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The first thing that comes to mind about a business’ strategy for human capital is people. Businesses must have the right people in the right roles who are energized to be efficient and profitable. The question that top executives should be asking is why their best people stay. They must determine what it takes to keep the best employees engaged and enthused about the work, as well as their individual status in the organization. The best source of that information is the employees themselves.

Determine Top Performers

Clarity in deciding who the best employees are is essential and a key part of the human capital strategy. Large companies may be particularly challenged with this question, because there are so many potential decision variables in the equation. In small companies, it may be just one person. Former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch used a matrix of people: those who always did or did not deliver and those who did or did not live the values of the organization. Those who always delivered and lived the values rose the fastest, and the rest were encouraged or separated.

Many large AEC companies are going through extraordinary change and consolidation. Outside forces, such as the shrinking in oil, gas and mining revenues, technological innovation, struggling international markets and a rising dollar, have put these companies on a turbulent path. Rapid change means talented individuals are forced to seek greener pastures, often for the first time in many years.

Evaluating talent that fits a business today means providing clarity about what it means to be a top performer. As top performers, company executives should determine why they stay with the company as an important step in understanding the human capital value proposition.

The Right People in the Right Places

Having the right people means understanding the tasks that need to be accomplished and the best people to accomplish those tasks. Nearly always, the best people are the ones who love the work, are capable of doing the work, and are emotionally and mentally suited for the challenges. Having clarity and decisiveness about what needs to be accomplished and the individual who can best accomplish those tasks is critical.

Every contractor agrees that without the right controls, systems and procedures in place, it is only a matter of time before a business will spiral out of control. The same is true for people. Without enough highly competent people that work well as a team, the business will not survive.

Most businesses live on the edge of the talent gulf: Too much high-priced talent and the firm isn’t commercially competitive; too little and the risk of catastrophe is near. With commercial construction booming in many parts of the country and infrastructure spending slowly rising, craft labor is scarce. Employers are learning that they need to increase compensation to maintain the level of talent in their organizations, and to compensate they are focused narrowly on precise selection to increase value.

Avoid Talent Gaps

The most critical problems occur when the best people leave a firm. Institutional knowledge, positive culture norms and practical know-how all walk out the door, rarely with effective systems to capture what was lost. Therefore, from an organizational perspective, the following questions are very important.

  • What are the roles, responsibilities and competencies essential to success? For example, is a project executive spending 75 percent of his or her time directly with the project managers, going over project details and surfacing problems and solutions?
  • Is that what a company wants and needs, and why?
  • Is there a better way?
Few businesses are clear about expectations and the markers of success. Even fewer are focused on successful soft skills, such as collaboration, inspiration or humor in the face of adversity.

Determining why employees stay with the company and ways to keep them engaged and effective will help companies stay profitable and productive. It’s important to identify top performers, nurture them in the company and keep them from leaving—and taking their knowledge with them.

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