How to Engage and Develop Construction Employees

“What do you mean, engagement?” That’s the response I get from most construction CEOs when I introduce the concept of employee engagement and development. As I mentioned last week, contractors do not delve too deeply into the psychology of their employees. “Pay them well – supervise the work – get rid of them when they’re lazy, crooked, or incompetent.” That sums up the employee engagement techniques of some contractors. Simple and to the point. Not, however, on the path to best-in-class company performance.

What Do I Mean by Engagement?

Adam Grant, in his book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, describes how engaging employees in the decision-making culture of a company pushes the company along the “best-in-class” path. He suggests that:

“Welcoming input from employees with something as simple as a “Suggestion Box” can stimulate employees to generate, recognize, voice, and champion new ideas. It stimulates novel ideas, builds cultures, and welcomes dissent. It allows people to become comfortable taking a creative or moral stand against the status quo. We need to welcome criticism by setting a tone for people to openly communicate even when their ideas are unpopular. When our employees participate in generating ideas, they adopt a creative mindset which adds value to an organization. ”

The author also describes how employee engagement can benefit top-management decision making:

“Rules and systems were created by people and should not be set in stone. It is hard to judge our own ideas because we tend to become too enthusiastic about them, and we can’t always trust our impulses. There should be continuous consideration about how to improve our initial thinking. Including others in brainstorming ideas is more likely to create divergent thinking, gives new ideas time to incubate, and gives us time to more fully understand the potential and possibilities.”

You will recall from last week that our best-in-class CEO puts engagement this way:

“We foster relationships of truth and trust. Complaints, criticisms, and grievances are there. However, they can only do harm if you don’t get them out in the open quick enough and deal with them.”

What About – Development?

For the most part, employee development in the construction industry is usually just skills training. For many developing managers is confined to turning journeymen into foremen, foremen into supers, and supers into project managers. Home office skills (accounting, marketing, estimating, etc.) are usually hired, not developed.

Employee development to the Drucker Institute refers more to the development of employees as employees. In other words, what is a good employee? Can we develop better employees? How? What do they look like?

What is a Good Employee?

My definition of a good construction employee:

• A good employee is an employee whose personal skills and goals are informed of, aligned with, and vested in the company’s goals on every project.

How Do You Develop Better Employees?

Once you have decided that the development of your employees into “good” employees, as defined above, will benefit your company, you have to decide how to get it done. Like any organizational change, employee development requires a carefully managed step-by-step process. Here is a simplified version of the Simplar steps to organizational change to the development of employees.

Step-by-Step Employee Development

1. Assign employee development managers.

2. Have managers clearly set and communicate the company’s goals on every project to all employees.

3. Have development managers then identify how each employee all the way down the ranks to laborers in the field can contribute to the company’s project-specific goals.

4. Tie employee financial remuneration and psychic involvement to company goals.

5. Review goal achievement progress periodically.

6. Reward progress frequently, not just after the job is completed.

Vested Interest

The key to employee development is to identify every employee’s vested interest in achieving your company’s project-specific goals. This might be the most important soft management skill that construction CEOs could develop.

Please circulate this widely. It will benefit your constituents. This research is continuous and includes new information weekly as it becomes available. Thank you, Tom

For more information on organizational transformation and developing your employees to be more engaged click on this link: and learn about the 5 Essential Strategies for Implementing Organizational Change

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