BOCA RATON, FL — Listening to Ted Garrison is painful. Garrison, the owner of Garrison Associates, a consulting firm based in Ormond, FL, is painfully blunt, painfully honest, and … well … is not afraid to speak the painful truth. He is a “tell-it-like-it-is” professional.

Garrison certainly did not mess around in his information-overload presentation at the recent convention of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), held here. Straight out of the gate, he walked around the crowded convention room and asked his initial point-blank question of the morning: “If things were working the way you wanted and you weren’t having trouble keeping people, you wouldn’t be here, would you?”

One contractor sheepishly uttered, “No,” apparently feeling obligated to answer the aggressive speaker who was standing right in front of him. And so began Garrison’s topic: “How to Attract and Keep the Managers You Need.”

Before most attendees could finish their morning coffee, Garrison let another bombshell drop. “The one thing we have trouble doing is managing people. The trouble is, you can’t manage people. They are unmanageable; mainly, because they don’t want to be managed.”

More than a few eyebrows were raised and some perplexed expressions surfaced before Garrison stated: “What they want to be is led.”


The key, in Garrison’s estimation, is “converting all of your managers, from the top person on down to the lowest person in your organization, to leaders, not managers. We can’t afford to have managers.”

The fiery consultant pointed out a recent poll, which drew some strange results. The survey noted that 98% polled believe that U.S. employees are inferior to other countries. The same poll showed that 69% believe the U.S. has the best managers.

“I don’t think those two statements go hand in hand,” he said. “In fact, I think senior management seriously underestimates the potential of its workers and its lower-level managers.”

He noted that in baseball, if a professional team loses, the manager eventually gets fired, not the players.

“How can we have the best managers if we have the worst employees?” he asked, referring back to the MBA poll. “Isn’t it the job of the manager to get the employees to do their jobs? And if they are not doing their jobs, what are you not doing?”

A contractor from the crowd answered, “My job.”

“Right,” was Garrison’s quick reply. “So how can you be the best?”

After a brief silence, he continued, “It’s a mental attitude. You have to recognize that we have to take responsibility. …We have to treat people with respect.”

State Of Turmoil?

Garrison was painfully direct in describing the hvacr industry of today: “It’s in turmoil.” The reasons he cited included:

  • The industry needs approximately 250,000 new workers each year, but is only getting around 80,000. And, he noted that there is greater competition for entry-level positions.
  • Jobs Rated Almanac ranked a construction career 248th out of a possible 250 careers. (The two careers below contracting are an itinerate worker and cowboy.)
  • Generally speaking, contractors have low profit margins. “Despite near record volumes of work, profit margins are critically low.”
  • The current workers from Generation X “have a different set of values.”
  • The average age of workers overall is increasing; “Older workers are stable and less likely to relocate.”
  • Changes are going on in the workplace. Garrison noted that women currently make up nearly half the workforce; by 2010, it is estimated that 25% of the workforce will be from mixed cultures; there is an education gap; disabled workers need jobs; and values, such as family, are increasingly important.
  • “I could talk about this [changes in the workforce] for eight hours,” he said, but he quickly came to his final analysis. “Gone are the days when material reward and fear of punishment motivate employees. We must treat employees like customers. Why do you think you have to do that? What happens if you do not treat a customer right? What does he do?”

    A few attendees could not help but respond aloud: “He leaves.”

    “What do you think your employee is going to do?” asked Garrison, but he quickly added, “They have choices. We have to change. We can’t expect them to change.”

    Ted Garrison: "The one thing we have trouble doing is managing people."


    In Garrison’s estimation, it’s time to face the facts when it comes to recruiting, training, and keeping both managers and skilled workers. “Money is not the issue,” he said more than once during the course of his presentation.

    In addition to treating employees like customers, Garrison noted that contractors must accept the changes that are coming to the construction industry, learn how one’s management style and organization needs to change, and accept reality — like it or not — “or lose good people to those who will.”

    Some of the questions he offered contractors to ask and discuss with his/her employees included:

  • What keeps you from doing your job?
  • What’s the most likely reason someone would want to join your company?
  • What’s the most likely reason someone would leave it?
  • What current management fad has your company adopted that is driving you crazy?
  • Is your organization or boss trying to rob you of your individuality?
  • “U.S. government figures estimate it costs $40,000 to replace an employee,” he said. The announcement was followed by a pronounced whistle. After the figure sunk in, he added, “That’s conservative, believe me. The cost when an employee quits is approximately one and a half times a person’s annual salary.”

    His bottom line: “A firm’s financial health depends on finding and keeping good employees.”


    When hiring, Garrison passed along three hints:

    1. Get creative. “You have to get outside the demographics, outside the stereotype.”

    2. Keep an open mind, “even about the unemployed.”

    3. Hire based on attitude. “It’s easier to train skills. It’s really a challenge to change attitude.”

    When it comes to keeping good managers, Garrison agreed with FMI, which has identified three critical factors to retaining good managers:

    1. Organizational direction;

    2. Active participation in a firm’s planning and management; and

    3. Training.

    “We can’t just keep blowing them away,” he said. “They have to have a chance in voicing their opinion.”

    Garrison zeroed in on the importance of developing managers into leaders. “How is the best way to motivate people?” he asked.

    “Let them do what they want,” came the voice from the back of the room.

    “Exactly,” Garrison shot back. “When somebody is doing exactly what they want, do you have to push them?” This is where leadership comes into the equation, he said.

    “General Eisenhower had a great quote: ‘Leadership is the ability to get other people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it,’” said Garrison. “Now, stop and think about that statement. He was getting people motivated to be killed.”

    Turning to his crowd, he said, “You should have an easier time.”

    In his estimation, two dramatic shifts in today’s business arena must be addressed. One is the increased competitive intensity. “This intensity has destabilized companies and has seriously shaken the construction industry.” The increased competitive intensity, he added, has increased the demand for leadership at all levels.

    “Today’s leadership intensity is caused by the demand to keep costs down, increase productivity, improve customer service, and keep quality high — not an easy task,” said Garrison. “Without leadership, the stress can disable companies.”

    Garrison discussed strategies for creating effective and innovative leaders.

    “Wall Street places a higher value on innovation than on any other approach to generating bottom-line and top-line growth,” he said. “Innovation boasts earnings, speeds growth, ensures advantages over competitors, and appeals to shareholders. The problem is, most companies do a terrible job managing innovation.”

    Methods to inspire innovation in leaders, Garrison suggested, include:

  • Encouraging managers to speak their mind;
  • Creating a fun place to work (“encourage humor”);
  • Designing a place to nurture creativity; and
  • Challenging the status quo.


    Garrison concluded that it is “easy” to build an organization that attracts the best people and keeps the best people. (The contractors knew full well that his statement was laced heavily with sarcasm.) He said an owner must build an organization that:
  • Is a fun place to work;
  • Is a place that recognizes people’s accomplishments;
  • Provides personal choices and freedom;
  • Provides people with dignity and respect;
  • Provides a challenging and interesting work environment;
  • Encourages self-development;
  • Offers a high quality of life;
  • Offers financial security; and
  • Is a place where people have involvement in decisions that affect them.
  • “It’s not exactly easy,” Garrison admitted, but added that it’s “well worth the effort.” lN

    For Garrison’s 10 tips on keeping employees and his requirements for an effective leader, visit The News’ website,

    Sidebar: Ten Ways to Keep Your Employees

    During the course of his presentation, consultant Ted Garrison discussed 10 ways to keep employees. Here is his outline:

    1. Learn to be flexible.

  • Work with individuals to provide choices.
  • Enable workers to have a balanced life between home and work.
  • Area of possible flexibility include:
  • A. Hours;

    B. Rewards;

    C. Accommodating family responsibilities;

    D. Recognizing individual differences; and

    E. Matching individual competencies with job rewards.

    2. Train and develop managers and workers.

  • “Prove that opportunities to learn pay dividends for both the company and employees.”
  • “The workers are better skilled, more versatile, and flexible in their assignments.”
  • “When employees break out of their day-to-day routines, they are energized.”
  • “To be successful, employee development programs begin at the top and have the support of senior management.”
  • Benefits of investing in employees include:

    A. A more valuable company;

    B. Increased productivity;

    C. Better quality work; and

    D. Lower turnover.

  • His bottom line: “Get started. Identify the area most in need of improvement and get started.”
  • 3. Encourage creativity.

  • “Creative employees are energized.”
  • “The most successful companies find ways to support their employees with time and tools to stimulate their creative thinking.”
  • “Encourage all ideas. Keep in mind that quantity, not quality, is important. As they practice, the quality will improve.”
  • “Allow employees to pursue their ideas.”
  • 4. Empower employees.

  • “Give employees the responsibility and authority to get things done.”
  • “The workers will make mistakes or become afraid to make decisions. However, senior management must support and encourage people.”
  • “Most leaders inadvertently do not provide sufficient knowledge, information, power, and reward to create a culture where people can become empowered.”
  • “People want to be empowered until they learn what it really means in terms of what they must do. Therefore, it takes support, patience, and encouragement to make empowerment work.”
  • “Empowerment takes work, but it is worth the effort.”
  • “The biggest challenge is the tremendous shift in thinking by both management and workers.”
  • 5. Unleash the power of suggestions.

  • “Adopting employee suggestions can improve working conditions and motivate the workforce.”
  • “Remove organizational hurdles that get in the way of doing excellent work. It sends a powerful message to employees that they are valued.”
  • 6. Communicate.

  • “The biggest problem in business is probably poor communication — never mind lack of communication.”
  • “When you keep employees informed, they are more productive because they feel involved in the company.”
  • “Too often, managers think communication is great because information they requested flows up. However, they don’t realize how much information doesn’t flow up and too often very little flows down.”
  • “Everyone must be encouraged to say what he or she thinks. While this can become confrontational at times, the payback is substantial because it can eliminate barriers that get in the way of good ideas.”
  • “Open-book management should be the aim. There are three fundamentals of this approach:
  • A. “Every employee should see and understand the company’s financials.”

    B. “Employees learn that it is their job to improve the numbers.”

    C. “Employees have a direct stake in the company’s success,” said Garrison, noting that profit sharing is a must to attract the best people today.

    7. Enhance the work environment.

  • “Training and developing your people will have no impact unless they get to try new things.”
  • “Everyone needs new challenges to sustain and restore our enthusiasm.”
  • “Encourage your people to take on new challenges — which means support them, reward them, and thank them.”
  • 8. Create an environment free of fear.

  • “Fear paralyzes an organization. It must be eliminated.”
  • “Once the culture of fear is established, it gets in the way of everything positive, including running off your best people.”
  • 9. Build trust.

  • “Trust is at an all-time low in business — making employees cynical, anxious, and insecure. However, trust is the cornerstone of commitment.”
  • 10. Accept employees’ ideas.

  • “Let the goal be results, not the process.”
  • “Let people do it their way whenever possible. I know, kill the ways that are illegal, unsafe, risk is too high, etc. But, most things don’t fall into that category.”
  • “Allow people to grow by making their own mistakes. If they learn from the mistake, it may still be worth the effort.”
  • “If they are completely off base, ask questions to allow them to realize the error. Don’t just tell them.”
  • “I know you don’t have the time for all of this, but it is better to do this and have motivated workers and managers, than to have to spend the entire project pushing and cajoling to get the job done. It’s ‘Pay now or pay later,’ to paraphrase an old commercial.”
  • “The problem is if you shut down all the bad [ideas], you will never get employees to volunteer anything. Then you lose the good ideas, too.”
  • “Try never to say ‘No.’ Ask questions on issues they may have overlooked, allowing them to modify their idea until it works.”

  • Sidebar: Wanted: Effective Leaders

    So what are the requirements for an effective leader? In Ted Garrison’s estimation, the list includes:
  • Industry knowledge and organizational knowledge;
  • Relationships in the firm and industry;
  • Reputation and track record;
  • Abilities and skills;
  • Personal values; and
  • Motivation.
  • Garrison also noted 12 leadership skills and traits of effective leaders, as noted by author Ron Willingham in his book, The People Principle: 1. Vision — Must have a clear goal and a commitment to reaching it. 2. Charisma — Stems from high self-esteem and high energy. 3. Character — People trust leaders with strong values. 4. Responsibility — This means going beyond what’s accepted to achieve the exceptional. 5. Planning — Must be able to balance planning with execution. 6. Social skills — You must be able to listen and express genuine interest in people. 7. Achievement drive — Effective leaders are highly motivated. 8. Emotional stability — This is simply maturity. 9. Tolerance of ambiguity — Need to be able to relax and juggle a lot of balls. 10. Decisiveness — This is absolutely an essential characteristic of leaders. 11. Delegation — True leaders have the ability to delegate, and they know how to follow up through inspection to ensure completion of the assigned task. 12. Positive outlook — Concentrate on what can go right. One of the best ways to develop leaders is to be a leader yourself, said Garrison. “Encourage your managers,” he stressed. “Encourage your managers to take risks.” He also noted that developing leadership is like investing in the future. “It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s a lifetime pursuit.” Above all, he said, one must balance the difficult combinations of optimism and realism, intuition and planning, and faith and fact.

    Publication date: 11/19/2001