I Got More to Give

November 19th, 2019

In a recent survey of nearly 500 construction professionals, ONE-THIRD of all respondents and 43% of office operations reported “they had more to give.” They can actually do more. They are not over-worked; they are under-challenged and that is a failure of their boss. This data is totally consistent with other research outside construction. Rather than blaming the employee for poor performance perhaps you should talk to their supervisor first, ask a bunch of questions and evaluate them. Not every employee needs to be fired and we have all seen a crew member excel when moved to a new crew. Same person. If you want to improve retention, which will improve recruiting, it is time to improve leadership.

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People Are Anxious and Afraid

November 19th, 2019

Personality assessments are an important part of my business – we do a bunch. In a part of one of them, we discern how people feel about their future growth and development. It isn’t as simple as optimism. It is a deeper sense of security or anxiety. Over the past few years we have seen the anxiety factor go up. Our supplier who manages the software confirms this is a universal and major change. People are anxious about the future and it shows up in their assessments. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that — despite Americans’ overall satisfaction with the state of the U.S. economy and their own personal finances — a majority say they are angry at the nation’s political and financial establishment, anxious about its economic future, and pessimistic about the country they’re leaving for the next generation. Bringing our research together with the NBC study – we see people are anxious about not only the next generation, but also their own future. AND THIS MATTERS TO YOU BECAUSE, as a leader, your people are looking for stability, trustworthy leadership, etc. When you are consistent and provide a sense of normalcy for your team your people are less anxious. Retention goes up. Performance goes up. Your life gets easier. Have a plan, live the values.

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Learn From Others

November 19th, 2019

I hope you can learn from two different men I spoke with after my speech at a national construction convention last week. My talk was about servant leadership/taking care of people as a core principle of leadership today. Both were having a hard time applying it to themselves. One was a co-owner and remarked he didn’t even LIKE the business anymore. The other a very senior leader, “I just don’t have patience for all the people BS!” I asked both about free time, hobbies, support mechanisms. Both confessed those things had eroded/faded over time. In my executive coaching this is not an unusual theme. Last week I told a client to get his boat on the water for 2 hours and call me after. He had not taken it out all year! I can relate, my wife used to say, “you don’t take days off, you take hours off.” Most of my readers are men. Men suck at establishing new relationships as they age AND suck at raising their hand when they need a hand. In other words, I am writing this for you if you if you are reading it. (Not to say women should ignore the message). Our research confirms that 50% of field leaders DO NOT have a close friend at work. Who/what motivates the motivator?

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When was the last time you were praised?

November 19th, 2019

How frequently do you receive recognition from your manager? (Of course, the question behind that is how often do you give positive feedback?) Daily? Weekly? Monthly? What is recognition? I was rereading the results from our big People In Construction Report as I prepare to do it for a national construction trade association and the answers struck me. Twenty seven percent of nearly 500 respondents for the report answered, “What is recognition?” OUCH. Yet, research published in Harvard Business Review confirms that top performing teams give each other more than FIVE positive comments for every one criticism! Six percent said daily, 27% weekly, 38% monthly. C’mon folks. Catch your people doing something right. A paycheck is not positive feedback. Not good when people say, “Well, I haven’t gotten my butt chewed lately so I must be doing OK.” We laugh at that, but we know that is how it really is. Positive feedback costs you nothing and gains you a lot.

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10,000 Birthday Cards

November 19th, 2019

You SAY you don’t have TIME to do your day job, how can you possibly find the time to do the small things that supposedly matter to people????? Well, as long as you fail to see value in such things you will not find the time. But this CEO writes nearly 10,000 – TEN FREAKING THOUSAND – birthday cards a year (for you detail folks that is 27 per day). This sends a powerful message that people matter. I knew a boss who used to do this for years and then one year he stopped, He didn’t think it mattered. Within days people started asking if there was something wrong with him. Why had he stopped? They wanted their birthday card! Yellen states “When leaders forget about the human element, they’re holding back their companies and limiting the success of others,” he said. “Focusing only on profit and forgetting that a company’s most important asset is its people will ultimately stifle a company’s growth.” Sadly, my experience confirms that most managers simply don’t “walk their talk” that people are the most important asset. Do you? Send ten birthday cards to get started.

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“No” Means I Don’t Respect You

November 19th, 2019

Talking with a company President today. I have known him for almost 20 years. Long term, and high performing grading superintendent just quit. President goes to talk to him…WTF?…turns out the superintendent wanted to get some out-of-cycle raises for some employees (who totally deserve it) to get them up to par with some newer hires. (Not an unusual thing.) The division manager, in an email, said “No.” That was it. End of sentence – No. The President took the time to explain that out-of-cycle raises can be a challenge, but they could have figured something out. BUT the division manager didn’t explain, he just said NO (FU)… The superintendent told the President the explanation and “let’s figure it out” was an acceptable answer but he never got to that because the answer was NO (I don’t respect you). The answer was NO (I don’t care what you think). The answer was NO (I don’t have time for you). The reply to the answer was “I am out of here.” C’mon, this isn’t that hard. But this happens every day. It’s called leadership, compassion, fairness, not being a jerk. You get the idea. Gallup just announced that fewer than two-thirds of respondents in a recent survey said their pay has increased in the last five years…. Lead them well, pay them fairly. Don’t be a jerk.

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The Labor Issue Is NOT Going Away

August 28th, 2019

2006 or 2019: Somethings are not changing…


Front page news! ENR May 8, 2006 stated, “firms seek new solutions to keep employees in place.” This critically important issue has been with us for over TWO DECADES. We should not be surprised it is getting worse. During the lean times of the past we were warned. Warned that job-hopping would increase once the economy picked up. Employees were fed up with being overworked, under-appreciated, under-paid, and taken for granted. Now, more than ever, good employees are moving on and firms are dismayed. Those facing higher-than-normal turnover today are getting what they deserve. They are paying the price for continuing to use a management style and philosophy that is better left in the last century. Author Steven Covey, in The 8th Habit, says that this is the century of release, not control.

Turnover is an indirect cost and, because it is not directly measurable, it is often discounted. Construction executives would rather operate in the tangible world of cost reports and bids won and lost than in the intangible world of taking care of people. I must clarify that simply providing a paycheck is not “taking care of people.” Management must develop employees to step into positions of increased responsibility and impact. Enlightened firms instill a strong sense of corporate culture, through open and honest communication—not by decree.

In fact, the number one antidote to turnover is hard to measure also. It is leadership. Unfortunately, that ENR article never mentioned the word. And only once in three pages is the concept of employee development mentioned. Yet, many times, pay and benefits issues are discussed. Once again, the default position is to the tangible subject of money, away from the abstract idea of developing people. But the last sentence, from a man who had been with the same firm for 55 years, speaks loudly: “If you’re happy and content, you don’t look for other avenues.” It’s not high pay that makes workers happy and keeps them fulfilled.

Leadership is not the only solution to the labor crunch, but it is where the primary fight needs to be waged. Firms often make the mistake of sending people to development programs expecting them to come back… different. The reality is that change only begins in development programs. It must be reinforced by executives back on the job–executives who probably need the same leadership program they are sending their people to.

As a speaker and consultant on leadership, I am often told by managers I work with, “This is great! But the person who really needs to hear it isn’t here.” Too many bosses in construction are, quite simply, poor leaders. The personality profile of many of these managers is that of a task-driven, detail-oriented individual. They are hard-wired against building relationships. But leadership, at its heart, is a relationship. And relationship-building can be learned. Integrity and core values are what cement employee loyalty–not a 1% match to their 401K.

Look at Fortune magazine’s Top 100 Companies to Work For in America and you will see examples of well-led firms across all industries, including construction. Many of these firms don’t pay the best, yet they enjoy best-of-class turnover and employee satisfaction. How do they do it? My research, experience and consulting work points primarily to leadership–leadership that anticipates change and encourages open, even sometimes messy, dialogue about difficult issues. Leadership that fundamentally trusts, respects and values people. Leadership that engages people. Why? Because people who feel valued don’t look for new jobs. They look for ways to do their current jobs better. People who are engaged eagerly come to work with not only their hands, but their head and their heart as well.

Good leadership is not passive. It is proactive and looks for opportunities to engage people. Think of your all your employees as the teeth on a large gear. The gear is just sitting there, doing nothing. Your people are also doing nothing. To get this gear to move, we need a stimulus–another gear to engage the idle one. Leadership is that necessary drive gear. Until leaders engage them, the workers will remain idle. But once we take action, the gears mesh and forward progress begins.

Leadership is all about engagement, and it is the foremost antidote to spiraling, out-of-control labor costs and turnover. Yes, market rates must be paid. But bidding wars for talent still leave employees wanting more. What they want is to be trusted, respected, engaged, and challenged at work. They want to be led.


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Ghosting at Work: What is it and What can you do?

February 1st, 2019

A peek at the dictionary shows two definitions of ghosting:

  1. The appearance of a ghost or secondary image on a television or other display screen.
  2. The practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

But as so often happens these days, a new definition is entering the urban dictionary, and it expands the meaning from ending a personal relationship to include ending a business relationship.

Ghosting is becoming a real horror story for employers, reports The Washington Post. If an employee has left you with a “no show, no call,” and you are unable to get in touch with them to find out the deal, you have been ghosted. Recruiters at global staffing firm Robert Half have noticed a 10-20% increase in ghosting over the past year. And the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago noted in December’s Beige Book, which tracks employment trends, “A number of contacts said that they had been ‘ghosted,’ a situation in which a worker stops coming to work without notice and then is impossible to contact.”

From “just bad manners” to “not wanting to have a difficult conversation,” the reasons for ghosting vary. There are many psychological explanations as to why someone ghosts, but at its core, ghosting is avoidance and often stems from fear of conflict. So, at its heart, ghosting is about wanting to avoid confrontation, avoid difficult conversations, avoid hurting someone’s feelings. There is no doubt that technology has decreased the ability of many people to engage in legitimate conversations and the confrontations that sometimes arise in work settings. Using tech, they can simply choose not to respond and, therefore, “avoid the whole mess.”

Part of me hopes that karma kicks in at some point, and people who have ghosted will eventually get ghosted, although that doesn’t solve your problem as an employer. But let’s be honest here: Employers probably started the trend with the Friday pink slip and the escort out the door. Maybe the employer created such a bad environment for the employee that they simply felt no need to say good-bye. Research continues to show there are way too many jerks in supervisory roles.

The rules today are that there are no rules. Temple University thought they had a new head football coach in Manny Diaz. But days after taking the job, Diaz bolted for the University of Miami, leaving Temple without a coach. We see players transferring to different schools at unprecedented rates. On the one hand, we admire people for pursing their dreams–but on the other hand, we question commitment and resilience. This new normal for employee mobility is real and you need to adjust.

It is very challenging to combat the trend with new hires or candidates. You haven’t had time to show you care, to do a stay interview, to show you train and develop. You haven’t had a chance to demonstrate trust and respect. Some emerging strategies are to assign a running mate for the new employee on day one, so they can start building relationships right out of the gate. Another idea is for the boss to out brief each day to give real feedback. In other words, work really hard to get effective communication started as quickly as you can. People do want to feel like they are part of things. Do what you can here. They may not understand everything you’re saying, but they will feel included.

I recognize these steps are imperfect, but they are a start. You cannot change rude behavior, and you probably will not make someone who is conflict-averse want to fight–but you may at least get the phone call back.

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What If? Three Questions You Must Answer Today to Protect Your Company in the Economy Tomorrow

February 1st, 2019

The sky is falling. The sky is not falling. We are doomed. We are fine. Confused? You are not alone. The economic roller coaster of today presents unique challenges. We simply do not know what exactly is going to happen and that uncertainly is paralyzing our economy. It is also paralyzing managers. Politicians campaign for change; you need to campaign for a plan–a plan that answers the question, “What if?”

Businesses all over the world are worrying about what might happen. But, now is not the time to worry; now is the time to develop a plan. In the Marines, we did contingency planning. We would pick the three most-likely scenarios for a situation we were facing, and then develop plans for each one. Our job was to execute at a moment’s notice. We planned while we had time, and then implemented one of those plans based on the situation we finally did face.  Rather than agonizing about impending doom, I suggest you gather your team and answer the following three questions:

  • What if the economy recovers and business is great for us in the next 6 months?
  • What if the economy stalls and our business revenue significantly decreases in the next 6 months?
  • What if our business remains stable despite the external fluctuations in the economy?

Planning and answering these questions will help you in the following important ways:

First, it will give your team confidence. Inaction breeds fear. Action creates energy and gives people a sense of control over their destiny.  You will be exercising leadership, and that is exactly what your employees want. When the House of Representatives failed to pass the bailout bill on September 29, citizens nationwide decried the lack of leadership in Washington. You need to lead today. More than ever, your people want to know the score, and they want you to tell them about it.

Second, answering the above questions will allow you to be more flexible and able to respond quicker to your clients. When it comes time to act, you will be ready. Other firms will be just beginning their planning, while you will already have a plan in place. You will get the “first movers” advantage. This can put new money in your pocket or allow you to keep the money you already have.

The process is what matters. These contingency conversations are not lunchroom chatter or filler at a staff meeting. They are written plans that you create, refine, record, and store for use. They’re like the fire extinguisher in the glass case: ready when you need it.

One of the axioms of military combat is, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”  Some would use that as an excuse to not plan. “Why bother? It is going to change anyway.” But, the smarter business leader knows that the power is in the planning, not in the plan. That’s where you learn, where you think ahead, brace for the worst, and work together to achieve a goal. The plan will change but you will be ready for whatever you face because you asked the question, “What if?”


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Lean Failures: 6 Critical Components to Successful Lean Implementation

September 18th, 2018

The Lean Construction Institute says the industry is broken. You know it has its challenges. Construction labor productivity has decreased, while efficiency in other industries has doubled over the past generation. More than 70% of projects are completed late and over-budget. Fatalities are not isolated events. In the face of these issues, lean project delivery is an attempt to improve this chaos.

Many contractors have thrown countless time and dollars at lean initiatives. Some have made modest progress in the short-term. More have discarded the effort as it waned over time. A precious few have embedded it in their DNA and are realizing significant benefits for the effort. In my observations over the past few years, I have detected 6 common reactions that will derail your efforts:

The first and, perhaps most prevalent, response to a Lean initiative is, “I already do a good job; now you’re telling me I’m not doing it right?” The reply to that is, while there was nothing wrong with the way the work was being done, it might be time to do it differently.

Even with that gentle redirect, people can still have a hard time looking objectively at their behavior and the processes that have served them well for so long. As a professor of mine once said, “Ideas become actions, actions become habits, habits become processes, processes become religions, and religions die hard.” Your lean initiative must be accompanied committed leadership and maybe a credible internal marketing campaign to rally the troops and assure them that this is not about cutting labor.

The second-most-often heard reply comes from those in the “It’s not my job” camp. These folks view process improvement as the work of somebody else. This group thinks that, as long as they get a certain amount of work done every day, they’re fine; anything that might hinder that is bad.

To get this group on board, you might need to address job description and compensation. More important, you must demonstrate the value of process improvement so they can see for themselves that it is worth it. Run a test project and cite the gains, or get these naysayers involved in planning.

For the third reaction, fill in the blank: “Anything worth doing is worth doing _______.” Most of you will say well. I say poorly—at first. If something is worth doing, then it is worth taking the time to do it right. When you learn something new, you probably won’t be good at it right away. Knowing that stumbles are to be expected makes it easier to stay the course. In fact, production might go down initially as you try new things, but if you keep at it, you will see improvements.

Regarding response #4: We all know that what gets measured gets done, and lean needs data and metrics to make a real impact. Unfortunately, many contractor organizations do a very poor job in this area. I have often seen the benefit of a proposed lean initiative described in such vague terms as “improved production” or “better customer service.” Those phrases don’t have much meaning.

The lack of real metrics in the first place will make it very hard to quantify measurable impact and remain committed to the change. This gets us into a Six Sigma conversation, and I often hear the term “lean six sigma.” Is that redundant? Maybe, but maybe not. Villanova University puts it this way:

Six Sigma and Lean systems have the same goal. They both seek to eliminate waste and create the most efficient system possible, but they take different approaches toward achieving this goal. In simplest terms, the main difference between Lean and Six Sigma is that they identify the root cause of waste differently.

Lean practitioners believe that waste comes from unnecessary steps in the production process that do not add value to the finished product, while Six Sigma proponents assert that waste results from variation within the process.

Of course, there is truth in both of these assessments, which is why both Lean and Six Sigma been so successful in improving overall business performance in a variety of fields. In fact, these two disciplines have proven to be especially successful when working in tandem – hence the creation of Lean Six Sigma.

My initial point remains: measurement is the key to a successful initiative.

In reaction #5, we discuss that lean is a collaborative process, whereby teams work to discover better ways of doing things. The key here is that the teams work together. That takes time, and time is money. Leaders are tempted to steer the conversation for the sake of time; they should not. Leaders also need to remain silent during brainstorming and other team exercises. I learned in the Marines that the wishes of a superior should be taken as an order. When my boss said, “I think we should do X,” that meant, “We should do X.” In a lean process, if the leader offers their opinion, it might well stifle the conversation. Leaders need to learn how to facilitate, and not direct, a conversation. They must guide, not mandate. If the leader wants to decide and mandate, that is fine–just don’t do it in a lean situation.

Reaction #6 mirrors our first when an employee resists a lean initiative because they think they are pretty good at what they do. This happens at the company level too. People have hard time changing. Organizations have a really hard time changing. Too many firms think they are doing well because net profit is good. But is it really that good compared to their competitor? Or merely good compared to the poor year they had last year? Further, what about ROI? ROA? And other deeper financial measures. If you are running dead last in the race, so far from your next competitor that you cannot see them, you might think you are in the lead.

We know the industry is broken. As part of the industry, your projects may not be broken but they might be cracked. Lean is a worthy effort that can pay handsomely on the bottom-line. It can help create friction-free teams and processes that excel at doing the work and adding value. I encourage you to consider this profit strategy, but I also caution you that these six responses can cause your initiative to fail. That need not be the case.

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