Contractors know it is challenging enough to retain good employees in a competitive market. Add to that challenge the ability to select and encourage employees who may make the best crew leaders and managers, and developing a team might seem impossible. Here, four members of the Association of Accredited Small Business Consultants weigh in on how to do so successfully.
Mollie Watkins is a Fayetteville, Arkansas-based accredited small business consultant who runs Comprehensive Consulting Solutions for Small Businesses.
“First, ask the employee about their goals and what they are trying to achieve with their position,” says Watkins. Once an employee’s goals are articulated, identify the resources they need to achieve them.
It’s also important to celebrate milestones, celebrating those activities that move the employee toward their goal such as helping the business grow, Watkins says, adding, “We all know people will do more when they feel appreciated.”
Those factors that drive someone to a goal are just as important as reaching the goal, she says.
Kathleen Ries-Jubenville, a certified high-performance coach whose company The Fearless Climb helps business owners, recommends starting by establishing policies and procedures at the company level and for each job.
Set clear expectations and measurable goals with each employee. Meet regularly to discuss their progress and provide training and feedback.
Keep written documentation of successes and challenges in a private manager’s-eyes-only file. Document serious problems in the employee’s HR folder.
However, that incident may be a learning opportunity, says Ries-Jubenville. She suggests making a note in the private file to monitor that employee’s progress.
Set up rewards and recognitions systems, such as a gift card for each accident-free quarter or a year-end bonus for meeting goals.
Richard Arenz, CPA, an accredited small business consultant and principal of Avanzar Business Consultant LLC in Cape Coral, Florida, works with small businesses to identify people with leadership potential using a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis. A company owner should conduct one-on-one meetings with such employees to help sustain their strong points and incrementally improve weak areas.
“You don’t want that meeting to only be about business,” says Arenz, adding he’s found over the years “it’s also got to be a little personal sort of relationship and a rapport-building.”
Natalie Rose Brown, who runs Indigo Services Consulting, an executive search consulting firm in Houston, says many companies focus on coaching.
“In a coaching relationship, you can establish a goal with employees, examine the reality of that goal and explore with them options of how to reach that goal. Then you establish their will and commitment,” says Brown.
It plays off the GROW model (goal, current reality, options and will), in that a company owner is not just telling employees what to do but working with them to reach their full potential, she adds.
Choose the best
Watkins says there is a difference between a leader and a manager.
“A leader is going to be right there in the trenches with their team, helping them achieve their goals,” she says. “A manager is going to stand back and not really be engaged in the process.”
Ries-Jubenville says employees with leadership potential demonstrate distinct characteristics. Other team members already look up to them or go to them to get their questions answered. They have a consistent personality which makes them approachable and are generally positive and helpful.
They believe in the company and support the management team. They are willing to pitch in to get the job done. They follow company policies and refrain from gossip.
Seek out people who demonstrate an eagerness and ambition to grow and find out what they’re ambitious about, says Arenz.
He offers the example of being part of a business networking group that includes people who are reticent to get up in front of others and speak.
“It’s in identifying those things and helping them, along with becoming stronger in that, because the more you get face time when speaking to people — that’s an example of leadership — is where you start becoming confident,” he says. “You’ve got to find out where this person is shy or afraid and really strengthen those areas so they can be confident to be a leader.”
Brown advises seeking out someone who is willing to learn every day and continue to grow with your company, instead of someone who acts like they know it all.
“Some companies like to hire employees right out of college and people will say that person doesn’t have experience. But some companies feel they are trainable,” she says. “You want to make sure that whoever you’re hiring as a manager and a leader is willing to learn more about the company and willing to teach their team and not just demand what to do. They want to grow with them and work with them as a team.”
It’s important to realize not all employees want the responsibility of being a manager, Watkins says. It’s also worth considering that if an employee is not meeting his or her articulated goals, the work environment may be inhibiting their ability to achieve them, she adds.
Look for quality
Choosing an employee for leadership training means understanding their potential. Look beyond someone who has industry knowledge to ensure that they’re willing to learn and grow, says Natalie Rose Brown, owner of Indigo Services Consulting, Houston.
Seek someone with ambition, the desire to take on additional responsibility and accountability, says Richard Arenz, CPA, principal of Avanzar Business Consultant, Cape Coral, Florida.
If they don’t communicate that to a company owner, then the owner can observe from a distance to see who’s taking charge “because you have somebody who’s supposed to take charge on the work site,” he adds.
Sometimes a company owner has to go beyond observing from afar and take the time to get out in the trenches to observe employees, Arenz says.
In looking for a crew leader, don’t discount someone who lacks experience but is strong in their work ethic, organization and is detail-oriented, says Mollie Watkins, founder of Comprehensive Consulting Solutions for Small Businesses, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Use skills assessments in contrast to personality assessments, which Watkins says can be “tricked,” to ascertain someone’s work motivation, dependability and reliability.
“Maybe they don’t have the experience we’re looking for, but their work motivation and reliability are scoring as expert or highly proficient,” she says. “That’s someone we want to sit down with. That also helps us determine how we don’t waste our time with bringing people in that tell us one thing and actually do another.”
Lead the way
How much of a mentor does a business owner need to be? That question comes frequently in her business, says Brown.
“Being a mentor sometimes means you need to make sure they hold the same vision, purpose and goal as you and to be sure that they’re the right mentee, because some people may just want to work there and may not want to follow that path,” she says.
One approach is to offer an internship or have the potential manager or crew leader shadow the company owner for a day so they can get a feel for the day-to-day operations and requirements.
A business owner should always be the best example and role model for what is expected from their employees, says Ries-Jubenville.
“The business owner should have a clear mission and vision for the company, then repeat it constantly and build it into the business systems,” she says.
The business owner should mentor the top managers both in their tasks and in their management skills, Ries-Jubenville says, adding the top managers then use those skills to manage their teams.
“A business owner should have an open-door policy and be willing to listen first, then be able to make the hard decisions and have the difficult conversations to lead the team to the best outcomes,” she adds.
Given the current conditions that add more challenges such as the supply chain issue, business owners should seek a way to teach employees on the job and encourage development with an eye to a return on investment in doing so.
Training and development are an ongoing process of communication, says Ries-Jubenville.
“There will always be a cost when an employee is first hired — generally, the cost is the time of the hiring team and trainer,” she says. “When development is ongoing, it increases employee retention and saves on the cost of repeatedly hiring and training new people.”
Ries-Jubenville says an effective training approach encompasses four steps:
- The trainer does the task while the new employee watches.
- The trainer does the task while the new employee helps.
- The trainer helps while the new employee does the task.
- The trainer watches while the new employee does the task.
When a company owner simply can’t find the time to identify crew and management talent, a consulting firm can help.
“A lot of companies don’t necessarily have an HR team and not everyone in HR is a recruiter,” Brown points out.
She adds that a consulting company can handle the process from beginning to end, doing needed background checks and leveraging its experience in identifying and recruiting the right leadership for the company.
For those companies strapped for funds, Brown points out there are many training opportunities available on business-centered social media sites such as LinkedIn.
“I always read every day,” says Brown. “There’s so much to learn about on-the-job development and the new tools and technology that is out there. You don’t have to pay a lot of money.”
There’s where the ROI comes in: Costly injuries or job mistakes can happen for lack of someone on the front lines demonstrating true leadership.
“We’ve got to invest in the people who represent us,” says Watkins. “When we have to replace them, that costs a lot more. Training costs time and money. I would recommend to not look at it as more of a cost, but as an investment. We know that employees usually don’t pay for themselves for one to three years, depending on the business. We’ve got to make sure we keep them to the end.”
Often, a business owner’s biggest mistake is hiring people like them instead of finding the people who complement what they’re lacking, says Watkins. It helps to have an unbiased, third-party recruit for leaders.
“If you can’t do it as a business owner, make sure you have a manager who can, because there are some rock stars,” she says. “I’ve come into contact with businesses that took a chance on someone and 10 years later, they are their best producer.”