Develop the right formula for becoming a talent magnet
by Gregg M. Schoppman
August 2, 2016

As the construction market continues to show signs of steady growth, firms are clamoring for talent and the secret recipe to retain the best of the best. Unfortunately, there is no secret sauce for finding the best in the business. Only the organizations that serve as a magnet will attract talent for the long term. Lately, high-performing organizations are making the move from human resources to a talent director role. This is more than just a superficial title change. This movement toward talent director means managing a group that is focused on growing the next generation of high performers.

Attracting Talent

Attracting the most elite in the talent pool requires your reflection on the following question: Why would anyone work for your firm? Boilerplate answers include a paycheck, strong projects and great people. Those are all admirable qualities, but they are hardly differentiators. In the same way that a firm would explore why a customer might choose them compared to the competition, it requires deep thought. It is important to consider a firm’s image in the marketplace. In a world ruled by social media and infinite sources of information, a savvy firm not only investigates its image, but also proactively works to answer the question of all questions. Whether it’s the industry-leading benefits, a superior culture dedicated to lifelong learning or simply a niche-based presence that appeals to a certain type of individual, the leaders have a superior, magnetic quality that makes them radiant in a pool of mediocrity.

Screening Talent

Think about how a firm traditionally hires. Best-in-class firms have a robust process. Of course, every team has its bad hires and, regardless of the process, there will always be that “regret.” Consider adding some of these steps to your process:

  • Mandatory manager screening—Whether it is individual interviews or panels comprised of key personnel, a candidate can be appropriately vetted with a higher level of scrutiny.
  • Interview areas—By using groups of individuals, a candidate can be screened deeper, utilizing the specific talents of the interviewing parties.
  • Case studies—Google and Apple have used this technique for years. While the focus is different, provide a candidate with a relevant topic and see how well they dance.
  • Testing—If someone says they are an estimator, test them. They don’t need to estimate a $20 million building, but they can discuss their approach.
  • Personality profiling—Whether it is DiSC, Predictive Index, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, etc., there is no shortage of outstanding tools to gauge the personality fit of a candidate.

Onboarding Talent

What does the first 90 days look like in the firm today? Do you set the land-speed record for paper processing in an effort to get an individual on-site, managing work? Consider mapping the onboarding process and assign specific tasks so a new employee experiences the full breadth of the organization. Most firms conduct some version of this, but it is often handled reactively. The task module to the right shows a proactive approach to onboarding new employees.

Training/Developing Talent

Training is something that receives a great deal of attention from new associates. Training needs to evolve from the obligatory, safety-focused modules. First, it is important to reflect an understanding of a firm’s best practices. For instance, does the firm have the training and approach for the following tasks?

  • Preconstruction planning—What is the typical companywide approach to planning? Is this institutionalized across the whole team?
  • Construction techniques—What are the true innovations within the firm?
  • Customer service—What is the firmwide standard of customer service? How do you recognize true service? How can that service be replicated?

Start simple. Use a firm’s core values as the infrastructure for training. Assign trainers to allocate the load and find subjects that will give you the most impact. Once a calendar is developed, shoot for higher level courses. Lastly, the component that is usually discounted is the latter part of this section—development.

Mentoring is essential and associates should all be connected. It is most likely not a direct report/superior, but someone that has an earnest interest in personnel development. It is also important to recognize who might not make a good mentor. As much as we would like everyone to take a part in associate development, it is important to remember this is not everyone’s strong suit.

Retaining Talent

Talent retention for new associates requires as much attention as onboarding. Many firms focus on training for junior associates. Additionally, a project engineer or assistant project manager can often see career progression with greater clarity. However, it is important to consider the 10-year project manager or the 15-year estimator. While no one would expect training to be identical for these seasoned veterans, so many organizations neglect these key associates’ long-term development. It is important to realize that these leaders are effectively the same people that will convey passion during the first steps of the attracting talent phase.

Career paths are important for everyone. Not only do they convey a future, but they also speak to the firm’s long-term management succession plan. If the only development occurs at the 0- to 3-year timeframe, what does this say about the current state of the leadership running the business? Organizations must continue to hone their leaders, keeping them razor sharp and armed with the best tools to drive the
business and its talent forward.

Building a deep, talent-rich organization requires work and focus. It is easy to blame the quality of candidates in the workforce for a labor crisis. Additionally, there will always be free agents in the marketplace. However, those firms that make talent leadership a core tenet tend to garner the best talent. And the best talent generates the best performance.

Required Task Module

Day 1
History of firm X
HR paperwork
IT orientation
Tour of office/Staff introductions
First 30-day overview

Day 2-10
Shadow: Estimator
Shadow: PM
Shadow: Superintendent
Tour of notable projects
Customer etiquette
Email procedure/etiquette

Day 11-29
Financial management 101
Change order management 101
Pre-job planning
Short interval planning
Post-job review
Exit strategy

Day 30
30-day evaluation