Keeping a staff motivated is not easy. In most businesses work is a real grind. There are exceptions, of course. Businesses that are growing rapidly are exciting places to work. Fast growth businesses have an energy in them that other businesses don't. There is an urgency to keep the ball rolling and expectations for quick advancement, fantastic pay raises and bonuses. Alas, rarely is a construction business in rapid growth mode.
Construction businesses are a dogfight. Project stakeholders are in constant conflict. Margins are thin. The pressure never lets up. When work is slow, everyone stresses about job security. When the schedule is packed, everyone stresses about the crushing deadlines. The never ending cycle of peaks and valleys wears down a staff's emotions.
You don't want to allow that to happen. An upbeat staff shrugs off interpersonal conflict. An upbeat staff pitches in and helps each other out when needed and without complaint. An upbeat staff works harder and complains less.
A frustrated staff does just the opposite. They complain. They slow down. They look out for themselves and blame others for mistakes. They create drama with interpersonal conflict. They don't do their jobs well, and they tend to clock watch.
One of the best ways to offset staff frustration is to celebrate the wins. When your company wins a large bid, let everyone know. When your team brings a substantial project in on time and in budget, spread the word. Buy lunch for everyone. When someone goes above and beyond the call of duty, thank them personally then publicize it to everyone else.
Many an owner feels that his employees owe him. Most owners are nose to the grindstone types and many have hair-trigger tempers that explode when they feel one of their employees isn't grinding away.
That type of atmosphere runs off employees. Owners of construction companies generating less than $10 million pretty much have to be workaholics. Expecting similar commitment from their staff is naïve. Getting upset when members of the staff don't work equally hard as the owner is foolhardy.
The owner stands to gain riches if the company does really well. The owner stands to lose everything if the company fails. The risks are great and the rewards can be amazing — for the owner. Not so for the staff. For the most part they are going to earn roughly the same wage regardless of the success of the company.
Sure, an operations manager may rake in an additional $10,000 when the company has a great year, but he isn't going to rake in an additional $100,000. He is going to earn what the market pays for his skills...just like every other employee. Whereas the owner has a serious financial incentive to work unconscionable hours the staff doesn't.
The staff's work effort is going to come from (1) their hard-wired work ethic, (2) the thrill of victory, (3) the fear of job loss and (4) their emotional commitment to their teammates. Celebrating the wins taps into the second and fourth motivators which is why celebrating wins is so important.
There are times when the motivator of job loss needs to be deployed; however, most employees are well aware of the connection between a lack of projects and job security. That is not a card that will need to be played frequently. For that matter, playing that card frequently will cause turnover. Really good employees have options in the job market and are apt to pursue them if they feel their job with your firm is threatened.
Winning is hard in our industry. Almost all of the planets are aligned to prevent winning. Furthermore, the rules for winning are muddy at best. What is winning in construction? Bringing a job in on budget? Finishing a job on time? Receiving a compliment from the developer and/or design team about the quality of your company's work?
I propose using the following guideline: if the job comes in on budget and the owner's expectations are met for your part of the project then your team won. That's about the best you can shoot for. Congratulate the estimator, salesman, project team and the front office support staff. Projects don't succeed without everyone performing their roles well.
Remember, work is work and play is play; however, it never killed an owner to let the team cut up a bit. Laughter is good medicine. It releases stress. It helps people push aside irritants. Laughter, like winning, is a great tonic for a run-down staff.
Have a laugh now and then. Inject a little fun into your office every now and then. Shut the office down a little early on a Friday and hold a team event. On a random Wednesday, order pizzas and force everyone to put work on hold for an hour and hang together. Encourage people to let their hair down from time to time.