Jean Dimeo

Peter James Field/ Jean Dimeo Editor-in-Chief

The NAHB reports that more than 50 percent of its members surveyed this year say they’re concerned about finding skilled labor, up from 30 percent in 2012. Not only are builders challenged to hire qualified trades, but also accounting, HR, sales, marketing, and IT professionals—folks whose skills are in demand in many industries.

It’s not only difficult to find capable workers, but also to keep them. I don’t think throwing more money at the problem (if you even have it) is the answer. One of the top reasons people quit jobs is not for a higher salary, but because of a bad boss. No one wants to work for a jerk who doesn’t respect his or her opinion, plays favorites, throws tantrums, and so on. Still, I know how difficult it is to be a great boss—especially through horrific downturns and chaotic growth spurts. I don’t always get it right, but I’ve had success in the past retaining disparate, highly qualified employees by following these simple guidelines.

Ask questions. Manage individuals the way they want to be managed, not the way you want be managed. And sometimes the only way to know how is to ask them. During your first (or next) meeting with a direct report, ask this question as well as what you can do to help that person be successful. Using this new information, try to adapt your management style to match each employee’s needs. Initially, this approach can be challenging, but I find the end result is positive and well worth my time.

Listen. I like to talk—a lot—but when it comes to interactions with my staff, I listen—a lot. When I say I have an open-door policy, I mean it. As long as I’m not in a meeting, my staffers know that I will drop what I am doing to hear about their ideas, concerns, news, and complaints as well as their child’s first steps or dog’s silly antics. Nothing is too big or too small to discuss. Sure, I sometimes have to work later, but these drop-bys provide me insights into how to make my staff happier and more productive.

Be fair. While I’m devoted to nurturing each employee, I don’t play favorites and my decisions are made to benefit the entire staff. Some decisions are difficult to make because I cannot please everyone, but I think my staff recognizes that my decisions are fair.

Take the hits.All too often supervisors point the finger at a staff member when a high-profile project is sidetracked or fails. My staff knows that the buck stops with me. I don’t throw my employees under the bus; I take the hits—that’s my job. But they also know when awards are won or accolades roll in from top management, I share the credit for a job well done.

Roll up your sleeves. There isn’t anything I would ask my staff to do that I haven’t done or wouldn’t do. When there is a sticky situation to deal with, a problem to solve, an urgent deadline to meet, a nasty vendor to manage, I’m down in the trenches with my employees. I learned this important trait from my first boss, the editor of a small, short-staffed daily newspaper. One Saturday, which was her day off, she came into the office to help me edit the entire Sunday paper. No complaints, no whining—just results.

Ask for ideas.Everyone wants to feel like they’re a vital part of the team, but too often people think their ideas go unheard. Remember to always listen with enthusiasm. It pays in dividends.

Say thank you—a lot. For the past six years, my staffs have faced layoffs and salary and benefit cuts all while doing more with less. When I can, I reward them with small cash bonuses, gift cards, or a complimentary day off. But most important, I make sure to say thank you to all staff members. This is so easy to do, doesn’t cost a dime, and makes people feel appreciated (and work harder and stay put).

Say you’re sorry. And mean it. We all make mistakes. Apologize to your team members when your mistakes and missteps impact them. They’ll know you respect them (and they’ll respect you in return).