Contributed by Jef McCurdy
Whether it is carefully cultivated or haphazardly ignored, every company has a culture. Top leaders create cultures that encourage quality, respect, accountability and more. These values help to create an environment where clients and staff feel confident in the value of the services or products delivered. However, culture is an often-overlooked aspect of the trades. Ask yourself this: Why would anyone want to start or continue working with you and your company?
If the answer is, “They need a job, and I’ve got work”, don’t expect to have long-term, loyal employees. Companies with weak cultures have retention issues. Because they do nothing to create loyalty, their employees are easily poached. Because they are constantly training new employees on the basics, they struggle to develop the higher-level skills required to meet client demands.
Conversely, employees in environments of appreciation, trust and development are far more likely to remain loyal and deliver greater value to your company as their skills and knowledge increase. When leadership has their backs, employees are more likely to remain engaged and proactive.
It is commonly accepted that working in the trades is supposed to be stressful, but I disagree. Hard work is expected, but bad leaders burden their staff with undue stress and uncertainty. I have found that bosses who yell the most, explain the least. I was on a job site a while back where another trade was also doing work. As I set up for my day, I noticed two of the guys arrive. They waited around for about 45 minutes until their boss finally arrived. He then berated them for at least 15 minutes for being lazy good-for-nothings for having not started working before his arrival. Their explanation that they did not know what he wanted them to do and were unable to get a hold of their boss fell on deaf ears.
The following day, the guys again arrived before their boss. Fearful of being humiliated in front of everyone on the job site again, they found work to busy themselves. On this day, their boss was an hour late and again upset with his crew. Calling them names and yelling, he said that they were idiots and should have known that their self-assigned tasks were a waste of time.
Luckily, I was quickly off to another project. But my short time with the yelling boss left me very uncomfortable, even though I didn’t have to work directly with him. Ironically, the predetermined belief that his crew was lazy and didn’t care about the quality of their work likely created that exact scenario.
While this was an extreme example, there are many less obvious pitfalls to avoid. Employees will thrive in consistency. Mixed signals and chaos create uncertainty. Organization and planning create clarity. Creating a positive company culture is intentional and begins with a plan. Laborers and office staff alike will thrive with clear expectations and a detailed view of what success looks like. Feedback is vital in creating trust with employees. It goes both ways, too. You should encourage your employees to voice their opinions. They are your eyes and ears in the field. As Andy Stanley said, "Leaders who don't listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say."
Investing in employee success is investing in your long-term success. Ensuring they have the proper training and tools will increase productivity and make employees feel secure. When a company invests in its people, it fosters a feeling of being a valued human resource rather than a disposable asset. As they develop more capabilities, they increase their efficiency. Rewarding those skills with promotions and raises is a bargain for the employer. Happy, efficient, and loyal employees with well-developed skill sets increase your profits and the quality of work your company performs. Advancing your employees careers will always be more cost-effective than constantly hiring, re-hiring, re-training, and dealing with the lower quality work of unskilled labor.
A final morale killing trap to consider: There is often a disparity in how office staff and laborers are treated. I have seen signs on restrooms that read “office staff only”. As someone who has spent a lot of time in the office and on the roof, I get it. Roofing is dirty work. But it may be less demoralizing to remind all staff that they are responsible for keeping restrooms clean. I don’t like the implication that one group of employees is better or more valuable than another. The entire team is responsible for quality and leaving your customers with a positive impression.
That brings me to benefits. There exists in the trades a giant chasm between the benefits offered to office staff and those offered to field staff. Do tradespeople not also have families to care for? If they’re not worth investing in, is your company worth their skills, efforts, and loyalty? I recently spoke with a manager at a struggling roofing company who explained that his retention issues stem from tradespeople being willing to leave for 50 cents more per hour. If that were the case, the answer would be simple: offer 51 cents more per hour. When I asked if they were truly willing to reset their benefits for 50 cents, he explained that they do not offer benefits of any kind. Some younger employees may not take advantage of benefits, but someone with a family to care for will seek employers who do offer them.
Yes, offering benefits can be expensive, but you should not be paying for them. Your clients should be. When you create an atmosphere of quality work, you do not compete on price and your clients happily pay enough to cover your overhead and provide healthy profits.
Creating a true team culture can benefit your labor and your office staff. I recommend that sales staff and installers have joint training and lunches. They can learn from each other. Field staff can teach sales what techniques work in the real world and ensure that they know what they need to create accurate quotes. Sales staff can benefit field staff by sharing customer service techniques. After all, they interact directly with the client more than anyone else.
A well-integrated team working toward common goals that benefit them as a whole will work well together, to the benefit of the client, your company, and you.
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
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