Place the Right Employees in the Right Job Positions to Increase Retention: “Why do my best people stay?”

Posted on December 14, 2017 by Chris Swan
Article image: Place the right employees in the right jobs

What is your strategy for human capital? At some point the conversation always comes back to people. Do you have the right people? Are they in the right roles? Are they energized to be efficient and profitable? Of course, many people will agree and in the next breath say that people are essential; but too simplistic. There are other factors to running and growing a business. For example, one of my executive candidates out of a top global engineering firm said to my client during an interview, “There is nothing worse than a business without enough backlog.” Even a dysfunctional team might work together well if there is plenty of work and everyone is busy.

The question that top executives should be asking is, “Why do my best people stay?” What does it take to keep the best employees engaged, enthused about the work, their individual status in the organization, and the positive WHY of the organization? We may all have our personal opinions and guesses about why people stay, but the best source of that information is the employees themselves.

Clarity in deciding who are the best employees is essential. This is a key part of the human capital strategy. Large companies may be particularly challenged with this question, because there are so many potential decision variables in the equation. In small companies it may be just one person.  Jack Welch used a matrix of people; those who always delivered, or didn’t, and those that lived the values of the organization, or didn’t. Those who always delivered and lived the values rose the fastest, and the rest were encouraged or separated.

Many large companies in architecture, engineering, and construction are going through extraordinary change and consolidation. Challenged by outside forces such as – the shrinking in oil, gas and mining revenues, technological innovation, struggling international markets and a rising dollar – have put these companies on a turbulent path. Rapid change means that talented individuals are forced to seek greener pastures, often for the first time in many years. Evaluating talent that fits your business today means providing clarity about what it means to be a top performer. By asking your top performers “Why Do You Stay?” is a terrific first step in understanding the human capital value proposition.

Granted, priority one is a strong value proposition that is effective in the market. Attracting customers and delivering services to the satisfaction of your clients. Generating enough profit to sustain the investment of the shareholders. However, all of these tasks require talent. Some businesses that are the most challenged over the long run are ones that are led by technocrats who believe that everyone of importance needs to be an architect, an engineer or come-up from the field. Having the right people means understanding the tasks that need to be accomplished and having the best people to accomplish those tasks. Nearly always, the best people are the ones who love the work, are capable of doing the work, and are emotionally and mentally suited for the challenges. Clarity and decisiveness about what needs to be accomplished and the individual to best accomplish those tasks is critical.

Every contractor will tell you that if you don’t have the right controls, systems, and procedures in place, it is only a matter of time before the business will spiral out of control. The same is true for people. Without enough highly competent people that work well as a team, the business will not survive. Most businesses live on the edge of the talent gulf. Too much high priced talent and the firm isn’t commercially competitive, and too little, the risk of catastrophe is near. With commercial construction booming in many parts of the country and infrastructure spending slowly rising, craft labor is scarce and professional unemployment is near 2%. Employers are learning that they need to increase compensation to maintain the level of talent in their organizations, and to compensate they are focused narrowly on precise selection to increase value.

The most critical problems occur when the best people leave a firm. Institutional knowledge, positive culture norms, and practical know-how all walk out the door, rarely with effective systems to capture what was lost. Therefore, from an organizational perspective, the following questions are very important. What are the roles, responsibilities, competencies that are essential to success? For example, is a project executive spending 75% of his or her time directly with the project managers, going over project details and surfacing problems and solutions? Is that what we want and need, and why? Is there a better way? So few businesses are clear about expectations and the markers of success. Even fewer are focused on successful soft skills, such as collaboration, inspiration, or humor in the face of adversity.

Are the best people choosing your firm? Do you have enough work? Is your delivery world class? If the answers to these questions are not what you want to hear, then ask your people. If you do it in the right way, then you will have a road map for the future.


This article was originally published in Construction Executive.

Executive Integration: What does it mean?

Posted on October 17, 2017 by Chris Swan
Article image: Executive Integration - What does it mean

What new executives often miss is how exceedingly high the expectations can be for success. When starting in a new position, particularly at a new company, there is tremendous opportunity to demonstrate to an entirely new group of people just how talented you are and prepared. These people will either be thrilled or less than thrilled, and your reputation hangs in in the balance. The risks are just as high for your company, and the organization wants you to succeed just as much as you do. However, the challenge is truly up to you.

One stumble in front of the wrong person and your tenure at the new company, where you have placed all your hopes and dreams, may be in jeopardy. Obviously, it is important to deliver results from the very first day. Yes, the first day is the day when you meet people for the first time and set the tone for the rest of your relationship with them.

Keep these five points in mind:

Share your story. The first thing you need to have ready is your story. Not your entire life’s story, but the salient factors that will be most relevant and compelling to the people you will meet. Practice your story and make it your own. Ensure that it delivers a positive, professional, and prepared message. One that reinforces that brilliant decision to hire you.

Communicate with your stakeholders. The first step of communicating is listening; so listen intently. When you ask great questions, listening will be easy. Set time aside to get to know the people you work with on both a professional and personal level. Find something in your background that is a mutual interest, and try to share a specific memory or feeling. It doesn’t matter what it is, but make sure you share it in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Exceed expectations. Companies and roles are all very different, so keep in mind stakeholders which include; your boss, the owners of the business, peers, subordinates, and possibly customers… everyone with whom you come in contact. Determine what their expectations are and reach beyond the position description or the initial problems you discussed in your interview. Set a proactive tone for your new company and hit the ground running.

Focus on the future. Assume good things have happened in the past and that your predecessor made the best decisions they could with the information available. Many of your ideas may have been considered by someone else before, regardless of what you have been told. Believe in your ability to execute and find a proper solution. The point is to move forward. What happened in the past is data for you and history for the employees that were present then. Remember to take a keen interest in what has taken place in the past to help propel you forward.

Leverage the talents of others and focus on execution.  It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out the strong skill-sets of others. Make their talents part of your initial communication. Listen to the answers, ask for examples and consider the context. Most of the time companies are looking for leaders to execute, and failures in execution often result from leaders not leveraging all their resources properly. Bring fresh eyes and a desire to leverage the talents that exist. Everything and anything that can help you achieve where others have failed is worth considering.

Remember that the clock is ticking from Day One and you only have a short period of time to integrate into your new organization, and set a standard for the future.