Ifrequently receive questions from customers regarding their difficulty in building a workforce. It runs the gamut, from the 65-year-old contractor complaining about the youth of the day to the fire-eating 24-year-old owner who wants to build a more attractive place for employees to work. No matter how you spin it, building a staff is not an instant proposition. You can rework your finances and see an immediate impact and you might be able to develop a clever marketing plan and find work, but people development takes time.
To make matters worse, unemployment statistics are misleading. Gary Burtless, in a December 2012 article for Brookings, reported “Between 2007 and 2011, the fraction of the nation’s unemployed who were unemployed six months or longer increased from 18 percent to 44 percent.” What that means is that there are lots of people looking for jobs, but many of them are not particularly employable. And the vast majority of the unemployed do not want to work in the field as a tradesperson. So to further study that issue, ask yourself the following questions, and see how you measure up.
Would you work for you? That is a complicated question, and we could dedicate the rest of this article to it, but let’s try to keep it short and sweet. This starts with the psychological side of things. Too many contractors start out doing contracting because they don’t know what else to do, and then 15 years later and at 40 years of age, they are doing the same thing. If you don’t believe your industry or your company is a good place to work, it is doubtful you will be able to convince other good people to work for you. Look at the positives of working in a small business: 1.) People get to see their daily accomplishments and feel good about them. 2.) Small business employment is results-driven, with very little politics.
Do you look like a good place to work? Is your office and shop clean? Do your trucks and equipment look professional? If you work out of your home and have to meet people at McDonald’s for an interview, do you really look like a good place to work? Don’t build a shop just for hiring people, but understand that the more your business matures and grows, the easier it is to find people. Every business has an employment reputation, and tradespeople talk. They know the good places to work. When I ask a customer about hiring a good guy, one thing they will say is “Well, I know the guy he works for, and he can be difficult.” Don’t hire and train good people then have a management style that makes it unpleasant to work for you, forcing employees to leave the company.
Do you evaluate the big picture? We talk to contractors weekly about their employees, but few owners have taken the time to evaluate their employees for the long haul. If you have 10 field guys but only two have a driver’s license, it is going to be impossible to promote the non-drivers to foreman or let them run small jobs by themselves. Write down all your employees’ names in order of importance. Then write their pay beside their name and grade their willingness to learn, how well they follow company practices, how often they are on time, how often they are safe and other factors. All your employees do not have to become stars, but you have to be realistic concerning their long-term potential. No matter how hard you try, you can’t turn chicken manure into chicken salad.
Are you always looking for employees? Contractors are always marketing and looking for work, but few take the same approach for employees. Most wait until someone leaves and a new hire is forced. You have to train your organization to constantly look for employees. Also, what is your advertising approach? How does what you spend advertising for work compare to how much you spend looking for people? It’s probably a very inadequate comparison. Consider putting info on your vans and website, and ask everyone you know. Realize that you can’t do work without employees.
“Every business has an employment reputation, and tradespeople talk. They know the good places to work.“
Do you terminate the bad apples soon enough? It can be surprising to see when you fire a difficult or problem employee how quickly others stand up and perform. Look to replace employees who have work ethic or other attitude issues.
It is important to enforce company work rules. Think of such enforcement as a way to protect employees, not lose employees. A case where that is particularly true is when you have an employee with lots of at-home drama. Frequently, such an employee is not the decision maker and does not set personal boundaries well. Maybe there are kids who have problems or there is a difficult spouse. If your employee is the family financial source, getting fired is the last thing they want. If employees are an hour late, send them home for the day without pay. If they’ve had several issues, send a formal letter home. Dysfunctional employees in a large company tend to perform because strict structure and company policy enforce it. Small businesses often play the role of nice guy and pay the price.
Are you temporarily frustrated or permanently poisoned? You are a contractor. You make money by creating things. You need people to do that. People can be very frustrating, but without employees, you are not a contractor. Even if you use subs, they still have to be competent, legal and effective. There is no magic fruit tree where you can gather subs or employees.
I travel a lot for business. Years ago, when I had delayed flights due to snowstorms or other issues, I would become upset and angry about it. Such behavior is foolish because it is not personal, it is just part of the deal. Now, I have learned to accept it and rarely get angry, but I never stop trying to get better at it. Employing people is a similar endeavor. It will always be imperfect, but it is not a personal assault. It is just part of the deal. If you think your personnel issues are all someone else’s fault, then when you look into the mirror tomorrow morning, maybe you should look a little closer at the real problem. Other companies have good employees, why don’t you? APC
Monroe Porter is president of PROOF Management Consultants, a company specializing in seminars and business consulting for contractors. He is also founder of PROSULT Networking Groups, developed to help noncompeting contractors. He can be reached at (800) 864-0284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit his website at www.proofman.com.