I recently spoke with a fellow remodeler who told me that his No. 1 challenge was retaining his people. Everybody who has experienced employee turnover — and we all have membership in that club — knows the effect it can have on productivity and morale, to say nothing of the time and effort required to find qualified replacements.

The following are a few tips — some specific, others more philosophical — that may help you control these exits:

  • Be a good boss. Human resources studies show that the primary reason employees leave their jobs is because of their immediate supervisor. In most cases, that means you. If you're not a born manager — and most of us are not — take deliberate steps to master the necessary skills. Then remember that the learning process never ends.
  • Keep your ear to the ground. Most team member unhappiness starts with something small, then grows. Be proactive. Learn to listen for issues and employee concerns so you can address them before they get out of control.
  • Remember, cash matters. Employees may love their work and your company, but compensation is important, too. Take the time to review not only your employees' total compensation but how it comes to them. Some team members tend to be more risk averse and don't like bonus systems; others are just the opposite and want a larger upside based on team or individual performance. Be creative and make your team part of the process.
  • Focus on people not just projects. It's easy to get caught up in project details and client relationships, to the detriment of your own team. When you become preoccupied with project status updates and focus solely on getting projects completed or keeping customers happy, you often ignore the needs of your own staff. Meet with individual team members often, but make sure the time is evenly balanced between discussing their work and talking about their needs.
  • Learn to coach. These days, it's difficult to reach your full potential on your own. Even the best athletes in the world have a coach, often more than one. Every team needs input and direction from someone focused on the performance of both individuals and the team. Your team members are looking to you to set goals, provide motivation, suggest tools and methods, and evaluate outcomes.
  • Balance your criticism. A maxim says, “Praise in public; criticize in private.” I would add that you should always find something right and acknowledge it before pointing out an issue or problem. If you can't find something right, the problem is probably bigger than you think. If you can't find a cause, either personal or business-related, for the deterioration of a valuable employee's performance, it may be that what once seemed like a good fit is no longer working.
  • Take ownership. Whether you blame a team member's leaving on poor training or simply declare it a bad hire, the person at fault is always you. Own up to it, and you'll start to see things differently.
  • Invest in training. More than ever, your team members need training. It's a growth strategy and should be seen as an investment not an expense.
  • Encourage teaching. One of the most fulfilling activities for any team member who has mastered a role is to teach it to others. Teaching will also help team members find weaknesses in their own knowledge and inspire them to take their own game to a new level.
  • Recognize the individual. Remodeling is a team sport, but you need individual talent to thrive and grow. Be sure you acknowledge individual achievement in a meaningful and public way.
  • Team retention requires daily energy. Apply these principles and word will get out that you are the one to work for. — Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md. He was recently named Maryland Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for 2006.