Engage Employees in Planning Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

Blueprints are essential in Chip Reid’s business.

But the CEO of Current Builders has taken the planning aspect beyond construction and applied it to the direction of his company, guiding his 250 employees with a strong vision that they helped create.

The general contracting and construction management company underwent its first strategic planning session in 2005. Reid then revisited the plan in 2008, revamping the process, minus the mistakes of the first round.

After surveying employees and customers to gauge the company’s strengths and weaknesses, Reid set up five committees to tackle the goals for the next five years.

“The goals that we set within our company are really employee-driven,” says Reid, whose company posted 2007 revenue of $125 million. “The employees have to embrace the goals that we establish because if they don’t, then sometimes we may set goals that are not achievable and not for the common cause.”

Smart Business spoke with Reid about how to empower your employees to pick up the planning process and run with it.

Build a bigger committee. Initially, we only had six to eight people in it. You’re trying to come back and address 150, 250 with what your plan is, and it’s harder for them to get buy-in into it.

So what we elected to do this time … is we brought about 25 people into the strategic planning process. It’s a lot easier then to get the buy-in by these upper- and middle-level managers who are going to be facilitating the plan when they actually participated in the process.

I think setting too many goals would be a mistake and setting goals without the consensus of the people that are going to do the heavy lifting. A lot of times, the people that do all the heavy lifting in this plan are not the people that create the plan; it’s the people that manage it and execute it. If they don’t buy in to it and they weren’t part of the process of setting it, then it’s very difficult.

We found this out through our mistake of the first strategic plan. We didn’t have enough people involved in it, and getting the message out and getting the buy-in was much, much more difficult. And as a result, some of the committees failed.

Keep committees on track. Each one of the partners here is assigned to a committee. We call them sponsors, and the sponsor is basically there to, not necessarily drive the meetings, but to monitor them — potentially guide them if they start to get off course but not make decisions for them.

It’s kind of like taking the training wheels off of a bike. You have to let them fall down and get up and try again until they get it. That’s kind of what we’re doing. We know the answer to the problem, or at least we think we know it, but we want the committee to come up with the same conclusion that we came up with or would have come up with or something close to it so they feel like they were part of the solution rather than someone just dictating, ‘OK, we’re going to do X, Y and Z.’

When we see that they get off track or they’re going in the wrong direction, then we challenge them in a positive way and throw out other ideas without giving them the answer. Just say, ‘Well, what if we did this, this and this?’ Then let them chew on it, and all of a sudden, you see the creative juices are going, and they’re steering it more toward where you would like it to go without directly steering it for them.

Pat them on the back if they’re almost achieving [goals so] they feel like somebody’s recognizing their efforts. Keep them constantly engaged by just consistently being attentive to what they’re doing, asking them questions how they would handle things that may be outside of their committee, where they feel like, ‘Wow, here’s an owner of the company asking me for my advice.’

Empower your employees. Every quarter, we have a company meeting with our other two offices in a broadcast so they can see it. What we allow each of the committee heads to do is give the company a quick report.

They come up and stand and talk about the progress their committees made, some of the challenges that they have, some of the goals that they set [that] they already achieved. We set short-term, midterm, long-term goals so people see that they’re actually meeting some goals. If everything’s long-term, sometimes it’s difficult for them to stay focused.

We let them communicate the progress rather than the owners of the company.

Find outside guidance. In order to stay committed to the plan, you really need to have somebody there to monitor your progress other than yourself. So it’s really about having the right strategic planner that knows the business that you’re in, has done this before and that is a highly motivational type [of] person.

The best thing is word-of-mouth, talking to other people that are in your industry through your industry relations group. That’s how we found this person because he spoke at a lot of the functions that we went to. We talked to some contractors that used him.

Talk to people that have done this, your peers. There’s always companies that you might look at that are possibly more advanced and more organized. We would watch what these other companies do and try and do the same things and ask them, ‘How did you do it?’

How to reach: Current Builders, (954) 977-4211 or www.currentbuilders.com