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President’s Message – Latest Scoop 2023 Issue 3

Stop Whining and Start Winning

Keith Headshot

We are guilty. As an industry…at Brubacher…and yes, I am too. And I am getting tired of hearing it. We have the refrain well-memorized in several variations:

  • “They don’t have the same work ethic.”
  • “They’re on their phones when they should be working.”
  • “They wait to be told what to do next instead of asking or helping.”
  • “But he/she doesn’t even know how to _______”
  • “Did you know they never worked in construction or a related industry before?”
  • “He thought that was good enough. We’re not going to put the Brubacher name on that!”
  • …and more

Those of us who have been in the construction industry for years can certainly recognize differences in our experiences or approach and what we observe in some newcomers today. I am not going to debate or minimize those generational differences, but there are just as many about which to be excited as to be concerned.

I do know one thing for sure: our opportunity to lead effectively and be a positive influence on those joining our industry and our company is reduced every time we recite general statements about any generation, veteran or newcomer.

Years ago, I worked with a leader known for his quick wit who, upon reflecting on his own learning curve after achieving several promotions at Brubacher, said “The older I got, the better I was.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. When confronted with the shortcomings of others who are learning (and sometimes those whom we ourselves failed to train and coach properly!), we tend to forget or minimize our own mistakes. How quickly we forget that we were once someone else’s bad day, week, or crew member. In fact, sometimes we still are on occasion! Yes, I was once a foreman and a project manager’s headache. Thankfully, they were (usually) patient while holding me to a high standard. Some of them still work at Brubacher today and remind me of stories I hoped they forgot.

They say confession is good for the soul, so we’ll see if that holds true:

  • I misread the footrule while checking grade as a teenager, motioning the stone trucks to keep spreading more stone. The grader operator soon realized something was amiss, and I had visions of how unhappy a certain Mr. Ben Brubacher would be at dinner that evening if he knew how much money we lost pushing that extra stone down the street!
  • Then there was the time as a supervisor when my crew was modifying an existing stormwater basin on a steep hill in Malvern. We regraded the emergency spillway, placed sod, and thought we were ready for the final inspection. To my great dismay, we realized the spillway was one foot higher at one end than the other instead of level. I learned an important lesson about keeping good notes and double-checking grades that week. Crawling around rolling up fresh sod and re-laying it drove the point home via my sore knees. By now you know why I never became a surveyor!
  • And then there was the concrete inside the pipe. Through a series of well-intended but poor judgments I made, there came to be a blob of hardened concrete stuck fast inside the middle of a run of 18” concrete pipe. I spend the next few days trying every idea I could think of to dislodge the concrete so I wouldn’t have to dig up the pipe run. I eventually got it out, learning an important lesson about shortcuts! Let’s just say that I was more flexible in my 20’s than I am now; you can’t get a lot of force behind a digging bar while laying inside an 18” pipe, but persistence paid off.
  • Yes, there are more, but I’ll stop here for the sake of space (and just in case confession isn’t good for the soul).

I am more convinced each year that construction companies who win long-term must view themselves as for-profit training and development organizations. I have challenged our managers with this concept. How would our relationships, resource investments, and systems change? What opportunities could we tackle and what obstacles might we overcome as a result?

We all know the test comes as pressure grows to get work, do work, or beat the budget. Too often, we fall back into the trap of thinking “we just need to get things done”, or “people aren’t good enough, productive enough, or efficient enough.” But when hasn’t there been pressure in the construction industry? Just like a tube of grease driven over on the jobsite, what is inside comes out when the pressure is on. Too often in the construction industry when pressure hits, we stop focusing on relationships, people, coaching, and mentoring and instead try to close the gap with the quickest fix.

Leadership skills, culture, and talent development are never quick fixes; they all take time. Through perseverance and by living out a consistent message that “we are here for you and your success,” most people will grow and develop. Yes, sometimes that means their success is best realized in another career or even at another contractor. Yes, the pressure will always be there, people will always be complex (us included!), and there will always be challenges to face. But it is only when we give our best efforts each day to be FOR the success of others by building character, setting expectations, giving opportunities to try, and taking the time to coach, teach, and explain that others will GROW to fulfill their role. And I guarantee we will find we’ve grown in the process.

Contractors and supervisors who look at training and developing others as an OBSTACLE to doing their jobs rather than THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of their jobs, will never be anything more than a group of grumpy old guys waiting to go out of business. After all, who wants to work with someone who views them as a thorn in their side?

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