There are plenty of tips, tools, and ideas that can help you retain your best staff. With unemployment finally on the decline, it is even more critical to retain and attract strong talent to your organization. Some of my strongest clients have had great success by developing from the ground up to keep employees happy. This starts at the foundation of a corporation and to be successful must be systemic within the company DNA. Whenever possible avoid part-time staff and use as few subcontractors as possible. If this means running very lean crews and cross training your employees, then so be it—you will be ahead of the game when times get tough again and this will create a strong sense of teamwork throughout the organization. Full-time employees tend to feel more appreciated and have a sense that their time investment is worthwhile instead of just “punching in” and “punching out.”
IDENTIFY AND UNDERSTAND COMPLAINTS
The old adage, “I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken,” is so true in this instance. Reducing employee turnover is dependent on the total work environment you offer for employees. When a manager is not privy to the frustrations that exist within his/her company, problems can never be addressed. Ask questions of your most critical staff, get to the root cause of the pain and, most importantly, fix it quickly and efficiently. If employees feel secure, they will tell you what is on their mind. Your company culture must foster trust for this communication to be successful. If you feel your managers and supervisors follow the rule of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” then try to change it. These companies are dying off quickly because of the lack of succession planning that was directly related to these “screamers” running all of these talented kids out of the trade. I have witnessed first-hand, more than once, that no one wants to be known as the whistle blower of the company. This can be avoided with anonymous questionnaires slipped into a drop box. Employees leave managers and supervisors more often than they leave companies or jobs. Harboring trustworthy lines of communication for your employees will create an atmosphere where employees want to stay and grow with your business.
ESTABLISH LIFE/WORK BALANCE
There is a paradigm shift that has taken place in the last 20 or 30 years. People are more concerned about their quality of life than they are about their work. This shift in attitude can be very hard to manage and was brought about in the 1990s when generation Xers observed their workaholic parents spending their life at work and concluded that their parents’ lifestyle simply was not for them.
Employers that do not recognize the importance of balancing life and work will lose good people to the companies who understand what matters to their personnel. There are always employees who are very motivated to do a good job, but they also want to be recognized for it. There are also individuals in the workforce who do good outside of the workplace that goes unnoticed. An idea to recognize these efforts “on and off the court” would be to highlight and support these actions in a company newsletter. We have several clients who heavily recognize individuals who volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, for example. This is a way for the employer to say they understand how important these types of activities are to their people. At the same time, it shows employees how they “work” their job supports their lifestyle. This is a step in the right direction for life/work balance, but it also creates a workforce that will want stick around, even when times aren’t so good.
CUSTOMER DOES NOT COME FIRST
When a business puts its employees first, many positive things can happen. First, if you have an employee that feels valued and appreciated, they will be happy, which is your biggest ally as it relates to employee retention. Second, when the employee is happy, the service that the employee provides to the customer will be higher quality than if he or she were not happy. If the service is outstanding, the customer will be happy and that spells successful results for the business. Following this formula can be very good for business financially in more ways than simple customer satisfaction, the hidden expense of employee replacement costs can be enormous. Employee replacement could encompass everything from exit interviews to assistance with COBRA, not to mention the actual costs of recruiting and training the replacement. These are costs often hidden in a profit and loss sheet, but the reality is that they are there and can be avoided.
RECRUITING THE RIGHT PERSON
The key to any good hire starts with understanding the prospective employee. This can be accomplished by asking a variety of questions. The ideal hire is a referral from a strong employee. Often this potential candidate follows the same values and work ethic held by the individual referring.
The most important question to ask in any interview is the question surrounding “motive.” If there is not a genuine response to this question, then keep looking. Some answers to steer clear from are, “I’m all about the money,” or “What are the bonuses?” Look for answers like, “Tell me about your company culture,” or “What do I need to do around here to get on a fast track?” Don’t be concerned with finding the candidate that has ten out of ten checks in the box. These people only exist on paper. Look for the individual that has a strong base and can be trained quickly on what he/she does not possess. I have had tremendous experience crossing people over from excavation companies to concrete companies and then concrete companies to general contractors. A potential hire’s perceived value to your company can typically be best evaluated by their stability in work history.
The very best candidate to lure is the one who has a history of weathering the storm and sticking things out. This takes an individual with thick skin and perseverance, both very strong character traits to look for in any industry and build your company around. When looking for the right candidate in the construction business, formal education is not always the answer. In a perfect world, we all want a degreed civil engineer that started out with a shovel in his/her hands 20 years ago. Unfortunately, these individuals are the rare exception, not the rule. It’s not that education is not important, it is just that the construction trade overall has a perception by our youth as being a very physically demanding trade. When these individuals go to college and see the programs associated with this field, they tend to go another direction. This is unfortunate, because the most rewarding careers are in the construction industry. This is due in large part to the flexibility, entrepreneurial thinking, and levity of people that move into management roles within these organizations—a very contrasting style to corporate America. There are many things to consider when hiring and retaining talent within your organization, but if you follow these principles in combination with your instincts about people, you will acquire and retain a successful hire.
About the author:
Tim Stuck, of TRS Consulting, has been an executive recruiter tailored to the construction industry since 1999. He has worked this trade in all 50 states and 7 different countries. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, April 2018
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