Building A Company’s Culture

Words: Corey Adams

Words: Corey Adams

Photo: dima_sidelnikov

“Good employees want to work for good companies.” I can’t attribute this quote to myself or anyone. But, it is a statement of fact that is becoming clearer by the day.

More and more companies are complaining about the ability to find good workers. It is immediately followed by “These kids don’t want to work anymore,” or “People are getting lazier.” Are they just enlightened? They do not need to be treated like a rented mule for a lower-middle-class wage. 

It always fascinated me growing up. How did our grandparents and parents stay employed at the same job for 30, 40, even 50 years? Better yet, why did they? What was so special about that job was that it kept them going back day after day without question. They were mostly happy. They went to work, came home, had time for the kids, made it to all the family functions, and generally seemed at peace with their life. 

In today’s market, that loyalty to one employer is gone. The majority of the workforce under 35 job jump about every two years. They act more like an old west hired gun than a loyal employee. What has changed? 

I believe that one of the largest changes, especially in the construction industry, is company culture. We no longer have companies that treat their employees like humans. Instead, we have been wired to treat them like a dispensable factor in performing the job. 

The worst part is that the workforce knows it now. They talk more than ever and with a further reach thanks to social media. They have people to talk to about company conditions, pay scales, benefits, and overall employee happiness. 

Now, what I just said is a general statement and by no means reflects on every individual company in our industry. The most successful companies over the last 20 years have had a good employee culture. You can’t scale above owner/operator without it. Our employees are the precious ingredient to our success. We need them more now than they ever needed us. So, what do we do?

We create a company culture that not only takes care of our existing employees but is so outstanding that it permeates through the hiring process and gets new employees to want to work for us. There are a few key ingredients to a company’s culture transformation. Let’s see a few.

Communication: 

Companies with good culture have excellent communication. They do not leave out details. They do not withhold information. They do not shy away from a conversation. Of all the companies I study, communication is a focal point in all the successful ones. 

Communication must go both ways. I have been on too many sites and watched another contractor belittle and outright pummel an employee for a mistake. When we have a culture of irrational discipline, the employees do not want to bring up potential problems or solutions. They would rather slide through the shadows hoping that they go unnoticed. That is not an effective communication culture.

Structure: 

Good companies have structure. The employees know what is expected of them and what their rewards will be. They also know the penalty for not following protocol. 

The structure just isn’t about who reports to who. Instead, it starts with accurate job descriptions, a chain of command, and written company policies ranging from a general handbook to safety standards. 

Training, Advancement, and Raises:

These all go hand in hand. I always discuss them after communication and structure because, without those two, this one falls flat on its face. Good employees want to learn more. They want the room to advance. They want to know when and how much their next raise is. This is the type of structure that keeps good employees engaged with growth both personally and professionally. 

Everyone buys in:

WARNING. This is the hardest step in building a successful company culture. This is the point where everyone needs to buy-in. This includes you as the owner and your entourage of untouchables. I am talking about your kids, your spouses, your employee friends, and anyone who thinks the new rules do not apply. The employees need and want a leader. They want an owner that has so much respect for the system that they abide by it as well.

Nothing harms company culture more than seeing someone act outside of it and get away with it. 

Communication:

Yes, I mentioned it again. It is that important. We can have good intentions all day, but if the systems we produce aren’t communicated or so complex that they can’t be communicated, it is all for naught. Write down everything — disciplinary procedures, what to do with extra materials on-site, what time is considered late, all of it. Document it, communicate it, live by it. 

Now that we have got through some aspects of company culture, how do we begin building one? The first step seems easy, but it is a lost art in the “me” generation. 

Change a few words in your daily dialogue and company memos. Stop using direct words such as I and you. Instead, replace them with “we” when discussing a collective effort, and insert the person's name when discussing a specific task responsibility. This may seem like farfetched psychological hogwash, but it works. 

By changing “I” to “we,” we establish a collective mindset. We cannot do this alone. By including everyone in the conversation, employees will feel like they belong, and better yet, have some responsibility for the outcome. We need to hire 10 laborers. We need to get the hot jobs bid. We need to trim our material waste. It is a game-changer. 

Using a person’s name in place of you creates a sense of worth inside the employee. We are addressing them personally and have a better connection with them. If you can stomach it, change your direct orders to a question. For example: “John, will you check on the status of our material delivery?” By addressing John by name first, he is eased into the task we need to be done, and he is happy to do it. By asking for a person to take responsibility for a task, they feel compelled to deliver results in that task. 

Be honest, the guys that are only there for a paycheck are never your good guys anyway. Today’s workforce wants more than a paycheck. They want to belong to a fun, productive, and fulfilling company that is going places. Our companies cannot fit that mold without a structured company culture. 

The only true path to building a company culture is through top-down leadership. We have to change the way we look at our workforce. Treat them like the valuable asset they are, or your competition will. 

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