Do you ever get frustrated with your crew members' abilities, wishing they did better work or did things "your way"? Do you realize how much you can shape and guide your team's performance through clear communication and formal training?

I recently spent a day with Jesus Vega, a training officer at E & K of Denver, a division of Eliason & Knuth Cos. based in Omaha, Neb. The commercial contractor helps build stadiums, civic centers, and hospitals all over the country. Needless to say, training is important when you've got hundreds of employees on one site. But if you take a look at their program, you'll see that it has direct lessons for small companies as well.

First, E & K conducts formal two-hour orientation training for new employees to introduce company policies and philosophies about quality, teamwork, and productivity. New hires learn what is expected of them from the start, and they get to see that if they commit to the company, the company will commit to them.

Then there's E & K's ongoing jobsite training, called OJT (on-the-job training). These weekly 30-minute sessions cover everything from new tools and techniques to specific quality-related issues that have come up since the last session. The company also uses these sessions to clarify company procedures on timecards, cost-code entries, or other administrative issues.

OJT sessions are notable because a crewmember is selected to conduct each 30-minute skill session by demonstrating construction techniques related to that week's work. This gives the crew an opportunity to learn from within their ranks?from someone whose skills are being held up as an example. Not only does this acknowledge that worker for his performance, it also takes the perceived authoritarian aspect of training out of the picture and makes the workers feel like this is truly in their interest. And the timeliness of the training is brilliant, tied into the job schedule the way it is. I saw one session conducted this way, and it was intense, inspirational, and impressive. If you've got Hispanic crew members, you should also consider having someone on hand who can help communicate the training in Spanish.

E & K also has an ongoing training program called QUEST to continually instill the company's philosophy of combining Quality, Excellence, Satisfaction, and Teamwork into its products and its workers' experiences. Company managers also identify potential leaders and develop them into future managers through additional training on internal management policies and procedures. Vega told me that teaching these leaders in the field about how their paperwork affects the company when it gets to the office increases understanding and reduces the friction often felt between field workers and managers.

And, of course, safety training is a huge focus. New E & K field employees receive an eight-hour Level-1 OSHA safety training at the start, weekly safety sessions at the jobsite, and then a 10-hour Level-2 OSHA training within their first year.

Every one of these great ideas can be applied to companies of any size. It may seem like a lot of work to create a more formal training program, but take a look at what you want to accomplish with your business and how well it's doing. If you're content to squeak by from day to day, job to job, with high turnover in employees?don't change a thing. But if you're trying to build your business, increase your quality, and help your employees make a better life for themselves?make a firm commitment to training.

"Tools" Wins Prestigious Award

Hanley-Wood's TOOLS OF THE TRADE won its first Jesse H. Neal Award for editorial excellence this year, taking top honors in its class for our new Site Lines department. The Neal Awards program is the highest level of competition in business journalism nationally. This year's winners were selected from more than 1,100 entries. TOOLS OF THE TRADE also was a Neal Award finalist in 2001.