A few weeks ago, we took a group of 20 production managers—all employees of successful remodeling companies from across the U.S. and Canada—to Kohler, Wis. Our purpose was to participate in a management training session delivered by the Kohler Learning Academy, the branch of Kohler focused on education, training, and skill-building for the company’s employees. Our topic: High-Impact Feedback and Listening.

Invest in Your Employees

Two things jumped out at me while attending this session. First was the fact that a company as successful as Kohler continually invests in the education and improvement of its employees. The firm offers an array of professionally created training programs focused on a variety of management skills, spending money on the development of its most valuable asset. I compare this to remodeling company owners who, in many cases, offer no such opportunities for their employees.

But aren’t your people just as important to you? They’re probably even more so, since each individual on your team can affect the entire company with his or her actions.

This was the only time I’ve attended this type of management training for our industry—and I’ve been in dozens and dozens of seminars—with a group of production managers. Many remodelers understand the need to invest in their own education, but it’s rare for them to invest in this type of soft-skills training for production managers—even though it’s essential as a company grows and the manager’s responsibilities grow. Let’s face it: A production manager is tasked with getting the results the company needs through people. So the better your production managers can work with the people around them—field staff, subcontractors, clients, suppliers—the better the results for the company will be.

My recommendation: Include funds for training in your annual budget. At least once a year, talk to your employees about the skills they would like to learn or improve. Task them with finding training options and coming to you for approval. Remember: This is an investment in the employee and in the company.

Reaping the Benefits of Listening

The second thing that jumped out at me was the content of  training itself. I learned that when a manager improves listening skills, a remodeling company benefits in many ways:

  • Fewer misunderstandings occur. Inc. Magazine warns that when managers have poor listening skills they can jeopardize their working relationship with fellow employees. Workers know when they’re not really being heard. This makes them feel undervalued, builds resentment, and motivates them to look for opportunities elsewhere.
  • Listening shows that you care about the other person. When a manager gives the employee his or her full attention, the employee feels valued and respected. In the majority of polls tracking employee satisfaction, feeling appreciated is at the top of the list.
  • Work moves along more quickly and smoothly. When your employees listen to one another regarding how to best accomplish tasks, the work proceeds at a faster rate. Taking this step helps improve clarity and maintain focus while working on the task at hand.
  • Mistakes decrease. Good listeners learn from what's being said so that they're able to use the information in the future to avoid making the same mistakes.

During the seminar, we learned tips and techniques for becoming a better listener:
Listen to understand, rather than to defend or debate.
Make a concerted effort to concentrate on what the person is saying.
Show that you’re listening with non-verbal signals such as silence and eye contact.
Ask questions to make sure you understand.
Take notes.
Avoid multitasking.

The Feedback Loop

The training also defined how giving feedback is a key skill of an effective production manager--or any manager, for that matter.  You should give feedback in a way that encourages, teaches, and helps employees be successful in your company.

Tips:

  • Get their perspective. Start the conversation by asking workers for their perspective on the situation. Tell them what you observed and ask what they think happened. Or ask if they achieved the result they were looking for, and if not, why not. Don’t read into their behavior or assume that you know why they did something.
  • Give the feedback as soon after an incident as possible. Many remodelers hate conflict, so they avoid the conversation … and avoid the opportunity to help the employee improve.
  • Be specific. Don’t use generalities or absolute terms (“you always ...”  “You never ...”) when giving feedback. Share details and facts.
  • Consider the result. When you’re getting ready to give input, think about what you really want the result of the discussion to be. Keep this in mind when you’re in the middle of the conversation, and particularly if emotions get heated and you’re tempted to say something unproductive.

The managers who participated in the training were 100% engaged in both enhancing their own skills and learning how to improve the company for which they work. They asked questions, were active participants in role-playing, worked in task groups to develop skills, and continued the discussions long after the session had ended. This is the sort of education that will have a long-lasting impact on the businesses for which these folks work.