The People Problem

This job would be so great if it weren't for the people.

March 31, 2003


Kim Sweet

"This job would be so great if it weren't for the people." How many times have you heard that sentence, perhaps from your own mouth? (Usually it's said with a laugh that sounds like it's choking the speaker.) And who was it about - customers, subcontractors, vendors, management or staff? Even (maybe especially) the people we like, respect and admire the most can drive us the craziest.

In theory, at least, the area in which we have the greatest ability to improve professional relationships is among those who work for us, whether employees or independent contractors. And it is this people part that most managers point to as the most difficult aspect of their jobs. Motivation, training, performance management - no matter how good they are at managing people, all of my remodeler friends wish they could do better.

Managing a sales team is an area of particular concern. People with sales backgrounds don't understand remodeling; people inside the industry don't have sales training; clients only want to work with the owner; etc. If this sounds familiar, you might want to crack open a book I'm reading called Creating Rainmakers: The Manager's Guide to Training Professionals to Attract New Clients, written by Ford Harding. (Rainmakers being individuals who bring in a lot of business through networking, generating leads, customer relationship management and more.) Scarily enough, one of the first things Harding points out is that most rainmakers are poor mentors. On the other hand, he has found that while rainmakers share a number of traits, there is no one method or personality type best-suited to business development. So it's a good idea to look around your company and see who’s exhibiting rainmaker behaviors - optimism, drive, good listening skills and more - whether or not those individuals seem like sales "types." Do the same when hiring new employees.

Getting the right person in the right spot is critical for a number of reasons. Turnover can cost up to 50% of an individual's salary, including low productivity and poor service in the time before the employee's departure; low productivity and below-average service while the new guy or gal learns the job; low morale in the department or company; and the time and hard costs involved in interviewing, training and reference checking.

Seeking specific instances of past behavior during the interviewing process will give you a good idea of how a candidate will perform in the future and help avoid turnover. True, finding a skilled finish carpenter might be such an immediate need, and such a challenge, that you’re willing to let the "soft" stuff go. But it seems like it's always the soft stuff - communication, creativity, decision-making, initiative, integrity, teamwork - that ends up causing problems in the long run.

Assembling the right team of people doesn't always mean adding, deleting or re-organizing staff, though. Many times bringing in a professional services firm to fill a long-term need or get your firm over a specific hump is the best way to go. Tons of people are out there for everything from payroll to personal coaching. Again, finding the right one is the hard part, so this month's cover story provides lots of ideas for how to do so.

Speaking of teams, is an integral part of Professional Remodeler's. As we work together to bring the best information to the industry, more original content will be available online. Two examples: Wendy Jordan contributes a monthly column on designs clients love, and Louis Tenenbaum writes monthly on universal design, home modifications and accessibility. Look for more to come.

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