Using mentorship & training to provide the truest return on investment
by George Hedley
July 22, 2019

When I ask my clients if anyone in their company could potentially move up from foreman or superintendent to estimator or project manager, the typical answer is an emphatic, “No!”

I usually receive the same answer when I ask if they have a jobsite worker with the potential to become a foreman or superintendent. Some have even told me that of the company’s team of four or five full-time project managers, none of them have the potential to become vice president of operations.

Bosses tend to see their employees as who they are currently—not who they have the potential to become. Most construction companies have reliable group of long-term field employees who consistently deliver great work. At several companies, I have observed crew bosses who protect their own roles, responsibilities, territories and control by discouraging those employees from doing more or taking on additional accountability. 

You can’t convince me that out of four or five managers, or 20 to 60 field workers, not one of them has the potential to move up to the next level, wants to grow and learn, or is willing to accept more responsibility and make more money. Rather, it seems that leadership doesn’t want their own jobs taken and, as such, move employees out if work slows.

However, I attended a large electrical contractor’s quarterly estimating meeting consisting of 10 estimators, each from one of their regional offices in six states. Eight of these estimators started in the field as an apprentice, got promoted from there to journeymen, and then to foremen. 

Eventually the company moved them into the office as assistant estimators. Now, they are all full-time commercial electrical contractor estimators, each bidding and pricing over $25 million in jobs yearly.

Who says field workers don’t have the potential to become leaders? All it takes is a company culture of training and promoting.

Your Future Leaders Already Work for You

On the other hand, some companies work diligently to proactively build and develop future leaders. They have designed step-by-step, companywide programs to encourage their current foremen, supervisors and managers to train and promote people who already work for them. They maintain a culture of promoting within that doesn’t allow leaders to discourage their people from wanting to become crew or team leaders as well. 

One large civil contractor in the Northwest United States has developed promotional and training ladders for employees, clearly defining what it takes to move up. The company offers ongoing training for field-crew employees to move from general laborer, all the way to foreman and then full-charge supervisor.

Their plan is formalized and written with detailed job descriptions and training modules for each step along the way. Also required are classroom training sessions led by a senior manager every month. 

At each level, there are tests and reviews to see if participants are ready to move up. In addition, each level of advancement receives a standard pay raise along with the added responsibility. This training and promotion system has generated an ongoing supply of crew members who want to improve, as well as a wait list of new people seeking employment with this particular contractor. 

Invest More in Your Employees for MORE ROI 

Another great example of investing in employees is taking place at a premier commercial general contractor in the Midwest. This company, with well over 100 employees, has become the leader in its market because of the two owners’ visionary leadership, integrity, professionalism, insistence on expert craftsmanship, promotion of the highest safety standards, and focus on building a workplace that attracts and retains the best employees. 

Their success is founded on taking strategic measures to develop a winning team of estimators, project managers, superintendents and foremen who go on to become effective leaders and managers. The company’s major players are tasked with taking full ownership and responsibility to manage projects as professionals and exceed their customer’s needs.

In addition, they have a large group of crew leaders, journeymen and apprentices who are eager to build great projects, do what’s right and keep their professional commitments.

Meanwhile, the leaders have committed to invest in their employees as stated in the company vision statement: “Develop well-trained and productive team players in a rewarding work environment. Create a safe atmosphere in which employees thrive personally and professionally with honesty and integrity.” To accomplish their vision, they hold several half-day and full-day training sessions on a regular basis. 

These include all employees in team-building, participatory, interactive training, educational, and informational workshops and meetings. They bring in outside consultants and professional experts, as well as in-house managers, to present on a variety of topics, including equipment, technology, safety, best practices, construction methods, leadership, management, supervision, documentation and scheduling. 

They also meet regularly to work with and mentor potential leaders to build a culture of excellence and promotion from within. For 3 days, I worked closely with the company’s senior leadership team, accounting staff, project managers, field supervisors, foremen and field crews in coaching sessions to develop ways to become winning team leaders, better managers, and inspirational, results-driven supervisors and mentors. 

Achieve Better Results 

Some contractors encourage a culture of teaching and training subordinates. As part of the employee review process, leadership weighs potential supervisor and manager pay raises and bonuses available through mentoring and training the employees they supervise.

As encouragement to participate in this program, they might offer attendance at state and national conferences, such as World of Concrete or International Roofing Exposition, where educational programs, workshops and peer sessions are available. Once employees experience the way other managers and leaders show up for their employees, it inspires them to improve themselves and their own teams.

Companies that really invest in their employees often tend to make more money, win better contracts, and have less trouble finding and retaining great talent. A small investment in developing your employees, for instance, committing 1 hour per employee every week, costs a fraction of your total expenses—nothing compared to the ROI.

So, the question for you is: What are you doing to develop your future leaders?