Challenges Facing Construction Companies Today. Pt. 2

Earlier I wrote a piece about the challenges facing construction companies in relation to recruitment and retention and the pressure to manage time and resources. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to write another piece on this so soon, and I bet you were hoping not to have one inflicted upon you! But like buses you wait ages and then two (?) come along at once…


The piece is very much dominated by some time I spent with a construction company yesterday. This is a company which is embracing the need for change. The development of policies and processes to improve project delivery and site improvement. The development of a culture and ethos that will drive improvement into everything they do to build better and more sustainable relationships with their main contractors. Development of technology to improve the flow of available information to both site and office. Recognise that, do you?


The fact of the matter is that they treat their people very well. To my mind, maybe they treat them too well, as the people seem to think that they don’t have to do anything, as it will be done for them. This leads to the normal type of issues around time sheets not being returned, delaying invoicing, site information not being completed etc. The list could go on and I’m sure you recognise these problems too.


We spoke about culture and ethos and the management approach they have adopted over the time. This approach, as the MD admitted is one of fear! Fear of de-motivating staff. Fear of poor quality. Fear of losing good staff and the difficulty in replacing them. Fear, that as a result, they may lose contracts or let customers down by holding up the project.


The last two points are probably the most telling and makes MD's the most fearful. Hence they accept people's practices, that under normal circumstances they would not!


Pre-recession, the attitude around those working in the industry was one of money! They wanted more and there were other jobs around where they could get it. Believe it or not, many tears ago I sat in a meeting with and MD and a joiner, where the joiner was making all sorts of demands the most basic one was an extra 50p an hour “or else he’d walk to so and so down the road who’d offered him work.”

 I’m glad to say that the MD refused to agree to that, the joiner walked but was back two weeks later asking if he could come back as that company wasn’t so good to work for. The grass isn’t always greener is it?


One of the issues for the construction industry is that it’s always the first one to go into recession and the last one to come out. In some cases, people within the industry might feel that it hasn’t come out of recession yet.


The prevailing feeling from this MD yesterday, was one of “we’ve tried to entice them with money and it’s only made them greedy.” Which to be honest, is probably a natural reaction, but to be fair to this MD, his organisation does a lot to add value and indeed the package there is a good one, in my opinion anyway.


However, what is being missed is that, whilst people can begin to move around to get more money, post- recession, there are fewer construction companies to employ them. The challenge to provide increased wages in a sector where project costs are being squeezed is difficult and employers are less willing to offer wages that might be more than they want to pay. Many companies are also investing in apprenticeships to help reduce the skills or experience gap, willing to play the waiting game to get people who will grow with them. In footballing terms they’ve adopted the famous Liverpool “boot room” approach of the 1970’s which is where many of the clubs managers were groomed, building on, and continuing the success.


What many people want in these, post Brexit, uncertain time (depending on your point of view of course) is longevity. Longevity of work builds confidence and the desire to remain where they are. Indeed, I have one client who shares this information with its people and the benefits are undeniable.


People see work booked in months in advance which gives them confidence. Confidence in the business. Confidence in the management. Confidence that theirs and their family’s lifestyles are not under threat. This company’s staff retention figures are nothing short of fantastic.

This confidence also comes from involvement. When I speak to many construction MD’s they tend to roll their eyes when I mention “ethos and culture.”


After all, their culture is fine isn’t it? They have banter and anyone that can’t take it is just a sissy, needs to grow a pair or work somewhere else if they can’t take it, don’t they? It’s a male dominated environment, where we’re all 100% heterosexual and women should know their place! Believe it or not, I still come across this today. I suppose it’s the nature of the beast with high testosterone levels where wimps aren’t welcome. There are some things I could write here that I’ve seen, that would make you wince, they did me, but maybe, that’s for another article.


The issue is that ethos and culture is important and perhaps how the company defines it will either make it:

1.      A place people want to work

2.      A place people want to leave


If you feel you’re company falls under the first statement then well done! If you fall under the second statement, or even somewhere in between, then maybe you need to look at your ethos and culture.

The fear (there’s that word again) for MD’s is that “will I be taken advantage of by people if I try and change how we do things?” There is no real answer to that and they run the risk of that being the case.


However, I find that the majority of people want to do their best for the company. There will always be a small number of people who will look at anything new and how they might be able to use that to their advantage. The fact of the matter is that if you don’t “trust” your people and they don’t “trust” you then life is always going to be difficult as people will withdraw their discretional effort making it difficult for the company to operate. Trust will breed discretional effort. People will give more, do more, put themselves out, take responsibility to ultimately get the job done or protect the business from those who won’t do any of that. Can you put a £ value on that? I’m not so sure in terms of ethos and culture, but maybe in terms of the bottom line or achieving margin on profits. If you don’t want those maybe, you should stop reading now…


I read some time ago a quote that said “if you think you’re leading and nobody is following, then you’re only taking a walk” seems to sum up many of the problems leaders have particularly in the construction sector.


So, how can you make that happen? What needs to change to create these proactive, problem solving people?


Firstly, clearly defining what you want your company to be and, to be seen by others, to be is the first step. Having the right processes in place to manage the change is key.  That way people are clear on what is expected from them and what you will do in return. Seems easy doesn't it when you just right it down? In practice though it's far more difficult, due to how people perceive change.


The CITB Be Fair framework IS a construction industry related programme. It understands the challenges the industry faces and how best these can be addressed. I’ve spoken to many construction companies and they say, “we’ve looked at business management programmes, and while they are OK in theory the practice doesn’t work for us.” It may also be that they demand too much change and either MD’s fear they and their people have the skills to embrace those different approaches as they don’t fit the industry culture?