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Formula For Success

People Management

By Johnny Duncan

The pressures on management have been well publicized: menacing global competition, increasingly demanding customers, quantum leaps in technology. The theme that unites these pressure is change-- relentless, multifaceted, unforgiving, intense rapid change.

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  • The message has gotten through. We don t believe that managers need more "war stories" about dissatisfied customers, the impact of technology, or the dangers of focusing on quarterly results. We managers are as aware as we need to be. Now, we need to do a better job of doing something about it. We need to face the challenge of change.

    One aspect of the challenge of change is the fierce competition to keep and retain employees within the sign industry. With unemployment at record lows for a record period of time, finding the right employees and keeping them can be quite a formidable task. It takes more than a good manager to accomplish this task. It takes a good leader. The main difference between the two is that leadership is about influencing people to follow, while management focuses on maintaining principles and processes. As former Chrysler chairman and CEO Lee Iacocca wryly commented, "Sometimes even the best manager is like the little boy with the big dog, waiting to see where the dog wants to go so that he can take him there."

    For this segment of "Formula For Success" I interviewed a true leader. Mark Manfredi is the Director of Operations for Advanced Power Technologies. In the interview we discussed the challenges of the slim pickings in the employee market. Mr. Manfredi s approach to keeping employees once he finds them is simplistic, but often overlooked by "managers". Leading employees and treating them with respect by finding out what helps them to do their job better is the best approach and one that Mr. Manfredi uses. Our hope is that we can all learn something from others in the industry who have "been there and done that". The following is a portion of our interview:

    SI: What has been your greatest challenge in finding employees and after you have found them, keeping them?
    Mr. Manfredi: Locating them would have to be the greatest challenge. And then, after that, sifting through to find the ones you want. Also, getting the word out is pretty tough. Our greatest success has been through the use of the Internet. Posting in the classified sections of sites such as SignIndustry.com and others has worked better than other avenues for us. We just have not received a return on investment when posting in the newspapers. Our best way to attract employees is through networking. Just talking with people within the industry already working. They may be unhappy with their current situation and I ask them to give us a try. We typically offer an increased rate of pay over our competitors and also better benefits.

    To keep the employees, we find out what makes them happy and helps them to perform their job better. One of the changes we made is that none of our equipment is more than seven years old. We paid a little more to get air-conditioned trucks with AM/FM radios with CD players. We also let the employees customize the equipment the way the want it. Of course, nothing that interferes with safety or performance. Throwing money at people will not make them better. Pride and positive reinforcement are key factors and most often overlooked. I estimate that the extra money to provide better equipment is about $5000.00 per truck, but over a five-year lease it does not cost that much to keep my employees happy.

    SI: What laws or regulations, if any, have been somewhat obstacles for your organization?
    Mr. Manfredi: We ve had problems in dealing with the Florida Department of Labor (FDL). When we tried to give a bonus to our employees as a reward based on production, the FDL said it had to be factored into the hourly rate which hurt us. The way the law is written, it prohibits bonuses. They would allow a Christmas bonus so now we wait until then to reward our people. We communicated this to our employees and now they have an end-of-year bonus to look forward to. For some it comes out to be a substantial amount.

    Another obstacle for us has been our drug-free policy. I know it sounds crazy, but the benefit from the insurance company for us being a drug-free workplace may not be worth it if we lose people. When we have a surprise drug testing, some of our best people may have partied over the weekend and something is still in their system. It is not that they have a drug problem or that they do drugs at work-- we won t tolerate that, but if they smoke something over the weekend and are tested on Monday, we lose people. I am still not sure if the benefits outweigh the cost.

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    SI: Do you provide training for your employees? What types?
    Mr. Manfredi: We train our people in-house on all of our equipment. Sometimes the manufacturer of the equipment might come to provide training. We also outsource some of our training such as repelling. We send our employees to a school for this one. We also provide safety training and we have a safety committee consisting of employees and management.

    SI: Where do you see this type of business five or ten years into the future?
    Mr. Manfredi: Our type of sign work is mostly service work. I see service work as recession proof. During the good times and the bad we have continued with steady growth. However, I think that our type of business will become more competitive as the laws and regulations change. If the laws continue to lower signs, say like to six-foot monument signs, then anyone with a pick-up truck can service them. As it stands now, you need support in the way of capital to compete. We just ordered another $110,000 piece of equipment. The potential upcoming concern is that if the signs come down, then unlicensed people will begin to get in the game and hurt the business.

    SI: What advice can you give to other companies in the industry who may have difficulty attracting and retaining employees?
    Mr. Manfredi: To get great exposure, advertise on the Internet. You can get a better response there than through other forms of advertising. Of course, the best is through networking. Pay good wages to your employees. Treat them fair and provide positive reinforcement. Sometimes it is just the small things that keep the employees happy. We purchased a refrigerator for the employees and we keep it stocked with sodas and Gatorade. We spend about $60.00 per month, which is nothing compared to their satisfaction and performance. The little things that you can do for your people will pay off big in the long run.

    Company profile:
    Name: Advanced Power Technologies
    279 Power Court
    Sanford, FL 32771
    (407) 321-5113
    Business Type: Service
    Years in business: 6
    Annual Sales: $3 million
    Number of employees: 33
    Turnover rate: 25% (approx.)

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