How to Invest in Talent

Mark L. Johnson / October 2016

I’ve been writing about drywall construction for more than 20 years. Also during this time, I’ve advised companies about their communications, marketing and branding programs. So, I know a thing or two about dispensing advice.
I’ve learned to distinguish between someone overly reliant on consultants, using them as stand-ins for their own responsibility to make decisions, and those leaders who hire advisers when needed but ultimately turn their advice into action.

Quick Story
A friend of mine paid $3,000 to $5,000 a month for consultants to tell him how to manage people and run his business. Everything was going well, and the consultants served their purpose. But somehow, my friend was captive to their advice stream.
“Do this.”
“Now try that.”
He needed to move on.
If you’re paying for talent development advice, well, that’s great. Just make the advice actionable. Make the programs operational so that the paid-for advice serves its purpose. Here’s what to do.

Pay to Get People Pumped
Michael Heering, president of F.L. Crane & Sons, Inc., Fulton, Miss., sends his top managers to the FMI Leadership Institute for training. In August, for example, Heering had a division manager attend classes.
“He needed a different way of looking at things,” Heering says. “It’s not that he’s not good at what he does. No, he’s doing a great job for us. But, every time we send someone through [this program], they come back with great ideas.”
Leadership training should be invigorating. It should give your people practical ideas to bring back to the company.
Yes, pay for advice. But also activate it.

Pay for Help with Mentoring
By the year 2021, millennials will dominate the construction workforce, accounting for 65 percent of crews, staff and project oversight, says Mark Breslin of Breslin Strategies, Inc., Alamo, Calif. That means drywall firms need to set up internal mechanisms to provide millennials with direction.
“If a millennial doesn’t like where he’s at, he’ll leave—with no hesitation,” Breslin says.
One solution Breslin highlights is mentoring. He advised one client in the wall, ceiling and coatings business to assign a mentor to every new hire. Each mentor provides professional guidance to a young up-and-comer.
But, mentoring also plays a key retention role for the company. This is because the mentor keeps in touch with the young worker, even if the young person leaves the company. “The mentors are often able to bring them back,” Breslin says. “I don’t know anybody doing that in construction.”
Sounds like good advice. Now, make it happen.

Pay for Help with Corporate Development
Of every 10 people you hire, how many stay with your company? Of every 10 people you want to keep, how many stay?
The latter question is more relevant to John Hinson, Dallas–Fort Worth division president at Marek in Coppell, Texas. He says Marek retains nine of 10 keepers, and does it thanks to its corporate development program.
How did Marek get the program in place? Hinson says the company hired a professional, someone with expertise in corporate development, who wrote the book on leadership training for Marek. It appears be working.
In August, Marek Dallas–Fort Worth held its annual service-award dinner. About 60 employees attended. Most were 10-year company veterans, many were in the two-decade category. Five singled out for recognition had been with Marek for 30 and 35 years. They stayed, Hinson says, because they had been developed and given opportunities.
Marek’s hiring the talent development professional paid off. But, keeping the program actionable has truly been profitable.
Now, I’m not saying getting employee programs up and running is easy. But try to make it happen. Work on your company’s training and talent development programs. You may need to pay for some advice. But after you get the programs in place, your consultants can move on.

Mark L. Johnson loves writing about leadership training and about not paying too much for good advice. He tweets at @markjohnsoncomm and connects at