by George Hedley
April 26, 2012

Start working on your business, not in it. 

I recently coached a construction business owner who told me he has terrible employees. He said they miss deadlines, produce sloppy work and exceed the budget on every job. He wanted to know how to get them to be responsible.

As I probed deeper into my client’s problem, I discovered that he makes all of the important decisions for his work crews, orders all the material and schedules each worker every day. He also does not hold field meetings to share job results with the foremen. His crews do not show accountability for achieving results because he does not delegate or let them make any decisions. 

Develop Problem Solvers

Do your employees continuously line up outside your office waiting for you to solve their problems? Solving everyone’s problems can make you feel powerful and in control, but if you do this all the time, your employees will not be able to make decisions on their own.  

Bad bosses give their employees tasks to accomplish, but they tell them to check first before making any decisions or spending any money. Employees cannot be accountable for tasks if they have not been given full responsibility to make decisions.

If employees think you will always second-guess their decisions and overrule them, they will be discouraged. They will eventually stop trying to make decisions and accepting responsibility, which leads to more problems because you will have to be responsible for everything. 

You cannot give your employees partial responsibility. You cannot say, “Handle this, but check with me first.” Trusting people is the key to improving performance.  

Achieve High Performance

Owning a construction company does not mean you should control every aspect of the operation. Successful construction business owners get results through coaching people. Controlling and micro-managing guarantees low performance. As a leader, you should delegate, encourage and coach. Letting go of control guarantees high performance, and employees want to follow leaders who trust them and give them full responsibility.  

Delegating an entire task to an employee takes more time, patience and trust. Start by explaining the job, outlining the desired end result and giving them the necessary training. Also, make sure they know their boundaries and the company standards and systems to follow. Set interim check-in times, and review the final results after the tasks have been completed. 

When you have written company systems and standards, employees will become responsible for completing tasks the same way every time. 

Delegate Successfully

What prevents your company from growing? Your management style could be the problem. 

When a customer calls with an issue, do you immediately handle it yourself? A better solution is to listen, and then turn your customer’s concern over to a supervisor or manager. When your company has been awarded a large contract or has to make a major purchase, do you handle the negotiations? Instead, ask your manager to review the proposals, analyze the inclusions and exclusions, negotiate terms with the lowest responsible company and then get your final approval. 

When a supervisor asks you to call an underperforming subcontractor or supplier, do you take charge? Instead, train your supervisors to plan ahead, use written procedures, checklists, schedules and team meetings to manage the workflow. 

Another simple delegation strategy is to increase each employee’s maximum spending limit. Allow them to spend at least $1,000 or more before they have to get the boss’s approval. 

When people give me an approval request, I use a rubber stamp that says,  “Please handle this, and don’t tell me what you did!” Why? Because I do not need to know how they handled the problem. I have to trust them to use their best judgment and take care of any issues. People will make mistakes. But when you ask them to be accountable, they will usually make careful decisions.  You might even find that your employees make better decisions than you do.

If you continually answer all of your employees’ questions and do their job for them, they will always ask for help. 

List the few tasks you absolutely cannot delegate, and then list the top 20 tasks you can immediately delegate. Make a goal to delegate one item on the list every week. You will be amazed at how excited your employees will be to accept new responsibilities.