Employees are the lifeblood of any business. That’s especially true in the world of building and contracting. where human capital drives the ability to complete projects.
Yet the challenges of the workplace shift constantly, almost on a daily basis. At the end of the day, the success of your business of ten depends on the mend and women who you’ve brought on board to represent your company. How do you get the best people, and how do you get the best out of them?
Finding good employees
the first order of business is getting good people in the door, and convincing them to stay to work for you. Sounds simple, right? In reality, it’s nothing of the sort.
“I wish we could boil this down to a science, but unfortu- nately finding the right people is one of the most critical business challenges for all of us,” says Tracie Sponenberg, senior vice president of human resources with The Granite Group Wholesalers. “We see and talk to a lot of ‘good’ people, but it’s about putting the right person in the right place.”
According to Nicholas Couture of Crossroads Contracting, “our best hires have happened when we focused on who the person is more than focusing on if they currently have all of the skills that we need for the position.”
“Of course the person you hire needs to be able to perform the job, but we would rather hire the right person and do a lot of training rather than hire a person that has all of the skills when hired but may not be a great fit for our team and culture,” Couture says. “Do they have the same core values as we do? Are they a team player? What motivates them? Is this person all about the money or do they value a team, a positive work environment, good benefits, working for people who care and a happy work-life balance.
“If they take the job for reasons other than money, then it becomes much easier and potentially less expensive to keep great employees,” he says. “If money is the only motivator, then anyone can offer them more and take them from you. If they value the things that you provide and those things set you apart from your competitors, it makes it much easier to keep key employees. A content employee won’t look in the first place.”
Couture speaks from firsthand experience. He joined Crossroads 18 years ago as a part-time carpenter, while he was still earning his degree. He became a lead carpenter in 2004, and then moved up the ladder, working as a project manager and sales consultant. This year, Couture bought the company, along with business partner Johnny Hawkes, from former owner Jan Jacome this year, only a year after becoming a general manager.
“Personal integrity is of ultimate importance to me as a person, so I looked for an employer that also had integrity and would not put me in compromising situations,” Couture says. “Because Jan, the former owner, knew what I value and supported (those values), working for her was never just about the money.
“So, as new owners, we make sure that anyone we hire is joining the team for reasons other than just money. In doing this, we are able to maintain a strong team of happy, long-term employees.”
For Joshua Manning, general manager of Lewis Builders Development, referrals and networking often lead to the best job candidates.
Cobb Hill Construction Employees at a recent bowling night
“In a difficult job market, no one wants to steal help from anyone else,” says Manning. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of having a conversation with a potential candidate that will end up coming back around in the future to turn into something more. Networking is key and building that relationship.
“A lot of times relationships may be formed with a potential job candidate before an actual job opening is even there,” he says. “We’ve also had good luck with sites like Indeed.com.
Prior work experience and references are key, said Manning.
“It’s tough to have to train people from scratch, so when you can find someone with experience, it’s all the better,” he says. “We’ve made many hires that have been a result of word of mouth.”
Sponenberg said the talent strategy at The Granite Group “includes a number of different ways to attract the best and brightest, including increased brand awareness, an external advertising program and a strong internal referral program.”
“We look for a number of things, including experience, which is critical for certain positions,” she says. “For many of our other positions, we can train the skills necessary, so we look for desire to work for our company or industry, eagerness to learn, ability to work as part of a team and other soft skills. I don’t put a lot of stock in references, since most people won’t give you a bad reference.”
Teamwork is a consistent and prominent theme among hiring experts.
“We do whatever we can to make sure our team is happy and engaged and compensated fairly,” Sponenberg says. “Our best defense is a strong culture, close-knit community, great co-workers and managers, and we feel that we have that.”
Competition for good workers
The 800-pound gorilla in the room, of course, is the matter of keeping your recruitment of employees “above board.” How you bring people into your company often says a great deal about your company’s values, say the experts.
“I would never go to an employee of someone I know and offer them a job,” Couture says. “It would ruin the relationship you have with their current employer, and the person you poached would be highly susceptible to being poached from you. Now, if an employee of someone I know came to me look- ing for a job, it would all depend on their reasons for leaving.”
Unfortunately, said Sponenberg, poaching “happens quite a bit in areas of our industry.”
“We have a really strong company culture, and a family atmosphere, despite the fact we have over 35 locations and over 500 employees. If a team member is being ‘poached,’ more often than not they’ll tell their manager,” she says. “Occasionally, someone gets an offer they cannot refuse, and we wish them well. Sometimes they come back to us, sometimes they don’t. But that happens in any business.”
Likewise, Manning said finding the comfortable middle ground between proper recruitment and poaching can be challenging.
“This is extremely difficult to handle,” said Manning. “In most cases here at our company, we operate slightly different than most, being that we are primarily self-performing most of our work.
“For example, if we hire a plumber that may have left a plumbing company, sometimes they are coming to us because we are not just a plumbing company,” he says. “We are much more diverse and perform different tasks.
Kevin Salemi, marketing manager at Lewis Builders Development, said an open and honest approach with employees is the best approach.
“We do our best to build strong relationships with our employees, and we understand that they have families and personal lives that are more important than working with us,” Salemi says. “If they need to take that better opportunity with another employer to improve their life, then we’re happy for them and thankful for their contributions to our company. On the flip side, we’re not going to shut the door on someone else who would benefit from an opportunity with us.”
Keeping the best employees
So, you’ve got a stable of excellent employees. In an ever-changing marketplace, how do you keep them?
“I think it is just as important as how and why you got the employee first,” Couture says.
Couture said he hopes to keep his workers by providing the same supportive work environment for them that Jacome did when he was a newer employee trying to balance work and family commitments.
“Jan was always there to listen when I was having a tough day, and gave me emotional support and time off when I needed it personally, or needed it to support my wife,” Couture says. “It was an extremely emotionally challenging period in my life, but it was comforting to know I had a boss that supported me so I could focus on my family and not worry that my job may be in jeopardy as well.
“I will always be grateful to Jan for how she handled the situations,” he says. “Most times things would happen with- out notice, which meant she would have to step up to make sure the job I was on was taken care of so I could then take care of my wife and myself.”
Still, the myriad factors that can come into play when trying to keep key employees can differ dramatically,
Sponenberg says, and “can vary widely across generations, and even individual to individual.”
“The real key to keeping an individual is getting to know that person and their motivations and what makes them stay,” she says. “But some things help keep our turnover low in general, and help retain our team — a strong culture, meaningful work, great co-workers and a supportive manager. It’s not all about beer and ping pong tables.
Sponenberg acknowledged that The Granite Group can’t always compete with packages offered by “start-up tech companies,” but there are other benefits that her company employs to balance the ledger.
“We can provide an amazing place to work,” she says. “Our retention strategy includes setting up a strong total rewards pro- gram, including ensuring fair and equitable pay, (and) a robust benefits program that we review regularly and add to with team member feedback.”
The Granite Group is also promoting student loan assistance for employees in its trainee program, “and we have anecdotal evidence that it is a strong retention tool for some of our emerging leaders,” she says.
Similarly, Manning said Lewis Builders is supporting employees “in their continuing education goals,” helping them to stay current on new technology and trends in the field.
“I believe in diversity, keeping things fresh and not getting people stuck in ruts,” he says. “Being able to explain to someone that there is career growth opportunity within the company is a huge part of keeping good people.”
Freelance writer Brion O’Connor is a product of New Hampshire schools — Manchester Central High School and the University of New Hampshire. He currently resides with his wife and two daughters on Boston’s North Shore.