Friday, May 6, 2011

The Importance of People

Our local homegrown hero, The Container Store is regularly voted "Best Place to Work in America!" They seem to make the list every year. This is no accident - they are very intentional in how they treat their employees!

Kip Tindall, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store says it this way, "We're really committed to the concept of being an employee first culture. If you take care of your employees better than anybody else, they're going to really and truly take care of your customers better than anybody else." He's right! But finding the right people is another issue altogether.

Often a perspective employee looks to have a skill set which would match perfectly in your business. Everything seems perfect, you hire, and time reveals that it wasn't a good fit at all. Skills are one thing, but culture is another. Way too often business' are spending too much money on hiring the wrong person. By the time you figure in severance, this can get really expensive. Just like life, business has a rhythm which cannot be ignored. If the new hire doesn't match the rhythm of the business the employment most likely won't work! We end up with "hit and miss" - hiring people to try, and replacing them if they miss. Not only is this confusing to the other employees, it can take it's toll too on customers. The questions it can raise can be damaging!

Back to The Container Store... One of their core philosophies is "...three good people equal one great person, so why not hire only great people?" The company has a history of matching employees strengths with the needs of the company, choosing to focus on talent rather than titles. BRILLIANT!

Recently I ran on to Adrian Wood, a delightful British chap who represents PeopleSync - a software that defines nineteen different habits of an employable candidate so that those attributes can be compared with the established culture of the hiring business. FASCINATING! The software Adrian sells can't be manipulated through personal assessment so the candidate can't try to "win the job." PeopleSync's test doesn't ask those kind of questions. With no right or wrong answers the final results can easily be measured against the culture of the business as defined by that business' top performers.

I wish subcontracting out the work in our business could be so easy! What do you suppose would happen if I gave my Framing crew the PeopleSync aptitude test? No question it would make for a top rated TV "sitcom" - the protests would be legendary! With the level of unsophistication in our business (read: reluctance to test!), throughout the years we have had to rely on finding and developing (a/k/a "hit and miss") great talent. Once developed to meet our customers needs, we must retain that talent for future projects.

Just like The Container Store, we fight consistent product and service delivery. Our customers expect us to be able to perform the same, project after project, so that their home or remodel looks as good as what they may have seen of our work somewhere else. We won't win any awards for "Best Place to Work" like The Container Store, but I have found several basic principles help us attract and keep good talent:

  • Support the troops. Make sure that they have the tools and materials necessary to do their jobs. We add "specific instruction" to that list so that our trades know exactly what task to perform.

  • Prompt Payment. 'Hell hath no fury like a mad subcontractor!' For years one of our competitors would take money given them for paying the subs and instead invest it in a 90 CD! After the CD matured the sub would receive payment - ahhhhhhh, NOT GOOD!

  • Clearly Communicate Expectations. It's not enough to have "specific instructions" on what task to perform, our people need to know what we, and the customer expects it's going to look like when finished.

  • Fair and Equitable Resolution. When problems occur (and they always do!), don't use the sub as a "shield." Understanding that there are at least two sides to every story, quickly resolve the problem to the satisfaction of as many as possible.

  • Develop a Culture of Fun! Insist that everyone involved in the process enjoy themselves while working hard. If a constantly grumbling sub can't see his or her way to that, GET RID OF THEM!

Managing people is not rocket science! The way some people manage though, you might think it is... Briefly consider how you would like to be treated in a given situation - and then manage accordingly!

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