High Performers Put Employees First

WHICH OF THESE statements is true: Your people are your most important asset; nothing happens at work without people; your customers will never be treated better than your employees are treated; to your customers, your employees are your company. Of course, all these statements are true. They are repeated in management books, articles and seminars. In fact, one person has said that more is written

WHICH OF THESE statements is true: Your people are your most important asset; nothing happens at work without people; your customers will never be treated better than your employees are treated; to your customers, your employees are your company.

Of course, all these statements are true. They are repeated in management books, articles and seminars. In fact, one person has said that more is written about human resource management than is known! If we know so much about people management, why don’t we do a better job at it?

A recent national survey by Quality Digest magazine found that employee job satisfaction is at a record low. Another survey taken earlier this year by CONTRACTOR’s sister publication IndustryWeek found that “only 27% of manufacturing employees are committed to their companies and plan to stay at least two years.”

The disconnect between what we know about how to treat employees and what we do lies in our basic beliefs about people. High-performing contractors stand for their employees’ success; they see their roles as owner/ leader of the company differently than do other managers. That differentiates the high-performing contractor from all others.

Consider how high-performing contractors treat their employees:

  • As equals or peers with different tasks to perform. If we see people as equals we treat them like we would want to be treated, and they respond accordingly.
  • As a resource valuable to the success of the company. One that your competition wants but can’t duplicate or clone (at least not yet).
  • Not as dogs, as a recent article suggested, though sometimes dogs are treated better than employees.
  • Not as expenses because employees will behave like expenses if treated that way.
  • Not as one big happy family because that makes the owner the parent and the workers forever the “children.” This metaphor no longer fits the contractor’s world. (We can have loyal employees but may never make all employees happy!)

The high-performing contractor has high-performing employees who not only do their job right, but also make improvements to the company. In the high-performing contractor’s world, “employees” include union and non-union employees alike.

Having engaged employees starts with hiring the right people and then developing them so they grow and feel they contribute to the company. The high-performing contractor selects his employees based on the skills and personal attributes that are most important to the company’s success.

Employees fit the company’s culture, not the opposite.

Once hired, the high-performing contractor has a training plan (for each employee) to help the employee learn what he needs to know to do the job. Training plans are put in writing so they become commitments for success. These plans are updated annually to reflect new company job needs and the employee’s own, and sometimes changing, career plans.

High-performing contractors do not give individual bonus or incentive awards. They use company-wide incentives to encourage and reward team performance. They know that individuals all work within a system and giving individual rewards causes counterproductive competitive behaviors.

In almost every high-performing contractor assessment that I have facilitated, the management assessment team has determined that it needs to do more in the areas of communications, employee involvement and recognition. High-performing contractors are masters in these areas.

Communications is key

Studies on how organizations make changes to improve, show that most managers under-communicate to their employees about the changes being made by a factor of 10. It just makes common sense to tell employees what is going on and why. This principle applies to employees at a jobsite, as well as to the whole company. Employees feel valued when they are informed and feel the opposite when they are surprised to learn about something after the fact. How will they know unless you tell them?

The most common ways that managers communicate is by face-to-face meetings such as all-hands meetings and one-on-ones. Other ways include electronic newsletters, memos and mass voice messages. High-performing contractors have high-performing employees because they communicate more information more often than other contractors.

Involvement builds trust

Employees are closer to the actual work being done and see more problems every day than a manager or owner ever will. Most of these problems are never passed on to upper management. High performance in a company will never be achieved without involving front-line employees in finding and solving these problems. Employees become engaged when they are asked for their ideas, are listened to and when their ideas are actually implemented. When these things happen, it meets a basic human need of being trusted and valued.

To get employees involved, the high-performing contractor models the skills and behaviors his supervisors are expected to use. The high- performing contractor holds regular management team meetings where discussions are open and honest and where employees feel they can express different views because they know the ideas will be listened to and fairly considered.

Recognition, self value

High-performing contractors not only recognize their employees but also have a system for recognition so that it is consistent and regular. Such systems are not complicated or hard to design but don’t happen by accident either. They take some thought and work. Some do’s and don’ts on recognition programs:

  • Public recognition. Praise in public, criticize in private!
  • Cash awards, especially large ones, will tend to be viewed over time by employees as givens and expected as part of their compensation.
  • Recognition is best when given to people for specific accomplishments.
  • Have criteria for recognition and apply it across the company. If employees feel the recognition comes by luck or is only for the manager’s favorites, it will not be effective.
  • Give recognition for effort and for accomplishment.
  • Recognition should come from the heart.
  • Give timely recognition. Don’t wait until the annual company party. Do it when something happens worth recognizing. The sooner the better.
  • Look for ways to involve employees in recognizing one another. One company gave all employees a $5 gift certificate and a helium-filled balloon with the requirement that they give the gift certificate and balloon to another employee for having provided good customer service (internal or external). It was interesting to see who received the most balloons.
  • Recognize behavior that fits with the company values and vision.

The high-performing contractor knows that it is through his employees that the customers will be served. He develops, communicates with, involves and recognizes all employees. These employees respond by providing customers with excellent service.

Dennis Sowards, now an industry consultant, led the development of the High-Performing Contractor Assessment model for SMACNA. His company is Quality Support Services; he can be reached at [email protected] or at 602/740-7271.

More management articles by Dennis Sowards