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How We Get and Keep the Best Employees by Gary Shapiro, President and CEO

How can an association get and keep great employees? Unlike for-profit companies, we can't seduce candidates with the hope, however slim, of great wealth through stock options or big salaries. Unlike the government, we can't promise security, generous pensions or power over people's lives. With competition for employees in the Washington area from government and strong companies, an association has to be more creative to attract the best and the brightest. After all, most associations don't own patents or sell branded products. 

An association's employees are critical to its success. The 140+ employees of the Consumer Electronics Association promote the industry through typical strategies in lobbying, standards, market research and the industry's big event, the International CES. As president of CEA, I spend as much time on developing employees as I do on outside strategic issues. 

While we are far from perfect, we've tried several tactics to attract and retain top employees and inspire them to greatness. Here are a few of them. 

Hire the Best

CEA has a highly selective recruitment and selection process. We take the time to carefully screen every new hire through several rounds of interviews. To help guide hiring managers, we developed a list of 12 key success factors. We look for these qualities in candidates through behavioral interviewing, which helps us predict their fit and success within our culture. We also use progressive recruiting methods such as subscribing to online job boards, directly sourcing candidates and developing a comprehensive section on our website devoted to working at CEA.

Listen to People

For the past several years, using an anonymous survey, we have asked our employees about various aspects of their job, including pay, benefits, perks, office space, working environment and the support they receive. As a result, we have modified our 401(k) and pension plans; changed our medical benefits; added perks such as bottled water; strengthened our internal training and career development; expanded casual day to every day; and established Blue Jean Fridays.

Be Different

It's not enough to simply match our benefits to those of other employers in the area; we have to do more. For example, every weekday evening instructors from Fitness and Image Results put interested employees through a one-hour "boot camp." This rigorous exercise program is not only a good physical conditioner, it is also a great team builder. We also have lunch time yoga two days a week.

Reward Hard Work

CEA employees know coming in that they will be asked to work hard and sometimes put in extra hours. In return for their commitment, we help employees balance work and family life. Employees are offered flextime and generous paid time off from day one. Typically in the summer, many employees have the option of working longer days earlier in the week and leaving early on Fridays. Several employees have telework arrangements or work part-time to accommodate both their individual needs and the needs of the association.

Incentives and Bonuses

Every CEA employee is eligible for incentive compensation (IC). This annual bonus begins at 10 percent and goes higher depending on position and responsibility. An employee's IC is tied to achieving individual goals, each of which correlates to four or five association-wide goals. In addition to the goal-based annual IC, we provide spot bonuses and occasional team bonuses for extraordinary performance. We also pay employees $750 for referring a candidate we hire. And occasionally we offer special incentives; for example, every employee received a Palm Pilot when Palm became a major customer.

Do Well By Doing Good

The industry we represent is very competitive and the profit margins are low. Our industry and its volunteer leaders expect and demand much from the association. We produce the industry's most important event -- the International CES, attended by more than 130,000 people each year. We ask a lot from our employees and the stress is high. But the stress relievers and the rewards are high in many ways. 

Our employees are extraordinarily proud of their jobs and the association. They are also viewed as top-notch professionals and are often contacted by headhunters representing for-profit companies. But we manage to keep many of the best, not only because of the benefits and programs I've described here but because our employees genuinely like each other. The kind of atmosphere where all employees are empowered by our Board and management is a strong reason employees look forward to coming to work every day. 

There's one final reason why I think we do well. We do well by doing good. The consumer electronics industry is a great one. Our employees know that if they succeed in their job, our world will be better off as citizens can stay in touch with each other and have low-cost access to education, entertainment and information. And that's what it's all about.

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Excerpted from GWSAE Executive Update - Read the full article