whether it’s 50 people or 500 people, the last thing I do is go into the manager’s office. The first thing I do is I walk the floor. I’ve been here 9.5 years through the growth of this company. So I get lots of hugs and I ask about children and pets and things. This is actually the favorite part of what I do in an operation is just to simply be with my people. What’s really cool is after nine years and plus, I get to see the cards that we have sent over the years for birthdays and anniversaries tagged up all over people’s cubes and it’s – I will tell you a quick story.

A gentleman in Austin, Texas where I sent this big card and a gift to, he’s our custodian, our janitor in many people’s minds. He’s still with us. But just a great guy. We know his children. We know his family and the best part I do when I’m in an operation, obviously I study profits and all the things you might consider. But my favorite thing is to walk the floor and to close my trip with a meeting with a hand-picked crew of frontline staff without any other management, so that I know what’s going on in an operation.

Kody: OK. So I want to make sure that everybody gets what you just said. So you treat people like people first and an employee second. That’s huge. I mean you’ve already shared with us how you do that. I mean you go and you walk the floor before you go to the manager’s office, which in and of itself is a huge thing. But there’s something significant about what you said. As you walk the floor and you’re hugging people and high-fiving people and hey, how are you doing? How is your family? First of all, you know those things about those people. But you also mentioned that as you pass their cubicles, they have hanging – they have greeting cards hanging on their cubicles from you, right?

So you have to have sent them greeting cards and maybe gifts on occasion. So you don’t just go in there and act like you like everybody when you get there. You kind of like everybody every single day of the year. You go back home. You send them cards. You do stuff like that.

I want to make sure that everybody understands the significance of what you’re saying and so Gregg, I want you to just elaborate on that a little bit. I know what your heart is like. It’s a celebration of people and that’s what you do. You’re a master at it. You are a master at celebrating people through gifts, through direct word, through photos, through card sent in the mail, through walking through the door and taking the time to talk to people, looking them straight in the eyes. Where does that come from, brother?

Like you said, you have a blue collar upbringing and stuff. But where does that heart of gold – one thing I noticed with what I do is people are usually logic-based or they’re heart-based. It’s not very often you find a balance between logic and heart. You have that balance. Share with us where that comes from.

Gregg: That came from my upbringing, my father. My father worked on a river front in New Orleans. His whole life on the docks, raised five great kids. At least four and then there’s me and taught us that and it has been the biggest gift in my life Kody. I didn’t think you were going to ask this. But it has actually been the biggest gift in my life. Because you know what? I can go in and have a meaningful conversation with a minimum wage employee in some cases and close that evening out with a dinner with the governor of that state. That wide girth of being able to deal with people on different levels.

Remember what I said earlier. If you treat everybody like the CEO, then you don’t have to worry about whether you’re dealing with the CEO or the governor or whether you’re dealing with the custodian or a call center employee because people are people and they want to be valued and they should be valued. You can value people and still demand high expectations.

Kody: Yeah, absolutely, which you’re a great example of that. So in doing this, treating people nicely, getting involved with – treating them as a person first, employee second. You’ve shared all kinds of examples of how you do that. Doesn’t that kind of free up your time? Because of that activity, you have to worry a little bit less about retention. I know a lot of what you do is you have big call centers all over the place and I’ve run call centers before and the turnaround in call centers is unbelievable. It’s like you – it’s a revolving door almost. People come in and three months later, they’re gone. You worry a little bit less about that because you create an environment where people stick around for a longer period of time, which enables you to focus on some other things.

Can you just share a couple of those real quick? I know training has got to be important, how you onboard, stuff like that.

Gregg: Yeah. I mean good thing I don’t sleep because I still worry about it every night. The turnover in a call center is huge and it’s important to us. But that’s the most important thing about employees. Kody, I was watching a speaker yesterday who said, “You want somebody to follow you to the end of the earth?” He said, “Value them, serve them. All the great ones do it.”

That’s really true. So the skillsets, the other skillsets are obviously people when they call that – or in HR for instance. But the smarter you might bring people onboard and hiring, the better training and onboarding that you have in the organization, the better your communication would be with your frontline staff. It’s very important.

All those things including celebrating successes are very important. But without the relationship piece – and people don’t always think they can have relationships with their frontline employees. I’m not talking about going out to happy hour. I’m talking about valuing them as individuals.

Kody: Excellent. In all your spare time – I don’t know how you do this. But in all your spare time, you actually have another company. You have a consulting company. You help businesses. Can you briefly just share with us what you do in that company?

Gregg: I do. I have a consulting company called Bryars Business Solutions. We do a few things. One is leadership development which is my absolute favorite. But secondly it is pure business consulting. So that would be profitably restructuring our organization, looking at its sales process or operations process, improving their bottom line, so on and so forth. But it’s stuff that I enjoy greatly.

Kody: And so how do you attract – because again, you know how much time – because that’s kind of a side business. How do you attract the business? What kind of marketing efforts do you do?

Gregg: So I do absolutely know marketing. The gigs if you will, the work that I do achieve usually comes to me through people I have worked with over my career of 30 years. So prior CEOs, COOs, people I’ve been peers with, so on and so forth. So all of my business comes from a phone call from someone I have interacted with that says, “Hey, I just came to this organization. I need you to come take a look under the hood. Would you come do that for me?”

Kody: Excellent. You’re what I would call a level four greeting card center meaning that it’s – you’re a habitual card sender. You use our phone apps. So it’s really easy for you to do it. You already mentioned how you do that in this multibillion dollar company and send cards and gifts to a lot of these employees, whatever. Again, you’re just a master at celebrating life. You had mentioned to be me before in your consulting business you kind of do the same thing. You send different cards out. In fact you had a story you shared with me earlier today about sending a card. So we will close out with that. Go ahead.

Gregg: Yeah, that’s great. I’m a master card sender with the help obviously of my wife Melanie who helps me with the other business. But this particular story is pretty neat.

Last year, I had signed a pretty significant and lucrative contract for myself, a guy I had worked for as a COO in a new company before he asked me to come take a look under the hood. What I didn’t realize is that the owner and almost 22 other people were going to be part of that interview.

All of these people knew that I was onboard to come in and look under the hood, which is very uncomfortable for people to have someone look under the hood like that. Some interviews were one on one like with the owners. Some were panel interviews. But I took notes and I noticed things in offices and I sent each and every one of those individuals a personalized card and gift. Some were branding. Some was a shotgun mug because the guy had hunting pictures in his office. But I will tell you that particular gig which was very lucrative and successful for us, I will tell you that that was one on the fact that I responded with the greeting cards and gifts because they have the right to say we’re not going to want this guy to come in and look under the hood.

Kody: Wow. So that turned into a great business and other referrals came out of that from some of those people. Is that right or …

Gregg: Yeah. As a matter of fact, that same gentleman I’m talking about is just – has just moved on to a new venture and we had a two-hour call on Sunday. So it appears that way, yes.

Kody: So those are the natural side effects that happened from being nice to people. People say to me all the time, “Hey, Kody. What is it that you do?” What I do is the same thing that you do, Gregg. We teach people how to be nice to each other. I mean that’s really what it comes down to. We have tools to help you do that.

What you send out in life is what you get back my friends and if you treat people with kindness, they send kindness back. That which you appreciate – and Gregg is a great example of showing appreciation to people in his life and whatever he appreciates, appreciates. In other words, his business increases. His relationships increase and we’ve heard some great stories today about how that happens.

So Gregg, I really appreciate you being on with us today. Excellent, excellent information. I’m sure people took great notes. By the way, my guest next week is also out of Atlanta, Georgia. I want to see if this is a small world. Next week I’m going to be interviewing Jason Ells [0:16:02] [Phonetic]. He’s in the fitness club business. You wouldn’t by chance know Jason Ells, would you?

Gregg: Wow! I certainly do. It’s a small world. I do know Jason. He’s a great guy. That would be a great call, Kody.

Kody: Yeah. He’s in the fitness industry. He runs these big fitness clubs. Man, he has got an incredible story about using relationship marketing to increase his referrals by over 300 percent.

In the fitness industry, it’s a cutthroat, it’s a tough, tough, tough business to compete in. You want to tune in next week and hey Gregg, appreciate you brother. Appreciate your heart. Appreciate your knowledge and glad that you could be with us today. Any final words of wisdom for our group as we exit off?

Gregg: Do what’s in your heart, guys. Treat people the way that you want to be treated in all walks of life, wherever that is, and it will come back in spades. I can assure you that whether it’s business or in your personal life. Kody, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Kody: Absolutely. Thanks Gregg. Thanks everybody. We will see you next week. Take care now.

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