Reaching employees

Brian A. Miller takes pride in the fact that the majority of his 29 employees have been with the company for more than a decade, and some have been there more than two.

For Miller, president and co-owner of electrical contracting company West Electric Inc., showing appreciation for employees is everything, and it pays off in achieving that longevity.

“You’re only as successful as your people that support you, so you’ve got to reward them,” says Miller, whose company posted revenue of $6.4 million in 2008.

Smart Business spoke with Miller about how to make employees feel appreciated by building them up, rewarding them and listening to their needs.

Q. What are the keys to making employees feel appreciated?

It’s about human relations. If you treat people well, that goes a long way in them wanting to work harder for you. If you treat them like they’re not important, they’re going to find a way to either make it rough on you or go somewhere else.

As far as making people feel wanted, build them up. Let’s say our purchasing agent works hard and finds materials at a very good market, and we’re able to bring that in at high levels. Then, two months later, we find out that the prices went way up on a material, and since he bought it at a low end, that really gave us an advantage that this was purchased at a lower price.

When you’ve got an employee that’s done things like that, you need to let them know, ‘Hey, great job on that, you’re really thinking ahead and looking for the good of the company.’

You build them up not only with praise, but you also either give them a paid vacation or a couple days off. With the way the economy is right now, these things are going to be tough to do.

Q. How do you reward employees during a tough economy?

You’ve got to communicate. Everybody watches the news and the economy. They know what’s going on out there. It’s tough. The human element is still important.

You’ve got to build them up. You’ve got to say, ‘Hey, it’s tough right now.’ You have to communicate to them, ‘Hey, we need to buckle down even tighter. Let’s just try to make it through this tough time and then hopefully, there will be some things we can do later on.’

Q. How else can you reward employees?

A ‘that a boy’ and a pat on the back goes a long way in the process of when you’re really pushing and shoving and trying to get accomplished what your goal is for a specific project.

We try to communicate with our lead people and tell them when they’re doing a good job out there. And a small monetary bonus is important, but we don’t think that’s the total answer to it.

Just treating people with respect and letting them know they’re doing a real good job out there is a positive thing.

Q. How do you communicate to employees your respect for them?

The main thing is just show-ing them that you do care for them. That you care about them as an individual and that their family is important. Try to make sure that you listen. You listen to what their needs are.

It’s a two-way street out there. You can’t just go out and strong-arm somebody; you have to go out and listen to what their problems are.

When there is a problem, you need to get right in there and correct the problems that they made or mistakes. You have to keep your pulse on your employees.

It’s hard to get around to everybody, so you rely on your lead people out there to keep a pulse. Try to get with them at weekly meetings and say, ‘Where’s the problem?’

It’s the communication. Listen to what’s going on out there. What caused this situation to happen?

You just have to sit down with them and take a little time. Take time, listen, communicate with them, come to an understanding and move forward.

Q. What are the keys to listening to employees?

When you’re listening to them, that means that there’s usually a problem or they’re letting us know of changes or whatnot. It’s very important to document down what they’re saying, and the follow-up is very important.

(There) has to be a follow-up on a concern to make sure you’re answering their question properly.

Q. How do you make time to reach out to employees and listen to their needs?

The schedule is very important. You have to schedule your time.

I’m on the boards of different organizations, and that comes with a price. You can’t be everywhere. I’ll get a call, and they’ll say you have to be at this meeting today at 2 o’clock. Obviously, I had other things scheduled.

You really have to pick your battles; you have to know what’s important for your business. You have to have your business in your mind. You have to take that personality out a little bit. What’s going to be the best for my business?

How to reach: West Electric Inc., (765) 643-6444 or