BY BOB MIODONSKI Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
TEMPE, ARIZ. — While many contractors talk about the challenges of finding and keeping good employees, some companies inside and outside the contracting field are doing something about it.
In his workshop, “Wowing Employees! How to Get Employees to Fall and Stay in Love with Your Company,” consultant Jim Harris told members of Contractors 2000 that successful firms follow five principles. He outlined these practices March 23 during the C2000 Super Meeting XXI, which marked the best practices group’s 10th anniversary.
Noting that the workplace and employee expectations have changed dramatically in the last decade, Harris said that contractors must take the time to work on long-range issues such as recruiting and retaining employees. While company managers focus on daily concerns such as systems, processes and procedures, he said, leaders spend their time on tomorrow’s opportunities such as strategy, vision and values.
“Can you be both a manager and a leader? Yeah, probably,” Harris said. “But your employees expect you to be a leader while they take care of the day-to-day stuff.”
That “stuff” includes taking care of the customer, and Harris’ first principle is “Capture the heart.” A company that reaches its employees’ heart will provide the best customer service, he said.
“If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of you,” Harris said, adding, “If you don’t take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you.”
Companies capture people’s heart by providing a compelling company vision, balancing employees’ work and family time and allowing workers to have fun on the job. For an example, Harris pointed to the Bread Loaf Construction Co.
“They teach their employees how to do a personal mission statement,” he said. “Then they say, ‘Here’s the company mission statement. How can we accomplish both? Let’s work together.’”
This type of sharing leads to the second principle, which is “Open communication.” Firms that communicate effectively do so by making listening a priority, using multiple channels to reach employees and providing feedback in a timely manner.
Sam Walton believed that 99% of Wal-Mart’s best ideas came from listening to employees, Harris noted. For reaching out to people, Harris cited New Hope Natural Media, which uses the “power of the paycheck” to insert reminders, its vision statement and letters of commendation into employees’ pay envelope.
“But face-to-face communication is the most effective, the most powerful,” he said.
The third principle is “Create partnerships.” While most employees think they work for you, they should be working with you, Harris said.
“We need people thinking like partners – not in the legal sense or in an ESOP – but in the sense that ‘we’re in this together,’” he said.
Companies create partnerships by tearing down status barriers, paying for performance and serving the frontline employee first, he noted. Chaparral Steel eliminated all time cards, saying that it wanted to treat its employees as adults. Prince Manufacturing ended annual salary reviews, doing them only whenever employees say they want a raise.
The fourth principle is “Drive learning.” In the early 1970s, the knowledge that a worker needed to do his job became obsolete in 15 years, Harris said. Today, that time has shrunk to 2½ years.
Successful companies use learning to guarantee their people employability, not necessarily employment. They promote action-filled learning and encourage continuous programs for their employees.
Educating employees allows these firms to embrace the fifth principle, which is “Emancipate action.” These companies have allowed their people the freedom to fail, freed them from internal bureaucracy, encouraged them to challenge the status quo and allowed them to “fire” troublesome customers.
The Target department store chain allows its cashiers to ring up unmarked merchandise based on the customer’s say-so (within reason) rather than waiting for a price check, Harris said. Southwest Airlines makes its employees its No. 1 priority, making customers No. 2.
“Emancipation really means giving employees the freedom to succeed,” Harris said. “You will fail if you don’t include this principle in your plan.”
Earlier in the meeting, author Ken Blanchard discussed the management principles in his book “Gung Ho.”
Contractors 2000 celebrated its 10th year with a special presentation to co-founders George Brazil and Frank Blau. The group also announced a restructuring of its market areas, enabling it to expand beyond its current 265 members.
President and COO Greg Niemi announced that the group had a renewed vision, as expressed in its new mission statement: “Guide and develop independent service providers to be ‘simply the best’ in customer service, profitability and employee satisfaction.”