Tradie Business 101: A Guide to Managing Employees

Remember your first job when you started as an apprentice working for a tradie business? You spent the day looking for left-handed spanners, doing the Dare iced coffee run and trying to remember what you’d learnt at trade school.

Now you’re the boss of your own tradie business — whether plumbing, electrical contracting, HVAC installation, landscape construction, carpentry, or residential building – you realise that trade school didn’t teach you about managing employees.

Trade schools are essential for developing the knowledge and skills of tradies to do quality work that’s essential for every part of Australian life. However, as business coaches one of the most common things we hear is, “I didn’t learn how to run a business at trade school.” So what’s missing in this education model? Business 101.

In this series “Tradie Business 101”, we’re looking at the areas of business that you need to know how to manage well: finance, marketing, leadership and management, and more. As a tradie business coaches to many specialist trades, my advice is backed by 20 years of experience.

You can catch up of the other guides in our series, Tradie Business 101: A Guide to Finance, and Tradie Business 101: A Guide to Marketing, or you can hop straight into the topic of managing employees here.

Stepping up from being a tradie to running a business requires a shift, not just in how you work, but in how you lead. And let’s be honest, nobody becomes a master overnight. But with the right tools and mindset, you can build a team that can be relied on to deliver good work and contribute to your business growth.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through the essentials of employee management, tailored specifically for the construction trades services sector. We’ll cover everything from recruiting the right team, training and developing your crew, fostering a positive work environment, to managing performance effectively. I’ve distilled these lessons from years of coaching business owners like you, combined with practical strategies that have proven successful across the trades.

Remember, the goal here isn’t just to manage but to lead. To inspire your team to achieve great things together. So, whether you’re just starting out or looking to refine your management skills, this guide is your first step towards becoming the leader your team needs.

Introduction to Employee Management for Tradie Businesses

Before we get into it, I’ll answer the questions you’re probably asking: who is Ash Thomson and what does he know about managing a crew of tradies? Fair call. I’m a business coach who has been providing practical advice to tradies since 2002. Some of my clients started working with me when they had a just handful of guys on the tools, and we’ve now built their businesses up to be leaders in their industries. Businesses like Prolux Electrical, Purple Hills and Reliable Plumbing. In the 20 years I’ve been coaching, I’ve been awarded Business Coach of the Year multiple times and been inducted into the Coaching Hall of Fame. Now I lead a firm of business coaches who also guide tradies and also provide business coaching for manufacturers, and logistics, and professional B2B services.

Now that’s sorted, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

As strategic partner to many trades businesses, I understand the complexities and unique challenges that come with leading a team in this dynamic field. Whether you’re an electrical contractor, a plumbing business owner, or manage a team in HVAC, landscape construction, roofing, or commercial painting, this guide is tailored for you.

Understanding the Importance of Effective Leadership and Management in Your Trades Businesses

Leadership and management in trades businesses go beyond just delegating tasks and overseeing projects. It’s about inspiring your team, fostering a positive work environment, and leading by example. Effective leadership can significantly impact your team’s morale, productivity, and ultimately, the success of your business. It’s about creating a vision for your company and guiding your team towards achieving it.

In the trades, where projects are often complex and deadlines tight, the importance of good leadership cannot be overstressed. Your role involves not just managing, but coaching, mentoring, and sometimes, problem-solving on the fly. It’s about being the anchor that keeps your team focused and motivated, even when the going gets tough.

Unique Challenges Faced by Construction Trades Service Businesses

The construction trades sector presents a set of unique challenges that can test even the most seasoned leaders. These include:

Skilled Labor Shortages: Finding and retaining skilled tradespeople is a significant challenge, given the competitive landscape and the growing demand for skilled labor.

Regulatory Compliance: Navigating the maze of industry, state, and federal regulations can be daunting, especially for small to medium-sized businesses.

Safety Management: Ensuring the safety of your team on job sites is paramount, given the inherent risks associated with construction work.

Quality Control: Maintaining high standards of workmanship while managing client expectations and project deadlines requires a delicate balance.

Team Dynamics: Managing a diverse team of individuals, each with their unique skills, personalities, and motivations, can be challenging but is critical for project success.

As we go through this guide, we’ll explore strategies and tactics to navigate these challenges effectively. We’ll look at how to recruit and hire the right team, train and develop your workforce, create a positive and productive work environment, and manage performance to foster growth and success.

With this foundational introduction, we’ve set the stage for a comprehensive exploration of employee management in the trades construction sector.

Let’s step into the first detailed section of our guide, focusing on “Recruiting and Hiring the Right Team” for construction trades service businesses. Remember, finding and bringing on board the right talent is critical in setting the foundation for your company’s success. Here we go:

Recruiting and Hiring the Right Team of Skilled Trades and Admin

This section aims to provide a foundational understanding of how to approach recruiting and hiring in the construction trades service sector, emphasising the importance of both skill and cultural fit.

Building a stellar team starts with recruiting the right people. In the trades, skills are crucial, but so is attitude. Here’s how you can ensure you’re attracting and selecting the best candidates for your business.

1. Identify the Skills Your Team Needs

Firstly, be clear about the skills your business needs. Are you looking for a seasoned electrician with years of experience, or could you train an eager apprentice? Understanding the specific skills and certifications required for your projects is the first step in recruiting the right team members.

2. Leverage Industry Networks

Word of mouth and industry connections are gold in the trades. Use your network to find potential candidates. Attend industry meetups, trade shows, and seminars. Often, the best talents are found through recommendations from trusted colleagues.

3. Craft Clear and Appealing Job Descriptions

Your job postings should reflect not just the skills you’re seeking but also the culture of your team and the benefits of working with you. Highlight opportunities for growth, training, and the types of projects candidates will work on. This clarity attracts candidates who align with your business values and goals.

4. Conduct Effective Interviews

Interviews are your opportunity to assess not just a candidate’s skills but also their fit with your team. Ask about their past projects, challenges they’ve faced, and how they’ve dealt with conflicts. This gives you insights into their problem-solving abilities and teamwork skills.

5. Assess Cultural Fit

A candidate’s fit with your company culture is as important as their technical skills. During the interview, share your company’s values and observe their reactions. Ask questions that reveal their work ethic, communication style, and how they handle feedback. You’re looking for individuals who will contribute positively to your team’s dynamics.

6. Implement a Trial Period

If possible, offer short-term contracts or trial periods before committing to a full-time hire. This allows both you and the candidate to assess if the fit is right. It’s a practical approach to see their skills in action and how they integrate with your team.

Recruiting the right team is a blend of art and strategy. It requires a keen eye for talent, a clear understanding of your business needs, and a bit of intuition. By following these steps, you’re setting the stage for a team that’s not just skilled but also aligned with your vision and values.

Remember, every team member you bring on board is an investment in your business’s future. Take the time to recruit wisely, and you’ll build a workforce that supports your business’s growth and enhances your reputation in the industry.

Let’s move forward to the next section of our guide, focusing on “Training and Development for Trades Teams.” This segment is crucial for ensuring your team not only maintains but also enhances its skill set, adapting to the ever-evolving construction industry standards and technologies.

Training and Development for Trades Teams

This section is designed to provide practical insights into establishing a culture of continuous improvement and learning within your team.

In the dynamic world of construction trades, the growth of your business is directly tied to the capabilities and development of your team. Here’s how you can establish a robust training and development program that ensures your team is always at the forefront, ready to tackle the challenges and opportunities that come their way.

Establishing a Training Program for New Hires

The first step in building a skilled team is to ensure that every new hire goes through a comprehensive training program. This program should cover not just the technical aspects of their job but also your company’s safety protocols, quality standards, and customer service expectations. Tailor this program to include both in-house training sessions and on-the-job learning opportunities. By doing so, you’re not just equipping your new team members with the skills they need but also embedding them into your company culture from day one.

Ongoing Skill Development and Certification for Existing Employees

The construction industry is continuously evolving, with new technologies, materials, and methodologies emerging regularly. To stay competitive, it’s essential that your team keeps up. Encourage and facilitate ongoing learning and development for your team members. This could be in the form of workshops, online courses, or certification programs relevant to their specialties.

Investing in your team’s development not only boosts their skills and confidence but also shows them that you value their growth and see them as a vital part of your business’s future.

Leveraging Mentorship Within Your Team for Skill Transfer and Leadership Development

One of the most effective ways to foster skill development and leadership within your team is through mentorship. Pairing less experienced team members with seasoned operators can facilitate skill transfer in a practical, hands-on way that formal training programs sometimes cannot match. This mentorship can also help to identify potential leaders within your team, providing them with the guidance and experience they need to step into more significant roles in the future.

Creating Opportunities for Cross-Training

Cross-training is another strategy that can significantly benefit your team and business. By training your team members in multiple disciplines, you not only create a more flexible and adaptable workforce but also help to keep your employees engaged and motivated. Cross-training can help break the monotony of routine and allows team members to appreciate the broader scope of your projects and their contributions to the company’s success.

Recognising and Rewarding Progress and Achievements

Finally, it’s essential to recognise and reward your team’s progress and achievements in their training and development efforts. Whether it’s successfully completing a certification, mastering a new technology, or taking on leadership roles, acknowledging these milestones can significantly boost morale and motivation. Consider implementing a recognition program that celebrates these achievements, whether through awards, bonuses, or even public acknowledgment in team meetings.

By investing in your team’s training and development, you’re not just enhancing their skills; you’re building the foundation of your business’s future success. A well-trained, motivated, and cohesive team is your most valuable asset in navigating the complexities of the construction trades industry.

Moving on to the next critical aspect of employee management in construction trades services businesses, we’ll explore “Creating a Positive and Productive Work Environment.” This section will not only highlight strategies but also provide practical examples to illustrate how these strategies can be implemented effectively.

Creating a Positive and Productive Work Environment

A positive and productive work environment is the backbone of any successful team, especially in the world of construction trades. Here’s how you can create an atmosphere that promotes teamwork, safety, and excellence, along with real-world examples to guide you.

1. Building Team Cohesion

Fostering a sense of unity and teamwork is essential. Regular team-building activities can go a long way. For example, I coach a commercial maintenance plumbing contractor who organises monthly team breakfasts where wins are celebrated, and upcoming projects are discussed in a more relaxed setting. These gatherings not only boost morale but also improve communication and camaraderie among team members.

Another business I coach is a roofing company that uses a “buddy system” for new hires, pairing them with experienced team members. This not only helps with onboarding and skill transfer but also strengthens bonds within the team.

2. Handling Conflicts and Communication

Effective conflict resolution and open communication channels are crucial. Implement regular feedback sessions and an open-door policy for raising concerns.

Another is example is one from a Tenfold mentors, Lee, who provides business coaching for an HVAC business. They have a large team of installers and technicians who don’t see each other often. In coaching, Lee introduced regular roundtable catchups to give team members the space to voice concerns, suggestions, and ideas. These meetings have brought a disconnected team together and also delivered solutions of a long-standing issue with inventory management, improving project efficiency and reducing frustration on the job.

3. Implementing Safety Protocols and Ensuring Compliance

Safety is paramount in the construction trades. Beyond regular safety training, consider creating a safety ambassador role within each team.

Example: A commercial painting company we advise assigned safety ambassadors to oversee and report on safety practices at different sites. This not only improved compliance with safety standards but also fostered a culture of accountability and care among the team members.

4. Promoting Work-Life Balance

Acknowledging and supporting your team’s work-life balance can significantly enhance job satisfaction and productivity. Flexible scheduling or compensatory time off after completing demanding projects are ways to show you value your team’s well-being.

Example: A landscape construction business we coach offers flexible work hours during the slower winter season, allowing employees to attend to personal matters and recharge. This policy led to higher productivity levels and lower turnover rates.

5. Recognising and Celebrating Success

Celebrating successes, both big and small, reinforces positive behaviours and achievements. Whether it’s completing a project ahead of schedule or receiving positive feedback from a client, make it a point to celebrate these milestones.

Example: One of our carpentry business coaching clients implemented a “Project of the Month” award, highlighting teams that demonstrated exceptional workmanship or innovation. This not only motivated teams to strive for excellence but also boosted company morale.

Creating a positive and productive work environment is about more than just policies and procedures; it’s about building a culture that values every team member’s contribution, ensures their safety, and supports their growth. By implementing these strategies, complemented with practical examples, you can cultivate an atmosphere that not only attracts top talent but also retains them.

Continuing our journey through the essentials of employee management within the construction trades services sector, our next focus is on “Performance Management and Growth.” This section is critical for ensuring your team not only meets the current standards but is also prepared for future challenges and opportunities. Here, I’ll provide practical examples to illustrate how to implement these strategies effectively.

Performance Management and Growth for your Team

Effective performance management is key to fostering a culture of continuous improvement and growth within your team. It involves setting clear expectations, providing regular feedback, and supporting your team’s professional development. Here’s how you can achieve this, along with real-life examples from the trades sector.

1. Setting Clear Expectations and Goals

Begin by clearly defining roles and responsibilities, along with the specific goals each team member is expected to achieve. This clarity helps prevent misunderstandings and keeps everyone focused on their contributions to the company’s objectives.

Example: I coach a commercial maintenance electrical contracting business that specialises in corporate office fitouts. Having a strong team of project managers was a core part of the growth strategy I developed, so I needed to make sure that we were growing the people who would grow the client’s business. I introduced a goal-setting framework where each project manager sets individual performance targets in consultation with the director at the start of the year. These targets are aligned with the company’s overall goals, ensuring everyone is working towards the same objectives. This approach has led to a significant increase in customer satisfaction ratings and exceeded our growth targets.

2. Regular Feedback and Performance Reviews

Implementing a structured process for providing regular feedback and conducting performance reviews is crucial. This not only helps in addressing any issues promptly but also in recognising and reinforcing positive behaviours and achievements.

Example: A plumbing contractor we coach adopted a monthly review system, where managers and their team members discuss performance, challenges, and successes. This system also includes peer feedback, offering a comprehensive view of each individual’s contributions. As a result, the company has seen an improvement in teamwork and a reduction in project completion times.

3. Recognising and Rewarding Good Performance

Acknowledging and rewarding good performance is essential for motivation. This can be in the form of bonuses, promotions, public recognition, or professional development opportunities.

Example: A sheet metal fabricator we coach implemented an “Factory Champion” program, recognising individuals who go above and beyond in their duties. Winners can choose between a cash bonus or taking a half day off. This program has not only boosted morale but also increased competition among employees to excel in their roles.

4. Dealing with Underperformance

Addressing underperformance is just as important as recognising good performance. Approach such situations with a constructive mindset, focusing on support and improvement rather than punishment.

Example: I coach an architectural design firm that was getting mixed levels of output and quality from some of the drafties. We developed a performance improvement plan (PIP) for underperforming employees, which includes targeted training, regular check-ins, and set milestones for improvement. This approach has helped several team members turn their performance around, benefiting both the individuals and the company.

5. Encouraging Professional Development

Supporting your team’s professional development is vital for their growth and the company’s success. This could include sponsoring certifications, providing access to training workshops, or opportunities for advancement within the company. Why is this important? Good question. A report from Australian HR Institute puts the cost of replacing an employee at approximately 1.5 times their annual salary. So yeah, spending money will actually save you money.

Example: Another HVAC service business we coach with offers an annual education allowance for employees to pursue courses or certifications relevant to their work. This investment has led to the team staying current with the latest technologies and practices, positioning the company as a leader in the market. I advised the client to include a clawback clause in the employment agreement to ensure that if the employee decides to move on within 6 months of receiving their education allowance, the amount can be deducted from their final pay as a pro rata percentage.

Performance management and growth are about creating an environment where employees are encouraged to excel and supported in their development journey. By setting clear expectations, providing regular feedback, recognising achievements, addressing underperformance constructively, and investing in professional development, you can build a team that is not only high-performing but also loyal and committed to the company’s vision.

Conclusion: Building Your Tradie Business with Effective Employee Management

Embarking on the journey of managing employees within the construction trades sector can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Throughout this guide, we’ve explored the foundational aspects of creating a successful team, from recruiting and hiring the right people, training and developing your workforce, fostering a positive and productive work environment, to managing performance and supporting growth.

Remember, the core of effective employee management lies in leadership. Your ability to lead by example, communicate your vision clearly, and inspire your team to achieve their best is what will set your business apart in the competitive trades industry. Here are the key takeaways to carry forward:

Recruit with Purpose: Focus on finding individuals who not only have the necessary skills but also fit well with your company culture. Remember, the right team member can make a significant difference in the success of your projects and the overall atmosphere of your workplace.

Invest in Development: Continuous learning and development are critical for staying ahead in the ever-evolving construction trades. By investing in your team’s growth, you’re not just enhancing their skills but also showing them they are valued members of your company.

Foster a Positive Environment: A supportive and positive work environment leads to higher productivity, better teamwork, and lower turnover rates. Implement practices that promote safety, well-being, and a sense of community among your team.

Manage Performance Strategically: Set clear expectations, provide regular feedback, and recognise achievements. Approach underperformance with a mindset focused on improvement and support, and always look for opportunities to facilitate professional growth.

Lead with Integrity and Vision: Finally, remember that your role as a leader is to guide, inspire, and support your team. Your leadership is the foundation upon which your company’s culture and success are built.

As you move forward with the strategies outlined in this guide, know that the journey of improving your employee management practices is ongoing. There will be challenges, but also many opportunities for growth and success. By committing to the principles of effective leadership and management, you’re not just building a team; you’re building a legacy.