Albert Mallette

It’s a rare occasion that I am at a loss for words. In fact, some would say I have a gift for gab. But, when it comes to communicating with our production crews, I am far from a project manager whisperer. It feels like no one is listening.

I’ve tried. You’ve tried. And I think we’re working on the wrong thing. I’ve noticed that people don’t change because you orate or bang an occasional fist; environments change, experiences change, approaches change. So, though my proclivity as a business leader is to hear myself speak, I have been spending some time lately trying to come up with gentle but powerful ways to institute change on our jobsites.

I started with something I saw on a school bus. On the dashboard, just to the left of the blinker, is a sign that says “You are carrying the most precious cargo.” That sign isn’t a speech or a meeting with the boss telling the driver to drive carefully. That sign is reinforcement — an everyday reminder for the driver about the context in which he or she is working.

A little while back we implemented our own dashboard message. During staff meetings, I had turned myself purple avowing that even the wealthiest person expects us to manage his or her expectations about job cost and project timing. I wanted the project managers to go over the budget and schedule with clients during our regular weekly meetings. Their behavior didn’t change. So on the top-left corner of our site meeting agenda template we added columns for: starting budget, payments received, pending change orders, balance of budget, and schedule. Now we address the two most difficult, yet necessary, topics on a construction jobsite on a weekly basis. The project manager brings up potential changes before it’s too late for clients to change their minds, we strengthen our clients’ trust in us, and we move toward our goal of creating clients for life.

Leaders need to deliver a clear vision, but a leader must also give employees a fighting chance to engage with and own that vision. Don’t just expect brilliant ideas to stick — create pathways for new context and habit.

—Allison Iantosca is a partner at F.H. Perry Builder, a Boston-area custom builder focused on building trust, dreams, and relationships.