Being the Best Attracts the Best

Labor continues to be the most pressing issue facing the construction industry.

May 31, 2002

Labor continues to be the most pressing issue facing the construction industry. While many remodelers are working on growing a new labor force by offering scholarships and internships or teaching at local high schools, the industry can’t afford to wait that long. To get the great employees you need to achieve the highest-quality customer satisfaction and best business results, you need to look within. Is your company a great place to work, the kind of firm where top-notch managers, carpenters, salespeople and designers want to be?

“One of the reasons the industry has some of the labor issues that we have is we don’t have the mentality of being quality employers,” says Denny Cisney Sr. of Cisney & O’Donnell Inc., a $3 million remodeling firm in Huntingdon, Pa., and one of the companies that made our first list of the 101 Best Companies to Work For in the Residential Construction Industry. He says he’s constantly recruiting, and that’s why he pays attention to creating a goal- and team-oriented company culture, and to rewarding individuals and departments that exceed expectations with bonuses.

Making Cisney & O’Donnell a great company to work for is costly, to be sure, but has benefits besides recruitment. “A lot of it has to do with our reputation in the community,” says Cisney, a feeling echoed by many managers at companies on the list. Satisfied employees who take pride in their company tend to make for happy customers.

Then there’s the not-so-small matter of retention. Turnover costs differ for each company but include separation costs (severance pay or unemployment compensation, and time spent on exit interviews and paperwork), vacancy costs (overtime pay or hiring a temp), replacement costs (costs of ads, and time spent interviewing and testing candidates), training costs, and productivity lost while new hires get up to speed and other employees learn how to work with them.

Finally, developing a positive work environment can directly affect the bottom line. “The whole business of remodeling is played in a very slim margin,” says Steve Howell of Howell De-sign & Build Inc. in North Andover, Mass. “Efficiency in the field is really key to your margins. I wanted to give the field employees a stake in bringing the projects in on budget and also reward them for ideas that increase efficiency.”

Howell’s monetary incentives have resulted in a number of such initiatives, including packing Dumpsters more tightly and thus using fewer (they cost $700 each), and returning extra materials for credit.

The next question is, what makes a company great? Our research revealed that the answers for remodelers and new home builders differ slightly. Remodeling employees value corporate culture and respect above all, followed by job satisfaction, workplace trust/management credibility, and pride. Compensation and camaraderie tied for the next spot, followed by fairness and then training, with communication and customer satisfaction tied for last. Workers for home builders value corporate culture and respect somewhat less, with somewhat more emphasis on camaraderie and communication.

Companies that were nominated but didn’t make the 101 list had a disconnect between managers and front-line employees, with company values and goals either not shared or not communicated. Another common problem was office-field disconnect, with unhappy carpenters and laborers wishing for the same benefits and opportunities as their office colleagues enjoy, plus better communication with the office.

Among remodelers that made the list, the strongest scores came in the categories of job satisfaction, management credibility, pride, camaraderie and customer satisfaction. Read on for tangible ways to make these intangible qualities a part of your company.

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