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Well, actually, it was C.R.A.P.: caring, respect, appreciation, and praise.
"There are other things involved in retention, of course, but C.R.A.P. is at the heart of it," Kortes explains. "Giving people C.R.A.P. works."
This epiphany didn't arrive totally out of the blue. Kortes was drawing on more than 25 years of experience as an HR professional, trainer, and consultant, stretching all the way back to one of his first jobs.
"I didn't call it C.R.A.P. at the time, but I started to learn C.R.A.P. during the very early days of my career," Kortes recalls. "I had a mentor at the time who believed that this was the way you retained people."
At the time, Kortes was working in a business that hired 300 seasonal employees every year. One of the major challenges was convincing these employees to stay for the whole season.
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"We didn't pay the best money, and it was seasonal work, so the question was how could we get them to stay for the entire processing season?" Kortes recalls. "[My mentor] really believed the caring, respect, appreciation, and praise was the key. What else could get people to stay?"
That's when the ideas behind C.R.A.P. began to take root in Kortes' mind, and they stayed with him throughout his career. He applied them at every job he held – but it wasn't until that drive to Detroit that he found the perfect acronym to contain them.
C.R.A.P., of course, is a real attention-getter.
"It makes people focus on the core skills in employee retention," Kortes says of the unconventional acronym. "I always say, 'If people take nothing else away when I speak to groups, they take C.R.A.P. away."
But C.R.A.P. is more than just a marketing gimmick, some verbal jingle meant to stick in people's minds. It also gives people permission to have fun when talking about employee retention – and that encourages more sincere efforts to make retention work.
"Most people want to have fun," Kortes says. "But there's this thought process that if you're having fun, you're not doing your work. All of a sudden, I roll out C.R.A.P., and people smile. Then, they get into it, and they start talking about it. C.R.A.P. takes on a whole new meaning for them. People can't use the word 'crap' in the work environment anymore without thinking about caring, respect, appreciation, and praise."
C.R.A.P. in Action
Caring, respect, appreciation, and praise are all common enough concepts – but because of their very mundanity, it's easy to overlook them. In fact, it turns out most of us have been overlooking them for so long we no longer know what they look like in practice.
Kortes offers a few examples for those who would like to start giving their employees C.R.A.P.:
Caring ultimately means being there for employees when they need you.
"When people have issues or problems, be there. Listen to them," Kortes says.
He also stresses the importance of making yourself as available as possible to employees: "When people need you, they need you right away. They usually don't need you a week from now. If you blow somebody off a couple of times when they come to your office, they're going to stop coming at all."
In addition, it is important to sincerely have employees' best interests at heart.
"People know when you don't care about them," Kortes says. "You don't need a master's degree in psychology to know if somebody cares about you."
Listening plays a major role in demonstrate respect for employees. Young workers – all workers, really, but especially millennial and Gen. Z talent – like to have their voices heard and their opinions solicited.
"Instead of telling people, 'Here's how we're going to do stuff,' say, 'We have this problem, and I have some ideas as to how to fix it, but what do you think?'" Kortes says. "Just doing that is very powerful."
Appreciation means telling people when they've done a good job – which is all too rare in workplaces these days.
"We tend to look for people doing things wrong, but I'm an advocate that you want to go out there and find people doing things right," Kortes says. "If someone gets a report in on time, say, 'Hey, thanks for getting me the report on time.' If they crank out some parts that look good, you say, "Parts look good today – keep it up!'"
Praise is a step above appreciation, to be given out when employees really hit it out of the park.
"When someone exceeds expectations, you make a big deal out of it," Kortes says. "You tell them how hugely important what they did is, how it links to the organization, and how it makes a difference."
Ultimately, if you want to retain your employees, Kortes says giving them C.R.A.P. is the best way to go.
"If you do, you will see a shift," he says. "I have seen the huge impact is has when organizations focus on C.R.A.P."