Team Spirit

Team building. An image of an Outward Bound-type adventure may spring to mind: co-workers shooting through churning rapids, rowing their oars in unison.

June 30, 2000

Team building strengthens Classic Remodeling & Construction’s line-up and positions the organization for a win.

 

Team building. An image of an Outward Bound-type adventure may spring to mind: co-workers shooting through churning rapids, rowing their oars in unison. Their very survival depends on how well the group works together. For Bob Fleming, president of Classic Remodeling & Construction in Charleston, S.C., his company’s survival indeed depends on how well his employees work together. By developing his own brand of less flashy, but just as effective, team building, the Classic crew continues to paddle toward success.

Fleming’s team building centers on systems that empower his employees and give them a say in the company’s direction. Before Fleming began team-building initiatives, he made sure Classic’s systems provided a strong foundation at all levels of the company (visit www.housingzone.com to download several of Classic’s forms) ranging from employee evaluations to tool policies). The systems must be fair, employee-friendly, incentive-based, and organized. Using these values as a guide, Fleming set out to hire and train the best possible team where each individual strives for his personal best, as well as the organization’s.

To function as a successful part of the team, a new hire must fit the company’s profile for personality, skills, appearance, professionalism, and goals to better oneself, according to Marty Kersey, Classic’s production manager. When hiring, Fleming carefully selects employees who meet these criteria and subscribe to the Classic team mindset. "It is as important to hire for personality and integrity as it is to hire for skills," Fleming says. During the hiring process, a potential employee fills out a skill evaluation form that will play an integral role in training and reviews if he is hired.

Regardless of skills, each newly hired employee starts on a level playing field. In Fleming’s eyes, each employee has the same opportunity to advance within the company. "If you have the attitude to go to the top, you can get there," says Fleming. Any employee who demonstrates a strong work ethic, quality workmanship, desire to learn, and good communication skills may be considered for a project leader - the company’s term for lead carpenter.

"The industry term is lead carpenter, and to me that does not denote enough authority to the customer," says Fleming. "My guys, I really feel, do more. They’re actually leading the whole team. From that aspect, they needed something that described it a little bit more thoroughly."

According to Classic’s job description, a project leader is responsible for producing remodeling projects on time and within budget. They manage other employees and trade contractors, document the course of the project, and are expected to achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction.

Every member plays an integral role at Classic - from Fleming right down to the company's runner.

 

Currently, Classic employes five project leaders, four of whom range from one to five years of experience in the position. The fifth project leader, who was formerly a carpenter, stepped into the position recently. Fleming prefers that project leaders move up the company’s ranks. Though there is room for exceptions, this path ensures project leaders have successfully mastered the Classic way of doing things. "I do tend to believe that when you train them from within and bring them from the bottom up, they’re better employees and they’re better managers," he says.

 

The Classic Standard
Classic Remodeling’s employee reviews are a three-part process. First, management rates the employee, the employee rates himself, and then the two parties come to agreement and assign a numerical value to the employee’s skill level. Classic’s skill scale is:

0=Unsatisfactory. I am not able to do this task and do not care to learn.

1=Poor. I am not able to do this task and would like to learn how to do it.

2=Fair. I have some knowledge and would like help improving my skills.

3=Average/Good. I can meet the "industry standards" for this task.

4=Very Good. I can meet the "Classic standards" for quality and timeliness.

5=Excellent/Outstanding. I excel at this and could teach others.

The Classic standard system has proven quite effective for evaluating employees."We’ll have a pretty good picture of what these guys are good at and what they’re not and in what areas they need to be trained," says Fleming.

In the case of the company’s newest project leader, Fleming tracked him as a possible candidate from the very beginning. "He’d been with us for a month or two," he says. "And the project leader saw something in him." The potential project leader spent the next few months training with other project leaders, who schooled him in their particular areas of expertise. "We want to teach you any areas you don’t know," says Fleming. "And so they are constantly moving around the project leaders and learning different tasks." After the candidate’s technical training was in place, he paired up with a project leader who excels in scheduling and managing projects. Fleming finds employees most often lack project scheduling and customer relation skills.

In addition to the formal mentoring each field employee receives from the five project leaders, the company also maintains an informal teaching culture where employees rely on one another for problem solving and training. In fact, on the company’s technical and managerial evaluation forms, an "excellent" rating means that employee can teach others. If an employee wants to learn a new skill or improve an existing one, all he has to do is ask a co-worker who excels in that particular area. "If we’ve got a guy who’s weak in trim, we’re going to pair him up with a guy who’s strong in trim," he says. "[If] we’ve got a guy who’s weak in management and dealing with the customer, we’re going to pair him up with somebody who’s really good in that area. We have guys that are good in each area."

In one instance, the company paired a project leader lacking confidence in stair installation with another who excels at stairs, even though it meant having two high-dollar men on the job, which would run the job over budget. "The purpose was for him to go and learn," says Fleming. "The other project leader actually took the time and showed him all the tricks for laying out the stairs, and then when he went to do them on his job, he was very comfortable with it."

In another case, a project leader was having a hard time hitting his numbers and became frustrated on the job. Despite advice from management, peer guidance helped to solve his problem."The best advice he got was from one of the other project leaders, who sat down with him on numerous occasions and said, ‘If you do your schedule this way, handle your subs like this, and think this far out, you’re going to have a much more successful project," says Fleming. As a result, the two project leaders help each other out all the time and will call each other when they’re short handed. That’s a common practice within the company. "They’ll call around and get help if they know I’m not available," says Fleming." They know they’ve got four other guys they can call who will give them help or advice."

Job trailers and company signs, which feature the project leader’s name, appear on every jobsite and make it clear who is responsible for the successes or failures.

 

Fleming welcomes positive feedback from his staff, and it frequently contributes to an employee’s promotion. Recently, Fleming’s production assistant moved up from runner. "All the guys said, ‘Hey, this guy is valuable. He always gets the stuff here when he says he’s going to, drops what he’s doing if it’s something important to us, and he seems to know the system. He’d be the perfect guy for your assistant. Move him up.’ We did and he’s doing a great job." Even the yearly employee reviews are a team effort. Fleming and Kersey complete an evaluation form for each employee, and employees rate their skills using the same form. At each employee’s scheduled review, he discusses and compares ratings with Fleming and Kersey. Both parties must arrive at an agreement about the employee’s skills - both technical and, in the case of project leaders, managerial.

"Rather then sitting down and saying here’s where you are, now go back to work, we’re actually sitting down and comparing notes and agreeing," says Fleming. He also gives the employee an opportunity to rate management’s performance during the past year and sets goals for the upcoming year. "We actually sit down and make a goal list," says Fleming. "We’ve been doing that for a couple years, and it’s kind of neat. You’ll look at the goals from the previous year and without even having reviewed it for a year, a lot of the goals are already working or have been accomplished."

During formal training, an employee receives guidance from each of the five project leaders, who have specialties that range from stairs to customer relations.

 

Although it’s an uncomfortable topic to broach, perhaps the most important aspect to running a tight team is realizing when someone is dragging down the rest of the organization. This can happen with a new employee who doesn’t understand the company’s mission or a long-term employee who no longer shares the same goals. "You have to realize when you have a bad apple and it’s time for them to move on," Fleming says. If, after discussing the problem, Fleming feels the problem has not been or will not be corrected, he will let the employee go.

 

 

Start, Stop, Continue
On the back page of Classic’s employee evaluation form is a section called Start, Stop, Continue. Here employees can tell management what they would like to see the company start, what they would like the company to stop, and what the company should continue. "We started that this year," says Bob Fleming. "We were very surprised. There were very few things that they wanted to start doing. There were only a few "stops" requested. Despite the small number of grievances, the program gets positive feedback from Fleming’s team because it gives the employees a voice in the company.

For those employees who remain dedicated to the team’s goals, Fleming looks for ways to reward them and reinforce the idea of teamwork at the same time. In addition to company-sponsored events such as baseball games and picnics, Classic Remodeling is usually well represented at industry conferences and award banquets. Two years ago, Fleming took the entire team to Chicago for the Remodelers’ Show. When the company is up for an award, the entire team, which often includes trade contractors and spouses, attends.

 

A Project Leader is...
  • Intelligent

  • Self-motivated

  • Detail oriented

  • Quality driven

  • A good communicator

For Classic’s Project Leader job description, visit Business Tools at www.housingzone.com

"I wouldn’t feel right going to get the awards for projects that everyone else participated in," Fleming says."It’s sales who designed it, it’s production who put it together, it’s the team out in the field who made it happen for the customer. It’s all the office staff getting behind them toward the end, making sure all the billing gets done, the customer is taken care of and the job is closed out." The expense of all team members attending award shows yields a high rate of return."It’s pricey," admits Fleming. "[But] you get it back because you’re telling the employees, ‘You’re important to us and we want you to be a part of this whole thing."

At Classic, all employees receive recognition for their part of the company’s success, Fleming says. "You need to be appreciated for the job that you do." That recognition, for both personal growth and professional achievement, translates into a winning team that works together - even in rough water.

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