How a Contractor's Actions Can Influence Employees to Care More

Getting your employees to care might have more to do with what you care about and what you do than it does about their caring effort

Getting your employees to care might have more to do with what you care about and what you do than it does about their caring effort.
Getting your employees to care might have more to do with what you care about and what you do than it does about their caring effort.

I was “challenged” by a client who wanted to know, specifically, what he and his company could do get employees to care more about their work and their company.

Whew! After I caught my breath (no easy challenges in this construction business!) I explained that I, too, have faced this same question about my workers. It’s a challenge every company faces: 

  • How DO owners and leaders get their workers to care?
  • How CAN owners and leaders inspire workers to take greater ownership for their efforts? 
  • How DO owners and leaders move people to demonstrate their pride in their company, to comply with company policies and to respect other workers?

In a previous article I offered five insights …

  1. It does begin with the owner!
  2. Communication is clear, consistent and pervasive
  3. Leaders must commit some “random acts of kindness”
  4. Project leaders must discuss and plan jobs…with the employees
  5. Leaders must go “one-on-one” with employees

Here are six more tips.

6. Recognize work and workers for jobs well done

No matter if you buy adult beverages and pizza or whether you give away movie coupons, start recognizing jobs that have performed well and those individuals who participated in the successful effort. 

“Come on, man,” construction is supposed to be fun! Start having some around your company — and the best excuse to have fun is those opportunities to recognize great work and greater workers!

7. Bring crews/project teams together when poor performance exist

Ok, not every project is going to be a Super Bowl victory. So, when a job (or series of jobs) is heading south (or to a finish below the profitability line), bring the involved people together and debrief. While this meeting might not always yield happy faces, it does reinforce your commitment to “be the best” and reminds employees that you want to identify the problem, the solution and develop some safeguards to prevent poor performance efforts from being repeated. Keep a few things in mind when you are conducting this type of meeting:

  • Don’t scream or yell, and don’t go “personal”
  • Keep the focus on identifying the real causes of the problem
  • Discuss financial issues and consequences to problems
  • Seek team clarity and understanding of the problems
  • Engage team problem solving to correct issues and to prevent future similar issues
  • Seek the best-learned practices you can muster and ask each employee “What did you learn from this job?”
  • Clearly state that such performance cannot be repeated and lift the employees up by re-stating your belief in them and their capabilities
  • If you do discover an individual who needs removal…remove!

There are multiple variations of the above, but I think you get the idea. It’s not uncommon for contractors to really blow their top when bad jobs happen. But while venting your emotions might release some personal steam, it always raises the steam potential in others.

Instead, bring together the folks involved with the poor performance and engage them in what happened and what will not happen again! Hit it straight on, in a professional manner, and watch your workers begin to take more ownership in future jobs.

8. Walk the jobsite with worker and let them educate you

If you are the owner or a senior leader, don’t limit touring your jobsites by walking around with only the crew foreman or jobsite superintendent. Ask one or more of the laborers to walk you about the site, explaining what they did to contribute to the job’s great results. Engage the laborers to share what problems they incurred and what they think the company should do different on the next project. 

You might be surprised what all a laborer or two will tell you on such “walkabouts.” Often they will be more honest in their debrief than a foreman or supervisor might be. But this jobsite visit is of greater worth than just educational, it is also a great demonstration that you care for the job and the importance of the work being performed by those working on the job. The psychological impact on your crews can be tremendous.

9. Talk about your company vision and goals…a lot!

Every company that is really excited about its progress and opportunities is a company that has employees who understand the company’s vision and goals. In fact, they do more than understand the vision and goals, they “buy in” to them.

Contractors and their senior leaders need to engage discussion about where the company is heading, why they want to grow in a particular way and what the goals are that are important to achieve. If the senior leaders, and especially the owner, don’t talk about such things or perhaps only state the goals once a year, employees just don’t get all that energized about the company or its future. 

Integrate discussions about your company’s vision (assuming you have one) and goals in regular staff, project and all employee meetings. Make the goals visible on charts and track the same. Like a scoreboard at a ball game, employees like to know, “Are we winning?”

10. Contractors must express that they do care!

This is really not to suggest that the contractor must turn into some soft mushy leader who can cry at the drop of an “I care for you.” No, most contractors are not built that way. But, a contractor (and senior leadership), must express to employees that they do care. 

Ok, so what sort of things should they express that they care about? Well, consider the list below but don’t try to share how much you care about these items all at one meeting or discussion. Spread the caring around a little.

Contractors should express how:

  • They care for the employee and the employee’s family
  • They care about the reputation of their company
  • They care about the need to respect one another
  • They care about completing work safely
  • They care about how we treat our customers
  • They care about how we complete work the right way the first time
  • They care about making a profit and sharing the rewards
  • They care about how equipment and vehicles are maintained
  • They care about how we treat employees: new, current, young and older
  • They care about work attitudes and professional behavior

Again, I think this list of what a contractor cares about makes the point that unless a contractor expresses such things, some workers might simply believe that the owner doesn’t care. Now, just expressing what you care for is a good start, but you must back it up when those things are actually in play. How you respond to people and situations when the “caring list” isn’t executed will greatly influence how your employees view your sincerity.

11. Contractors must be capable and willing to say “I’m sorry!”

All right, now for perhaps the toughest technique to embrace as an owner or leader: apologizing when we’ve made a mistake. Actually, most professionally minded contractors readily admit when they’ve made a mistake, especially one that might have caused their workers some pain, aggravation or extra work. 

For the owner and senior leaders who will be quick to say, “I’m sorry,” their reward will be employees who will accept their apology and forgive the mistake. Contractors must be sincere but quick to seek out those whom they’ve wronged, even when the mistake was not intentional. Hearing those precious words from their leader, “I’m sorry,” can raise the respect that an employee has for the leader and remind that worker how special it is to work for that owner.

As I pointed out in the previous article, getting your employees to care might have more to do with what you care about and what you do than it does about their caring effort. Just as a football team reflects the personality of its coach, the attitude and demeanor of construction workers often reflects the attitude and demeanor of the owner and leaders.

Here’s to hoping your caring spirit busts through in spades with your employees catching the enthusiasm and begin to care about you, the company and what they do!