I see many companies falling into a deadly trap during these very tough economic times. They dig in. They bow up. They work harder. The messages they send to all of the employees is, “Go forth and find work!” “Work harder! There are plenty of people out there that want your job!” Of course, they are already working 60 to 70 hours per week. And many of the projects they are working on are high risk with low margins and must be constantly monitored. Subcontractors are defaulting and under-performing because of many of the same issues. Employees feel overwhelmed, full of fear, and burned out.
So what is the solution? There is no easy solution. No magic fix. I can offer this insight, though. Think of the companies who are thriving right now. What is the common denominator? They are all innovators. They create an atmosphere of innovation. They create an atmosphere of creative thinking and fun. They send the message that employees are valued and taken care of. There are very few “rules”. Whatever makes the employee happy, engaged, and productive is seriously considered. What do most contractors actually do? They manage very complicated projects. Can you think of other applications for this expertise besides bidding on and building construction projects? Are there opportunities out there that we are missing because we are too stuck in that rut of how we have done business for the past 100 years? Believe me, if you can manage a construction project successfully, you can manage just about anything. Start thinking outside the box about what you can do to make money. You may be surprised at the possibilities.
It is an inside-out approach instead of an outside-in approach. Going out and getting more work is a focus on the outside. And when you mandate that to employees, you may be just piling on more work. This may have the unintended consequence of creating more negativity, fear, and burnout. But what if you turned your focus inside? Let your people know that you truly care about them. Create an atmosphere of fun, engagement, camaraderie, and innovation. Find new ways to engage folks and help them to find purpose and meaning. Let everyone know that we are in this thing together and will weather the storm as a team. Increase social activities. Have the leaders walk around more, talk to people more, find out what they are thinking, what they are feeling. Show your appreciation for all that they do. Engage them in open, honest communication and do your best to address their needs.
And once your employees start to feel better about where they are and what they are doing, when they are engaged and have a sense of purpose, when they focus on relationships and create meaningful connections, that is when the business will come. But it all starts with a focus on the employees.