On April 4, 2018, Concrete Construction Editor at Large Bill Palmer asked if I’d write an article on managing a concrete construction company. The first thing that caught my attention was the word “managing.” Why? I believe the first and most important component for success in any company, big or small, is leadership. Not managing.
There are many definitions of leadership. I define it as the ability to identify a mission, communicate your vision, and inspire others to work toward achieving that goal. Simple, right? Decide what your mission is, tell the team, and they’ll get fired up to get ‘er done.
Simple when the process is done well; not so simple when you consider everything that goes into it. Leadership starts with the leader, whether it’s an $800 million company; a $100,000 company; or the crew leader on a jobsite.
You Are Your First Responsibility
It starts with you: your drive, passion, health, and attitude. A leader must have his or her own act together. The more balance in a leader’s life, the better for the short term and long term. Leaders have friends and family, fun and recreation, career, a stable home, personal and spiritual growth, fitness and health, financial stability. The more stable an individual is, the better able he or she is to lead.
Your team feeds off you. Ever worked someplace where the boss came in the door or on the jobsite and you could feel tension rise without one word being spoken? Positive attitude is everything. I’m not talking about coming in and singing kumbaya; I’m talking about a positive, can-do, helpful, encouraging attitude.
That attitude comes in many forms. When I was in Marine Corps boot camp, it was, “Private Geans, you WILL do 100 push-ups and you WILL climb this wall.” When a mistake is made in a company setting, though, a leader investigates the process, not the person, first. A leader asks if enough direction was given. Was there adequate training? Did the employee understand everything? What could the leader have done better to help the worker accomplish the task without making the mistake?
Coworker or Employee?
Every leader must get to know his or her coworkers. I use “coworker” because they work with me, not for me. We’re all employees of a company, not of any one person. Borrowing from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t: “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and get the right people in the right seats on the bus.”
Know your coworkers well enough to know their strengths and weaknesses, and build on the strengths. Get your coworkers in the right seat and not only will they be happier; everyone around them will be, too.
If even after working with them some people maintain a negative attitude, terminate them. The sooner, the better – even during skilled-labor shortages. Negativity is like cancer; it eats away at morale and drives quality coworkers away. You’re better off with one person who shares the vision and has a strong work ethic than with three people with negative attitudes.
Coaching and Expectations
If you own your own company, remember how great it was when it was just you and a few other people? You motivated this small group by celebrating success. . This is the importance of building and involving other leaders, coaching, and giving them a pat on the back when they do well.
Set goals that can be measured. Provide training and confirm it’s understood; measure the goals; and if they’re hit, keep coaching. If they’re not hit, ask the “what or how” questions. (For this, I must credit Arizona contractor Gary Burleson, who learned it from World of Concrete speaker Brad Humphrey, founder of Pinnacle Development Group). What or how could I as a leader have done better to help you succeed?
Field people often aren’t the best traditional students. This was certainly true in my case. For years, I thought it was because I was stupid; but that wasn’t it. We all learn differently. The traditional teaching structure doesn’t fit everyone. I was one of those people and so are many field people. I learn better by doing the task while being taught and reading some content at the same time.
Remember the Benjamin Franklin quote: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
We all learn better when we’re involved. This requires everyone – from a laborer teaching a new laborer on the job through crew leaders, foremen, superintendents, project managers, and CEOs – to be a leader. Every one of these positions has the opportunity to exhibit leadership, and it starts with the company owner. One person can’t do it all. They must inspire others to not only succeed at their job, but to also develop others. We all do that a little differently and that’s OK. Some employees just want to do their job, but doing the job well and working positively alongside others is an important, albeit small, leadership role. The main ingredient is that the leader must have in his or her heart the desire to help the other person succeed and even to go beyond the leader who is helping them.
I could go on forever about leadership, but I want to wrap up this portion of the article with two examples of people who helped to lead and encourage me. Leaders must have a core group within their company they trust and leaders outside their company. Tommy Ruttura, CEO of Ruttura and Sons Construction, can’t help but involve others around him and get excited about their success. We’ve spent hours at American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC) meetings encouraging others in the business to join the organization, which provides a wealth of help and information. Tommy has been such a positive support to me over many years.
Then there’s Mike Glenn, my coworker and vice president of our company for 33 years. Mike was a quiet leader who just intuitively knew the right things to say – not just to his coworkers, but also to me when I was down. A comment from Mike could clear the clouds and get me right back on track.
Strategic Planning via a SWOT Analysis
Now to the nuts and bolts. Start with doing what you do best. Do a SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Then:
- Establish core values and principles
- Define your mission and vision
- Chart the course
- Implement/take action.
It’s critical that all employees know this. It must be communicated constantly and in many ways. At the beginning of every meeting, talk about one or two core values and get your coworkers in on the discussion (you’re now involving them). Switch up which area you talk about at the beginning of a meeting. Insert a sheet with a core value or principle into your job books or electronic job folders. Hang banners in your office, shop, or yard. If you communicate all this, it will show in your company and all of its people.
All of this ends up creating a culture. As my good friend Joe Schneider of Spirit Seminars shared on his voice mail greeting: “Vision is what you read and write; culture is what you see and do.”
Systems and Processes
Now let’s talk about the operational component: systems and processes (S&Ps). I always ask is, “Can you effectively and profitably grow without S&Ps?” The answer to that is no.
For example, if you go to a McDonald’s anywhere in the world you’re going to get the same Egg McMuffin. McDonald’s S&Ps that facilitate consistent practices for all employees to learn from and execute, thereby ensuring product consistency.
“Efficiency exposes weaknesses” is a line coined by a part-time CFO of our company years ago. The bottom line? Develop S&Ps for every aspect of your business, from the time a call comes in to project closeout. With well-defined S&Ps, everyone in every position will excel, and so will your company. S&P improvement never stops, by the way; the people who work with them will contribute to ongoing improvement.
I recommend that everyone who touches, reads, or works with a particular S&P collaborate on a desired change. Not listening to people on the front lines is a huge mistake. Don’t underestimate the wisdom of a good laborer. The byproduct of this is that you’re involving people to learn more about the company, why things are done a particular way, and how each person plays a role. Each participant will go back to work feeling good about what they’ve learned, their contribution, and the ability to impart to their coworkers what they have learned. This is what it means to involve your coworkers.
Micromanaging or dictating exactly what to do removes your coworkers’ feeling of ownership. Many companies also focus on annual or semi-annual evaluations. I’m totally against that. Why wait a year or six months to share with a coworker what they’re doing wrong and how to improve? Everyone -- both the one doing the evaluation and the one being evaluated -- dreads review time; and coworker for the most part are thinking one thing: “What’s my pay increase?”
I think performance evaluation should be done in real time: constant coaching. Let coworkers know what they’re doing right and communicate it to them when you see it happen. Praise and recognize the behavior you want to see continued. Use this positive approach rather than a negative one. Involve everyone in teaching one another using documented procedures, expectations, and tolerances, and continually train on it. Never stop.
Do sports teams (at any level) ever stop practicing, coaching, reminding? No! They’re consistently coached, involved, praised, and celebrated. It’s impossible to demean and lift up at the same time.
Employees are any organization’s greatest resource. By treating them well, you’ll develop a winning team where every member feels valued and has much better quality of life.