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Staffing success Featured

10:45am EDT July 29, 2006
Mary Jane Palmer has a passion for helping others. The president of The Palmer Group also has a strong commitment to honesty and integrity. These qualities are the strong foundations that have propelled her staffing company toward success.

Palmer’s first exposure to the business was as a worker for staffing service firm Kelly Services.

“I knew this was the right fit for me,” she says. “The business just keeps getting better and better. It has really evolved over the years. Temp services used to basically provide warm bodies. We now fill critical positions within organizations. It has become a more professional and respected business.”

Palmer started The Palmer Group 20 years ago, and it was successful from the get-go.

“We have been profitable from the beginning,” she says. “I was lucky enough to know many people in the area, but I was also very frugal. So many people get into debt when they start a business. I bartered for or borrowed just about everything in the beginning.”

That approach has served Palmer well, and today The Palmer Group has annual revenue of more than $4 million dollars generated by a temporary staff of between 125 and 250 workers.

Smart Business spoke with Palmer about how to attract and retain the best employees and what it takes to be a great leader.

What is your best leadership advice?
Two things are essential if you want to be a respected leader. First, you must be honest and sincere. If your employees cannot trust you, nothing else really matters. When they come to you with a problem, you must address it.

Second, you must be willing to work hard. You cannot be out for your own agenda or be selfish or self-centered. I am amazed at the lack of integrity in many businesses today, and it is sad.

Managing people is not easy. I have a sign in my office that reads, ‘The trouble with being a leader today is that you don’t know if you are being chased or followed.’ Sometimes it feels that way, but the reality is that, just like any other job, it takes dedication and focus to be successful.

What lessons have you learned the hard way?
I tend to be too trusting. That has hurt me in the past, and I have learned to use more caution.

My feeling is that we all should be able to operate on a handshake, but that is not the way it works these days. I learned this painful lesson when I first started the business.

The contractors building the office said it would take three months and a certain price. I believed what they said; however, it ended up taking 14 months and was twice as expensive.

My husband reminds me to be more careful in my business dealings. Rather than contributing to every charity and trusting whatever people tell me, I do more homework now and check things out before putting myself out there.

How do you attract and retain great employees?
Every survey I read about what motivates employees points back to appreciation. Everyone wants to feel needed, respected and part of the team. I have really taken that to heart, and we put a lot of energy into treating our employees well. I want them to work hard, but also play hard and enjoy life.

We have whole families that work for The Palmer Group, which is a great testament. If there is a problem, we take care of it. If someone is not happy, we do whatever we can to rectify the situation.

We pay as much as possible. I think this strategy has worked, because we have had no problem attracting or retaining employees.

How do you make sure you are meeting your clients’ needs?
We acknowledge when changes are needed and we make them. For example, many of the people interested in working for our agency had been out of the work force for a while and needed computer training.

We responded to this need by starting a new division called Computer Tutor. We are now able to provide excellent technical training for both our staff and our clients.

We also started a new division called Personnel Solutions, which provides human resource services such as pre-employment testing to our clients.

We are not interested in being known as a temp agency only to be called upon when an employee is out of work for a few days. We want to fill a broader scale of needs so that our customers think of us as a true business partner.

So many human resource departments have been scaled down recently, so there are tremendous opportunities.

HOW TO REACH: The Palmer Group, (800) 860-8367 or www.palmergrp.com