The Thoroughbred Worker (TW) is the type of worker that is regularly early to work each day and the last to leave. He is one of your most dependable workers; someone you rarely have to check up on to see if he is doing what he is supposed to be doing.
The TW is responsible and accountable; he does what he says he is going to do, and he provides honest and helpful feedback and insight. He or she is not necessarily the smartest employee or best craft-person you have, but he is trustworthy, giving you more than a day’s effort of work, and “connects the dots” to what is important and needed.
Give the Thoroughbred Worker the general idea for a needed effort and he’s got it. Again, the TW may not be your best technical worker, but he is most likely that worker you depend on for leadership, quality focus and safety. All things considered, the TW could be your “MVP” employee every week, that’s how much you think of this individual.
Based on studies completed by the Center for Construction Innovation and Development (CCID) Thoroughbred Workers represent about 17% to 25% of the workforce. Therefore, the smaller-sized contractors with fewer than 10 employees will seldom have more than two Thoroughbreds on their team. If they do have more than the expected percentage of Thoroughbred Workers they should count themselves fortunate, indeed, and consider paying them accordingly to maintain their employment. Trust me, your competition knows who your Thoroughbred Workers are and will try to “rope” them and make them part of their stable of workers.
How do you lead the Thoroughbred Worker?
Clearly line-out roles & responsibilities
Most Thoroughbred Workers need little motivation to get going in their job. With clear instructions on what is expected and needed from them in their position, most TWs are good to go. We shouldn’t assume anything with the TWs; be clear about the room they have to work independently, who they report to, what access they have to needed resources and information, and what is expected from their production efforts. After this type of orientation has been completed, Thoroughbred Workers can begin to exercise their skills and talents to produce.
Position resources & support personnel close to the TWs
A great visual of this second point is to reflect on how the Chicago Bulls positioned complementary players who supported the great talents of Michael Jordan. In a similar manner, building your team around your Thoroughbred Workers may be the direction to go. This could require you to move individuals who have a narrower band of skills but who could compliment your TW well. Perhaps one worker is really handy executing the administrative duties while another worker is better at laying out work for the day. These two workers, who might perform other duties as well, could be leveraged to perform these specialties, taking this off of the Thoroughbred Worker’s “to do” items, thus freeing up the TW to do what they do best.
Provide overview of day or week…then get out of the way
Most Thoroughbred Workers just want to know, “What do we need to accomplish today or this week?” This is their “big picture.” Aside from a question or two about execution or strategy issues, once the TW has the goal locked into his brain, he is ready to bolt from the starting gates and make things happen.
Involve the TW in strategy, people & equipment decisions
There is a reason your Thoroughbred Worker has developed the reputation he has…he’s earned it! So, if your TW is especially gifted in thinking strategically, considering all of the possible consequences, and very good at NOT making stupid decisions, involve him in complicated decisions that need to be made. If your TW has a good nose for talent, involve him in hiring decisions or in putting together the best combination of people on crews or project teams. Finally, some Thoroughbred Workers are gifted with knowledge and experience with equipment. Perhaps you should engage them to assist in determining purchases or lease options on types of equipment that your company needs.
Encourage the Thoroughbred Worker to invest in high potential workers
One very important need most contractors have is to develop future workers. This need should be honestly shared with the Thoroughbred Worker. While not all TWs are natural coaches, many will assist you if they can invest in any of your “high potential workers.” If your TWs will assist you, don’t pair them up with a worker with a bad attitude. The Thoroughbred Worker will not teach that worker anything because he will feel like the poor worker is a waste of time and will probably quit anyway. Now, the TWs are not perfect decision makers; they can misread people, too. The challenge most TWs have when it comes time to training or coaching other workers is that they often do not have a lot of patience, so be careful whom you ask them to invest in or you’ll be wasting their time…and yours!
Involve the Thoroughbred Worker in setting the targets
The Thoroughbred Worker more often has the best idea of how much work can be completed in a certain amount of time. Some of this is based on his own measurement-taking and some of it is due to their drive to excel and beat their old record-best production. So, it might be wise and more profitable to involve your TWs in scheduling out what they believe can be accomplished. Setting the daily or weekly amounts higher only to motivate your workers might work on some employees but it rarely is needed to the motivate the Thoroughbred. He’s got a good visual of what work he can accomplish based on the support and resources available. He’s probably not going to accomplish a whole lot more than he figures anyway so you might as well engaged him in setting targets.
Seek the Thoroughbred Worker’s advice discreetly
It is tempting to demonstrate a bit of favoritism when dealing with Thoroughbred Workers. However, this action can lead to jealousy and the de-motivation of the other workers, something that can make things even harder for the Thoroughbred who must “live” with his peers. Trust me, every worker you have recognizes clearly who the Thoroughbred Workers are — they’re everyone’s “MVP” each week. The other workers just don’t want their noses rubbed in seeing the contractor showing more enthusiasm and respect to the Thoroughbred Worker. However, the TW is worthy of respect and the contractor is wise to seek out his wisdom, advice and expertise. Doing so should involve having the TW come in a bit earlier than the other workers to discuss issues or at the end of the day when most of the workers have gone. Occasionally, and depending on the relationship between the contractor and the Thoroughbred Worker, the contractor might call the TW in the evening to discuss important issues. While you can’t let the thoughts of others keep you from utilizing the talents and smarts of your Thoroughbreds, you also need to keep some balance in place so that the TW can maintain his own relationships with fellow workers.
Respond quickly to requests for “help” from Thoroughbred Workers
Thoroughbred Workers do not “cry wolf” just to make some noise. If they are asking a question or asking for assistance they’re most likely asking because they need something … now! Most TWs are respectful of time, theirs and yours, so when you notice their number on your smart phone be sure to respond as quickly as you can; that call may have just saved you or made you money!
Don’t be threatened by Thoroughbred Workers’ skills & talents
If you ever saw the great baseball movie, The Natural, you know that some people are truly just naturally gifted. Seeing any real “natural” talent at work is a blessing. That’s what most Thoroughbred Workers are… a blessing to watch and, more importantly, to have on your team. Yet, some contractors will be hardheaded, wanting to prove even to the Thoroughbred that the contractor/owner is the wisest person in the company. The Thoroughbred Worker doesn’t want the competition and will lose respect for the contractor that tries to play “me against him” games. You might remember something that I’ve written before: When you are a leader, “It’s not about you anymore.” If you are a contractor or senior leader who thinks you are always right then prepare to lose your Thoroughbred Workers. You don’t have anything to prove to the TW, simply take a big deep breath and enjoy your Thoroughbreds’ talent and be thankful that they want to work for you!
Just get out of their way!
Like the animal behind their namesake, TWs are built to run all out, not holding anything back. In fact, if there is anything you can do to keep your Thoroughbred Workers from injuring themselves, look out ahead of them to see that obstacles in the form of people or broken processes have been cleared from the road the TW will be taking. Also, some TWs are prone to a “workaholic” mindset, thinking that unless they are producing 100%-plus they are not contributing their fair share. Periodically check up on them and confirm that their head is clear and focused, that they’re not wearing out due to self-induced pressure to be the best. Even the Michael Jordans get sick and have some off days.
Leading Thoroughbred Workers should be one of the best experiences you have as a contractor or senior leader. They are portraits of great work ethic mixed with “thinking before doing” and “let’s be the best that we can be” …all rolled into one person. Treat your TWs with respect but expect them to do things that other workers just don’t consider doing.
The Thoroughbred Worker is still in need of leadership but he respects the leadership that sets the course, provides the resources, supports rather than tears down, and let’s skills and knowledge excel. What a winning combination.