By John T. McGrath, Jr., INSTALL
The key to a successful flooring installation company begins and ends with your team of installers, journeymen, estimators, contractors and support staff. No matter the role an individual employee fulfills, fostering a happy, healthy and productive workplace is essential for building effective teams.
I recently sat down with INSTALL Warranty Contractors Jeff Rothi and Barbara Kidwell to learn more about their recommendations and tips to creating a positive environment in the commercial floorcovering industry. Rothi is vice president at Sonus Interiors, Inc., a large commercial flooring contractor based in Golden Valley, MN. Kidwell is president of American Floor Covering Inc., a small, family-owned and operated shop in Avon, IN.
While each company is unique in its size and structure, both Rothi and Kidwell shared many of the same ideas and strategies for retaining employees, fostering personal growth and investing in the future of flooring. Each company also plays a valuable role in driving our industry forward from a training and installation perspective.
Together we identified six key tips that will help you find success in creating a positive and worthwhile experience for your employees:
Start with Engagement
Nobody wants a disconnected workforce. From instilling values and core competencies to addressing human resource issues, an engaged workforce that is present and connected is the first key to building a successful team.
“We often sit down as an organization and ask how we can get our employees engaged,” said Rothi. “The first step is to encourage communication. We started with company safety awareness parties and get-togethers. While turnout isn’t always 100%, little things like tool and cash giveaways provide our team with a reminder of how much we appreciate their dedication,” he added.
Kidwell has a slightly different take. “One of the reasons why our company even exists is because my husband and former business partners worked at a company that had little engagement and very few options for employees,” she said. “Schedules were posted the night before a job and if you didn’t work last-minute weekend shifts, the owners knocked your hours. My husband promised that he would never do this, and we continue that today.”
“Another way we keep people engaged is by honoring employee’s birthdays and work anniversaries,” said Rothi. “No important date goes unnoticed and we make a special effort to thank our team members and address their service and dedication.”
“In addition to maintaining a work-life balance, make sure that positive reviews and feedback make it back to the installer,” ~ Jeff Rothi, Sonus Interiors, Inc.
Foster a Positive Workforce
“We are a mom-and-pop shop that treats our installers the way we want to be treated,” explains Kidwell. “The single most important thing we do is acknowledge that this is their job, but that family comes first,” she added. “We strive to create a family friendly environment and do whatever we can to accommodate schedules.
Rothi echoed Kidwell’s sentiments. “In addition to maintaining a work-life balance, make sure that positive reviews and feedback make it back to the installer,” he said. “The same goes for mistakes, with open and honest conversations about mistakes and challenges. The point is for your team to work in an environment where they are free to grow and learn without fear.”
“I’m also a firm believer in not over-working employees,” added Kidwell. “Yes, there are times our market generates a huge workload, and this sometimes translates to six-day weeks and 10-hour shifts. However, I’d rather have them work hard for 40 hours per week than burn out. As a small company this is integral to building loyalty.”
Encourage Your Team
The floorcovering industry might be changing, but quality craftsmanship and good old-fashioned product know-how is still important. Team leaders and management should encourage dedication and professionalism in the industry. By valuing skills and processes, you are also valuing and validating the installer.
“Our installers are truly craftsmen, said Kidwell. “When you look at complex patterns and intricate installations, the amount of work is incredible. Therefore, I think it’s especially important to encourage their continued training and education and place a special emphasis on expanding their skillset.”
“You also need to get rid of your blame thrower,” chuckled Rothi. “At the end of the day nobody is trying to make people’s jobs more difficult, the goal is to make it easier. Let’s communicate, let’s work together and use synergy between our teams to grow together. Encourage your employees and help them live up to their potential while addressing issues as needed.”
Rothi also does a profitability study and tracks all the projects that his installers are on to gain more insight into the individual performance of employees. His team looks at individual workers and tracks their costs and hours, allowing him to encourage and ultimately praise those who add value to the jobsite.
“From moisture remediation to adhesives to on-the-site training, the future is going to require a highly trained, educated and dedicated workforce,” ~ Barbara Kidwell, American Floor Covering Inc.
Allow Employees to Grow
Another shared strategy among successful contractors is setting up employees on a growth trajectory. When people see and sense upward mobility is possible, it changes their outlook leading to determination and a sense of opportunity.
“Every employee within our organization has the opportunity for upward movement,” said Rothi. “We wouldn’t employ them if we didn’t believe in their potential. They are all encouraged to bring their thoughts, ideas, wants and goals without fear of being knocked down. The old mentality of ‘you’re only an apprentice’ is gone with us,” he added.
“There will always be installers that come to work, do their job and go home. But the employees that put in the extra effort are earmarked to run projects, oversee other installers and go outside the box to more than just the minimum. Thankfully, this is often an organic process and happens naturally over time,” he said.
Trust in Education and Training
“As a business owner and the member of the apprenticeship school, I am a big supporter of INSTALL,” said Kidwell. “The market has changed so much in the last 10 years and INSTALL has played an important role in training and re-training our employees. A decade ago, our warehouse was filled with rolls of broadloom carpet. Today, it’s LVT, carpet tiles and other new and innovative products. You just don’t learn about these new products and installation methods overnight.”
“INSTALL is a vital part of our industry,” added Rothi. “They provide our installers and other team members with an immeasurable amount of knowledge and information that has helped us become a well-known industry player.”
“This is a perfect example of where the continuing education, apprenticeship and training come into play,” echoed Kidwell. “INSTALL is so important because they are helping to create a more educated, highly skilled, trained and up-to-date workforce.”
Invest in the Future
Ultimately, successful contractors that want to create a happy, healthy and productive workplace environment must invest in the future. This often comes down to finding and cultivating the next generation of installers and utilizing technology to drive their business forward rather than holding it back.
“The next generation of floorcovering professionals will bring more technological know-how to the installation industry,” said Rothi. “You need to make sure your next generation will continue to grow the industry by encouraging training and continued education through organizations like INSTALL.”
Kidwell agreed, saying, “Many of the old ways we did things have flown out the window and digital technology has taken over. This increase is becoming the norm, and as more and more management and even GCs get involved, everything goes faster and becomes more efficient, she added.”
“From moisture remediation to adhesives to on-the-site training, the future is going to require a highly trained, educated and dedicated workforce,” added Kidwell. “At the end of the day it’s still going to take a person to install the floors, but their knowledge level, training and education has to keep pace with technology.”
Ultimately, taking the time and effort to foster a positive workplace environment will contribute to a more successful flooring installation company. From increasing engagement to investing in education and training, these six tips can help you create a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.