Managing a Larger Group of Employees

by WOHe

Managing a Larger Group of Employees

Okay, so your cabinet shop isn’t Enron or IBMor even the local
supermarket, come to think of it. You don’t have lots of employees
spread out in different locations. You run a shop, building and
manufacturing real things.

However, if you’re beyond the one-person, garage-type operation,
you probably have a “workforce.” This may consist of only a couple
of employees, but as you go forward and grow, you’ll probably face
some of the same issues that larger companies deal with on a daily

In fact, as cabinet shops mature, many stay at a certain level
frequently between five and 10 employees. Still, a shop of this
size often experiences staffing issues similar to those of larger
operations with 20 employees or more. And, just as with any small
business, you as the leader need to be firmly in charge of dealing
with a larger staff.

If your shop is any good at all, your services will be in demand.
New home building may wax and wane, but remodeling, home repair and
maintenance very definitely are here to stay. In many markets,
there are not many shops around, so if you can take advantage of
that, you may find you’ll be able to grow your business

Like it or not, however, this type of growth necessitates
structure and systems. You, as the owner or manager of your shop,
will be the one to put them in place.

There will inevitably be a few key spots you’ll have to fill
first. You just can’t do it all any more.

The first position with any responsibility will likely be the
person who runs the production side of things your foreman. If
you’re going to move forward successfully, you as the owner or
manager are going to have to let go of some activities you’ve done
in the past. If you can have another person accountable for a part
of the business that you cannot handle any longer, that is a
cornerstone of real achievement and it can form the basis of good

You may find, at a five-to-10-person shop, that you’ll need a
full-time office manager. Here, too, getting your basic structure
and systems in order is really important. Having someone else take
care of, and be responsible for, the record-keeping, your
insurance, answering the telephones that’s part of building a
larger company.

As your shop operation matures, apart from needing more people
on the floor to do the physical work, you may need other support
staff to help with pre-production. This may be a full-time
draftsperson/ detailer, a project manager or a salesperson. All of
these key jobs mean additional employees and a larger team again
with structure and systems in place. The accounting system you use,
the format of your proposals, the way your shop drawings look, the
methods you use to build and attach your wall scribes it’s all part
of making that bigger team work together under a coordinated
systematic approach.

And don’t forget, too, that a larger group of staff will want
and appreciate structure and systems. A good employee benefit
package is part of that, with health coverage, paid time off,
perhaps a retirement plan. It all contributes to that essential
team-building that can be the key to your shop’s success.

A larger group of employees also means you have to communicate
frequently and well. It all starts with you, the leader setting the
tone and making sure everyone “gets it.”

At our shop, we found that once we went over 10 employees, a
full-blown staff meeting was not the best of settings to
communicate well. The reason: In general, people are uncomfortable
about speaking up; some don’t listen well, others even doze

We figured out that getting together as smaller groups worked
better, with more regular gatherings. A weekly production meeting,
for example, can go a long way toward communicating what work is
coming up. It can also be a good forum to discuss safety issues,
proper machine use, clean up and so forth.

It may be a good idea to establish regular small get-togethers
for your detailer(s), foreman and project manager, if you have one.
You can all stay on the same page that way, with regard to
schedules, sales, changes to the work and other issues.

Another tip if you’re getting larger than, say, 20 people on
staff, you may want to consider a more formal way of connecting
people. A staff newsletter may accomplish this, and possibly even a
company Web site specifically dedicated to company projects,
personnel, achievements, changes whatever you like. Just be aware
that both of these kinds of endeavors will take time and

With structure and systems in place, you may find coaching your
people easier. A computerized accounting system can give you the
opportunity to job-cost work, and pass on productivity feedback to
the team. A system of a foreman and job leaders may provide an
excellent way for you to train your staff as to how the work should
be done.

Many shops use a system of performance reviews to help improve
how things are done. It’s a little more formal, but can really help
in assessing and changing behavior. Again, the review process
especially if it’s ongoing and regular can play a vital role in
coaching and developing your group of employees. Getting a key
player to tackle the more complex work a curved bathroom vanity,
for example can be greatly helped with good and positive
performance feedback.

Here again, it’s you as the leader who’s the one to provide both
the vision and the ethics to coach and teach. It’s you who’ll be
the foundation of fanatical customer service, constant on-time
delivery, perfect workmanship whatever your core values are.

Getting the larger group of employees on board with your values
is the most important challenge of your job as owner or

Next Column: Keeping Your Customers Happy


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