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Body Snatchers

Body Snatchers 

By Jim Cory

You've got a home run hitter on your sales staff. He closes just about every other appointment. You can't get him leads fast enough. He's on fire. Then, suddenly, he emails his notice. Now you find out he's working for your competitor. 
Investigation reveals that the competitor, well aware of your superstar, had wooed him with desperate ardor. Phone calls, notes, a face-to-face in a Starbucks with promises about volume bonuses and a bigger commission. Your golden boy's still wracking up sales, but they're on your competitor's balance sheet.

All's Fair?

Poaching "happens all the time and it's mostly salespeople," says Ger Ronan, president of Yankee Home Improvement, in Chicopee, MA. He once had a sales manager quit, taking the entire sales staff with him, an episode that prompted Ronan to sue. He won. One other result was that his company's non-compete agreements were updated. You can have new employees, from the service tech to the sales manager, sign non-competes, in which they agree not to work for a competitor for either one year or two (the time limit varies by state) after leaving your employ. But what if your current employees signed no such agreement? That's another story. Back in 2012 Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing, which operates in multiple states, had salesperson David Socko sign a non-compete while he was already working for the company. Socko left to take a job with Mid-Atlantic competitor PA Basement Waterproofing, Inc. Mid-Atlantic sent PA Basement Waterprooofing a copy of Socko's non-compete, along with a threat to sue. PA Basement Waterproofing terminated Socko who, in turn, filed a suit against Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing. The case was fought all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which ruled in Socko's favor, saying that Mid-Atlantic had provided the salesperson with no "consideration" (i.e., legalese for something given in return) when he signed that non-compete while he was already their employee. (For a summary of what the case means, click here). Above and beyond that specific issue, there's the general trend whereby courts often view non-competes and similar restrictive covenants with the suspicion that they're not about protecting trade secrets so much as intimidating employees from leaving. As the use of restrictive covenants has grown in the last ten years—about one in five American employees are now covered by one—so has judicial pushback. File for a Cease and Desist order and the judge might want to know, before he agrees to enforce, just what proprietary information—unique to your company—your project manager is privy to? This trend is state-by-state. In California, for instance, "non-competes are effectively illegal unless you're selling a business," according to Heather Bussing at the HR Examiner.

Stressed Out and Looking 

Non-competes may or may not stop employees from leaving you for a competitor, nor competitors from actively recruiting your employees. And it's not always salespeople competitors are after. Scott Siegal, owner of Maggio Roofing, in Tacoma Park, MD, says that for him, the bigger problem is production poaching. "It's happened to me," he says. "And I don't love it." Good production people, including regular subcontractors, are highly valued. "If they're subcontractors," Siegal says, retaining their services could be simply a matter of moving that pay scale. Say from $85 a square for roofing to $110 a square." Subcontractors go where the money is. If you want the best in the market, pay the best in the market. They're yours. Employees, on the other hand, rarely leave, or stay, for money alone. Money's the catalyst. They'd stay if they liked working there. And what a study cited by the Washington Post last October showed was that less than a third like where they are. Of those polled—17,000 workers in 19 U.S. industries—71 percent were looking to change employers. Why? Two-thirds say the job has "a significant impact on their mental and behavioral health." I.e., they're stressed out. Sixty-four percent say supervisors are unsupportive and 44 percent say they're "always or often" overlooked.

Happy Home

If that's the state of things in the workplace, no wonder we live in a world of poaching and non-competes. But while a non-compete might provide your company with protection, that protection isn't bulletproof. What works as well or better is managing people as individuals and letting them know you care about what they think and feel. 
"I have a relationship with my people so that they would at least come to me and tell me that this was happening," Ronan says. Ask yourself this: if the sales manager at your major competitor called your best sales person today, would that salesperson confide in you? Would your production manager, if he got that call? Or would they email their two-week notice? Here's the up side: if 7 out of 10 employees would like to work somewhere else, why not be the happy home they're daydreaming about? "If they want to leave, you're doing something wrong," Siegal says. "You have to do a great job of creating a culture where they don't want to leave. If you create a culture where [employees] want to go to work and work for you, and know you're fair," Siegal says, "you're going to keep more people than you lose." Because no one stays forever.

Cut Me Some Slack

If you hope to attract and keep great people today, bet on flexibility. Manage around employee needs, which lets them know those needs are real to you as well as to them.

Always Looking For Stars

You can call top performers whatever you want to call them, but figure out how to keep them. It was Jack Welch, General Electric’s CEO, who popularized the idea of A, B and C employees. Fair or unfair—

Culture of Advancement

Want a great team? Create opportunities and train people for them. To most home improvement company owners, singed in putting out the daily fires, that must read like Fantasyland. But it’s not if you’re willing to learn about HR, hiring, retention, and training.

How Bad Hires Happen

It’s not a good feeling when it’s clear your new employee isn’t going to work out. A hiring mistake is of two types. The first, someone revealed to be completely incompatible with the culture of a company. The second, someone lacking skills and capabilities.

The Apprentice

Who wants to be an electrician? How about a framing carpenter? Raise your hand. If you were standing in front of most high school classes anywhere in the U.S., chances are what you’d see in response to that question would be not so much raised hands as bewildered faces.

Start Spreading The Word

Incentives and the right culture motivate employees to help you solve your recruiting problem. Learn how to setup an Employee Referral program from the industry's best.

Dream Job

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The Game is Talent

It’s not news that installers are hard to find. Everybody’s talking about it. The difficulty in hiring labor points to a bigger problem, which is attracting young people to an industry that’s hardly a career destination.

Baby On Board

Your new hire arrives. How that’s going to work out is mostly up to you. Many home improvement companies hire only when they have to and preparing that new employee for success is an afterthought.

Short And Sweet – Job Fairs

Contractor associations and individual companies turn to job fairs to meet potential employees. While job fairs aren’t new, they’re a recent development in the home improvement industry. Job fairs can telescope the recruiting process into a few hours.

Second Chancers

If you desperately need people but dismiss out of hand the idea of hiring someone with a record, it might be time to take another look. Managing people successfully is about managing the individual.

Wanted: Hungry, Humble, and Smart

If you’re looking for employee installers, hire for attitude and be willing to train. Top replacement contractors discuss their training programs and how it is paying dividends.

Learning To Get By

English-speaking installers may be convenient but in many trades they’re no longer the majority. If you’re in the exterior contracting business, chances are good you’re using crews who don’t speak English.

Second Time Around

Companies once viewed former employees as gone for good once they left the company. Now it’s welcome back with arms wide open.

Reality Check

Every home improvement company is looking for people. So why would they want to work for yours? First off, what do the people you value want from an employer, and do you offer it?

Custom Solutions

It was standing room only in the meeting room at the Baltimore Convention Center last October. The topic: Labor. That is, a shortage of it. Owners are being forced to improvise.

Normal People

Profiling can be a key recruiting piece but it’s up to you to manage them.Larry Closs, owner of Maxhome, in New Orleans, is “totally sold” on profile assessments to avoid mis-hires.

Thank You For Being Here

Culture is king at home improvement companies with long-term employees. Advice from top contractors on how to think long term and create a culture of loyal, engaged employees.

In Sales: People Skills Predict Success

How do you know when that sales rookie is ready to fly solo? This month's column examines when to hand over that $350 lead to a new sales rep and how to predict future sales success.

How Big Are Your Benefits?

Many home improvement companies juggle the need to attract and retain employees with wisely managing expenses and cash flow. This month's column offers insight for finding a balance.

Hard Truths, Soft Costs

Owners often discover what someone’s worth only when they have to hire a replacement. Jim Cory examines the real value of good employees in this month's column.

Recruit Like You Market by Jim Cory

Shane Schuckman is looking for a canvas manager. In the last year and a half, the company he co-owns and manages Renewal by Andersen of Phoenix - has had seven.