Farbman Group employees
might feel the company’s care through the hands of an in-house masseuse.
It counts as a stress
management course at Farbman University, the development program that Chief
Financial Officer Andy Gutman helped implement to invest in the company’s 200 employees.
But really, the
employees fuel the program.
“Between having people serve as educators and crafting the
program around employee needs, we’re able to put together a good program that
is really well visited,” Gutman says.
technical classes — like frequently used lease language — that enhance
professional skills or personal courses about investing and estate planning, Farbman
strives to give employees tools to succeed.
“We’re very focused on making sure that it’s not just a way to
get out of sitting at your desk and doing your work, that every class has some
meaning that ties back,” Gutman says. “We try to make sure that what we’re
offering really does add value.”
Smart Business spoke to
Gutman about creating a development program that builds better employees and a
Get buy-in with input. We know certain classes will happen
every year. Accountants get trained in depreciation out of necessity. So each
department has its own areas. Those are more of the hard classes that they have
to attend. Anyone can attend any of the classes; even if you’re not in
accounting, you can attend an exciting class on depreciation.
Then we try to tailor some of the others to be more about
personal growth. The big thing that’s been a topic for us is managing money. We
provide the staff with a variety of opportunities: wealth management, how to
deal with your 401(k), how to deal with the loss of a mortgage or potential
loss of your home. So we do some things that are strictly intended to improve
the quality of life for our staff.
We require them to engage in four classes a year — two of them
are required classes and two of them can be elective. That’s helped us with
getting the employee buy-in.
We do in excess of 25 to 30 classes a year. They get to pick
and choose, for the most part, which ones they go to. Some of them go to 10 or
more a year. They’re all done during the day so that they never have to
infringe on their personal time.
Usually about August of each year, I get together with our
supervisors [and] our HR director and we go through the current year’s courses.
We send out a survey to the employees to see what they think has been most
We take into account all the different factors: What’s proven
useful, what hasn’t, what areas we need new development in — [through] seeking
out supervisor input as to where their employees need assistance — and put that
together in a draft university schedule that we send around to the staff and
get their feedback about ones they might be interested in attending.
Train employees to teach. In our chosen fields, we really are
very big on our people teaching their area of expertise.
We really test the expertise of people. So if someone wants to
do a training class on a Microsoft product, we put them onto an online test
course to see how versed they are in that product. We do that to determine what
makes sense to teach internally.
We have done some training for our leaders who want to teach
in terms of how to actually speak in public. Maybe they’re not the best public
speaker, but they still are good at teaching the subject.
We do surveys after every class. We can get feedback from our
people to say, ‘I really didn’t learn a lot,’ ‘I learned a lot,’ ‘It was a
great class,’ ‘Here’s what could be done better.’
Uncover individual needs.
The old-school mentality in an organization was, ‘I can’t tell people where I’m
deficient because they’ll find someone who is more proficient.’ We’ve really
fostered a mentality that it’s OK to make mistakes and it’s OK to learn, and we
want people to learn.
It’s about building trust-based relationships with your employees
so that fear of telling you what their needs are goes away. When we first did
this program, we did 360-degree reviews … with our executive team. We put it
out in our break room. Everyone could read all the deficiencies of our
executive staff. If we were willing to put ourselves out there and talk about
where our shortcomings were, … that went a long way to fostering that.
We require every supervisor to meet with their staff members a
minimum of once a month. Usually the meetings are biweekly or weekly with every
one of their direct reports. So you’re never far away from their development
We try to structure either one-on-one development internally,
but more often than not, we’ll find a class outside of our program structured
for those individual needs.
Invest in employees. This
current economy has been a perfect example of why we need to strengthen the
personal skill sets of our employees. When people are losing their houses and
they’re stressed about that, how can you possibly be a good employee?
We can’t solve all that, but we can give them tips. We can
help them with finding the right people to talk to. If you can help them figure
out how to deal with the issues that they’re struggling with personally, their
focus at work is stronger and they’re able to be better, more productive
And they’re more appreciative. The buy-in you get to the company
when someone says, ‘Farbman Group took the time to put me in touch with someone
to help me out of my financial predicament,’ you can’t measure in terms of
dollars and cents.
But I can tell you, since we’ve started these programs, our
employee retention is spectacular. We’ve grown our leaders into teachers; they’re
more thoughtful in what they do every day when they know they have to explain
it to someone else. We’ve grown people who were introverted into extroverts,
and that’s helped us with our client interaction. When you entrust someone to
teach something that they love — even if they’re shy individuals — it’s
incredible how that gives them more confidence and helps them grow.
How to reach: Farbman
Group, (248) 353-0500 or www.farbman.com