Stone World was scheduled to hold one of its Stone Summits that it organizes with the Natural Stone Institute at Universal Granite & Marble’s facility in Chicago on Thursday, September 17th. But for obvious reasons caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held virtually instead. The presentation, which was given by Eric Tryon, former CEO of Premier Surfaces, 2015 Stone World Fabricator of the Year and a current columnist for Stone World, was titled “Key Pulse Points for Building A Successful Stone Fabrication Business: Bring Order to the Chaos.” Many fabricators from across the country tuned in for the two-part seminar, which was held on Wednesday, September 16th and Thursday, September 17th.
“At the end of the day, it all comes down to building a profit within our organization,” Tryon told participants. “A few key buckets [include] having the right people in the right seat on the bus. A unified process is probably number two. If you don’t have the right people who can do the right work, it will create chaos.”
Tryon advised the group that less is more. “Where people miss the boat is that they try to take on too much,” he said. “Focus on a few things rather than trying to tackle everything. My goal is that you can take one or two things away from this presentation and implement them in your organization.”
Throughout the two-day virtual event, several poll questions were conducted so that Tryon could have a better understanding of how participants were running their businesses. The first one asked: Does your company have a defined number one deliverable (goal) metric for each position in the company? A total of 27% said they do, while the other 73% responded that they don’t.
Tryon explained to participants that setting goals and standards for each position in the company is important to its success. “It all boils down to the leadership team,” he said. “The good news is that you can correct it.
“The worst thing we can do is put someone in a role that they will be set up for failure,” Tryon went on to say. “We need to make sure the system we put in place does some of the heavy lifting for us. I had a mentor tell me around 2008/2009 that I had exactly the team that I put in place. What I tolerate becomes the norm. If I let things slide because I am busy chasing squirrels over here then that becomes the norm.”
If you don’t engage your employees then you will lose them, according to Tryon. “Rewarding people or point out where they fell short is important,” he said. “It is up to the manager and owner to make sure [each employee] has the right tools and the right DNA to do [their job] well and that they are aware of their performance on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. People want to win.”
Implementing a hiring plan
Victor Deoliveira of Discover Marble & Granite in Shrewsberry, MA, joined Tryon for a portion of the session on day one to talk about how he implemented a successful hiring plan for his company. Tryon asked Deoliveira to start by discussing the “pain points” he had experienced.
“You want to win by design, but I think the case with a lot of us is winning by chance,” said Deoliveira. “There is a lot of pressure from customers and vendors that puts the hiring process on the back burner. It started to affect us. The approach we took [to fix it] was quite simple. We decided to make the hiring process similar to sales – always trying to have a good number of solid leads to work with.
“We made the change three or four years ago,” Deoliveira went on to explain. “We hired a human resource person. Her job was to continuously run ads and to create a file for each department. She would go through applications and resumes, and do a pre-qualification over the phone. She then brought the person in for an interview. She would usually do the first one. She had guidelines from each department supervisor. She would then have sort of a “sales prospect.” This streamlined the process. Not only having that quality of candidate and getting the right person in the right seat came out of this, but we were getting them in the shortest amount of time.”
“I love that you treated [the hiring process] like a sales call,” said Tryon. “You are always recruiting. It’s never ending. Now you have a dedicated resource. Can you speak to the point that this didn’t happen overnight and that this wasn’t cheap? You now have another annual salary, which is at least a $50,000 investment.”
“We have experience on both sides of that,” said Deoliveira. “We have three locations. In our Massachusetts location we have 140 employees, so we can definitely afford to have that position. We have a location in Fort Meyers, FL, with 38 employees. We tried to have human resources run the same program down there, but found it hard. It didn’t work in Florida. So there isn’t one go-to person. It’s more of collective effort. We try to make recruiting everyone’s responsibility. We offer a $300 bonus if someone recommends someone.”
“I love that you engage your existing team to go find new people,” said Tryon.
An audience member asked Deoliveira when are you big enough to invest in a human resource person? Deoliveira’s advice was that if you are a company bringing in $8 to $10 million in revenue, it is something to seriously consider. He explained that a human resource person’s duties can extend beyond hiring. “You have to think about the fact that they can bring other benefits, such as handling safety issues,” he said. “That role can be very profitable and prevent a lot of costs.”
What participants had to say
Attendees were polled on two more questions before the end of the first day’s session.
Does your company have clearly documented Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs) outlining how the business is run?
Does your company have a clearly documented onboarding and training process for every new hire in each department?
For those who don’t have specific plans and processes in place to build a successful business, Tryon continued to offer advice. “One thing important for us was that we started to interview for a specific skillset,” he said. “It was a game changer for us, and I know it will be for anyone who takes the time to invest.”
He explained that his company had started a training program. “We hired people as an apprentice with the understanding that they would train and grow and become a lead installer in a certain amount of time,” said Tryon. “It was a huge investment and very specific from week one through week six. You might say that it is so much work. How can I take the time to do this? Yes, it is, but how can you not? It’s totally worth it.”
According to Tryon, a testing and review session was conducted with the manager of the department where the apprentice was training. “We chose someone who has been doing their job for years,” he said. “It gave them this additional responsibility and we paid them for it. They wore it like a badge of honor.”
Creating a scoreboard
“It’s a ‘me, me, me’ world,” said Tryon. He explained that people want to talk about themselves and know how they are doing in their position. Creating a scoreboard is a great way to keep track of employee performance and to let them see if they are achieving the goals that were set for them.
“I use the analogy of when you are driving in the dark,” said Tryon. “A lot of us run our businesses that way. We don’t know what is going on. How do you know your strategies are correct if you aren’t tracking them? For me, it was always a challenging part to get over. When I say a lot of fabricators are running their businesses blindfolded, that’s what I mean.
“What made us really different is that we focused on a few areas and attacked them relentlessly with the front liners,” Tryon went on to explain. “Pull the information that you feel is the most important and then take it and turn it back and make it transparent to your teams. They can see where they stack up. That’s where the magic happens. Humans don’t want to be at the bottom of the list. They will start changing to find out how to get better.”
According to Tryon dashboards and scoreboards don’t work if they aren’t visible to the people. They also have to be updated every day. “If they don’t feel comfortable in the job, they will leave,” he said. “You will never have to terminate again. Visibility is key. There is no guessing anymore.”