Katy and Daniel Crookham founded their commercial construction company, Crookham Construction LLC, in 2007, initially building projects around the greater Kansas City area. As a subcontractor, it specializes in structural concrete, tilt-up concrete construction and site flatwork. The company also acts as a general contractor on renovation and specialty projects.
For its first several years in business, it generally performed around 50 jobs valued at $30,000 to $50,000 per year and averaged around $1 million to $3 million in annual sales with its crew of 20 to 30 people. I met them in 2015, when they joined one of my mastermind peer groups. Crookham Construction had grown to around $4 million in sales, and both Katy and Daniel were working extra hours in addition to handling their growing family commitments.
Katy was busy with accounting, managing projects and company administration, while Daniel was performing estimating and project management work. At this size, the company struggled to operate efficiently within its systems, find time to get everything done and win new work.
In 2017, after several years of competing with low prices to win work and working hard to satisfy customers by doing quality work, the Crookhams took a hard look at their overall business strategy and made some critical decisions to redesign the way they wanted to do business moving forward. Some of their decisions to build a better company included:
- Seek larger projects that require more expertise and higher qualifications for a better chance at winning contracts.
- Work for customers who value performance, qualifications, experience and safety.
- Build a great place to work that provides benefits, training, responsibility and room for growth.
- Develop, implement and enforce a companywide structure, chain of command, systems and standards.
- Involve the team in creating processes and making company decisions.
Decide to Build a Better Company
Making changes and transforming their business, installing systems, enforcing results-driven standards, and improving teamwork, commitment and performance took focus and determination. They started by making a list of all the changes they needed to make. With consistent employee input, they prioritized their top initiatives for change and improvement. Teams held several meetings to work on upgrading their estimating, project management, supervision, crew production, job descriptions, job-cost tracking and field installation standards.
The Crookhams also realized they couldn’t continue to do it all themselves and needed to change their roles as well. Daniel took control of customer relationships and estimating. Katy moved into managing projects and field operations, as well as her role as controller. They hired additional managers, which allowed them to grow and expand. They began to delegate more, learn from their mistakes and hold people accountable.
Rather than replacing underperforming employees, they made it a priority to mentor and coach them. The key was patience. With clear responsibilities set, Crookham Construction’s managers and supervisors began to understand their own performance and accountability, without constant reminders or micromanagement. The Crookhams learned not to make too many changes too fast. By involving its employees and making sure the new initiatives worked well, the team began to buy in and embrace change.
Be an Asset to Customers
Today, Crookham Construction has grown to over $15 million in annual sales, with increased project sizes ranging from $250,000 to $3 million and higher. Crookham has developed a significant list of professional and loyal repeat customers in their market who prioritize top performance, quality workmanship and superior qualifications.
The Crookham Construction team’s overall attitude is to help their customers succeed and reach their goals. This focus has provided them with strong, quality customers who provide them with a steady flow of projects. Additionally, they have been able to restrict their bid selection process to mainly customers who only contract work with a select list of qualified subcontractors.
Put People First
By working hard to implement their new and positive changes, systems and strategies, the Crookhams’ vision became a reality. With their people-first strategy, they created a positive work environment for all team members, and now realize employees are the most vital part of the company’s success. Today, almost all of the company’s original employees remain on staff.
By clarifying the company’s core values and principles, Crookham Construction has grown to a team of more than 50 driven employees who produce results. The focus is placed on building a winning team. With this people-first approach—profits, production and quality develop automatically, and projects finish on-budget and with little rework.
The Crookhams work hard to motivate, inspire and encourage their employees to do and be their best. Taking this stance demonstrates to everyone that the company stands up for its values, beliefs and expectations—and also builds respect and appreciation from team players.
Encouraging open discussions with workers and supervisors has allowed teamwork to flourish. The team holds weekly production meetings, attended by all project managers and operations personnel, to review each project’s performance, schedule, labor and cost versus budget, as well as opportunities for improvement. Additionally, they meet monthly with all of the job superintendents.
Along with weekly job visits by operations and project managers, these meetings have helped to keep everyone informed about every project. Another part of team-building is having fun, holding group activities and celebrating success. The Crookhams hold regular team-building activities and company meetings. As a result, the company has developed a reputation as a fantastic employer that attracts and retains excellent employees.
Set, Track & Hit Goals
Knowing, tracking and hitting the numbers is yet another key to success for Crookham Construction. To start, estimating accuracy requires defining production rates and hours required to perform each task. For each preconstruction startup, the Crookhams hold a team meeting with the estimator, foreman, superintendent and project manager to discuss and approve the crew hours required for each task and phase.
The project supervisor or foreman develops a project plan, with phases and crew hours per phase, per quantity of required work. The crew supervisor then updates their hours and quantity of work installed daily via the company’s digital timecard and job-cost tracking systems. A report is then prepared and transmitted to every supervisor to see and review their performance versus the budget. Then, all operations and project management personnel meet weekly to review performance on every project underway.
It takes focus, dedication, willingness and time to turn around a company and get a team on board with new standards, responsibilities, values and principles. The Crookhams learned that implementing a plan, knowing their goals, and hitting production targets—and keeping a positive attitude—allowed them to build a better company. They are proof that a people-first strategy works.