Many construction professionals believe that employee motivation has an hourly price tag. As the former CFO of a construction company, I’ve spent years watching trained craftsmen and supervisors walk out the door, which has taught me that better salaries don’t always lead to higher levels of performance. The opposite usually occurs: According to a London School of Economics study on pay for performance, some carrot-and-stick compensation plans actually result in less motivation, more unethical behavior and lower performance from employees.
While carefully planned compensation and bonus plans can support motivation, engagement can be even more powerful for performance than an extra dollar. This alternative management technique improves productivity, increases retention and results in higher employee performance. The process creates a workforce management strategy that gives owners the tools they need to get more from their employees. Gallup, a leading firm in the study of engagement, finds an 18 percent difference in productivity and a 16 percent difference in profitability between its most and least engaged clients.
Engagement can seem elusive and ambiguous, but every organization can leverage engagement practices for increased profitability.
What Is Engagement?
According to researchers, engagement is the powerful combination of job satisfaction, motivation and effectiveness. These three ingredients create a work environment where employees show an increased commitment to the company and put forth greater effort on projects. Leadership and crew supervision who develop these three engagement areas will start to see the productivity returns—all while boosting the company’s bottom line.
Greater levels of engagement lead to more team support and more enthusiasm for organizational goals, such as finishing a project under budget. However, some of the biggest benefits are realized through cost savings and retention. In fact, three signs of an engaged workforce are daily coaching, regular cost-saving ideas and fewer resignations.
A more engaged crew won’t cost you a lot of money. What it costs is commitment, discipline and some clear tactics to rally your supervision and crew. Each component of engagement has its own set of techniques that owners must follow if they want to see the full benefits workforce engagement can deliver for their companies.
- Make sure wages are in line with market expectations.
- Communicate with crews during tailgate meetings on how their work contributes to the company’s overall goals and strategy. Share with your teams how their efforts impact the whole.
- Match the right people with the right roles. Does your superintendent struggle with giving feedback? Does your shop foreman struggle with organization? These problems may indicate that employees may be more effective in another position.
- Seek feedback and ideas from tradespeople and field supervisors on a regular basis. Employees will offer cost-saving solutions when they expect appreciation and, in many cases, implementation.
- Perform after-action reviews where everyone has the chance to participate. After-action reviews increase learning and motivation to correct past mistakes, leading to higher performance.
- Schedule performance “one-on-ones.” Each employee should have the opportunity at least once a year, preferably twice, to receive formal feedback on performance, offer their ideas and discuss additional training and development.
- Special projects with cross-functional collaboration offer new challenges and leadership skills training. Create cross-functional task forces to tackle shop organization, new safety training or paper-reduction efforts.
- Connect administrative staff with project supervisors and foremen through informal activities, like monthly lunches. These activities will result in greater collaboration between the office and the field, leading to cost-saving process changes.
Daily specific feedback—known as coaching—remains the most powerful engagement tool. Research by the Corporate Leadership Council shows that ensuring managers are good coaches can have up to a 39-percent positive impact on performance.
Feedback should be regular, immediate and reassessed often. Start with a small goal of giving three pieces of specific timely feedback in one week per month. The feedback should be a mix of positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. The positive reactions will soon push you to make giving feedback a weekly and daily practice.
If your crews aren’t used to receiving and giving this type of feedback, the comfort level can take a while to achieve. However, feedback fits into each ingredient of engagement. Stick with it, and your bottom line will thank you.
Engagement, like most construction projects, isn’t built in a day. The process is ongoing and requires frequent re-evaluation and recommitment. For the best implementation of engagement tactics, give your leadership team months, not days, to become comfortable. Don’t force the transition; gradually add to your list of engagement activities. It will take time, and it will take executive support.