Writing business

Meet the business owner who does

A business owner sent this note to new employees:

“I am writing to inform you that [the company] wants to provide you with a path to success with our business. You won’t find another company willing to give you the opportunity and training to succeed and go as far as you want. Please make an appointment to come see me most Saturdays. Sometimes I also work on Sundays. We can discuss a track of improvement. It’s very simple to understand and do if you’re willing to do it.

In a tight labor market, recruiting and retaining good employees is difficult but vital. Improving the skills of existing employees is often easier than trying to recruit experienced and talented workers. And the best workers will read the memo and want to continue working for the company because the owner is trying to help the employees. This attitude is far more valuable for employee retention than yoga classes and other frills.

The owner of the company is Manuel Castaneda from IPL systems, a soil stabilization contractor in Hillsboro, Oregon. (He and I serve together on the board of the Cascade Policy Institute.) Castaneda came to this country as a teenager and spoke no English. He started a lawn mowing service while in high school. In 1989 he learned how to use construction equipment on steep surfaces to mitigate landslides and started his current business. It now has 44 employees.

Asked about the motivation for his note, Castaneda said his employees might see opportunities to earn an extra dollar or two elsewhere. He wanted them to know that they could do much better by staying with the company and improving their skills.

Advice to employees followed the first paragraph. For example, “A CDL [commercial drivers license] gives you the freedom to be more independent. Once you know how to do the job and use the equipment, you can move your own equipment and not depend on someone else. This allows you to grow much faster. He followed that advice up with this comment: “If you can’t get your CDL now because you’ve made mistakes in the past, don’t worry. Start practicing and learning other skills that don’t require driving just yet. Eventually time will pass and you will be ready when the opportunity arises. You just have to stop doing stupid things to be suspended.

Other advice was simple: “Learn to read blueprints. We offer blueprint reading lessons. Let me know and we can make it happen. This offer was made to entry-level tradesmen who did not currently need to read blueprints, but for whom the skill would be valuable to take on more responsibility.

In the first two weeks, half of the new employees made an appointment to speak to the owner.

The company helps owners of buildings on steep hillsides or with drainage problems. It doesn’t solve all the problems in the world, but it does solve specific problems facing specific people. Castaneda doesn’t brag to the employees about saving the world. Instead, he offers them a path to earn pay, responsibility, and respect. Workers probably start out thinking about more pay, but earning the pay comes from being worthy of more responsibility, and the result is not just pay but also more respect – both self-respect and respect for others.

Every CEO is a salesperson, and part of their role is to sell jobs to current and potential employees. Salespeople are coached to highlight the benefits of their product to customers. In today’s job market, an employee doesn’t have to buy you a job; he or she can get a job almost anywhere. So, the CEO’s pitch to employees, both for retention and recruitment, must include what’s in it for the employee. Notes like this focus on the potential benefits.

Castaneda concluded the letter with one final piece of advice: “Find habits that help you improve your life and think about a better future. This is good advice for everyone.