Managing a Larger Group of Employees

Managing a Larger Group of Employees

Okay, so your cabinet shop isn't Enron or IBMor even the local supermarket, come to think of it. You don't have lots of employees spread out in different locations. You run a shop, building and manufacturing real things.

However, if you're beyond the one-person, garage-type operation, you probably have a "workforce." This may consist of only a couple of employees, but as you go forward and grow, you'll probably face some of the same issues that larger companies deal with on a daily basis.

In fact, as cabinet shops mature, many stay at a certain level frequently between five and 10 employees. Still, a shop of this size often experiences staffing issues similar to those of larger operations with 20 employees or more. And, just as with any small business, you as the leader need to be firmly in charge of dealing with a larger staff.

STRUCTURE & SYSTEMS
If your shop is any good at all, your services will be in demand. New home building may wax and wane, but remodeling, home repair and maintenance very definitely are here to stay. In many markets, there are not many shops around, so if you can take advantage of that, you may find you'll be able to grow your business effectively.

Like it or not, however, this type of growth necessitates structure and systems. You, as the owner or manager of your shop, will be the one to put them in place.

There will inevitably be a few key spots you'll have to fill first. You just can't do it all any more.

The first position with any responsibility will likely be the person who runs the production side of things your foreman. If you're going to move forward successfully, you as the owner or manager are going to have to let go of some activities you've done in the past. If you can have another person accountable for a part of the business that you cannot handle any longer, that is a cornerstone of real achievement and it can form the basis of good teamwork.

You may find, at a five-to-10-person shop, that you'll need a full-time office manager. Here, too, getting your basic structure and systems in order is really important. Having someone else take care of, and be responsible for, the record-keeping, your insurance, answering the telephones that's part of building a larger company.

As your shop operation matures, apart from needing more people on the floor to do the physical work, you may need other support staff to help with pre-production. This may be a full-time draftsperson/ detailer, a project manager or a salesperson. All of these key jobs mean additional employees and a larger team again with structure and systems in place. The accounting system you use, the format of your proposals, the way your shop drawings look, the methods you use to build and attach your wall scribes it's all part of making that bigger team work together under a coordinated systematic approach.

And don't forget, too, that a larger group of staff will want and appreciate structure and systems. A good employee benefit package is part of that, with health coverage, paid time off, perhaps a retirement plan. It all contributes to that essential team-building that can be the key to your shop's success.

COMMUNICATE WELL
A larger group of employees also means you have to communicate frequently and well. It all starts with you, the leader setting the tone and making sure everyone "gets it."

At our shop, we found that once we went over 10 employees, a full-blown staff meeting was not the best of settings to communicate well. The reason: In general, people are uncomfortable about speaking up; some don't listen well, others even doze off.

We figured out that getting together as smaller groups worked better, with more regular gatherings. A weekly production meeting, for example, can go a long way toward communicating what work is coming up. It can also be a good forum to discuss safety issues, proper machine use, clean up and so forth.

It may be a good idea to establish regular small get-togethers for your detailer(s), foreman and project manager, if you have one. You can all stay on the same page that way, with regard to schedules, sales, changes to the work and other issues.

Another tip if you're getting larger than, say, 20 people on staff, you may want to consider a more formal way of connecting people. A staff newsletter may accomplish this, and possibly even a company Web site specifically dedicated to company projects, personnel, achievements, changes whatever you like. Just be aware that both of these kinds of endeavors will take time and maintenance.

COACH THAT TEAM
With structure and systems in place, you may find coaching your people easier. A computerized accounting system can give you the opportunity to job-cost work, and pass on productivity feedback to the team. A system of a foreman and job leaders may provide an excellent way for you to train your staff as to how the work should be done.

Many shops use a system of performance reviews to help improve how things are done. It's a little more formal, but can really help in assessing and changing behavior. Again, the review process especially if it's ongoing and regular can play a vital role in coaching and developing your group of employees. Getting a key player to tackle the more complex work a curved bathroom vanity, for example can be greatly helped with good and positive performance feedback.

Here again, it's you as the leader who's the one to provide both the vision and the ethics to coach and teach. It's you who'll be the foundation of fanatical customer service, constant on-time delivery, perfect workmanship whatever your core values are.

Getting the larger group of employees on board with your values is the most important challenge of your job as owner or manager.

Next Column: Keeping Your Customers Happy

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