Editor's Note: This is the second in our series, "Win in 2010." 

If you were the owner of an NBA basketball team, one of your top goals would be to have the best players on your team. With only five players on the court at any one time, every one of them is critical to winning. If you don't do a good job hiring the right players, your team won't win many games. And eventually, the fans will stop coming out and spending their money on tickets. In other words, the success of your team requires the right players on the floor at all times.

Construction business owners tell me they can't find any good help. But how much time do they actually spend finding the right players? What you get is a direct result of your priorities. When you don't take enough time to find, cultivate and train new players, how do you expect to grow a winning team? Professional sports teams have a full-time executive in charge of player personnel to finding the right players, manage their contracts and keep them happy. But most small companies don't spend more than a few hours a year making sure their roster is balanced, robust and excellent.

Before the annual draft, every professional coaching staff makes a list of all the positions and their current players to analyze what they need to change or add to improve. In your company, the draft is now. To get started, make a list of all of your company positions, the talents required for each job, the player currently assigned to each position, and then rank how well you think they are doing.

Player Personnel Ranking Chart

Estimator - Jim B.

  • Knows accurate costs                          C+
  • Completes bids on-time                      A-
  • Maximizes sub-bid coverage               B-
  • Presents company well                         B-


Project Manager - Bill

  • Manages budget                                   C+
  • Maximizes change orders                     B
  • Keeps customer happy                          A
  • Finishes paperwork on-time                 B-


Superintendent - Dave


  • Finishes jobs on-time                           A
  • Pushes crews to the max                       B+
  • Maintains safe jobsite                           C-
  • Coordinates subcontractors                  B-


Foreman - Sam


  • Manages crews and jobsite                   B-
  • Brings jobs in under budget                  C
  • Knows how to build quality                   A
  • Follows company procedures                C-



Carpenter - Joe


  • Can build per plans                                A-
  • Hustles and works efficiently                 B
  • Takes initiative and action                     B-
  • Maintains good attitude (team player)    D


Office Manager - Sue


  • Completes tasks on-time                        B-
  • Understands accounting                          C+
  • Understands construction                       B+
  • Maintains good attitude (team player)     A



By taking a hard look at your player roster and what talent you really need, you can be objective about what you need to do to improve your win and loss record. Using the chart above, you'll find you have some players who appear to excel at certain parts of their job, while lacking talent in other areas. For instance, Superintendent Dave finishes his jobs on time but doesn't follow the company safety rules or plan ahead with subcontractors. This list makes your choices obvious:

1) Keep Dave and allow him to run an unsafe job

2) Give him an ultimatum

3) Replace him with a better superintendent.

Carpenter Joe, for example, has been with the company a long time. He works hard, efficiently and knows what to do and works efficiently. But his attitude stinks and his negative demeanor permeates throughout the crew and makes everyone miserable. What should you do with him? You may also have some players who have been with your company for a long time and are not completely fulfilling the total job requirements. This forces you to cover for them in their areas. Is it time to replace them too?

Like a professional basketball team, your company needs every position filled with the best player you can find and afford. When you don't have the best, it costs you money and makes it impossible to win your game of business.

Dump the Duds

Some Fortune 500 companies make it a mandatory requirement that every manager replace at least 10 to 20 percent of their staff every year. The belief is that at least 10 percent of staff should not be there. Some of these employees have bad attitudes, or are in the wrong positions. It is good to encourage poor performers to move on to another company where they can become the best they can be. After you rank your employees, decide which 10 to 20 percent shouldn't work for your company and would be best suited to work for some other employer.

Draft the Best

To find the best people, start by determining what talent you need the most based on your current situation. Look at your staff's strengths and weaknesses. Do you need to replace some of your older, slower players who can't keep up with the changing times? What areas need new blood or fresh talent? Do you need a leader who will help your business grow? Do you need someone in accounting, a person to streamline your business operations and allow you to focus on obtaining more work? Perhaps you need a field operations manager who will take charge and get your company organized and in control. Or maybe you need an estimator who can price work accurately and present your company to potential clients in a winning manner.

Does Your Company Attract Great People?

To fill positions with the best available people is not an easy task. You first must have a company that is attractive to prospective employees, and then you must have a recruiting program that keeps your pipeline full of available top talent.

Contractors who need field employees have a tough job attracting great people. Working outdoors can be cold, hot, wet, dirty and dangerous. Employees start work at 6 a.m. and then work all day on their feet doing heavy lifting. As they get older, these employees become less valuable and must be replaced by younger and cheaper people. The position has no job security or guarantee of ongoing work. If there is no work, the employee goes home without pay. Check out this construction want ad I saw in the newspaper.


Construction field worker. Work is hot, dirty and unsafe. Be ready to work real hard. Bring your own tools and truck. No training program included. No room for advancement. Pay is not guaranteed. Apply at jobsite.

Would You Work for Yourself?

For high school seniors, construction ranked No. 248 out of 250 career choices. Workers today want more than hard work and good pay. They want a comfortable job that fits their lifestyle, is high tech and fulfilling. There are enough good workers available, they just don't want to work for your company doing what you want them to do. This requires a new attitude to attract the best employees to work for your company. Employees must be your No. 2 priority, right behind finding new work/acquiring customers.

Take a look at how you treat your employees. Is your pay fair? Do you have a written training program in place where employees can see their progress and move up the ladder? Can your people get ahead if they meet their goals? Can your employees build a career with your company and eventually retire comfortably? Is there a future to build with your company?

Improve Your Hiring Odds

Why do employees look so good at the interview? You try your best to hire the right people, but some just don't work out. I have a rule of thumb: One in three will be the right one! It must be random luck to get a good one. Yes, you can improve your odds with good questions, screening and testing. But over my thirty-plus years of hiring employees, one out of three seems to be the number. So first remember, your job will be to continually improve and replace your staff on an ongoing basis. You need to cut out the deadwood in your company grove if you want it to prosper. It's like a garden, only when your remove and trim the deadwood, new growth can happen. A Fortune magazine study shows that a bad hire can actually cost your company two to three times the employee's annual salary.

Some employees are built to make your life miserable and make your money disappear. And I know it is not your favorite thing to constantly find good or replace bad employees. You really just want to hire them, tell them what to do and then hope they do a good job. But, employees require time, nurturing, coaching, training and pruning.

Back to professional sports. Why do team owners spend millions of dollars on finding and retaining the best coach? So their players will perform their best and the team will win. You can't win a game without your players and coaching being a top priority. Most business owners and managers want people issues to go away. Hiring is a pain, so it's done hastily without proper care. Remember what Peter Drucker said about hiring people:

"The ability to make good people decisions represents the last reliable source of competitive advantage, since very few companies are good at it."

You Can't Hire People Who Don't Apply

Hiring the right people starts with a good recruiting program. The old method of hiring employees was to take out a classified ad in your local newspaper, wait for the phone to ring, review the résumés, interview the applicants and then hire the one you thought you could do the best. Hiring the right people today is totally different. People looking for work have many options even during tough economic times. They will not work for companies who don't respect employees or give them an opportunity to grow. To attract good people now takes an outreach and marketing campaign. Ads must be attention grabbers that attract potential employees to work for you because you are a great company. You must offer flexible pay programs, have an excellent total compensation and benefit package and allow employees a quality of life

The tendency is for top players to be attracted to other top players who want to excel. The best hiring decision makers are your top performers. Let them decide who gets hired. Second and third tier players settle for lesser players who won't compete hard for their jobs. Never let poor performers pick any players for your team.

Hire Winners

When reviewing résumés and during interviews, the natural tendency is to look for experience and "trained help." These are easy hires and not necessarily the right ones. To pick the right people, look for:

  • Talent
  • Attitude
  • Aptitude
  • Determination

Remember, if you've got the right person, you can train the skills. (This assumes you have an ongoing training program.)

Hire people who:

  • Are consistent
  • Have potential
  • Have what it takes to perform
  • Have their act together
  • Are responsible and willing to perform
  • Are self-motivated
  • Have a good attitude
  • Are team players
  • Are competitive
  • Know how to win

I like people who played sports in high school. They learned discipline, teamwork and how to get along with all types of people-plus, they are competitive. Look for what you want, not what people tell you. Ask the right questions, and you will get the answers you need to make your  decision. Use open-ended questions like: "Tell me about your accomplishments in high school sports." Don't ask obvious questions like: "Can you finish projects on time?"

How to Attract the Right People

1. Decide recruiting is a part of everyone's job, including yours.

2. Make recruiting a company wide program.

3. Pay employees for new hire referrals.

4. Offer a signing bonus to new employees.

5. Have company recruiting flyers or brochures.

6. Give everyone recruiting business cards.

7. Make the process easy for potential recruits and yourself:

  • Have a recruiting phone line
  • Interview on the phone first
  • Have a weekly time to call in
  • Use a simple employee application
  • Take a picture of the applicant

8. Offer an applicant referral fee to suppliers and subcontractors.

9. Hold seminars on how to get a good job.

10. Get involved at high schools and offer summer jobs to potential employees

11. Offer part-time jobs to students

12. Offer craft training after school and Saturdays.

13. Hold career days at high schools and colleges.

14. Offer college scholarship programs.

Great Want Ads

Placing a great ad that will attract the best people is easy if you think about what you are trying to accomplish. You want to attract the best people; you've got to give the best people a reason to apply. Ask yourself, what would attract you to apply to your company?

Typical Bad Want Ad

Construction worker needed. UG water and sewer lines. Minimum five years experience.

Own tools and truck. Mail resume PO Box 123

This ad isn't exciting and doesn't attract people who have potential. It looks like a tough job for a company who just needs work done-no opportunity for growth. It also doesn't allow for a quick response. This ad is short to save money and won't recruit the right people to get the job done.

Ads should be placed in online job websites to attract people who are computer literate and can function in today's work environment. Everyone you want to hire must operate a computer and should know how to surf the net. Stop wasting money on print ads. Only take out ads online on the newspaper, websites or employment sites like monster.com, hotjobs.com, constructionjobs.com or craigslist.com to get the best results. If you are looking for Hispanic workers for example, use employment websites that specialize in Spanish-speaking readers.

How to Build a Better Want Ad

Follow these four steps:

1. Create an attention grabber.

Use themes like "run your own job," "ready to move up?" or "full charge."

2. Be straight and honest.

Tell them exactly what you want like 'dirty, hours, hard work, etc.'

3. Include the human factor.

Use words like "fun," "energetic company," "flexible" or "great staff."

4. Have a call for action

Use incentives like "Call today from 9 to 4 and leave a brief message to explain your interest in the job" or "Apply at _____ M to F from 2 to 7" or "E-mail or fax resume to ___"

Good Want Ad

Full-charge construction superintendent. Growing innovative commercial contractor. Seeking one great field leader to run major projects. We build quality, on-time projects for repeat customers. Need computer and job management skills. Great career opportunity with good benefits and profit sharing. Call job hotline at 800.222.3333, to setup interview. Fax your résumés today to 800.111.2222, or e-mail to greatjob@hcm.com.

It's Time to Put in Some New Players!

Now the challenge is to make finding great employees a priority for you and your company. Take a look at what you've got versus what you want. Make those tough decisions, bench a few players and hire a few new players on an ongoing basis to build the best team you possibly can.


Construction Business Owner, February 2010