As a company leader your words are powerful and impactful because of your position within your company and within the industry. What you say can have a positive or negative impact and the same applies to what you don’t say. Your employees watch and react to both your verbal and non-verbal communication.
Safety is a great example of what I’m talking about. It’s a critical topic for every company, but how important is it to you as a leader? Do you attend and participate in your annual company safety meeting, or do you have more important things to do? Do your company’s safety standards apply to all employees, or do you tolerate safety violations from your most productive employees because they “make money” for the company?
Hopefully this example doesn’t apply to any of you but think about the message an employee would get from such a situation. The message they would receive is they don’t have to worry about safety if they are productive and making the company money. Our words and actions as leaders in our organizations and industry have impact.
Words matter. They can uplift or they can knock someone down, and their impact can last for years. People may not forget what exactly was said, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Do you still remember someone who really made you feel good about yourself? I would submit that you still remember the person and the set of circumstances. It was likely something that was said that made you feel special and appreciated.
A well-known business author, Harvey McKay has said, “If you want others to believe in you, you must first convince them that you believe in them.” When a project is going well, it is easy to give out compliments because everyone likes to win. When a project isn’t going well, however, it is easy to find fault and lay blame.
The “blame game” will be a demotivator; the “I believe in you” will be a motivator. Let me describe two ways to respond to a project that isn’t going well. The “blame game” might sound like this: “We aren’t making any money on this job and you guys need to work harder, or I’m going to have to make some changes.”
I “believe in you” might sound like this: “We aren’t making any money on this job, and I want to hear your ideas as to how we can turn this job around. Because you guys are on the job site, you can see things that I can’t see.”
Another example might be the post job review with the leader of a project that wasn’t profitable, and it usually has other related quality control and morale problems. An emphasis of blame might be, “You ran a lousy job and because of it you won’t be getting a job bonus; and I’m expecting you to do much better on the next project. If the next job doesn’t do better, you won’t be here.”
An emphasis on “we and team” might be, “We obviously don’t want to repeat this last job, what can we do better as a company so that it doesn’t happen again? How can we help you do better on the next job? What will you do different on the next project?”
Next, I’d like to discuss how our industry often lays people off, and unfortunately it is part of our industry as projects get completed and as weather conditions require. Does this sound familiar, “I don’t have anymore work so I’m going to have to lay you off. I recommend that you check with the union hall, and if they don’t have anything, go ahead and file for unemployment.”
That doesn’t leave the employee with any hope they will be able to return as an employee. If you want that person to return as an employee when work permits, I’d recommend adding the following statement, “I wish that I had work now; and when I do I’d like you back as an employee for the company. I’ll give you a call as soon as work picks up.”
You work in a tough industry, and I know that these examples are real because I lived them during my career. Let’s avoid the “blame game” and practice “I believe in you.” The winners will be you, your employees, your company and your customers.