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Engaging the Workforce: A Blueprint for Success in Plumbing and Hydronic Heating Projects

May 13, 2024
When your business embodies your values, your culture will drive project success and cultivate a sense of purpose, achievement, and growth among your employees.

In the dynamic world of construction, particularly within specialized sectors such as plumbing and hydronic heating, a project’s success hinges on workforce engagement from both the office and the field.

Your employees’ emotional commitment to your organization and its goals is crucial in our industry. It affects the quality, safety, timelines, and bottom line of your projects and your company. There is a direct correlation between low employee turnover and strong Gross Profit. There is also a clear link between engaged employees and low turnover.

Compensation is always a factor in ensuring employee engagement, but it’s often overemphasized. Employee engagement will suffer—even with good pay—if your organization’s culture doesn’t measure up.

A Foundation of Trust and Respect

Enhancing employee engagement begins with your business culture and whether it fosters an environment where team members feel trusted, respected, valued, and encouraged to invest fully in their work. At Well Build Construction Consulting, we help our clients see that building such a culture requires planning and deliberate action.

Think of it this way: If you were installing a plumbing system in a building, would you go out to your yard, look around and ask yourself, “What kind of system can I build with the stuff I have here?” Of course not. Similarly, leadership can’t just publish a list of platitudes in the company handbook and expect a positive work culture to emerge spontaneously. Leaders must identify and incorporate the company’s core values into every aspect of the business.

When your business embodies your values, your culture will drive project success and cultivate a sense of purpose, achievement, and growth among your employees—core building blocks of engagement.

Three Strategies for Boosting Engagement

Many things that go wrong in construction are beyond your direct control as a contractor. However, you can shape whether your employees feel deeply connected to their work.

Here are three strategies for nurturing the kind of culture that prompts employees to actively engage in your company’s success:

1. Recognition and Appreciation

Recognition of your people’s achievements goes a long way in making them feel valued. When looking to improve employee engagement, focus less on the big project the company won or the top profit quarter you had and more on the admirable actions of the people who contribute to those outcomes—reframing the act of doing the right things every day as wins.

This approach not only helps people in more under-the-radar roles feel appreciated, it also helps keep those who know they’re important focused on the greater good. For example, an experienced plumber might make $200,000 a year. They know they have specialized skills and can sometimes develop egos the size of their incomes. 

A good project manager can head an ego problem off by going to that veteran plumber, praising his work, telling him how fortunate everybody is to have him on the job and then asking a couple of small favors: Might he be willing to help out the younger guys if they have questions? And maybe try to create an environment where people can laugh and have a little fun while still doing the job right? That plumber will feel valued and encouraged to continue doing good work and to support a positive work culture. 

When you celebrate hard work more often and recognize more people in the organization, you increase your workers’ sense of purpose. You want your employees to be proud of themselves and where they work. This elevated goal raises the standard from simply meeting your people’s needs to inspiring them to think and say great things about their jobs and your organization.

2. Opportunities for Growth and Development

Providing employees opportunities to learn, grow, and advance in their careers is crucial for maintaining engagement. It also ensures you have a pipeline of up-and-coming talent and prevents your most talented people from leaving.

A few years ago, I had a breakfast meeting with a hydronic heating subcontractor friend of mine. His business was thriving, and he was in great spirits. When I asked for the secret to his success, he took no time to answer: “I have three amazing people running our three key departments.” I risked screwing up the positive vibe by asking him about succession plans—who would step into these hard-to-fill roles if the veteran leaders retired? He seemed flummoxed and quickly changed the subject.

Sure enough, a couple of years later, one of the top three leaders developed cancer and retired early. Worse still, my friend’s two best bets for filling the role had left the company months before, after he made it clear he had no plans to provide the growth opportunities they wanted. If he had enabled the kind of development his two former, high-potential employees had in mind, he would likely have kept them, one of them could have filled those key leadership roles, and my friend wouldn’t have had to step back into the day-to-day of the business.

One effective way to create a robust talent pipeline—while giving employees opportunities to grow—is to develop a formal mentoring program. Your organization will reflect the behaviors of your most influential employees. So, when building your mentoring team, select mentors because they are the kind of people you’d like to replicate. This way, you position your best employees to be highly influential.

A strong mentor will not only be a good representation of strong performance in their role, but also demonstrate the cultural characteristics you wish to perpetuate. Someone who performs their role excellently but with a negative attitude would not be an ideal mentor. The perfect mentor will see it as an honor to play a role in the development of other people.

3. Addressing Disengagement Proactively

Team members rely on their leaders to inspire and protect them from dynamics that hinder collaboration or productivity.

Sometimes toxic dynamics emerge due to circumstances beyond your control—a plumber drills holes in the wrong spot in the concrete and then reacts poorly when the concrete sub angrily points it out to the GC’s superintendent. The team on the receiving end of that anger may, naturally, feel some anger of their own.

Those charged emotions, left to fester, can create an unhealthy, us-versus-them attitude on the job site. Many will respond to this negativity by disengaging. A good project manager will intervene before this occurs and reframe the situation. They might encourage the team to put themselves in the concrete sub’s shoes, note that the issue has been resolved, and encourage the team to think of themselves as playing a vital role in a more significant challenge: the united field teams versus the project schedule.

Other times, managers’ hesitance to reprimand—or fire—employees who are undermining morale results in a sour work environment. The construction industry has long struggled with labor shortages, and disengaged individuals may be perfectly capable of performing their roles, but their bad attitudes are catching.

If you’re part of a team of 14 plumbers, and two team members are consistently taking unscheduled breaks or badmouthing the company, and your team leader never says anything, you may start to wonder if anyone cares if you are working hard or not. As a leader, it’s your job to address problematic behavior head-on and ensure engaged workers feel rewarded for their efforts.

Being proactive in identifying and addressing signs of disengagement early on can prevent minor issues from escalating into significant problems.

Conclusion

Building employee engagement is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It requires a nuanced understanding of your team, strong leadership, and a commitment to creating a work environment that values and promotes individual and collective success. In a field as complex and demanding as construction, the true foundation of any successful project lies not in the materials we use but in the people who bring our blueprints to life. Let us commit to engaging our teams in ways that elevate our projects and the individuals who make them possible.

Chad Prinkey is the Founder and CEO of Well Built Construction Consulting, an organization that has carved out a niche in exclusively serving small—to mid-size commercial general contractors, construction managers, specialty contractors, owners, and developers in the building industry. With a commitment to improving the industry as a whole, Chad Prinkey and Well Built Consulting focus on delivering results that not only benefit their clients but also set a precedent for excellence and progress across the construction landscape. For more information, please visit www.wellbuiltconsulting.com

About the Author

Chad Prinkey

Chad Prinkey is the Founder and CEO of Well Built Construction Consulting, an organization that has carved out a niche in exclusively serving small—to mid-size commercial general contractors, construction managers, specialty contractors, owners, and developers in the building industry. With a commitment to improving the industry as a whole, Chad Prinkey and Well Built Consulting focus on delivering results that not only benefit their clients but also set a precedent for excellence and progress across the construction landscape. For more information, please visit https://www.wellbuiltconsulting.com

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