Keeping and Managing a Championship Workforce

Last month, we talked about finding championship workers. This month, we take a look at keeping them and managing their performance.

This requires an organized approach to developing your workforce. It begins with identifying the roles and responsibilities that a worker will fulfill as well as the standards and expectations associated with the job.

The contractor needs to clearly educate the worker to the roles that he will need to fulfill. This begins with the actual job that the employee was hired to complete, but it should extend to include such roles as "team-player," "assistant," "inspector," "initiator" and "organizer."

Educating workers to their other roles enables the contractor to very clearly point out what the employee is expected to perform when working. This approach also helps to paint a picture as to the scope of their job, instructing them on how broad their work efforts can extend. It also, and more subtly, reminds the worker that there is to be no employee who can say, "That's not my job!"

Standards and expectations should also be identified for the workers. Standards include the manner of work completion that is required by law. Such standards are what I call a "non-negotiable." There are other non-negotiables as well, and these represent the standards that you as a contactor demand to be followed. For your company a standard might represent how well you want a task performed such as jobsite cleanup, showing up to work on time, maintaining equipment, only wearing company-approved uniforms, equipment maintenance, etc. Your company standards represent the level of precision and efficiency you want your workers to achieve.

Expectations, while at times being very close to your standards, represent what may be more negotiable. This might include a crew supervisor allowing his crew to take a different approach to completing a project than what was first discussed. The needed end result may be immovable, but how the result is arrived at may be achieved via several different methods. As a contractor, whenever you have workers who offer up different ideas for completing a task, first consider if what they are suggesting is code breaking, illegal, conflicts with job specifications, or goes against your company standards. If there is no potential infraction and it is merely a slight change in tactics, then perhaps you might consider letting the supervisor or crew follow their idea. This allowance, perhaps as important as anything else you can do, is key to building an effective workforce. Employees can learn what is vitally important to the contractor and will, more often than not, adapt to whatever the contractor sets out to be followed and allowed.

The next application to follow in performance management requires good training and education as well as providing the proper tools and equipment. There is very little focused field training in construction today. Employees filling general laborer positions receive little to no actual training. Often, field supervisors and foremen are made the boss due to their technical abilities; seldom are they promoted because of their leadership capabilities. And seldom do such field leaders receive any leadership education.

In many construction businesses today we see very little mentoring but instead, much more on-the-job "watch him for a few days" training. Such unstructured training is having a devastating impact on construction companies, leaving most contractors hurting for skilled and knowledgeable workers.

Training and education should be well thought-out and addressed. While classroom training is not always possible, there should be a more organized educational effort and emphasis on the job. Many of today's workers learn best by a repetition of "watch-do" training. This is a series of watching someone perform a task then actually doing the task themselves. The "watch-do" series is repeated until the worker is demonstrating a competent handling of the task at hand.

Training and education should be mapped out over the course of months, perhaps even a year or more, to encourage the employee that they will be expected to develop as a worker. Training requires demonstration but should also include teaching the "why" behind the task. If employees do not understand the "why" behind their efforts, then they will fall into simply doing as they are told. They will fail in developing a better understanding for the task, often replicating only what they have seen other workers do. This mimicking results in workers learning shortcuts to performance efforts rather than learning a more complete and proper approach.

Motivation and retention

An important component to building an effective workforce is realizing that most workers need attention, inspiration and a reason to work. There is an old saying, "What's in it for me?" that captures what is in the heart of so many workers today.

While giving away company logo hats, shirts, work gloves, thermoses and coffee mugs is nice to do, the long-term impact made on employee attitudes is minimal if there is little sincerity in the daily leadership approach. Such sincerity begins with owners and leaders who display sincere caring and appreciation for their workers. Consider the following brief list of actions exercised by construction companies that are building effective workers.

• Leaders ask employees how their day is going and how their families are doing.
• Leaders welcome and encourage questions and suggestions from workers.
• Crew leaders conduct morning and/or afternoon crew "huddles" where important information is presented and exchanged.
• Employees are asked to field test new equipment or tools.
• Good work results are celebrated; problems are discussed, analyzed and corrected with employee participation.
• Contractors develop and conduct regular performance evaluations and personal improvement plans with each worker.
• A percentage of financial gains on jobs or for the year are given back to employees in the form of bonuses.
• Employees' families are included at seasonal activities such as summer picnics, holiday parties, amusement parks, ball games, etc.

All of these items, and more, should be figured into your strategy to retain a motivated workforce. If you are an owner or senior leader, you need to maintain a certain level of visibility and availability with your workers, right down to the lowest-paid hourly employee. As a contractor's business grows, it is always challenging to keep the owner and senior leaders close to the workforce. Visiting jobsites and interacting with the workers reinforces your belief in them and your availability to listen to concerns and problems.

In your efforts to grow the quality and quantity of workers, do not rush to do too many things that have been presented in this article. Developing an effective workforce is not easy and takes commitment, focus and patience.

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