Andy Hannan knows remodeling is a tough business, so he coaches his team to help them prepare to perform. The production manager at Mark IV Builders in Bethesda, Md., works closely with his six superintendents and four carpenters. “It's important for us to make a career and set a career path. Respect, challenge, training. All those things are what make you want to have a career in something,” he says. Similar to “finding the pain” of a remodeling client and solving it, Hannan says employers need to find the pain of their employees. “If you identify their pain and fix it, that will be someone who stays with you,” he says.

Production manager Andy Hannan (center) in the field with two of his superintendents, Dana Jones (left) and Forrest Hobbs.
Max Hirshfeld Production manager Andy Hannan (center) in the field with two of his superintendents, Dana Jones (left) and Forrest Hobbs.

Consultant Tim Faller, president of Field Training Services and a regular contributor to REMODELING, says carpenters want to feel they are part of the company. They want a pleasant working atmosphere where they can find personal satisfaction and success. Faller says company owners and managers often are looking for the “silver bullet” or a single solution, but it's more complicated than that. The coaching metaphor is the best way to explain what managers must do in the industry today to motivate and keep field employees. “Fifty years ago, it was more the dictator model. Do what you are told,” Faller explains. “Now, you have really good players, but you need a coach to get the team going.”

A large part of coaching is communication. Faller describes one company where the carpenters were frustrated with the owner's constant discussion of being over budget. However, they did not realize that the owner was using the discussions to change his estimating system for a more accurate budget. Faller advised the owner to immediately share this fact with his crew. “They realized the information was useful and it made them feel better,” Faller says.

Owner Mark Scott brought a communication process he learned from a mentoring/consulting group for executives to his company. The staff is encouraged to use communication that is clear, concise, and consistent. “We do a lot of read back — read back what I just asked you to do,” Hannan says. “We teach that it is the communicator's responsibility to make sure the receiver gets it,” he explains. The course also emphasized the usefulness of body language, so he now tries to communicate with his crew in person instead of by phone. The company also has an open-book policy. When a job is handed off from sales to the superintendent, the package includes the budgeted price, the sold price, and all the contract specifications.

Motivating and Managing To help him motivate and manage his crew, David Adams is taking a management training course. “A lot of construction is run on yelling and screaming. I'm not a screamer. I am working on a way of addressing productivity and commitment,” he says. The owner of Adams & Company Homebuilders in Sonoma, Calif., has a degree in project management and says the traditional model focuses on tasks and paperwork to complete a project. The new program addresses tasks based on promises made to the customer. He meets every two weeks with the project superintendent and lead carpenters. For example, he will tell them that putting up 5,000 board feet of siding is critical to staying on schedule for the homeowner. They discuss the budget, the deadline, techniques, trouble spots, and efficiency. He then asks for a plan to get the job done. “They buy into the idea and we have a higher level of quality. We make up for the talking time down the road,” Adams says.

Tom Witts, president of Georgia Property Restoration in Atlanta, surveyed his employees to find out what they liked and wanted from the company. His employees appreciated the company paying for health insurance for themselves and their families. Witts now includes that fact in his classified ads. “That brings a lot of people in the door. We're attracting more family-oriented people,” he says. He also changed his truck policy based on responses to the questionnaire.

John DeCiantis, owner of DeCiantis Construction in Stonington, Conn., says ruling with an iron hand does not work. “You create animosity and resentment,” he says. He joined a group of company owners who hired a consultant to help with employee communication. The consultant asked the owners to establish six key behaviors for all employees. DeCiantis shared this list with his employees and now asks them to rate each other on the behaviors every 90 days. General manager Denise Nott enters the data into an Excel spreadsheet. “At first it was anonymous, but now it's open. We discuss these at monthly meetings,” DeCiantis says.

Hannan says giving crews more responsibility keeps them motivated. Mark IV Builders requires superintendents to create bills, collect payments, and create and submit change orders. With subs, superintendents negotiate the contract price, schedule the work, and arrange for payment. “It's like being self-employed without the money hassles,” Hannan says.

Hannan asks for input on issues from the superintendents. When he asked them to find a solution for long punch lists, they decided to challenge each other by requiring any super with a punch list over one page to buy lunch.

He says rules that are too rigid do not work. For example, Mark IV Builders requires field employees to fill out a daily log. Everyone had a different take on the log, so employees created three different log forms. “Most of our systems are buy-in — they are created or developed by employees ,” Hannan says.

DeCiantis challenged his field crew on waste. “I gave them a list of places where we have a lot of waste. I calculated that it cost us $50,000 a year. I told them if they were able to lessen that, I'd share it with them,” he says. DeCiantis recalls REMODELING contributor Clay Nelson advising owners to ask their employees for permission to help them. When one of his lead carpenters was having trouble with scheduling, DeCiantis gave him a day planner and asked for permission to remind him to write things down.