Lyle C. Blanden Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

Lyle C. Blanden has found the best way to find out what employees want is simply to ask them. While on a retreat with his management team at J.O. DeLotto and Sons Inc., the chairman and CEO split the group into four individual construction companies, then he asked each company’s employees what they would not want to give up as members of these hypothetical companies. Health insurance topped the list, and since then, Blanden has made sure health insurance has been a top priority at his $50 million construction management and general contracting company, a benefit that has been key in retaining his 60 employees. Smart Business spoke with Blanden about how to keep cliques from forming in your workplace and how to serve your clients better by having a diverse staff.

Keep cliques from forming within your company.

That occurs when certain people work around each other 24-7, and there is no break from that. Then it is faction versus faction. That’s why meetings with the different groups are important on a regular basis to help that scenario.

You are going to have certain people that like to go to lunch with certain people, but when they can be encouraged to pull that third person or fourth person into the group, then do that.

The worst thing is people on the outside don’t feel they can be included, so they think the people are talking about them. It’s a perception many times, and it starts affecting the business that they aren’t happy and want to move on to another company. The whole thing is if you truly had a friend in a company, even one on one, that is the healthiest part.

As a leader, if you see three or four people not always interacting with other people that are close around them, then you have to find ways. Maybe it’s to move other team members around. A lot of times, the cliques will form because people think exactly alike, and the healthy teams are ones that have different talents and diverse thinking.

Form a diverse group. If you have a choice of two people, one person that thinks like you do and one person that thinks differently, your first month will be the easiest with the person that thinks like you. After that, the reality is you don’t need somebody who thinks like you. You need somebody who complements you.

In any relationship, the opposites do attract, and the opposites really complement each other. We’ve made a concerted effort over the last 10 years to hire people who bring something different to the team.

Your clients are not going to all think like you do. One of the biggest things we’ve built on is the diversity of construction. If you put all your eggs in one basket, if all you do is retail, and retail goes down, you are going to lay people off.

As clients recommend you to other people and as their needs change, you need to serve those clients. Different clients need different personality types working with them.

When you have a project that has a lot of detail, you want to make sure you put your detail people on that. Some projects need great schedulers, so you need that personality that can see that picture and can deal with the schedule.

A healthy company is one that has a good matrix of diverse thinking and feels the forum is open and that they can say anything in certain meetings and feel they are not going to be put down for it.

Stay away from unreasonable people. If you are getting into a relationship businesswise where you don’t think alike or their expectations are extreme, I think it’s better to walk away from that even if it is a key job. It’s probably better to go with your gut.

One of the hardest things is when we get a lot of negative energy. It is so hard to turn that around to a positive.

When you are into that project that is negative, not only does that hurt you at that point and time, but all of a sudden when you come out of that, whether it’s a month or six months, you all of a sudden don’t have any work because you spent all that negative time.

Don’t dwell on failure. Whenever you have a failure, you need to grieve and learn your lesson, and we need those times in our lives because that is when we grow the most. They make us stronger — if they don’t break us.

The key is, every day, trying to find a time to focus on something positive. If you don’t, you are going to spend all the time in the negative. The worst thing in a failure is to stay in it too long. We need to learn from it, and, however we can, put it behind us; we need to do that or seek support, whether it’s external or internal.

Don’t hire the best person for the job; just hire the best person. When the best person walks through the door and you don’t have a job for them, you hire them. You find a way to have them fit in to the sequence.

It may be a little bit of an overhead for a little bit of time, but with our longevity of people, that’s not a bad overhead to have. If you hire the best person available for a job, then you are probably not hiring that longevity person that will stay there.

When you interview and the right person comes through the door, you need to be open enough to not say, ‘I don’t have anything for you.’ Or, if they are a little diverse and you don’t have that, then, ‘Gee, that’s great thinking to be able to have. We’re going to find a way to use you.’

HOW TO REACH: J.O. DeLotto and Sons Inc., (813) 935-2191 or