This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Rob Ferguson and Brandi Marek discussing talent management in businesses, the Great Resignation, and understanding how to properly equip and manage a team.
In this episode, you will learn about the biggest challenges family businesses face, how COVID has changed the hiring process and talent management strategies, and the four components of a successful talent management plan.
Staff Development Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms:
- Rob Ferguson is the Founder and President at Ferguson Alliance. Connect with Rob on LinkedIn.
- Brandi Marek is a Business Advisor at Ferguson Alliance. Connect with Brandi on LinkedIn.
- Ferguson Alliance consists of Business Advisors and Consultants that partner with Business Owners, Family Offices, Boards and Executive officers of private small middle market companies to solve critical business issues related to growing, protecting and monetizing the value of the business.
- Talent management is how employers recruit and develop a workforce that is as productive as possible and likely to stay with their organization long term.
- A talent management plan is the blueprint for how an organization will execute its talent strategy. It typically includes recruitment, hiring, engagement, development, performance management, recognition, and succession planning.
- The Great Resignation, also known as the “Big Quit” and the “Great Reshuffle”, is an ongoing economic trend in which employees have voluntarily resigned from their jobs en masse, beginning in early 2021 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the most cited reasons for resigning include wage stagnation amid rising cost of living, limited opportunities for career advancement, hostile work environments, lack of benefits, inflexible remote-work policies, and long-lasting job dissatisfaction.
- Read the article over Anthony Klotz Great Resignation prediction here.
- 3P’s stands for the people, the process, and the purpose, the three domains of organization trust.
- Building Texas Business Podcast
Staff Development Full Episode Transcript:
Russel Treat: Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast,” episode 272 sponsored by Gas Certification Institute, providing standard operating procedures, training, and software tools for custody transfer measurement and field operations professionals. Find out more about GCI at GasCertification.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliner’s Podcast where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliner’s Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is Luke Henzinger with Enterprise Products. Congratulations, Luke. Your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this prize, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week, we’re speaking to Rob Ferguson and Brandi Marek about multi-generational staff development. This one’s a little different.
Rob and Brandi don’t come out of the pipeline space, but they have a lot of background working with closely held businesses and dealing with complex staffing issues. Most of us have that challenge. I thought it’d be good to talk about it. Rob, Brandi, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Rob Ferguson: Thank you. Glad to be here, Russel.
Brandi Marek: Thank you so much.
Russel: I have asked you guys to come on. I’m a little outside of what I normally do, but it’s interesting because this is a topic that’s been brought up in a number of conversations I’ve been having with customers and that is, how do you find and onboard and retain good people? That’s what I’ve asked you guys to come on and talk about.
To tee this conversation up, maybe the best thing to do is just ask you guys to give us a quick introduction and tell us what you do because your background is a little different than the guests we often have on the show.
Rob: Sure, Russel. I’ll be happy to. My name is Rob Ferguson. I’m the founder of Ferguson Alliance. We’re a boutique family business advisory firm. We work with small mid-cap companies. They’re all family owned, and we help them grow the value in their business as well as plan for their succession or exit strategy.
With that said, we are highly involved in talent management with these family businesses. We’re just really glad to be here. Thank you for having us, and I’ll let Brandi introduce herself.
Brandi: Thank you. I’m Brandi Marek with Ferguson Alliance. I’m a business advisor, and a previous member of a family owned business. We had a wholesale nursery. Lots of experience in trying to develop leadership and talent plans and onboarding and retaining employees. Now I get the opportunity to help other family owned businesses do the same.
Russel: In our space, there are a lot of family owned businesses that provide services to pipeline operators because there’s a lot of very highly specialized skills, and a lot of that exists in small businesses. Hopefully, this will be of real value to our listeners.
One of the things I’d like to ask is, how is talent management in a closely held family business different from what larger companies are doing?
Rob: I’ll try to take a first stab at it and I’ll let Brandi straighten me out if I misspeak. To me, the biggest challenge in a family business is many times the employees are going home with their employee. In other words, their spouse is working there.
You have family members working in the business. It becomes very difficult to transition between business, work, and then home, family life. That’s the biggest challenge.
In general, you think about family businesses – all businesses – are difficult to navigate. They’re very complex or difficult, but when you put the dynamic of family on top of it, it just ramps up the magnitude of complexity greatly. To me, that’s the biggest difference. Brandi, you’ve worked in and you probably have some others as well.
Brandi: It’s definitely that. I’ll say that that definitely, historically, has been the most pressing. Also, everyone will say, “Oh, it’s great. I feel great working for our family owned business.”
Sometimes that can take on a connotation within the business to that maybe, as a family owned and operated business, you’re a little more lax with things like “Oh, you can be 10 minutes late every day, or you can leave early, or you don’t really need to make plans ahead of time with things like that.”
The expectation can be set sometimes if you’re not careful about it that everybody’s family, and everybody can go and do as they please. It makes it a little harder to have flexibility while also instituting that structure. That can be very challenging.
Russel: Yeah, holding accountabilities is a different kind of conversation. It’s important. I would think you really know those distinctions.
Brandi: Yes, that and along with…
Russel: People need to be reminded of those distinctions, too, because they’ll forget.
Brandi: We’ve found, too, with family owned businesses, if you’ve got your legacy employees and the ones that…Maybe it’s your first, second, fifth employee ever came up with the business, it can be challenging as you grow to realign those expectations of them and keep them wanting to stretch and advance and grow in the company as the company’s growing as well. That can be very challenging.
Rob: We engage with these businesses, Russel, this dynamic comes up all the time. One of the first things we did in working on talent management is we have to get the family members that are employees to realize they have to be treated the same as non-family member employees, not the other way around, like Brandi was saying.
That’s a big, transformational shift. We do that, we start that off with this question. “Are you a business first family or a family first business?” It takes the family weeks. Brandi’s family, I can’t remember exactly how long it took you all to define it…
Brandi: A long time.
Rob: …decide it, but it was multiple weeks to get there. Once that’s made, that decision, then all the family members that are employees there can rally around that point. They go, “OK, yeah, so I am going to get paid market wages or I do have to be here to work. I am going to have performance reviews.”
What that does is it provides great leadership for the rest of the employees to follow, because employees are going to follow their leaders. If their leaders are constantly showing up late or they’re not dependable, the same thing will happen most likely with the employees.
Russel: Yeah, I know that all makes sense. My wife, Susan, occasionally does little projects for us. I’m very clear with the employees that are working with her to do those projects that I don’t know what she’s doing, but that’s up to them. My role is different. When we’re at home, that’s not what we’re talking about. It’s a discipline, I guess you’ll learn.
What do you guys think are the biggest challenges today around talent management? In particular, what I seem to be hearing a lot is that it’s a lot more challenging post COVID to hire and retain good talent. What’s going on in your take?
Brandi: I would say definitely people are finding, feeling that they want a more purpose driven connection to their work. They want to be connected to the vision and the mission of an organization. That really has elevated an importance with people. That’s first hitting their mind.
Oftentimes, people think about pay. We find that if an employee is engaged in their purpose and in their workplace, the factor of pay plays a lot less of a role in it.
A Gallup study said that it takes at least 20 percent increase in pay for an engaged employee to consider a position somewhere else. That speaks volumes around the shift that we’re seeing companies need to make in making better employee engagement and priority within the organization.
Rob: That’s right. An Aggie professor from the Mays Business School coined that term, the ‘Great Resignation’, and it’s just gone viral. I don’t have the exact number, but it was between 68 and 69 million resignations happened in 2021. It was huge. People just quit their job during the pandemic. Part of the research that this professor did, Anthony Klotz I think his name is. I can’t remember Andrew’s name.
Brandi: Yes, Anthony.
Rob: Anyway, I’m sorry, Anthony, if I messed up your name.
Russel: We’ll do a little research and put that in the show notes. If people want to get those details, I can find them.
Rob: His research said that the pandemic empowered employees to take control of their life. Then, this Great Resignation phenomenon has changed how people are engaging with work. In other words, employees today now have realized they want more from their job, and they want less.
Rob: Meaning, what Brandi is saying, right? They want to be able to connect to the purpose of the company, the why of the company, so to speak, but also, they want to be valued.
They want to know that they’re contributing, and that they’re actually providing some value. That’s critically important to them. Then they want flexibility.
With COVID, we learned that about many jobs. Now, there are some jobs, like probably many of your listeners, Russel, can’t relate, I mean, they’re already remote. They’re out in the field they’re working on pipelines. Those folks that are tied to an office, they got some sense of wanting flexibility.
That’s something that’s emerged since 2021 as well, between having a purpose, working for a purpose, between being valued and wanting some flexibility. Those are some things that have come out of this Great Resignation.
Russel: To me, that’s a fascinating subject. We were very fortunate in our little business that we didn’t lose anybody. We kept the team hold through the pandemic, not easy to do. Certainly, there were some sacrifices made in order to do that, but we’re able to keep the team together.
The one thing that’s radically different is that we’re all working remotely. We’re still working remotely, and we don’t have any intent to go back to working in an office. Now, there’s maybe a handful of roles where they need to be in an office every day, but for most of us that are traveling and working with customers, an office is not required.
By the same token, we do a lot of work with control centers, and control centers by their nature require people to go to an office. While they’re working, they’re very tightly yoked to the office. It’s an interesting dynamic. It’s an interesting dynamic.
Brandi: It is. I’ll just add that it puts an additional pressure on managers to be more aware and more in tune with what is a good fit for their team, because I do think we’re going to start to see a little bit of a shift where maybe it’s not required that you be in person, but over time, it is going to be harder from a cultural standpoint from an onboarding standpoint to maintain all of those things over time.
As a manager, it’ll be good to tune in. Does this person, can they thrive in a work from home environment, or are you the type of person that needs a team interaction, in person in order to be engaged in adding value to your team? That’s going to be an interesting study and thought over time.
Russel: Certainly, that’s a very interesting conversation. Everybody likes working from home, but the nature of our team is we like one another. We like working together, and we miss the opportunity to just hang out together and collaborate.
Brandi: It gets harder over time too, as you have people on your team that you’ve never interacted with in person. That’s been a thing, too.
Russel: What is a talent management strategy, and where do you start with such a thing? I’m going to ask a follow up, so I’ll go ahead and tee it up now, but the follow up is going to be, how is developing talent management strategy different post-pandemic versus pre-pandemic?
Rob: There’s a lot there. One of the things I wanted to…This will be the foundation of the talent management plan, but you have to have…First and foremost, in any business, there’s a culture of trust, as you as you think about that. When we were working in person, that was always a difficult thing to do is to create this culture of trust.
Now, when you are remote and disjointed, it becomes more challenging. We call it the 3Ps of trust: the people, the process, and the purpose. You have to hire correctly. You want to hire trustworthy people. Then you have to have good documented thoughtful processes that are followed.
Communication process is critical when you’re remote like this and becomes even more important, and then what Brandi talked about, having a purpose that everybody can line up to.
The talent management plan is a tactical deployment if you have this trust strategy, and I’ll let Brandi talk a little bit about the talent management plan and the four components that we see with that.
Brandi: Yeah, totally. You first want to assess what does your team have and what does your team need. Rob and I were having this conversation the other day about when you’re hiring someone.
Especially if you are a people person, and you automatically gravitate towards this person, you’re like, “They’re interesting. They’re nice. They were great to talk to,” and you immediately jumped to like, “Where can I find a spot for them in my organization?”
It’s easy to do and to get into that place, but you need to keep top of mind what your team is missing. Part of your talent management strategy is understanding where are your gaps in your talent management, so that you’re not ending up with a team of the same type of person.
If you had a team that was full of people people, they’re going to be a good time. You’re going to enjoy hanging out with them. They’re all going to enjoy hanging out with each other. If none of them are driven to really get into the weeds of your project, then you’re probably not going to be getting a lot done.
You first want to think about what your team needs and then be serious about looking for that. That can be a huge make or break. Part of what we…
Russel: Actually, I want to elaborate on that a little bit, because most of my experiences with very small businesses, 15 people or less, and a lot of the businesses I have worked with in that size, I’ve worked with them from startup, and started as one or two people just with an idea and a passion about something.
When you’re hiring very early on when you’re that small, you’re hiring the people that get infected with your vision because pretty much anybody with any talent is going to add capacity and capability. Once you start getting upwards of 15 people, now it becomes about what it is that we need on this team that we don’t currently have.
That is a very different conversation. You’re actually shifting a culture when you’re having that conversation because the culture is let’s find people that are like-minded because like-minded people add value, but there comes a point where you actually need to find some people who are not like-minded.
They’re invested in the vision, but they’re not coming at it from the same mindset or personality or such because that becomes more important about rounding out the team as you begin to scale. A lot of businesses have problems with that.
Brandi: I was just about to say that is a challenge that we see with clients to get in a more future mindset of as the business scales, what is the business going to need in the future and not so reactionary. What does it need right now at this moment? What needed to get done yesterday, and can this person start tomorrow and do it?
Brandi: That can be…
Russel: I’ve got my handheld high and go, “Preach Hallelujah. Amen.”
Rob: We’re talking about the recruitment element of the talent management strategy. The other side of it is not only identifying the gaps, finding out what you really need, but then, once that’s done, how do you attract employees? That’s part of the recruitment plan. One of the things that we find out is sometimes businesses are false-promoting.
Maybe they are putting things out there that are going to disappoint new hires. Maybe they’re not disclosing fully what the job fully is or what the work environment is like. They don’t necessarily always talk about their culture, which they should.
It’s one thing to, what you all are talking about, make sure you’re hiring to fill the gaps and you’re bringing in diversity from behavior perspectives, maybe from skill perspectives, and also probably from motivation perspectives. That’s important.
The other part of it is how do we go out and present ourselves so we’re attracting the right talent? That’s where companies need to really amp up their authenticity. When they’re interviewing, we really promote doing structured interviews with a panel of employees and making sure that these employee candidates get a good sense or feel of who the company is.
That’s critically important, because it’s very expensive to hire people, it’s expensive to terminate people, and it’s expensive to recruit. You want to get the hiring done right the first time. If you don’t, it’s very expensive from an operations perspective to have to make that change, to correct that hire.
Russel: Yeah, certainly. Brandi, anything to add to that?
Brandi: Especially from an in traction standpoint and I think this will likely resonate with some of your listeners, skilled tradesmen are hard to find. There is a significant decline in the amount of people that want to go into a skilled trade.
In my family business we experienced this issue as well, as there’s not a lot of people wanting to enter into that type of workforce. We started recognizing that it’s never too early to get in front of potential employees. Looking at strategies like how do you get more information out to students in high school?
Stanley Black and Decker did a study with high school students and only about 16 percent of high school students said that they would seriously consider a position in a skilled trade. They’re recognizing things like, “Hey, how can we help high schools with more skilled trade training?” Things like that.
It’s never too early to think about that recruitment phase and then by doing that you’re creating this culture that could potentially attract future employees because you’re investing in their well being.
Russel: Yeah, we’ve had very, very good success working with university programs. Starting with doing programs where we’re interacting with students even in their sophomore year. By the time they’re graduating, we already know which ones we want to hire and which ones we don’t.
We already know who’s interested in us and isn’t, because it just naturally comes out of the relationship. The other thing when I think of employee engagement and traction and all that is also this issue of retention. Rob was talking about authenticity. One of the things that I try to make sure that we do in our process is really give people a reality check about what it’s like to work here.
We’re a small company. We have a lot of energy. We have a lot of smart people. We have a lot of commitment to our customers and what we’re trying to do and we’re always scarce on resources. You’re going to have knowledge about and visibility into things, because we are so small that there are no secrets or there’s no…
Everybody knows everything that’s going on, and that’s good and bad. Particularly for people that are transitioning to us from a larger company, setting that expectation, and reminding them six months in…You remember when we did the interview and I told you what was going to happen? Here we are.
Brandi: It’s funny you say that I listened to a podcast called Building Texas Business, and it’s a Houston based podcast. He was interviewing the president at Tilson Homes.
I thought it was so interesting because he said, for the most part, they don’t like to hire people that have worked for other builders, because it’s too hard to break the habits that they have made with other builders, especially if that builder was like a builder that worked in creating pocket communities where all the houses were close together, because part of Tilson thing is like they have to drive around a lot to a lot of different locations.
It’s too challenging, like people can’t wrap their head around that, so I thought that was interesting that they’re doubling down. They’re not trying to change people. They’re trying to train them up.
Rob: It’s hard to do. I think the other watch out, Russel, you mentioned that I want to underscore is it’s very difficult to bring in talent from a company that’s 20 or 100 times your size. They cannot appreciate what you just talked about, Russel. That you’re always limited in resources. Always.
You’re going to do more than what your job description says. You’re going to be wearing multiple hats. Everybody picks up the phone. That’s really hard to transition.
We try to counsel our clients in the interview process by, “Yeah, you need to hire skills, but you probably want to find somebody that’s not been in a Fortune 500 company. Maybe, somebody has been in a Fortune 10,000 company to come into your business to help along.
Russel: Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m driving that. Occasionally, you find the people that can make the transition, but my thing is I’m going to…I call it that it’s the point in the process where I’ve tried to scare them off.
Rob: It really is. It sets the candidate up for failure, because I just cannot acculturate to the small business environment.
That’s why the second element of the talent management plan is so important, which is performance management. That’s what you were talking about. Giving employees feedback regularly, not just once a year, but regularly. Having that feedback loop, the manager getting feedback as well.
Certainly, doing the annual more disciplined performance reviews, but those shouldn’t be we think more about setting goals and aligning on expectations of those annual year end reviews.
The feedback loop of, “Hey, what am I not doing right? How am I not meeting expectations?” That needs to happen right away and vice versa. The manager should be asking…
Russel: They should be embedded into the daily, weekly, monthly rigor of running the business. Particularly in a smaller business, you need people that are invested to tell management, “Hey, what you’re doing is not working. This is needed or this is missing. You’re causing this because of what you’re doing here.”
I remember a phase in my journey, where I was getting a lot of that. I wasn’t really enjoying the feedback I was getting, but it was all right on the nose. God bless the people that were willing to got to step up and say, “Hey, you need to pay attention to this.”
Rob: It’s important, and that gets into the third element, which is talent development. Employees want to learn. I truly believe that. Employees want to come. They want to do a good job. They want to engage their gray sales, as well as if they’re doing physical labor, they want to be thoughtful.
This podcast, Brandi and I are both very impressed with the size of listeners. That’s because these people want to learn. Your followers want to learn. As managers in a small business, we sometimes can forget that. We have gotten to provide learning opportunities. I call it in house learning and outhouse learning.
You can learn on the job. Yes, you can have some formal in-house training, but it’s good to do some out-house or outsourced learning as well. I know, Russel, you’re a big proponent of that. You actually do that as well as one of your business units.
Besides learning, you want to have a career path mapped out for those that are aspiring to bigger roles, but we shouldn’t be forcing everybody to get promoted. Sometimes, we just need a good expert who loves being a tactician for the next 20 years. There’s nothing wrong with that. They should be honored…
Russel: Who’s critical to the success of the business.
Rob: Yeah, that’s right.
Russel: Every business needs a Steve Wozniak.
Russel: Right. I don’t remember the name, but the Compaq computers, back in the day, were founded by two guys. One of them was Rod Canion who became the CEO, but the other guy never went past VP of Engineering. He only had VP in title. He wasn’t really a managing VP. He was a guy who lived in the labs and made stuff work. You need that. You need that.
We’ve got people like that in our business that they’ve been around a long time and who I greatly value. Lock horns and wrestle with intellectually regularly. We both greatly value the opportunity to do that.
I understand his value, and he understands mine. That’s an important part of the business is knowing that there are roles that you need that are not leadership, they are technical leadership, execution leadership. They’re not business leadership.
Rob: You don’t have to be promoted every three years. This is another key element, to get compensated.
Somebody who’s really a great subject matter expert in their technical job shouldn’t be able to do very well in that job and not be stymied with some false ceiling that says, “Oh, no, you can only get paid this much, because that’s how much this job pays.” They’ve been doing it for 20 years. They probably do it twice the speed, as an example, or twice the quality. Those are some things to be considering.
Russel: How is talent management different during a recession? We’re in an interesting economic climate. Oil and gas is starting to boom again. The rest of the general economy is stagnating, slowing down. Talking to a pipeline or audience, what’s the challenge and opportunity of a recession as relates to talent management?
Rob: Employees were now…The pendulum swinging. There was this Great Resignation. Now, there’s this great concern. “Am I going to lose my job?”
We start reading in the newspaper, and it’s on the news about all the big tech companies laying off 14,000 people, 15,000 people, 10,000 people. Layoffs become top of mind. During a recession, it is more important than ever to over-communicate with your employees, to tell them what you know.
The worst thing a leader or a manager can ever tell an employee is, “Trust us. We got you covered.” Employees don’t like to hear that. Or, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll let you know if there’s a problem.” That’s not what employees want to hear. They want authenticity. They want the truth.
Managers need to over-communicate. Executives need to do the same thing. If the business is going through some difficult times, let the employees know that.
A lot of times, when there’s not external issues going on, like a potential recession, managers are closed mouth about that. They don’t want to air that dirty laundry. During recessionary periods, employees have a lot of concern, and you want to talk to them about it. You want to hear what they’re worried about. You can’t fix everything, but at least you can hear what they’re saying.
Russel: It matters a whole lot that employees believe that management’s hearing what’s being said and is doing their best effort to address it. I’m right in sync there.
I also think for a lot of folks in my domain, in this pipeline domain, is that there’s actually an opportunity, because there are other businesses that are going to be impacted by the recession. We go find people from there. There’s going to be good talent available on the market or looking that might have not been looking before, so create some opportunity.
As we start to wrap up this conversation, what do you think the most important element of talent management is and how might that relate to your audience of pipeliners here?
Rob: It’s intentionality. What I mean by that is being very intentional about having a talent management plan. Those four components that we’ve talked about – recruitment, performance management, talent development, compensation. There should be a plan around all four of those areas, and management needs to attend to it. They need to invest in it.
Now, more than ever, employers need to invest that into their employees, because they’ve learned that it is no different than the NCAA college football with the transfer portal. There’s no loyalty. You have to build that loyalty through your talent management plan and what we talked about with having a clear purpose, and everybody’s aligned to that. I’m sure Brandi has got some thoughts as well.
Brandi: I would just say that never underestimate the power of being a good manager. So many people, when they get into management, think that it’s just an elevated role of the task that they were doing before becoming that manager. Just remembering that management is mostly about your people.
If you are an effective and respected manager, then your talent management process becomes a lot easier. Your team is more engaged. It’s proven that an engaged team is more profitable. The better that you can do these things, the easier it’s going to be to hit on all of these areas.
Russel: You just said a mouthful there, Brandi, and that is very close to home for me. One of the conversations for me. I’m an engineer by education. I got into what I’m doing because I liked the technical aspects of it. I found myself now I spend more of my time managing my business than doing the technical work. When I go away and do technical work, I find my joy.
What I’ve had to put into my head, I had to readjust my thinking is that by being a better manager and setting things up correctly, I free myself up to go do the things I want to do. If I ignore it and don’t address it, it breaks down and then I have to do it. It demands attention. In good management is freedom.
Brandi: Very true. Your people want you to have that freedom because that means that they are empowered and they have some autonomy in the organization. That makes them feel good. That makes them feel important. Then they keep working towards that mission. If you as a manager are showing that that is respected and appreciated, then it cycles back through again and again.
Russel: This is awesome, I think that there’s a lot bound up about this conversation. We’ve been talking about this from a frame of the small business, but it equally applies to organizations as well as size. Generally, the organizations have more infrastructure to do these things well, but doing them well really gets down to the department that needs the people.
Anyways, thank you guys very much for coming on. This has been great.
Brandi: Thank you.
Rob: Thank you, Russel. Yeah, thanks for having us. We enjoyed it.
Brandi: Thank you so much.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, and our conversation with Rob and Brandi. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit PipelinePodcastNetwork.com/Win and enter yourself in the draw.
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Transcription by CastingWords