Interview with Bill O’Malley
benefits of scheduling bite-sized meetings with employees. The value
of these ‘stay’ or re-recruiting talks can be huge.
Everyone in our industry knows that many home furnishings retailers have
been running short-staffed. This was discussed in a September/October
Furniture World issue interview with management recruiter Bill
O’Malley. (“Turnover Tsunami”).
This time we continue our conversation with Bill O’Malley to take
a deeper look at what Furniture World readers can do to make sure they
stay as close to fully staffed as possible in the coming months.
“Retention,” O’Malley advised, “is the most
important thing retailers can concentrate on right now. Everybody from
clinical psychologists to HR leaders nationwide says that employers need
to get closer to their workforce.”
O’Malley said he recently spoke with the CEO of a large retail
furniture organization, who had not measured employee turnover rate,
about how long his operation takes to fill key positions and other basic
metrics (see charts 1 & 2). “Part of any recruiting
needs-assessment is to understand an organization’s culture and
why people leave,” he advised. “For example, if a retailer
has seven salespeople and they are supposed to have 10, they need to
know what impact that employee shortfall has on sales. Collecting this
information is a first step to finding solutions to employment
In this time of high employment, employees are thinking about the
benefits of working for employers who provide them with opportunities to
grow and feel valued within organizations. “They want to feel like
part of a team and believe in their employer’s mission,”
O’Malley added. They do not want to hear general statements about
how great your company is or how, working together, ‘we can all
get the job done.’ Any furniture store whose people don’t
feel a deep connection to their company and its mission, who don’t
feel valued, or suffer from burnout, has a problem.
“Over the past four years, I’ve received an increasing
number of inquiries from furniture retailers asking if I can help them
recruit salespeople, warehouse employees and other front-line workers.
In the past, these positions are ones that store owners would never have
considered paying a management recruiter to fill. The economics of it,
even in these times of full employment, just doesn’t make sense.
“My reply to them is that one of the most productive things they
can do to avoid becoming short-staffed is to focus on retention.”
What is Re-Recruiting?
“One of the best ways to improve retention is for retail CEOs to
schedule bite-size conversations with their people.” He calls
these ‘stay conversations’ or re-recruiting.
“Re-recruiting,” he explained, “starts by scheduling
one-on-one in-person or even Zoom meetings with current employees.
“For CEOs who employ 50 or more people, speaking with every
employee is impossible, so responsibility for having re-recruiting
conversations needs to be split up. “The duration of these
conversations should be about 15 minutes, over a cup of coffee or a
“Large retailers might need to organize their effort using pyramid
groups. The CEO re-recruits the corporate team. Regional managers
re-recruit store managers and it filters down from there. The math is
simple. The purpose is to:
Talk to them about their work environments.
Find what they like most about working at your company.
Ask them if they feel like they are part of a team of co-workers.
See if they have problems with toxic team members.
“It’s understandable that managers may be reluctant to have
these conversations because there are always a few employees who are
difficult to work with or are time vampires. That’s why these
meetings need to be structured to avoid going down rabbit holes or
devolving into gripe sessions.”
A Sample Conversation
“Here’s how a conversation might begin with an employee.
Joni works on the sales floor as an assistant store manager or is,
perhaps, a sales design consultant. She has some skillsets and is
looking to advance. Wouldn’t you rather give her that opportunity
than have her work for a competitor? Unfortunately, when people
aren’t listened to and feel that they don’t have a voice,
that’s what happens.”
CEO: Joni, let’s talk about where you are today
and how satisfied you are with your role at XYZ Furniture. Where else do
you see yourself going?
Joni: Oh, my gosh, I have no idea.
CEO: How do you think I can help you grow to achieve
your future goals at XYZ Furniture? Or, Are there other roles in our
company you’ve been exposed to that you might like to target?
Joni: Ok, I’ve always thought I might make a good
CEO: Joni, that’s very interesting. What a great
area. I am interested to know why you feel that job would match your
Joni: I have a bachelor’s degree in Business.
And, I’ve always had a flair for style and color. Plus,
mathematics comes easy to me. (A key benefit of this conversation is to
discover little gems of information like these.)
CEO: I will meet with our buying team and get back to
you with an idea I have about giving you an opportunity to spend some
time in that area. Perhaps you can shadow our upholstery buyer on a
scheduled basis to get a bird’s eye view of what a day in her life
looks like. If that goes well, we can follow up at the next semi-annual
succession planning meeting. I will put a note on my calendar to get
back to you with a plan. How does that sound?
Another great area to focus on right now, coming off two stressful
years, is work/life balance.
CEO: Tell me about your work-life and family balance.
How are you managing things? Having gone through the stress of the
pandemic in my role as CEO, I can sympathize with team members at XYZ
Furniture who are closer to the front line. So please tell me about
Joni: One of my five kids got COVID a couple of months
back that disrupted the whole family. I have a mildly autistic son who
needs extra attention, and my husband manages a restaurant. All this,
plus working retail hours has been difficult. I cannot wait until things
get back to normal.
CEO: Thanks for being so forthcoming. I want to find a
way to help. If you are interested in speaking to somebody, I have a
resource I can recommend. And, we can also look at arranging some PTO to
help you regroup and get your strength back.
Most insurance plans have a Health and Wellness Advocate line.
CEO: I would like to ask you a few more questions. Are
you familiar with and believe in our mission here at XYZ Furniture? Do
you feel like you are part of a team that is making good on that
mission? Do you feel valued, and if not, what can I do to help you feel
Some people will lie to you;
they’ll hedge and say what they think you want to hear. So, try to
make these conversations personal
It Takes Guts
“In the sample conversation above, when it becomes evident that
Joni needs some help, the CEO should be thinking of ways to help her
rather than have her become the next turnover casualty. It is not the
job of any CEO to be a clinical psychologist. However, even asking
questions during these bite-sized sessions and listening carefully to
the answers will show that you have empathy and care about the
“Some people will lie to you; they’ll hedge and say what
they think you want to hear. So, try to make these conversations
personal by opening up and sharing a bit about yourself and your
feelings. It will have a powerful positive impact on retention.
“It takes guts to have these conversations, especially for retail
leaders who haven’t previously cultivated deep and ongoing
personal connections with mid-level and front-line employees.
“When done well, all of a sudden, personal relationships get built
based on shared experiences. My suggestion is to start by making
re-recruiting conversations quarterly, then go to twice a year.”
O’Malley says that once started, stay conversations tend to
continue organically on the sales floor, in the showroom, warehouse or
at teamwork-level events like barbecues or pancake breakfasts. Right
now, though, casual group interactions are not enough. Furniture
retailers need to be more proactive.
“The suggestion that retail employees don’t need to be in
the office all the time makes most furniture store CEOs’ heads
explode. Your warehouse management team does have to be where the work
gets done. However, once or twice a month, they might be given the
freedom to do performance appraisals or other paperwork at home.”
Bill O’Malley advises Furniture World readers to challenge the
belief that there are some jobs that can never include remote hours.
When possible, trusting workers to do this on certain days is one of the
most powerful ways to avoid turnover.
Chart #1: Time To Fill Tracking Worksheet
||Opening Approval Date
||Date Offer Accepted
||Candidate Start Date
||Time (Days) to HIRE
||Time (Days)to FILL
||# of Positions Filled
||Average Time to HIRE
||Average Time to FILL
Chart #1 shows a simple worksheet your HR team or hiring
authority can use to determine how quickly your key positions are
Time (Days) to Hire – This is the number
of days from when the opening or requisition to hire is approved
to the time an offer is accepted or signed.
Time (Days) to Fill – This is the number
of days from when the opening is created until the new hire start
For small- to medium-sized businesses Days to Fill is the number
to focus on. Every day that an opening is left unfilled results in
lost productivity and sales. Over time, losses resulting from
understaffing on the sales floor, warehouse, office, buying and
support departments can be staggering. Under-staffing also
increases stress and shifts workload to remaining staff that may
cause additional turnover.
Reduce Work Hours
“Another way to improve retention is to address employees’
work/life balance.” O’Malley observed that “reducing
store closing times by an hour or two, for example, from 9 PM to 7 PM,
can be highly effective.
“This may sound like risky and radical thinking, but there are
many stores that have reduced hours or remain closed on certain days,
even holidays such as the Fourth of July, Christmas and Easter. They
then build events around the edges of those holidays to drive traffic.
“Doing this can boost recruiting and retention by sending the
family-friendly message that management cares about employees’
Randi Schachter, a fourth-generation family member at BILTRITE
Furniture, was quoted in a 2019 Furniture World article, “Our
motto is ‘Seven days of business in six days’, and we are
doing it! BILTRITE has continued to grow each year and we should have
closed on Sundays years ago!” O’Malley added that
“Reducing their selling hours to six, closing on most Sundays and
some holidays have helped BILTRITE retrain customers and make their
staff more productive.”
O’Malley recalled a conversation he had about a year ago with a
retailer located in a remote area of the northeast who intended to pay
between $55,000 and $60,000 for a warehouse manager. “This CEO,
who decided to do his own recruiting, hired someone for $55,000 who
lacked industry experience. That employee left after seven months, and
the retailer is now trying to re-fill that position offering $75,000 as
a base salary.
“Good category buyers who would have made $80,000 to $85,000 are
being offered $100,000 to $110,000. “It’s not hard to
imagine that when a new employee is offered $15,000 more than someone
hired just a year before to do a similar level job, problems can arise.
“I work with a smart, young CEO who recently hired a warehouse
manager for about $80,000 per year. A potential wage comparison problem
arose since two other experienced managers in her organization made
less. My advice was to sit down with the other employees and discuss
“There has been some push-back from CEOs on current salary offers.
Many feel that they cannot afford to pay current rates, but there are
really very few options. I would say ignoring market pay rates by being
stuck in the past will lead to lower quality hires and higher
Chart #2: Turnover Rate Calculation
||Number of Separated Employees
||Average Number of Employees
||Monthly Turnover Rates
||Quarterly Turnover Rates
||Annual Turnover Rates
Chart #2 illustrates the cascading effect that one or two
resignations per month have on an annual turnover rate. In this
example, monthly turnover contributes to an annual turnover rate
of 94.7 percent. The result is constant training as well as
stressful working conditions for employees and managers. Focus on
monthly, quarterly and annual “Turnover Rate” trends.
Employee turnover rate is easy to track by pulling data from
payroll. It is calculated by dividing the number of separations
during a month by the average number of employees, multiplied by
Turnover Rate = Number of Separations / Average
Number of Employees X 100.
“Everyone needs to make sure the benefits offered match up. People
are looking for medical and a 401(k). If you are not paying at least 50
percent of the employee’s medical (not including family coverage),
don’t provide a matching 401(k), and if you don’t have a
solid PTO policy, you will lose people. Offering one week of vacation
after working for a year and then edging up to three weeks after five
years will just not cut it.
“Companies are updating their PTO plans. The day someone is
hired,” O’Malley added, “they should start accruing
PTO hours. You do not need to give them PTO in their first month, but it
should be accruing. They should have usable PTO by the time they get
past your introductory period at 90 days or 120 days.“
Circling back to metrics, Bill O’Malley concludes, “One of
the first things retailers need to do is have turnover metrics at their
fingertips. Here are the major metrics to track. Most companies do not
currently track the days to hire or time to fill metrics. Chart #1 shows
a simple worksheet your HR team or hiring authority can use to determine
how quickly your key positions are being filled. Chart #2 illustrates
the cascading effect that one or two resignations per month have on an
annual turnover rate.“
Questions about the topics covered in this interview with Bill
O’Malley can be directed to Bill care of