Chances are you’ve heard of the “weak link theory.” Fundamentally, it means that a team, organization or company is only as strong as its weakest member or employee. While these entities sometimes spend millions of dollars on hiring the biggest star athlete or a CEO with the most impressive resume, they fail to fix the problems that stem from the bottom.
The weak link theory can also teach contractors and business owners within the floorcovering installation industry a thing or two when it comes to employee investment and increasing professionalism. After all, no matter how wonderful your showroom is, how clean your trucks are or how amazing your reputation is, one irresponsible employee, foul-mouthed installer or unprofessional estimator can cost you a job – or worse – jeopardize the future you’ve worked so hard to build.
So how exactly do we work together to increase professionalism within the flooring installation labor force? We spoke to several industry leaders to learn how they have created teams of budding leaders with professional promise. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Serve as a Mentor or Guide on the Job Site
Building your reputation as a respectful, reliable and competent professional is key for not only those in leadership roles, but individuals who want to eventually move up in the industry. So how do you help young apprentices and journeymen who are just starting out?
“I was given an amazing opportunity to move up within the floorcovering industry, but it took someone taking a chance on me and building a name for myself,” said Kyle Smith, business representative with the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters. “As a result, I have tried to give back to the industry and people who’ve helped me during my career in the field and now with my regional council.”
Smith believes that one of the best ways to do this is by serving as a mentor or guiding voice for those around you. Teach young employees and fellow installers to be patient, personable and kind with customers, clients and building occupants. It’s also important to be transparent and straightforward with them so they build positive, affirming relationships in the industry based around mutual trust and a level of professionalism.
“While hand and installation skills can be taught, some life skills and personality traits are not always easy for people to adopt,” explained Smith. “Therefore, we need to place an importance on improving interpersonal skills and hire people who are open to lifelong learning and training.”
2. Place an Emphasis on Soft Skills
Smith’s focus on interpersonal skills are in line with a larger industry push for building what is known as soft skills in tandem with on-the-job installation training. Being courteous, timely and respectful is not only key to impressing your boss, but also those around you – as floor coverers, we work in mostly occupied spaces.
Contractors have been removed from jobs because of issues with installers and apprentices on the site. On the flip side, a positive relationship and expert team of polite, hard-working professionals can lead to new or long-term work. In the end, one person or one incident can ruin or cement the reputation of an entire company, so it’s important to get this right.
“We primarily develop soft skills,” explained Randy Eppard, executive director, Department of Education and Training for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. “Your apprentices or journeymen may have strong technical skills, but if you are developing a team that operates at a higher level than your competitors, it’s important to consider emotional intelligence,” he added.
Emotional intelligence typically refers to one’s ability to identify and manage his or her own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. The emotional intelligence of every single employee on the job has a strong impact on the floorcovering industry.
“We’ve all felt the effects of poor emotional intelligence,” said Eppard. “From self-management to conducting business on the jobsite to stress-management, we have to ask ourselves who we want around us. Do you want someone who is a responsible, calm and patient leader or is prone to outburst and knee-jerk reactions?”
Eppard also believes that if contractors and business owners want to be successful in developing teams, they need to be consistent in their leadership, management or oversight. It truly starts from the top.
“It’s important to manage people and develop teams through vision and value instead of fear and consequence,” said Eppard. “Emotional intelligence is a framework we use to identify what a positive attitude looks like. This is the foundation and then we build on those soft skills.”
3. Look for the Signs
Another way to build a successful team of young professionals is to seek out apprentices and young installers who show promise and potential. The key is to know how to look for the signs.
“We look at young installers and apprentices in a holistic way,” said Eppard. “By using a combination of three drivers – including IQ, personality and EQ – we are able to hand-pick individuals who show leadership promise.”
Eppard warns that while you can help increase someone’s EQ, there is no educational intervention for IQ or personality. “If you are a strong introvert at age 8, then you will be a strong introvert at 80,” he said.
Smith agreed with Eppard’s sentiments saying, “A lot of what installers and journeymen learn comes from on-the-fly problem solving and experience in the field. If your employee keeps a level head and provides help and insight in these situations, then it’s important to help foster an interest in leadership training and education.”
This is where the Carpenters International Training Center (ITC) comes into play. Courses on public speaking, leadership, time management and other critical business communication skills help turn installer into manager and manager into executive.
“If you came to me on the job site five years ago and said I would be speaking in front of 500 people at conferences and events in the future, I would have told you that you were nuts,” said Smith. “It’s amazing what the right training and education can do.”
4. Share the Wealth
While Smith touts the impact of unique opportunities on his rise in the floorcovering industry, not all young professionals know about the specific leadership programs available through the ITC and local council offices.
The Journeymen Leadership Program, for example, is a four-day commitment with more than 36,000 graduates. Also known as the 300 Hitters Program, this incredible opportunity asks participants to lift their brothers and sisters up and serve as mentors.
“An estimated 90% of men and women entering leadership positions have taken this course,” remarked Eppard. “Their job is to go out and identify people who they think can be part of the Journeymen Leadership Program. It’s a great way to give back and create the next generation of leadership.”
Another program, Building Leadership for a Strong Future, helps journeymen develop leadership, mentoring, coaching, and communication skills, and learn to engage with newer members and lead by example, all while promoting positive work environments and productivity on the job.
This program is followed by 212 Journeymen: Next Level UBC Leaders. Focused on journeymen who have committed to utilizing the skills learned in the Building Leadership for a Strong Future program, it embraces transformation leadership and helps build higher level skills.
In addition to these three examples, there are programs on collaborative leadership, team building, delegate training and management.
An Eye to the Future
This might not be an exhaustive list of tips and tricks, but by following these four steps, it’s possible to create an industry full of reliable, motivated, hard-working and qualified experts. With the right amount of professional development, coupled with ongoing education and training, we can help create the strongest chain possible.