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Leading a Construction Company in an Age of Mistrust

Gloves and hard hats and goggles—essential construction gear
What can you do in your company to maintain and re-instill confidence among your people in a time where honesty is in critically short supply?

Trust in government, the media, and business has dropped to an all-time low according to the Edelman Trust Barometer in April 2021. 

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said that journalists "purposely try to mislead” and 57% said the same of government leaders.

More than 50% of people globally say they don't trust leaders of any kind to tell the truth!

These are horrifying poll results with potentially dire implications for construction leaders.

We live in an age of mistrust, and the sooner you recognize that this macro-phenomenon could easily trickle its way into your construction company, the better you’ll be able to respond and compete.

People in today’s world are hungry for the truth.

What can you do in your company to maintain and re-instill confidence among your people in a time where honesty is in critically short supply?

We have three ideas that might help.

1.    Transparency. Some contractors practice open-book management; that means they share their financial results with employees, and it can be a valuable practice. But let’s consider this approach for a minute. If you were to give your balance sheet to your employees, would they be able to make heads or tails of it? They're not trained in financials, and why should they be? Instead of giving them a balance sheet or an income statement, why not give them a financial snapshot in the form of a pie graph? That makes it easy to say, "We took in $100 million last year, and this huge percentage of it went to materials, subcontractors, etc. This sliver of pie went to overhead, and this tiny little sliver right here represents our profit." That would make the information much more useful and impactful for the average construction employee. How could it hurt to educate them about all it takes to run a successful construction company?

Another way of being transparent is to keep employees and trade partners informed on goal attainment. If you've been in a car dealership to buy a truck recently, you can see that most dealers post a table or chart so everyone can see how their salespeople are doing with respect to goals. They create internal peer pressure to spur goal attainment. Why not share goal attainment with your people? If you’re hitting your mileposts, that inspires confidence. If you're behind on goal attainment, that creates a sense of urgency and signals that everyone needs to pick up the pace.

2.    Open the books on job costs. It's shocking to us that so many contractors, even in 2021, don't share job costs with their foremen, superintendents, and other field people. There are plenty of weak rationalizations why they don't, but wouldn’t you think your field employees could do their jobs better with more information? How would sharing job costs be a barrier to them executing projects more effectively? Invest time in fully educating your field people, and it will improve morale and trust in your organization.

3.    Communicate. We know you're sick of reading that you need to communicate more and better, but it's a fact that your employees want to know why you're doing the things you're doing. Where are you trying to drive this business, and at what point are you on the journey? Where are you headed? What's the business going to look like when you're done with it? These are all fair questions to ask in an age where people doubt their leadership. Evangelize your mission, vision, and values; you can't talk about them enough. Values are the key; that's where it all starts. If you don't talk about your values, and if all your people don't know them, how will they know when they or other people are crossing the line? How will you know when you or your people aren't living in alignment with your company values?

Finally, when your company wins, let the credit go to your people. When you experience a setback, that responsibility falls to the boss. If this philosophy works in sports, it can work in construction too. As people lose faith in traditional institutions, it makes it harder for us in the construction business to maintain trust, good morale, and high employee engagement. Work on your transparency and communication, and you'll be well on your way to competing effectively in an age of mistrust.

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