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December 14, 2017
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From the White House to the warehouse

If your company has been struggling with staffing issues, then you might want to learn a thing or two from John Straub.

If your company has been struggling with staffing issues, then you might want to learn a thing or two from John Straub. Since he took over as vice president of human resources for the U.S.-based logistics service provider Kane Is Able in 2006, employee turnover has plummeted by 50 percent. In the company's 19 distribution centers, turnover has dropped from 42 percent to 18 percent. What's more, driver turnover is just 20 percent annually—an impressive number when you consider that the average for U.S. truckload carriers in 2008 was 116 percent.

Those achievements are especially notable because Straub had no previous experience in the logistics field. Prior to joining Kane, he worked at the White House as special assistant to the President for administration.

Wherever they may work, human resource professionals face the same basic challenges when it comes to recruitment, retention, and productivity.

Earlier in his career, he served as associate dean of human resources at Harvard University and as an administrative officer for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Although these workplaces might seem to have little in common, Straub says that's not the case. Wherever they may work, he says, human resource professionals face the same basic challenges when it comes to recruitment, retention, and productivity.

Take leadership development, for example. Whether they work in government, at a university, or in the warehouse, he says, "associates are starved for good leadership, and good leadership can be hard to find." What makes a good leader? Among other attributes, Straub says, a good leader sets clear goals and expectations, removes barriers that might keep the team from being successful, and rewards achievement and corrects weaknesses.

That sounds basic enough. So why is good leadership so rare? "Many leaders got to their positions by being the longestserving member of their team, many times in spite of their lack of leadership capabilities," Straub explains. "Leaders tend to be subject-matter experts but may suffer from lack of creativity, passion, ingenuity, and capability." Straub's background has influenced how Kane is Able has handled the economic downturn. He believes that instead of cutting jobs when business slows—a tactic that might help companies reach short-term budget goals but leaves them with a demoralized workforce—managers would do better to focus on a different target: the huge costs associated with recruitment and training. Many don't realize how much it costs them to replace an associate. "Think of the amount of lost productivity, the loss of institutional knowledge, the recruiting and training costs, equipment and systems training costs, costs associated with covering the gaps, potential overtime, and on and on," he says. Those costs could easily run into millions of dollars over the course of a year.

And speaking of recruiting, you might want to take note of the "attitude first and aptitude second" hiring process Straub has instituted at Kane Is Able. "Instead of focusing on the number of years they have spent operating a particular piece of machinery," he explains, "[we look] for candidates who [demonstrate] a passion for customer service. In other words, we hire for attitude and train for skill."

As Kane's retention statistics clearly show, the results are hard to argue with. It might be worth your while, then, to consider how Straub's philosophy could make a difference in your own workplace.

Mitch Mac Donald is Group Editorial Director of AGiLE Business Media.

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