Use four simple steps to get the most out of your employees; learn about them and use that knowledge to motivate them to do their best work.

I used to get tired of trying to get my employees to do what I wanted them to do. They always had what appeared to be legitimate excuses why they didn’t get the job done on time, why they didn’t follow directions or why it wasn’t their fault when something went wrong out on the jobsite. I used to think I couldn’t find any good help anymore or that maybe people don’t care about doing a good job anymore. It seemed nobody would take charge, be responsible or accountable. I thought I was the only one who could do the job right. Perhaps, you feel the same some days.

Your Construction Employees Are Different Than You

There is a better way to build your construction business with the people you have. You can get them motivated, all on the same page and working like a winning team with common goals, drive and excitement. First, successful business owners and managers know their people are different than them. They realize employees are not motivated for the same reasons they are. People have different life experiences, backgrounds, beliefs, needs, goals and personal pressures. Most people don't think the same as you do. (They have different personalities and will act and react differently than you in most situations.) Everyone won’t do things exactly the same way you do with the same intensity. And just because you pay employees a good wage doesn't mean they're going to work their fanny off for you.

Younger workers today are very different as well. They like continuous learning and personal growth in their careers. They don’t like dead-end jobs without advancement in sight. They often think they can do your job better than you can. They want to make a lot more money than you provide and will leave jobs quickly when offered more pay. Their loyalty is to themselves and what you can do for them. But, they also want to participate in major decisions. They want balance in their life and would rather go home early than get overtime hours. Work is not their No. 1 priority because they value family and friends more than their job. It is your job to discover your employees’ differences, what makes them tick and help them achieve their goals in order for you to reach your business goals.

The Motivational Problem is You

Years ago, I went through fourteen secretaries over a two-year period. I just couldn’t find anyone who would work as hard as I wanted them to. No one was ever quick enough, smart enough or good enough for me. One day, I finally realized maybe the problem was me—it was my responsibility to motivate my staff. It wasn’t their job to motivate themselves. Once I realized this fact, my personnel problems turned around, our people became great and our employee retention moved to 90 percent plus every year. I had been the problem, not them.

To motivate your workforce, you've got to give them a reason to be motivated. People are motivated for their own reasons, not yours. Don’t expect others to understand your passion for customers, quality work or the need to make a profit. They must want to follow your vision, achieve your goals and get the job done properly.

For example, think of your children. You tell them what you want them to do, but they don’t always follow your wishes. Then, you try to bribe them—$100 for an “A,” and they say, “Not enough, Dad.” Frustrated, you scream, “If you're not home by 10 p.m., I'm gonna punish you!” Well, you don't. You let them off the hook, and they continue to stretch the envelope. The real problem is a lack of accountability and responsibility without consequences. It seems like the same problems you have with your kids are the same with your employees.

Do Your Construction Employees Want to Follow You?

Leaders influence others to want to do what they want them to do. Employees must want to do the job to get the results you want. You tell them, and they decide if they’ll do it. When you tell your kids to clean up their room, they decide if they’ll do it based on needs, consequences, accountabilities and responsibilities which affect their decisions.

Ask yourself, “What makes people want to follow me?” You know what doesn't work with your children (and employees)—confusion, lack of trust, no integrity, no accountability and no consequences. A lot of business owners and managers say, “My people won’t do what I want them to do. I should get rid of them, but I can't afford for them to leave, so I don’t fire them.” What kind of accountability is this? If they don't have to do what you want them to do, why should they do any more than the minimum to keep their job? You've got to make them want to do the job.

4 Steps to Motivate Your Workforce

Exceptional employees require two things: money and happiness. Money includes fair pay and competitive benefits, plus working for a strong construction company with a good reputation in the community. Happiness comes from being motivated. Since your job is to motivate your people to want to do the job. You can accomplish this with inspirational leadership, continuous motivation, clear and continuous two-way communication, an exciting vision, step-by-step directions, holding people accountable, and giving them full and unquestioned responsibility. Your No. 1 job is to encourage and motivate your people to perform with energy, effort and enthusiasm, so they'll go beyond where you want them to go.

There are four simple and proven action steps to achieve bottom-line results with people.

1. Provide Clear Expectations

People need to know exactly what you want them to do and the results you want them to achieve. Weak managers assume people understand what’s required, don’t take time to spell out what they want and then don’t make people accountable for achieving the desired results. The norm is to tell people to work hard and try your best. But, this doesn’t let people know exactly what’s expected. People must be told and understand exactly what specific end results you want. Examples of clear expectations include:

  • “By Friday, I expect you to have this installed and 100 percent complete.”
  • “By the 30th of the month, all invoices must be sent out.”
  • “No extra work will be started without a signed change order.”
  • “All timecards must be complete and turned in by 9 a.m. on Mondays.”
  • “You must complete all footings within the 750 man-hour budget.”

Be specific with clear targets, and define the exact results you want. Also, make sure your people understand what their individual targets are, what’s acceptable and what’s not, if they hit or miss their target, their consequences for not achieving the results you want, and their rewards for a job well done.


2. Provide Regular Recognition and Praise

Provide ongoing recognition and praise to the people who do the work. Weak and ineffective managers don’t take time to thank people for a job well done. Over time, this causes lackadaisical employees and poor results. In a survey of why people left their company, over 90 percent said they'd never been recognized or praised by their boss.

People want and need feedback and positive reinforcement often for their contributions and efforts. Effective leaders give out praises at least every week to everyone in their sphere of influence. Use words like, “I appreciate you,” and, “Thanks for a great job.” Keep a simple chart in your planner to ensure you recognize all your staff on a regular basis. Strive to praise everyone at least every week, and check it off on your chart so you won’t forget someone. Verbal praises work best, but occasionally write short handwritten notes to those who went beyond the call of duty.

3. Provide a Clear Understanding of the Big Picture

Your employees need a clear understanding of the big picture (company, employees, customers, projects, etc.) and how they fit in. Successful business owners, managers, and foreman are open and honest and tell employees where their company is going. They explain the company’s vision for the future, positive and negatives, and changes or adjustments required to be successful. Employees need to know what’s happening; otherwise, they tend to think the worst.


Several times a month, I present seminars to construction company managers who learn great ideas to build and improve their businesses. When they go back to their offices, their employees are often afraid they've been scheming about how to squeeze them to work harder. That's not reality, but without information, people fear the worse. Successful leaders constantly tell the real deal—business is good or bad, the future is positive or negative, sales are up or down, productivity is acceptable or not, employees are doing a good job or not. Hold semi-annual, company meetings, plus monthly project and department meetings where the big picture is discussed and open to questions.

4. Provide a Caring Construction Company Attitude

Let your construction employees know you care about them as individuals. People need to know you appreciate them as employees and contributors to the company’s success. Employees want to know you care about their personal goals, future, personal development and family. People must know they're important. They want to know they will be listened to and have a say in the future of company. 

To ensure you continuously show you care about your employees, keep a “team member profile” sheet on each person in your planner. Include their name, family members, schools, hobbies, sports, interests, goals, challenges, contributions, etc. This way you can refer to it on a regular basis to keep track of each team member’s life. 

By following these simple guidelines, you will get your people to want to do the job, which makes you life better. Without employee problems, your bottom line will improve and your construction company future will be brighter. The key to implementing these recommendations is to do it! All it takes is time. And your investment will equal money in your pocket. Get started, and go motivate someone now!


Construction Business Owner, July 2010