Learn how to avoid holding your employees back, and empower them to work at their highest achievement level.

For your construction company to become competitive and profitable, your employees must be allowed to do the best they can to contribute their fullest capabilities. They must not be held back by an owner or boss controlling every decision and move made. In order to win a professional basketball game, the coach designs and trains the plays and then expects the players to execute the plays to the best of their abilities and skills without his involvement or micromanagement.

Coaches need skilled players who know how to implement the plays and make decisions on how to adjust and do what's necessary to counteract the opponent's moves. In business, when things don't go as planned, employees must also be empowered to decide what adjustments they need to make to implement a successful outcome, installation or completion. This type of working environment is called an empowered workplace.

Empower Your Construction Team

Empower means to give power or authority, enable or authorize.

Many construction company owners grow their companies by controlling their employees' every move on every job or project, but then they get stuck at their level of control and stop growing. This causes them to stress out at their frustrated situation. The answer to their problem is to learn how to empower their team leaders and key employees to make decisions, then the business owners can focus on more important priorities like growing their company.

When an owner makes all the decisions for construction employees, the employees become overly dependent on the owner. In this condition, employees stop improving, because their boss doesn't allow them to learn from their own decisions and mistakes. When employees don't have to make decisions, they can't become accountable. This in turn frustrates the boss who's struggling with all the pressures of doing everything alone.

It takes more than wishful thinking or a few meetings to start an empowerment attitude in your company. You will have to commit to letting go of major decisions, start a training program, and be willing to watch people make some mistakes. But people will learn what it takes to step up to leadership quickly if this is done in a systemized manner. Your employees and managers will learn to stop relying on you to make decisions for them, and decide that it is better to be accountable than their boss's puppet. Once you decide to empower your managers and players, you can't revert back to making decisions for them. You will have to train and trust, just like a coach. And eventually, your construction team will become more competitive, faster, stronger and better than when you were totally in control. Ready to learn how?

Are your construction employees empowered?

There are many common signs of an un-empowered workplace. Which of these symptoms exist in your company?

  1. There is a lot of negative energy.
  2. People don't tell you the truth.
  3. People don't volunteer for responsibility.
  4. People aren't excited about their jobs.
  5. Nobody offers their comments in meetings.
  6. People don't admit when they make mistakes.
  7. People don't ask for help when they need it.
  8. People only do what they're supposed to do.
  9. People wait for direction.
  10. People won't make decisions without asking.

All of these situations indicate your company is managed by a controlling boss who doesn't delegate or empower people. When people are controlled, they are restricted and don't perform to their fullest capability. When people are empowered to make decisions and play the game, they realize they make a difference and become responsible for results, get involved, become an integral part of the team, take initiative and contribute their full talents and ideas.

Let Go to Grow Your Construction Company

As a manager or boss, you've got to give up power and control to improve your construction team's performance, effectiveness, results and productivity. Don't let the pressure to achieve more with less keep you stuck in your natural tendencies to be the boss and want to stay in control. When you give up power and control, you gain motivated, inspired, fulfilled and excited employees who want to meet or exceed goals and achieve higher results by working together as an empowered team. When you control people, they feel restricted and stop trying to do their best. And you can't afford this in today's competitive economy.

People want to be responsible and make a difference, but controlling bosses don't let them and they keep them feeling oppressed. When employees are told what to do, they do only what they're told at the slowest acceptable pace.

Empowerment is about teammates working together without a dictator constantly telling them what to do. Team captains become problem solvers and are responsible for results as they review the situation at hand, explore choices and then decide action plans with input from their team. This allows team players to feel valuable. When employees are involved in making decisions, they feel ownership and want to succeed. This increases performance and productivity.

In the old model of management, the boss's job was to keep employees under his or her tight control. The best boss ran the tightest ship. His job was judged by how closely he watched his employees. In an empowered construction team, players are expected to make their own decisions and decide what to do on most tasks. The coach watches from the sideline and motivates, encourages, and coaches his players. In this empowered environment, players are encouraged to do whatever it takes to win the game within the overall game plan, strategy and rules.

Let Go But Keep Some Controls in Your Construction Business

Just to be clear, even the best coaches can't delegate everything to their players. In your business, there are a few things that require tight or tighter controls. The key is to decide what to control and what to empower. Company owners can't delegate their overall vision, values and integrity. But they can delegate most everything else. For your company, what can be delegated to you managers and employees and what must stay controlled by you? When I was building my company, I was too controlling and even told the office manager what type of coffee to buy. I wasted so much time trying to control details that made no difference in achieving my overall bottom-line results. Do you do the same thing? Make a list of what you can delegate versus what you must continue to control:

  • I need to control:
  • I can let go and delegate:


Remember, the more you control employees, the less responsibility they assume. High control equals low performance and low control equals high performance.  Your overall empowerment goal is to transfer tasks responsibility to your players. What do you have your hands in that you shouldn't? What areas of responsibility can you transfer to your key people? In order to make the shift, you will have to clearly define what you are transferring. For example, what responsibilities can you transfer to your project manager, field superintendent or foreman? Take a look at this list, and decide who should be responsible for each work area or task.

Construction Project Empowerment Task List

  1. Keep all required safety materials on-site.
  2. Be knowledgeable on all safety procedures.
  3. Do not perform extra work without a change order.
  4. Do not start work without an executed subcontract and insurance.
  5. Issue all subcontracts within the first thirty days of project.
  6. Approve shop drawings within first forty-five days of project.
  7. Be adept at preparing and updating an accurate schedule.
  8. Have full knowledge of subcontracts.
  9. Have a full understanding and knowledge of the general contract.
  10. Ensure that construction meets the plans and contract.
  11. Meet project goals and objectives.
  12. Maintain job profit.
  13. Prepare accurate monthly job cost updates.
  14. Prepare accurate monthly schedule updates.
  15. Submit monthly progress payment by month end.
  16. Keep up to date field records and job paperwork.
  17. Keep project clean at all times.
  18. Keep job trailer clean and job sign posted at all times.
  19. Hire and fire field personnel per company policies.
  20. Turn in accurate time cards every week.
  21. Maintain daily job logs.
  22. Supervise and maintain quality workmanship.
  23. Oversee all contract administration.
  24. Monitor all purchasing.
  25. Handle all contract management.

As you begin turning over areas of responsibility to others, the tendency is to still try and micromanage the process. Remember, the basic building block of an empowered company is the team versus an individual. The players report to their coach, and everyone works together to coordinate their team efforts. Your team works when everyone knows his/her position and area of total responsibility and is free to achieve the expected results. The team's coach is not the person who tells the players what to do. The coach is the person in charge of the player's development, and creates a playing field that encourages performance, learning, accountability and growth. The winning coach is a player facilitator for achieving results.

Delegating Decisions to Your Construction Employees

As you begin to let go of decisions, panic might set in, so start slow, and make it a joint effort between yourself and your employees. For example, let's say you want to delegate a routine task like ordering and scheduling materials. What would be the best way to go about this?

Step 1: Tell them what you have decided to do.

Explain to your employees that you want them to take on more responsibility and become a more valuable part of the team by taking charge of material ordering. Ask them what they think about the change and added responsibilities. Then ask if they are willing to try to make it happen. Lastly, get their buy-in that they want to take on more responsibility.


Step 2: Coach and train them.

Show them how to do the task. Then let them try the task with your input, guidance, assistance and close supervision. Repeat Step 2 at least three times until you are sure they fully understand how to accomplish the task without your input.

Step 3: Delegate the task.

Now, for your leap of faith, you must completely let go and let your employees do it. This is the hard part. Set up a step-by-step review process where you regularly check the progress of your empowered employees. Set appointments for review during scheduled milestones of the delegated task. For example, during the ordering material process, you could require a check-in meeting before the actual final ordering to review the quantities and pricing. Over time, you can reduce these milestone review meetings as you build trust and confidence with your empowered employee.

Step 4: Reward them when they are successful.

After you have successfully completed all four steps in the empowerment process, reward your empowered employees for accepting and successfully accomplishing important tasks without your constant input and direction. This will encourage them to accept more responsibilities in the future.

As you start to let go of important decisions, you'll have to set boundaries and limits on some issues. For example, I delegate the awarding and writing of all subcontracts to my project managers. But I maintain a level of review before they are issued. After the project manager sorts through all of the bids from subcontractors and clearly determines the scope of work and who he wants to award the contract to, he then reviews his decision with me for final approval. This process puts all of the responsibility on him and allows me to offer advice or input before it's too late.

Another example of a reasonable limit is to delegate a maximum spending level of $1,000 or $5,000 to your field foremen before they check with their boss for approval. This gives them the feeling of responsibility as it shows you trust them to make good decisions.

Letting go of control changes your role from a doer to a coach and allows you to take your company to the next level. When you are doing $10 per hour work, you are wasting your time. What should you be spending your time on? I can make a lot more money seeking business opportunities and finding new customers than worrying about small things like ordering office supplies or lumber. The choice is yours: Control others and stay stuck, or let go and grow.


Construction Business Owner, June 2010