When did “professionalism” get separated from being a construction owner or leader? Talk about seeing the difference between a good contractor and a great contractor! Any contractor that respects others, behaves morally and ethically when others choose not to, and calms the negative emotions of others is displaying signs of a “professional” contractor.
Construction is a tough industry for sure and is made up of thousands of tough people. But being “tough people” doesn’t correlate with or condone “mean-spirited people.” Instead, what is needed are more tough-minded people who are in control of their emotions and who are positive thinkers and seekers of solutions that are arrived at by solid, calculated and win-win efforts.
The “power of professionalism” wins the trust of others, promotes the contractor and his company as clearly respecting others, and fulfills a reality that the contractor embraces improving the lives of others.
Traditionally, some people have held the opinion that the only professionals in society are doctors and lawyers. However, this paradigm has often been tied more to the training regimen required of these specialties rather then any regards to how those same individuals conduct themselves. While there are doctors and lawyers who behave and interact with others in a respectful manner, there are perhaps just as many who are disrespectful of others as we might find in any industry.
So what does professionalism look like in the construction world? How does a contractor or construction leader leverage professional behavior? And, how can such behavior lead to greater sales, respect and longevity? Let’s look at a few methods to making your professional presence more powerful as a construction leader.
1. The base is first built by committing to a professional mindset
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Having a professional attitude isn’t enough alone, but it is needed. Contractors must mentally consider how they wish to be viewed by others, how they intend to approach others, and to what level of discipline and accountability they will hold themselves.
No different than when a man or a woman consider what being a faithful spouse requires prior to taking their wedding vows, so too does a construction leader need to firmly commit to himself how he will fulfill his “vows” to being a professional contractor. It’s important to establish this mental “milestone” that says, “I will act professionally, and I will treat others in a professional manner.”
2. It continues by immediately behaving in a professional manner
Behavior reinforces the “mental contract” that a contractor enters into to be a professional. This behavior must be regularly practiced and should always be tied to the mental contract’s professional “scope of behavior” details. The “scope of behavior” should cover some of the topics listed below:
- How to approach others
- Conduct when frustration/anger is experienced
- Expected approach to producing quality results
- Embracing company policies and procedures
- Demonstrating clear compliance with rules, specifications, contractual requirements, etc.
- Approach to poor choices made by others
- Rebuttal to others who are negative, accusatory, vindictive, etc.
We must be prepared to take the “higher road” when so many of the possible situations, including those listed above, present their challenging tests. Each situation provides another practice session for us to sharpen our professional skills and mindset.
3. Initiating relationship building efforts
It is always impressive to me when I enter a new environment and someone there reaches out to me with a warm welcome and handshake. While I’m not shy about introducing myself, it’s always a good sign when those who are the “host” initiate the first extension of their eye contact, their handshake and their welcome.
Though an individual makes this effort, this single act is also an extension of the company that that person represents. That’s why it is so critical to have confident and friendly individuals at your front desk to great visitors: Their behavior conveys a professional image and sets a professional tone that makes an impact on every visitor.
4. Be professional toward internal & external people
It is not uncommon for some contractors to be inconsistent in their choice of when to be or not to be professional. For example, I’ve witnessed a construction leader who verbally ripped an administrative assistant for supposedly sending important drawings to the wrong client’s address and then in less than two minutes treat one of his project managers with the utmost of respect. Such inconsistent professional conduct undermines any consistent sincerity that a contractor may be trying to “sell the public.”
Contractors and construction leaders must be single-minded when it comes to practicing professional “conduct becoming a leader.” I find that treating workers, suppliers, customers, other contractors, city inspectors, etc., in the same professional manner is first, easier to do, not picking and choosing favorites. Second, treating them all the same professionally assists me in developing more consistent habits of professionalism.
If you want to shoot your professionalism in the foot in front of a customer, try being ugly or flat-out rude with one of your employees. It’s a double negative that leaves the customer embarrassed for the worker and the worker feeling ashamed, maybe enough to quit your organization.
5. Professional leaders follow up & circle back to check up
Being a professional practicing contractor or construction leader isn’t just about the words we use or how nice we sound. Professionalism is enhanced by the leader who is good about following up with others he has delegated work to or whom he has received requests for assistance from those in need of his expertise.
Circling back and checking up on a situation to confirm that progress is being made is a great sign to others that the leader is serious, focused and cares how the individual is doing on the job. Most often, people are thankful whenever a leader follows up or circles back.
6. Project confidence without being arrogant
You project confidence by being upbeat, looking and sounding positive, and not shying away from difficult topics or people. All of the body language that projects confidence — eye contact, shoulders back, head up, etc. — are signals that can reflect a leader’s confidence.
Arrogance is that slippery alternative to confidence when a contractor goes after others boldly and sternly, in a condescending, rude or provocative manner. When a leader (or anyone) mixes a strong presence with foul language, obscene suggestions or overtones, their intended message is simply lost to the overpowering negativity.
Arrogance is pure and simple selfishness. It’s thinking and behaving in such a manner that tells others, “I’m more important than you.” Perhaps our customers might project that at times, but let not a contractor project this same unprofessional behavior to anyone!
7. Be quick & sincere to say “I’m sorry”
An interesting but often unspoken trait that professional contractors and leaders practice is the ability, and willingness, to say, “I’m sorry.” These simple words evoke very sincere feelings in those who were wronged. Most of the time this simple admission of wrong leaves others feeling even more respectful for the contractor.
Now, just saying “I’m sorry” without making the corrective behavior change can soon sound like an excuse to others. Saying “I’m sorry” is not to be used by any construction leader to buy some more time or to just get the customer or supplier “off my back.” This is far from being a professional, and just doesn’t add anything but doubt in the minds of others about the leader.
8. Proactively reach out to correct or change challenges
One tremendous proof of the professional leader is when he initiates the improvement process to correct a poor decision, a work-related mistake or a relationship that is trending south. Not every effort will always be successful (or welcomed) of course, but others will recognize the proactive intent.
Too many contractors lie in the weeds and wait to see if the “other guy” has noticed a problem yet or to see if the customer is going to complain. The power of professionalism is the contractor who, when he first recognizes a misdeed or poor effort, reaches out to make the needed correction, setting the wrong right!
9. Live, teach & lead professionalism
As contractors we have the privilege of influencing and impacting the lives of others, especially our own leaders and workers. By living a professional approach to construction, teaching others to live by the same approach, and leading this approach your work culture will begin to reflect more professional behavior and thinking.
This pays huge dividends for the people who display professional behavior, for those on the receiving side of professional behavior and certainly for the reputation of the contractor’s company.
Conduct some in-house education on how your employees can be more professional in their work position. Talk very honestly about how to get along with peers, how to handle the angry customer and how to be patient with the material supplier who has let the company down and deserves a good chewing out!
Include in your training the need for — and how to ask for — forgiveness, and encourage your employees to say, “I’m sorry,” when it’s appropriate. You won’t believe how difficult this is for some people but how “freeing” the feeling is when people realize that they are not perfect and that’s ok…just be professional in your follow-up efforts.
There will always be setbacks in our efforts; we’re human, and we make mistakes. But even when mistakes are made it is still the professional who determines to make his “second step” the right one to get back on track. Most people understand that we’re not perfect creatures, but they still appreciate most those contractors and leaders who demonstrate the humble sincerity to reach out in a professional manner.
10. Include questions about your professionalism on customer surveys and post-job reviews
Accountability is always critical when trying to change behavior and approaches. Including the observations made by customers about your company’s level of professional conduct is one way to track the effort from those who might be more honest about what they experienced.
Including a discussion about how professional your workers were on completing projects should be boldly discussed when you conduct your post-job review. Everyone must learn that the power of professionalism is not found in practicing it here or there but at all times. It must permeate your internal meetings, the manner in which your crews deal with each other, the hand-off between estimating and production, and the relationship between foremen and your payroll people. There is no area of your business that should not be invaded with the power of professionalism.
In recent studies on the construction industry it has been discovered that many people have less than a favorable and positive image of our industry. Certainly, when observers watching a construction site see poor housekeeping, blowing trash or dirty looking equipment and workers, the word “professional” isn’t the first word rolling off their tongues.
Choose to make the power of professionalism part of your personal recommitment to excellence and a description of your entire company. Do this and watch the increased opportunities for you in finding and keeping better workers and finding and performing more profitable work!
Practice the Power of Professionalism!