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Store-bought or Homegrown? Mentors for the Future

Try making your corporate leaders from scratch through training.

THE TITLE OF THIS EPISTLE may lead you to think it really is “Gardening for Geomatics.” Instead, I discuss the concept of how employees are obtained today and mentors.

In our society, there is a definite trend to homegrown over store-bought. For example, many people are growing their own vegetables to avoid pesticides and genetically modified food. Homeschooling is much more prominent than it was a decade ago.

Yet, in our fields, the trend seems to be store-bought. Employees are hired and expected to produce billing from the moment they arrive. While this seems like a logical concept, why then do I hear that no one seems to be able to find the employees they need?

Where has the concept of homegrown employees gone?

I was part of a generation who came into a firm very raw, but eager. We were then trained for weeks, months, even years by great mentors who were creating valuable, loyal employees. They were also doing the most important task a manager or owner can do: creating their replacements.

Most firms I am aware of today are top-heavy, with far too many queen bees and not enough worker bees. The concept of, “We can’t find employees,” to me translates as, “I don’t want to take time from my busy schedule to train anyone.”

Training would require management to take a personal interest in the goals of employees in addition to their work output, thereby overlooking a key component of greater personal and company productivity. Where is this approach today?

So many firms have upper-level workers doing the work that the worker bees should be doing and losing money by the minute. The upper-level employees should be focusing on business development, not on producing product themselves. Saying you don’t have time to train indicates a total misunderstanding of the role of senior staff and, honestly, is economically illogical.

There are hundreds of computer-literate, eager young people graduating from high schools, junior colleges, and technical schools every year. Why not hire one or two and train them to create the great product your firm is known for?

As for recent four-year geomatic graduates, bring in one or two a year (depending on your firm’s size) and nurture them with the knowledge available from senior staff.

Some of the trainees won’t work out. So, release them and find others. No one gets the recipe correct the first time when creating a new meal. Just don’t allow the failure of any new staff to be caused by the lack of effort by senior staff.

“Keep in mind that a bad manager can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation,” says writer Stephanie Talmadge.

Before everyone gets all fussy, I realize employees today have a very different outlook than earlier generations. No longer is a career and a gold watch a standard concept. From the data I have seen, the new-age employees change positions every three to four years.

Therefore, in response to your question of, “Why then hire and train them?” I say: because you cannot afford not to. If you choose not to, then you will still have 45-year-old senior staff doing CAD work.

Do an exceptional job training, recognizing, mentoring, and paying the new hires. The good ones will stay with your firm. Noted author and trainer Richard Branson opines, “Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Think of this process as if your firm were a major sports franchise. They sign talented veterans from other teams, knowing that this “store-bought” talent probably will only stay for the life of the contract. But teams then participate in a draft every year, bringing in several newcomers. They know some will make the team; most won’t.

Did you ever hear of a sports team saying, “We choose not to participate in the draft this year?” Be it a major sports team or a geospatial firm, there is no longterm success without the infusion of young talent.

Please don’t think I am discouraging the opportunity to hire an experienced hand. A good firm is always hiring regardless of its workload. Just keep in mind that, if your successful firm has 80% of its staff over 50 years of age, you are on the down side of the bell curve for the long-term success of the company.

The most important thing an employee has to do, from the janitor to the CEO, is train his or her replacement. So, in this world of instant gratification, take pride in finding a few seeds and nurturing them into productive, loyal, homegrown employees.

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