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July 1, 2021
Culture and values transcend everything we do at JTM Construction and are what drew me to this company years ago. Here are some of the many lessons I've learned along the way.
A few things to keep in mind as you read: Does your company, regardless of size, have an entrepreneurial spirit? A quick way to check: Do you provide the freedom for your team to innovate and create opportunities for growth, or do you feel handcuffed to “legacy thinking?”
Just because “you've always done it that way” doesn't mean you can't change.
Value-based leadership and client-focused culture.
Core values are the unchanging principles that guide a company and define its culture. Core values provide the strongest possible foundation for building and expanding a healthy company. Without defining a company's values, it is impossible to create a consistent culture, which we describe as how work gets done, based on core values. Therefore, core values are fundamental to creating a strong and consistent company culture.
Do you know your values? Have you defined them? Does your company act in alignment with your values? Simply stated, do you walk the talk?
Beyond the words themselves, it's important to take the time to define what they mean. Do more than post them on your company's website. Display them at the office and the jobsite. Make sure that your leaders in the office and in the field know your values and what they stand for. Then take the next step: Connect the meaning of each value to the behavior that you expect, and communicate those expectations clearly to your team.
Culture is measurable.
Culture gets a bad rap. It's defined as a “soft” feature of a company. But culture can empower you. How? By connecting your values to behavior, you're able to measure whether or not team members are connecting to and aligning with your culture.
Why does this matter? Because you want your teams to perform at high levels and be empowered to make the right decisions for your company and your clients. You want consistency in the corporate office and across jobsites. You also want that consistency to remain, even if an individual on a project team leaves the project mid-stream. Done right, you can use the same evaluative measures in your recruitment, hiring and onboarding processes, so your people are steeped in your culture from the outset.
Consistent culture equals low turnover.
We have low turnover at JTM, and we have team members who are motivated self-starters, engaged in their work and highly productive. Last year we explored some of the reasons why, and we discovered that everything pointed to the attributes of our culture.
It's not just us. Companies with a high degree of relatedness and engagement among employees are more productive, more creative and more profitable. They also have lower turnover. This doesn't happen accidentally. These companies invest heavily in their people!
That makes a real difference. We've all experienced what it's like to have to replace an employee. It's costly in terms of emotional impact, time and money, with most experts estimating that it will cost one-third to one-half of the new hire's salary — on top of their salary — to properly train them and get them up to full speed.
Acknowledgment when it counts.
How good are you at acknowledging team members, not simply for doing well — that's their job — but when they step up, over and above, or do something meaningful, like picking up the slack seamlessly if another person is out sick, or jumping in to help without being asked if other people on the team are struggling with their workload, or reaching out to a client to get their input in advance of a decision.
This creates a “whole-team” approach, which strengthens relationships, builds trust, increases confidence and strengthens comradery.
Our size gives us the advantage to have leaders deeply involved in the business. Again, regardless of size, this is something that you can implement. Create a site visit matrix, so that you regularly and frequently have executives at jobsites, connecting with your teams in the field, not just so you can acknowledge them whenever appropriate, but so that you can engage them, and make sure that you have your finger on the pulse of each job.
Inspire. Connect. Allow.
What is leadership? Is it people doing what you want them to do when you're not around? Is it people upholding, even exceeding your company's values? Is it people using their ingenuity to create new rules when it's appropriate?
It's all of the above. That's why training your emerging leaders to think critically and to inspire their teams is so important. You want them to know that each job is important, and that they add to your value proposition in a way that enhances your company and attracts more people to you.
Then connect what each person is doing to the big picture, so whether you're a senior project engineer or a superintendent or a foreman, you understand that your work contributes directly to the success of the project and the company. In fact, it's essential to its success. Everyone plays a role in the greater good.
Finally, allow people the room to grow. Give them a degree of autonomy so that they can continually develop. They don't have to constantly ask for permission because you trust them to lead from your shared values. Promote from within whenever possible, setting up your team members to successfully rise as high as they can go.
1. Acknowledge that culture — how work gets done, based on your core values — matters. It's a settled fact. You can spend five minutes doing an online search to discover the significant difference that promoting a consistent workplace culture makes in terms of productivity, creativity and profitability.
2. Review your values. Do they still serve you and represent you? Revise if necessary and create a set of them if you don't have them.
3. Clearly define values so everyone understands them.
4. Link expected behaviors to each value.
5. Train your leaders how to share this information with their teams.
6. Be consistent in applying cultural standards across the board.
7. Use your values as the basis for everything your company does.
Troy Bloedel is a vice president at JTM Construction, a Seattle-based general contractor. He has 40 years of experience in the industry, first with his grandfather and father building homes, then as a laborer and professional for mechanical and general contractors.