Creating a great culture could be your best retention strategy

Results from the People in Construction 2019 study


A recent survey asked several hundred construction professionals across all trades about leadership and culture in their firm. We didn’t ask, “Are you having trouble finding people?” We asked, “Are you happy at work? Do you feel trusted?”

In some ways, construction is just like any other industry. There are precious few exemplary companies, too many abysmal ones, and sadly, most are pretty darn average. But, average is not a retention strategy. Creating a great culture might be the best profit strategy. There is a direct correlation between great workplace culture and increased profitability.

Who responded in the People in Construction 2019 study.

Safety

Every contractor says “people are our most important asset” but talk is cheap. Even cheaper when it comes to safety. It is encouraging that 90% of all respondents reported safety as a top priority. 97% of office operations and 93% of field supervision did say safety was a top priority. The really bad news is in safety execution. Only 68% of field supervision could say they consistently work safely. That’s approximately one in three field supervisors admitting they don’t prioritize the safety of their employees. Things are slightly better in the office, with 78% reporting that they consistently work safely – but the gap between what is said and what is actually done is alarming. 

The field/office divide

This gap between field and office persists in other areas. Construction has always dealt with the field/office divide. This is the acknowledged challenge in geography and culture that creates distance and tension between project management in the office and field supervision on the jobsite. Research confirms the divide is now a chasm. The difference in perception between field supervisors and project managers is stark, and provides a major opportunity for dialogue, collaboration and unity. Any effort to bridge the chasm is worth it. 

In answering the question, “I am able to maintain a reasonable work-life balance,” only 50% of field leaders said yes while 83% of office operations said yes. Only 62% of field leaders agreed that leaders live by the core values of the organization but 83% of office personnel agreed. Research confirms that having a close friend at work increases loyalty and commitment. It is alarming then that only 50% of field leaders could say yes to this question, with the office at 83%. While the causes of the chasm may be debatable, it is undeniable that it is detrimental to profitable execution.

The office-field chasm in People in Construction 2019 study.

The difficulty of implementing change

Musician Sheryl Crow sang that “a change would do you good,” but the majority said attempts at change often fall short. On this question, the executives confessed to these failings at a level of 73%. If leadership is about change for better results, it is troubling, perhaps even depressing, that three-quarters of senior leadership (those who come up with the idea and whose job it is to spearhead the change) say their efforts fall short. This signifies a huge opportunity for those who can crack the code on implementing change. Here are the CliffsNotes: It takes longer than you think, and it requires a significant personal investment from leaders to sell the change. This “personal selling of change” is the fastest way to build trust, leverage relationships, and troubleshoot potential problems.

All is not lost; there are people who will step up. One-third of all respondents said they had more to give when asked if they were working at full capacity! These people are saying they could do more! They are not overworked; they are under-challenged. This leads to disengagement. This finding underscores the idea that, rather than blaming the employee for performance or discipline issues, perhaps the supervisor should be evaluated first. 

There is no single solution to improve culture. The number one reason people stay in a job is a good relationship with their immediate supervisor. People don’t work for an industry, they work for a supervisor. What any reader can do is look inside their own organization and ask these questions to see how they compare. Very few firms attain “Best in Class” distinction. Over 90% of employees must respond and say the culture is a great place to work to be confident it is true, but a firm need not be best in class today to be better tomorrow. 

Efforts and actions that build trust are essential. Leaders living up to commitments and sincerely talking with employees build trust. Helping people feel they are in on things and giving candid feedback build loyalty. All of these actions must be consistent and sustained. 

Excellence isn’t a program, it is a way of life. Creating a great culture is an all-hands effort that starts with key leaders across all levels of the organization working together to execute a coherent human capital strategy.