Andy Gutman invests in employees at Farbman Group Featured

9:25am EDT September 13, 2010

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.

Whether through

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

better business.

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