5 Ways to Motivate Your Construction Staff

Construction is one industry in which motivation highly influences productivity. Here are 5 ways to get started.
February 18, 2012

Plenty of studies of the construction industry have come to this conclusion: Motivation significantly influences productivity, and a high level of motivation results in a higher level of productivity.

More and more renovation and remodeling companies have come to realize that the time they take to motivate employees is time well spent.

“I used to get tired of trying to get my employees to do what I wanted them to do,” says George Hedley, owner of Hedley Construction & Development in Newport Beach, Calif. “They always had what appeared to be legitimate excuses why they didn’t get the job done on time, why they didn’t follow directions or why it wasn’t their fault when something went wrong out on the job site. I used to think I couldn’t find any good help anymore or that maybe people don’t care about doing a good job anymore. It seemed nobody would take charge, be responsible or accountable. I thought I was the only one who could do the job right.”

Hedley says if employees are not motivated, that’s not their problem. That’s management’s problem, and management needs to figure out how to solve it and realize that what motivates one carpenter, plumber or electrician may not motivate the guy working next to him.

Hedley and other contractors say there are a handful of things owners and managers can do that will motivate the vast majority of employees:

1. Show them that you have a good attitude. If employees see that you have a good attitude, some of that may rub off on them. But even if you work hard, if you don’t have a good attitude, they probably won’t, either, and it will have short- and long-term negative consequences.

2. Recognize employees’ good work. The sad truth is most employees don’t receive recognition and those who do don’t receive enough of it. Nothing good comes of this.

“People will work harder for recognition than they will for money,” says Jim Hicks, owner of Jim Hicks Home Improvement, in Yorktown, Va. “It may seem hard to believe, but I’ve seen it to be true. If your people are getting recognition at work, that very well may be the only place they’re getting it. They may not be getting it anywhere else in their lives.”

Hicks says “random recognition”—a heartfelt compliment here or there or a pat on the back once in a while—is fine, but structured recognition is best. Some managers actually make a chart so they know who they’ve recognized in a given month and who they haven’t. Hicks says recognizing workers with employee of the month or employee of the quarter awards works well.

“When you do something like that,” he says, “you’ve constructed a game that your employees can win.”

3. Challenge your employees to improve. You can do this by giving employees increasingly more difficult jobs. Why would someone be motivated if all he did every day was carry lumber or sweep floors?

4. Provide clear expectations. “People need to know exactly what you want them to do and the results you want them to achieve,” Hedley says. “The norm is to tell people to
work hard and try your best. But this doesn’t let people know exactly what’s expected. People must be told and understand exactly what specific end results you want. Examples of clear expectations include: ‘By Friday, I expect you to have this installed and 100 percent complete,’ or ‘No extra work will be started without a signed change order.’”

5. Explain the big picture. Not only do employees need to understand the big picture, but they have to feel that they are playing a significant role in it.

“It’s one thing for me to tell a guy, ‘Go take those bricks over there because that’s where we’re going to build a wall,’” Hicks says. “It’s another thing to say, ‘Hey, we’re building a children’s hospital, and this is a place where kids are going to be cured.’ It takes more time, but now the guy knows why we need him to haul bricks for $10 an hour. He’s hauling bricks to help save lives.”

Finally, business owners and managers need to realize that not all of their motivational efforts will work for everyone. In some cases, workers may need to be let go or else you
take the risk that one bad apple will spoil the whole bushel. (Read more on how to be a better leader.)

Mark Di Vincenzo is a journalist with 24 years of experience and a New York Times best-selling author. Mark blogs via Contently.com.

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