Home-Grown Employees: Wave of the Future?

Everyone knows money can’t buy love (though Larry King is still trying to prove otherwise). But if kitchen and bath dealers are to be believed, buying loyalty and integrity isn’t much easier.

In fact, in a recent KBDN survey asking kitchen and bath dealers about the challenges they face in recruiting, training and retaining employees, the number-one complaint seemed to be a lack of, well, character.

While the continued growth of the kitchen and bath market remains cause for celebration, dealers recognize that increased demand often requires staff additions.

And while “too much” business certainly beats the alternative, that doesn’t mean expansion doesn’t come without growing pains. One of those pains, dealers lament, is the increasing difficulty in finding skilled, motivated, high-quality personnel (see Personnel Matters).

What’s more surprising, however, is that most of those surveyed were less concerned about job candidates’ sub-par skills than with the personal qualities they feel many potential employees lack.

In fact, an overwhelming majority of dealers said their greatest challenge right now is finding employees who possess such basic qualities as honesty, integrity, loyalty, respect, dedication and a sense of personal responsibility – things that don’t require task-specific training or years of experience.

Dealers were quick to share horror stories of employees who, once hired, forgot to show up at jobs, or who cheated or lied, or who had attitude problems to the point where they would engage clients, or even the owner, in angry confrontations. They talked about rampant turnover and lack of commitment or personal ethics, even among talented salespeople, designers and installers. “They just don’t care!” was the resounding complaint.

Some blame it on a morally declining corporate culture that has changed the way people work. They feel that big corporations’ lack of long-term commitment to employees has resulted in a culture of employees who are out for number one, who exhibit no loyalty or sense of ownership in their jobs, and who will change positions at the first opportunity.

But, whatever the case, good help has always been hard to find, and when times are good, it’s even more difficult. I can certainly sympathize with their position. Over the years, in trying to find editorial staffers who would uphold the standards of KBDN, I’ve been through dozens of resumés from prospective employees who looked great on paper, but were less than impressive in person. I remember a few applicants who were downright scary.

There was the girl who spent half the interview brushing her hair. The woman who wandered off to the bathroom during a writing test… and returned an hour later with a fast-food bag. The guy who wanted to know if he would be promoted within six months, and how long was I planning on sticking around, anyway?

One candidate, whose credentials were stellar, interrupted the interview twice to take calls on his cell phone – including one about another job interview!

What I’ve learned from all of this is that, while skills and experience certainly matter, there are other things that matter just as much – and sometimes even more.

I’ve also come to believe that there is tremendous benefit to hiring people who are not just good at their jobs, but good human beings, as well.

And from the results of this month’s survey, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

In fact, recognizing that our industry continues to be a strong and growing one – and that such growth stretches existing personnel resources – dealers are increasingly choosing to invest in character over job skills. They’re looking for good people with good work ethics, and training them accordingly.

Indeed, many believe “home-grown” employees are going to be the wave of the future – and the best way to ensure continued high quality.

But training takes time, and waiting until you need people out in the field is too late. As with anything, planning ahead is crucial.

As our market grows, personnel shortages may well continue to plague dealers, particularly in more remote areas of the country. So even if you aren’t short-staffed now, you might want to “train ahead.” Maybe you can’t buy integrity – but you can hire it, if you’re willing to think outside the box.