By Jef McCurdy
Every company has a culture. Top performing companies have winning cultures that encourage quality, respect, accountability and more. These values help to create an environment where clients feel confident in the value of the services or products delivered. However, culture is an often-overlooked aspect of the trades. So, let me ask you this. Why would anyone want to start work with you and your company? More importantly, why would they want to continue working with you and your company?
If the answer is, “They need a job, and I’ve got work”, prepare yourself to be constantly hiring and training new employees. Companies with weak cultures will have retention issues. Because they do nothing to create loyalty, their employees are easily poached. Because they are constantly training new employees on the basics, they never develop skilled labor and struggle to meet client quality demands.
On the other hand, if you intentionally create an environment where your employees feel appreciated, and trust that you are doing everything to look out for them and their best interests, you may look forward to great longevity with your employees as they continue to grow and bring more value to your company.
A common myth is that working in the trades is naturally stressful. Wrong! Hard work is normal, but bad managers create the undue stress that is exceedingly common in tradespeople. Have you ever noticed that the bosses who yell the most, explain the least? I was on a job site a while back where another trade was also doing work. As I set up for my day, I noticed two of the guys arrive. They waited around for about 45 minutes until their boss finally arrived. He then berated them for at least 15 minutes for being lazy good-for-nothings for having not started working before his arrival. Their explanation that they did not know what he wanted them to do and were unable to get a hold of their boss fell on deaf ears.
The following day, the guys again arrived before their boss. Fearful of being humiliated in front of everyone on the job site again, they found work to busy themselves. On this day, their boss was an hour late and again upset with his crew. Calling them names and yelling, he said that they were idiots and if they knew anything, they would have known that what they were doing for the past hour was a waste of time.
Luckily, my portion of the project was a small one, and I was soon off to a different project. However, the few days I spent on the same site with the yelling boss were very uncomfortable, even though I didn’t have to work with him. I could only imagine how little his employees cared about the quality of their work given the circumstances.
While this was an extreme example, there are plenty of things managers in the trades may do to create a negative work culture that are not as obvious. Employees will thrive in consistency. Mixed signals and chaos create uncertainty. Organization and planning create clarity. Creating a positive company culture is intentional and begins with a plan. Laborers and office staff alike prefer to have clear expectations and a good idea of what success looks like. Feedback is vital in creating trust with employees. And, it goes both ways. You should encourage your employees to voice their opinions. They are your eyes and ears in the field. As Andy Stanley said, “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”
Another key step in planning for productive company culture is investing in your employees. Ensuring they have the proper training and tools will not only increase productivity but will make employees feel secure. When a company invests in its people, it fosters a feeling of being a valued human resource rather than a disposable asset. As they develop more capabilities, they increase their efficiency. Rewarding those skills with promotions and raises is a bargain for the employer. Happy, efficient, and loyal employees with well-developed skill sets will be able to increase your profits. Advancing your employees careers will always be more cost-effective than constantly hiring, re-hiring, re-training, and dealing with the lower quality work of unskilled labor.
A final morale killing trap to consider: Many companies treat their office staff and labor very differently. I have seen signs on restrooms that read “office staff only”. As someone who has spent a lot of time in the office and on the roof, I get it. Roofing can be dirty work. Perhaps a better sign would read “It is everyone’s responsibility to keep restrooms clean”. I don’t like the implication that one group of employees is better or more valuable than another. The entire team is responsible for quality and leaving your customers with a positive impression.
That brings me to benefits. There exists in the trades a giant chasm between the benefits offered to office staff and those offered to field staff. Do tradespeople not also have families to care for? If they’re not worth investing in, is your company worth their skills, efforts, and loyalty? I recently spoke with a manager at a struggling roofing company who explained that his retention issues stem from tradespeople being willing to leave for 50 cents more per hour. If that were the case, the answer would be simple: offer 51 cents more per hour. When I asked if they were truly willing to reset their benefits for 50 cents, he explained that they do not offer benefits of any kind. Aha! I think I found part of the real problem.
As a side note, keep in mind that your company should not be shouldering the cost of benefits. Your clients should be. When you create an atmosphere of quality work, you do not compete on price and your clients happily pay enough to cover your overhead and provide healthy profits.
Creating a true team culture can benefit your labor and your office staff. I recommend that sales staff and installers have joint training and lunches. They can learn from each other. Field staff can teach sales what techniques work in the real world and ensure that they know what they need to create accurate quotes. Sales staff can benefit field staff by sharing customer service techniques. After all, they often end up interacting directly with the client more than anyone else.
A well-integrated team working toward common goals that benefit them all will work well together, to the benefit of the client, your company, and you.