One question I always like to ask leaders in all areas of construction organizations is this: “What is your company’s most important asset?” Over the last 30-plus years that I’ve been asking this, I would say that roughly 100 percent of the responses is “Our people” (give or take about, oh … 0 percent). And I’m sure this would be the case if the same question were asked of leaders in many other industries.
Sometimes it’s simply an automatic response, knowing that’s what we’re supposed to say. Can you imagine someone pondering the question for a moment, then answering “Our Kubota L39 skip loader” or perhaps “Our McCloskey C50 rock crusher?” Of course not. And most leaders believe that people really are their best asset. The problem is, with no conscious or malicious intent, our leaders’ actions and behaviors often do not follow that mantra. While the construction culture has changed over the years, leaders continue to exhibit behaviors on the jobsite and in the office that hold on to “old school” methods of management and leadership that are just not conducive to creating highly motivated and productive work forces. So, what can we make sure we do?
When we think about how we lead and manage, we need to look at how well we really know our people. Do we regularly engage in conversations with them? Do we talk with them about their families, their interests, or the type of work they prefer to do? Too often I see employees who are simply told what to do, then monitored to see if they do it correctly. Well, shouldn’t we expect our people to do the things we direct them to? Absolutely. But if that is the extent of our engagement with them, then that is precisely what we will get—the exact thing we told them to do. No more. Maybe even less. And engaging with your people doesn’t take any extra time—they are right there with you! But the more you engage with your crew, your team, your people, the more they will want to work for you, not just have to work for you.
While it is important to have dialogue with your people, showing respect is more than just having conversations. It’s about acknowledging a person’s value to your company and treating people in a way that transcends positions or job titles. In a traditional “boss-worker” relationship there is a tendency, often unintended, to talk down to people. Even the term “worker” can send a message that the person belongs to a different class. “Subordinate” even more so. They’re employees—employees who have certain roles and responsibilities with your company. And while site leaders generally exhibit less overtly demeaning behavior (a.k.a. screaming and hollering) than in years past, disrespect can still be shown by how we talk with people. And it’s not about being nice, or soft, or touchy-feely. It’s about being respectful.
Employees who truly feel involved in the construction process will take their performance and sense of ownership and loyalty to a new level. Sure, they’re already involved by doing their assigned work, but if you want to raise the level of commitment and buy-in, get them really involved. Even the newest laborer or site engineer on the jobsite can be more involved than they typically are. Ask questions. Ask for their opinion on processes. Ask if they know a better way. Many of the conversations that stick out in my memory from 20 or 30 years ago are when my foreman, manager, or a more experienced worker asked my opinion on something. They didn’t think they had to have all of the answers. They weren’t embarrassed or too proud to ask. They didn’t always agree with my thoughts, but the fact that they asked gave me a greater sense of value with the company.
So, what is your company’s most important asset? Is it your Potain MD 3200 tower crane? Or your new Procore Management software? Take a look at yourself and your leaders. Think about ways you can change your interactions with your crew or your department. Talk with them, involve them, and find new ways to show them how they bring value to your company. When you were the new employee, didn’t you want to be valued and listened to? People want to know that they are important to the team they are working with and we often sincerely believe that they are; we just need to make sure our behaviors are communicating that. If they don’t feel they are important to the company, they will perform average work or eventually leave. Many of the actions we can take simply become a part of our daily work and interactions, while some may take additional time and effort. But isn’t it worth investing some extra time in our most important asset? ■
About The Author: Bob Dusin is a Licensed Professional Engineer and a Senior Professional in Human Resources, and has worked in the construction industry for more than 30 years. He has presented at national expos and conferences on a wide range of construction leadership topics, and assists construction organizations in improving their leadership performance and culture. He can be reached at or on Twitter @bobdusin.
Modern Contractor Solutions, June 2015
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