How To Solve Your People Problems | Ep. 208b

COGE | People Problems

To manage an effective team who can handle projects of any scope, you must know how to solve your people problems. Eric Anderton shares this bonus episode where he joins as a guest at the Bred to Build Podcast. In this conversation, he shares his many interactions with construction companies to discuss how to hone effective leaders. Eric talks about the best approach to improving your recruitment process to find suitable people for your available positions. He also explains how to solve the field-to-office disconnect, maintain consistent team communication, and bridge the gap with project and people leaders.

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How To Solve Your People Problems

“Bred to Build” Bonus Episode

This episode is a special one. It’s a republication of an interview that I did on the Bred to Build Podcast hosted by Matt Panella and Brek Goin. These are two young, dynamic and exciting construction professionals, and they were gracious enough to invite me to their podcast, and we had a deep discussion about construction leadership.

I thought I’d republish the episode here on the show just to introduce you to Matt and Brek. Also, to give you some insights into my thinking behind my business and my interaction with construction companies, and the importance of leadership in construction. I know you’re going to enjoy this interview. It’s only a little change of pace. Feel free to check out Matt and Brek’s podcast, Bred to Build, and enjoy our discussion.

Before we get into it this episode, all we ask is that if you enjoy the show and you enjoy this episode, please take a couple of seconds to write us an awesome review. It means a lot to us. In this episode, I am joined by my co-host, Matt Panella.

Thanks for joining in another episode.

We’re going to be talking about how to solve your people’s problems, leadership, and much more. People are the biggest asset in your business, and we have an awesome guest joining us. Eric Anderton is a trusted leadership advisor, executive mentor, and expert meeting facilitator for construction companies that range anywhere from $10 million to $1 billion. He’s got more than two decades of career in entrepreneurial business experience, alongside several years of public speaking and mentoring.

He’s got some things under his belt. He also just launched a new book, which we’ll get into on this show. With that being said, Eric is top of mind when I think of someone who knows construction leadership and how to lay the foundation for your people to succeed, especially during times when the economy crashes or s*** hits the fan. With that being said, Eric, welcome to the show.

Gentlemen, thank you for having me. I appreciate the invitation. I’m looking forward to the conversation. It’s going to be a good one.

I am excited about this topic. It’s one that hit home. When you and I were connecting Eric, I was like, “We have to get you on the show.” I did my best to give you a solid intro. Is there anything before we jump in that you would like to add about your background that would help our audience understand what you do a little bit more before we jump in?

I started working with contractors in 2004. I was selling a leadership development program, a worldwide program in the area of Sacramento, California, where I’m from. My first client ever was a construction company, LB Construction, which is a framing contractor up here in Sacramento. They’re still my client now. I didn’t intend to get into working with construction companies, but I fell in love with construction right from the beginning when I was beginning with the leadership development program.

I resonate with folks who are in construction. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work that contractors do. There is something very powerful in being able to drive down the road, point to a project, and say, “I built that.” I like the way that contractors have an impact not only on their communities in terms of the buildings that they build but also on the people that they employ and overall the long-term contribution they make to the communities that they’re in.

What was your previous exposure, Eric? Did you have a fascination with the trades growing up? Where did your exposure start?

The answer is absolutely not. I did not have a fascination with the trades. It was something that found me and something that I discovered. I’m a builder of people. That’s where I come from in my background. I have a degree in history, so I’ve studied people. I’ve studied Psychology. I’ve studied History, both ancient and modern. I have an understanding of people based on a variety of experiences I have.

I found that understanding of people, but then the way that it fits into what construction companies do in terms of building projects and building people, there was a synergy there, which resonated with me. When I started my own business in 2013, I pretty quickly niched down to construction, and 99% of my clients now are in construction.

I like that you’re saying you do not have a huge construction background, but that’s where you found yourself. A lot of the time, we see people that say they did $1 million in business for their first year, and then they go into, “I can make you millions in a year.” The best thing is that you understand people, and you’re open to that. What are the most common people problems you see in construction companies now?

The most common problem is hiring the wrong person and putting them into the wrong position. The way I see that a lot of times is that every company has a particular culture and a way that they behave. They bring on someone who’s perhaps technically skilled but they’re not a fit for their culture. One of my clients’ business purposes is to crush the competition. They’re great guys, but they just love to win.

The most common problems construction firms face are hiring the wrong person and putting them in the wrong position. Share on X

When they hire people, they look for people who are willing to have that competitive edge to them. If you’re an estimator, you’re going to be in the office at 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning. You’re going to be working on bidding and winning work. You’re not going to leave until 4:35 or 5:30 in the afternoon. Also, you’re going to be out at networking events. You’re going to be out developing relationships. You are not going to be clocking in at 8:00 and clocking out at 5:00 and going through the motions.

Do you think that’s always the root cause? I hear it all the time. Matt hears it a lot too, but it always comes down to, “There are not good enough people to find,” or even going a step further as, “You found the person, but they’re not the right fit,” but people are settling because they’re such a shortage of people. Sometimes I feel like it’s almost a trade-off and how do you balance that? It’s like, “I need this person. However, if we don’t hire them, we’re screwed.” It’s looking for that balance.

I agree. It’s a very important point that you make. My philosophy, and the one that I communicate with my clients is to never settle. The analogy that I use is one of a sports team. In sports, you have a set schedule that you have to play. You have to show up. You’ve got to field however many people you have to field, and you’ve got to play your schedule.

Having said that, you’re always evaluating the people who are on your team. You may frankly say, “I’ve got five people who are A-players, four people who are B-players, and three people that are C-players. On this job right now, I do have some C-players.” This is one of the advantages of a downturn in the economy. Some companies are going to struggle and B and A-players are going to begin to get released for whatever reason.

I’m always looking for those A-players that I can bring on board and I’m always committing to developing the people that I already have to up-level their game as much as possible. I’m never in the mode where I’m like, “You got to get rid of this guy.” Even if you do need to get rid of him, I understand that you still need to build the projects that you have, and sometimes a warm body is what you need. However, you should never settle and you should always be looking to upgrade the people in your company so that you have the right people in the right positions.

I talked with somebody and they told me, “Matt, I’ve got eight guys on the ground. Three of them are great and the rest are just warm bodies.” I thought about it for a second and I am a strong believer in teaching people if they’re going to be there, they might as well be learning. I love that you said that. If they’re there, they’re not just a useless person. You can have them learning and elevating themselves to where maybe one day they’re not a C-player, they’re a B-player. We’ve been backed up for a couple of years now. Do you think that it’s a good use of the time that even if they’re not the best, just train them up?

It depends because there are two different dynamics that are going on when someone is an underperformer. The first question you have to ask is, “Is it a matter of their attitude, or is it a matter of their aptitude?” If it’s their aptitude or their skill, I can train them skill, but if it’s their attitude, I don’t care who it is. If the guy’s attitude sucks, he might be the most talented person you have in terms of technical skills.

However, if his attitude is infecting your crew so that their production is falling or so that they’re not following the guy who’s leading, then I can’t teach attitude, but I can teach skills. I’m looking for people who have the right attitude so that they can then be skilled up and they can grow so C-players can become B-players and they can become A-players.

Eric, I’m sure you hear this 1 million times. “I don’t have time to train people,” the businesses that are operating from that mentality.

They are you’re going to continue to have problems.

How do you diagnose and get them to see the value of investing in their people?

It’s a tremendous challenge because I understand that time is money. If I’ve got my guys out of the field training, that means they’re not on the job site making money, but you have to understand that if that’s your mentality, then don’t be surprised if you have the same mistakes happening over and over again. Whether it’s from a hard skill perspective, a technical skill perspective, or a soft skill perspective, you do have to take time out to train.

COGE | People Problems
People Problems: If you have people out of the field training, they’re not making money on the job site. Don’t be surprised if you have the same mistakes happening over and over again.

 

The other perspective is also one where the people who are leading, like your foreman, your lead guys, your lead girls, your lead gals, or however you want to put it, have to have the mindset that I’m here to mentor these people as well. I’m here to train them up so that they can run on their own without me having to be there 24/7. If they have that mentality, that can also help to develop your people as well.

This completely ties into what I’m about to ask you. I saw one of your YouTube Shorts videos where you talk about hiring people for a more technical fit, not for conviction. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by that? You did with the whole leads need to be understanding that they’re mentoring these people. Can you get into that a little bit?

When I say conviction, it goes back to this idea of culture. Every company has a culture, whether they understand it or not. Every person has that. The best companies understand what their culture is. Again, this is a dynamic. It’s not a magic pill. When they are hiring, they are aggressive and looking for people who are going to fit that culture. Going back to my client, whose purpose is to crush the competition, when they’re interviewing people, they’re careful to ask them questions about work-life balance because, frankly, at their company, the work-life balance isn’t terrific.

If someone’s coming in saying, “I’d like some work-life balance,” that’s an immediate red flag for them. Even if they’re skilled, even if they have a background in estimating because if you are not willing to come in at 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning and stick around until 5:00, this is not the place for you. If you’re always looking to leave by 2:00 because you’ve got your kids’ ballgame to go to or something like that, in some companies, they’re encouraging that but let’s be honest upfront.

If you’re going to be cutting out every day to go handle this, that, or the other thing, maybe you’re not a fit for the organization and we shouldn’t hire you in the first place. Having that conviction about who you are and being willing to attract people based on that and also repel people based on that conviction can lead to a much healthier culture.

Having conviction about who you are and being willing to attract or repel people based on that can lead to a healthier workplace culture. Share on X

We did this and I didn’t even understand that we were doing it, but now that you say it that way, it makes perfect sense. We’ve been through the hiring process a lot as we’re scaling, and we’ve had a few people who don’t work out on Thursdays, Fridays, or the weekend at all. As much as we try to make that fit, it’s like trying to fit a big old triangle into a square. It does not work. It’s not the fit that we need. As much as I aligned with them as a person, as a carpenter, and on a work level, if they can’t be there more than half the week, it doesn’t make sense. It felt like saying, “You’re great, but this isn’t going to work.” His work ethic was there, but scheduling, what you said ties in with that scheduling thing a lot.

Was the attitude there too, Matt?

This kid was on fire, but it was a family problem. It was, “I have to be out of town every single weekend, Saturday and Sunday, which isn’t that big of a deal, but it was, “I have something else. On Thursday and Friday, I can’t be there.” I have days when the crane shows up and it costs a lot of money. I can’t have people not there.

Let me say this. You’ve got to decide as a company. Am I going to spend my life revolving around my employee’s drama and issues, or am I going to set a clear course for my business? People have issues. I remember when I was going through some particular personal challenges many years ago in my life and my employer stuck with me but he did that because I was a baller.

He knew that, “Eric’s a baller and now, he’s having a little dip. Let me help out Eric for a little bit,” knowing that Eric’s not some flaky dude. He helped me out for a couple of months as I was going through some challenges and I continue to ball. Everyone has issues. We all have challenges. We’re human beings but if there’s a person like you described, Matt, that’s the kind of person, “I like you. You are skilled, but you’re just not a fit.”

You’re solving my problems during this show. I’m thinking about way too much here.

I did have a question out of curiosity, Eric. The whole reshuffling of the labor pool is something that we had mentioned in two of our previous episodes where the opportunity is a little bit more tangible now. One of the things that I talk to a lot of businesses is, “Quick to hire and not so quick to fire.” They’re trying to hold onto people because they need warm bodies.

I feel like, “Let me ask you this,” instead of assuming. When you talk to a lot of these businesses, they need to fill a seat on the bus so maybe they lower their expectation level because they need a warm body on the site. How often do you see that? How do you refine your process and expectation when you are going through the interview process?

I see that all the time and it’s with small companies that are large. They hire fast and they fire slowly instead of hiring slowly and firing fast. To refine the process of hiring, the first step is what we’ve already touched on, which is to be clear on your culture and inject that into the interview process. The second step I recommend is using assessments. There are tons of different assessments out there. I recommend one to my clients.

Assessments are not the be-all and end-all, but they’re a part of the process. An assessment is where you’re assessing how someone thinks, how they behave, what they like to do, and how that fits in with the role that you’re hiring them for, particularly if it’s a higher-level management role and you’re going to be paying this person a $150,000 salary or whatever the case may be.

The third step is, after you’re clear on your convictions and you’re injecting those into the hiring process, you’re using an assessment. The third one is to check the references and to do and to have clear conversations with people about, “How does this person succeed? How has this person failed? Why did they leave their job?” This is a key question that I would ask every single reference that I go after and it’s this. “If this person was to come back to you and reapply for a job with your company, would you hire them?”

I haven’t heard of that one before.

It’s a killer question. It’s one that I ask. I was talking to one of my clients, and a high-level executive in their company left their company a few months ago, and they began to send back feelers to this company. You could tell that maybe this guy was angling for another position. I looked the guy in the eye. This is a $100 million-plus construction company. I said, “If this guy comes back and he wants a job, are you going to give it to him?”

He’s like, “No. I’m not going to give it to him. He’s done.” You got to be clear on that stuff because these issues about hiring and then keeping people who are not a fit for your company will cost you millions of dollars over the lifetime of your organization. You have to get very aggressive and consistent in bringing on the right people and putting them in the right positions in your organization.

We’re probably going to switch gears a little bit and go into some of the office stuff, but so that I can clarify, maybe for the audience too. Eric, when you talk about convictions, is that gut-checking on the person that you’re going to hire? Is it overall having conviction in your own organization, or is it both? How do you define convictions when you’re talking to a client of yours?

It starts with you first. The most important thing is you have to be clear on, “Why does my company exist? How do we behave? How will we go to be successful? What’s most important right now?” Those are four questions that you have to ask. What’s our purpose? What’s our personality? What’s our plan? What’s our priority? With all those things in mind, I should bring those into every single interview that I do as far as hiring people. You have to have that kind of conviction.

When you’re interviewing someone, you have to ask yourself the question, “What is it going to cost me to make a hiring mistake here?” This is the key. Let’s say you’re hiring someone and maybe you’re hiring an hourly worker. You bring them onto the job site. You figure out after two weeks that they’re not a fit, and then you let them go. That doesn’t cost you a lot of money and sometimes, that’s what you have to do.

That’s fine, but if you hire someone in a more expensive role, be it a project manager, an estimator, a senior leader, or someone who you’re going to be investing six figures plus to bring into the company. You must understand that making a hiring mistake is going to cost you at least a year’s salary in terms of getting rid of that person and then bringing in another person to replace them.

It’s a big spend and that’s why when you’re hiring someone, you have to ask yourself, “Is this the right person for the right position?” Once you’ve hired them, you can’t go, “I’ve done my job.” Your job is just beginning and it’s then that you have to commit to making sure that their first 30, 60, or 90 days are a tremendous success in your organization.

At the end of 90 days, take a hard look at this person’s contribution and ask yourself, “Is this the right person for my company?” If they’re not, that’s when you need to cut ties with them. If you don’t have a clear idea of whether or not they’re a fit for your company in the first 90 days, then you haven’t done your job correctly.

That’s a key question that you should be asking when you set that level of expectation. It is also an asking the candidate, “Where do you expect to be in 90 days?” Also, make sure those expectations are met. I was having a conversation with a business and triggered this memory for me, Eric. He has about 70 employees now. A lot of his growing pains happen around 30 to 40 employees when you need to develop systems and processes.

Putting more people on a bad system doesn’t put out your fires. One of the things that he mentioned was you can’t hire people and expect all of your problems to go away. I feel like I see that a lot, especially with businesses that are getting up close to their scaling phases. They feel like they need to put bodies on things, people are going to come in, and then they’re going to figure out what to do. I feel like if you don’t have the conviction about your business, or at least have a clear roadmap of what this hire’s going to do, they’re not going to be successful because they’re not going to know come in and know your organization better than you do.

You have to put that plan in place and not be like, “We’re going to hire John or Sally, and they’re going to figure out all the processes for us.” It doesn’t happen. I think the smartest thing to do is do all that manually and figure out what’s the ideal process and then bring in that operator or whoever, and they’re going to execute that process.

That comes with having systems in place though, and already being somewhat of a leader because a lot of the people that I’m talking to are telling me that nobody treats their business the way that they treat their business. That’s all fine and dandy, but nobody ever is going to, but you can put systems in place and teach them. You can show them ways to what they’re doing is more beneficial than what they were doing before.

It seems like a lot of people hire and expect that like all their problems are going to go away. Everything’s going to be cured and if you hire somebody for an office position, you’re never going to have any problems. I think that’s where we’re headed with this next segment here. Eric, we see conflicts between the field and the office, between project managers, between GCs and subs  all the time. The one I hear most about is the field-to-office disconnect. To your point of view, what are some of the most common conflicts between the two?

A lot of the conflicts are these ones. They’re pointing fingers at each other about who is responsible for what exactly. As a leader, you have to be very clear on what the job of the field is and what the job of the office is. What are you expecting your project manager to accomplish? What are you expecting your foreman and your superintendent to accomplish?

What are their roles and responsibilities? Do they understand what their role and responsibility are? Do they understand other people’s roles and responsibilities and are they executing them? If you’re clear on that, when you come across the various conflicts, that will help you to understand who’s ultimately accountable for that particular issue.

You’re saying that accountability is lacking. Nobody knows who is doing what and that’s where the problems come from. I work with a lot of different builders and anytime a problem comes up, let’s say it’s with billing, I talk to people on site. “That’s not my deal. That’s theirs.” I talked to them. “The field guys didn’t turn in billing. Nothing got submitted.” They’re blaming them and they’re blaming them and it’s a circle of crap 9 times out of 10.

That’s where clarity on role and responsibility is important, communication of that role and responsibility so that everyone understands, and then accountability for that role and responsibility.

I want to chime in here. I’ve talked to a lot of field guys over the last few years ranging anywhere from journeyman carpenters in the union to your everyday swinging a hammer guy. Most of them do not respect the office. I totally get it. You have processes in place and you have roles, communication, and expectation. I’ll talk to some of these guys and this is their words, not mine, but they’re like, “They don’t know what I go through.”

When the fingers go the opposite directions, it’s usually out of lack of respect for each other’s role. HR or office management, the most common thing that I’ll hear from guys on the guys or gals on the field is they’re like, “They’ve never stepped on a job site. Why am I going to try to improve my communication if they have no idea what I have to go through? Do you think they get this data or whatever to them?”

We hear the same pushback with engineers and architects though as well with the trades too. It’s still that field in an office setting. I’ve heard it 1 million times, “This looks great on paper, but does it work?” “No,” and it’s the same thing every time. It comes down to a lack of respect both ways. They don’t care so much. I’ve seen gray areas where the architects leave things blank. I’ve also seen guys on-site that aren’t willing to communicate. It goes both ways. Who’s at fault though?

The first thing that everyone needs to do is to step back and ask the question, “Where do we make our money?” In construction, where’s the money made? The way I look at it, the money’s made in the field. If you don’t have guys and gals in the field, building the buildings and doing the work, then you are not going to make any money. The folks who are in the office need to understand that they’re there to support the field. They’re there to make sure that the field has everything that they need to execute every single day.

The field needs to understand that the office is providing them the support that they need to execute and that they are the center of the business. They’re the engine of the business. They then have a responsibility to report back to the office with the information that the office needs in order to help the field to execute at the highest possible level on a consistent basis. If that’s the mindset that we are making our money in the field. Field, you have the responsibility to report back on your production and on your issues so that we can understand what we need to do to further support you, that mindset shift can help to overcome some of the barriers.

COGE | People Problems
People Problems: People in the field are responsible for reporting back on their production and issues to the office. This way, the rest of the team knows how to support you further and overcome barriers.

 

I have a question for you. Do you think a lot of contractors are telling their field employees that they need to be reporting back? Oftentimes I hear that the office needs to be telling the field what they need to be doing, but it’s never the other way around. What you said right now is a first. It’s something that would help a lot. Are you working with people that are having their teams communicate both ways?

Absolutely, and that’s what the most effective companies do. They use a combination of relationships and technology to achieve this. Again, that perspective, “The field is where we make our money. We’re here to support you, but Field, we need information from you so that we can better support you.” Another piece of the process is this. I work with a lot of larger contractors and what happens is they hire their engineers or project managers out of college and they have their degrees.

Everybody knows that they don’t know anything except sometimes, the guys with degrees. They think the degree qualifies them to go onto a project and tell a guy who’s been doing the work for years what they need to do. It’s a tricky thing. The office needs to come onto the job site with the appropriate combination of humility and assertiveness. What happens is sometimes guys come onto the job site with their degrees and think that they’re the bomb when they’re not.

On the other hand, they come on and they naturally get intimidated by the guys on the job site who are like, “Screw you, buddy. I’m not going to give you the information you need. You need to earn it.” There’s a tricky thing there. They need to come on and be willing to assert themselves appropriately, but then also show the appropriate humility so that they can build relationships with people and overcome those silos that exist between the field and the office.

COGE | People Problems
People Problems: Leaders need to be willing to assert themselves appropriately and show humility at the same time. This can help build relationships and overcome silos that exist between the field and the office.

 

That comes with being able to humble yourself. You have to take yourself down off that high horse and create mutual respect between them.

That takes work. It takes relationship-building and going through conflicts. It’s a challenging thing. There are no magic pills to what we’re talking about here. It’s not like, “Here’s the magic pill. Take it.” If anyone sells you magic pills when it comes to this stuff, then they’re full of it.”

I wanted to chime on the relationship component, Eric, because I 100% hear you. You were alluding to the project manager that has a degree and you have the industry veteran that’s like, “Earn the information.” We had an episode with Jarod Coffman. If anybody’s reading and wants to learn about the dynamics between younger leaders and leading veterans, I highly recommend going and checking that out but the dynamic is the same.

The project manager is getting information from the field veterans. Let’s quickly talk about the younger leaders coming in because that’s a big gap too. You have the industry veteran that has 20 or 30 years of experience, but also, if you have like that lead carpenter or whatever it is, that dynamic is tricky too because then it’s like, “Now, I’m taking orders from this 28-year-old. What is going on here?”

It’s incumbent upon the younger folks to come with a mindset of, “I am in a leadership role, but I’m here to serve you. I’m here to do whatever is necessary to clear the way so that you guys can build safely and profitably with high quality on a consistent basis. If I need to say stuff, I’m going to say stuff. If I need to call you out, I’m going to call you out, but I’m not doing it because I’m trying to power trip. I’m not doing it because I’m trying to clown you. I respect you. I know that you’re the heartbeat of the business, but I will lead and serve as well and do whatever is necessary to make sure that you can get your job done.

If anyone is reading dealing with this type of dynamic, they should literally copy and paste this script from Eric and tell this to their field guys because you scripted it better than probably any of us could have right now.

I do think it’s important as well. In a lot of construction companies, the guys who run them, the owners, and the presidents come out of the field so they understand the gig. Like my framing company, LB Construction, Jordy and Vance started the company with one truck and their belts on. These guys aren’t Harvard MBAs who just swooped in and bought a construction company. They know what the field goes through, but they also know what the office needs.

When you have a leader who has that understanding, it’s his or her job to make sure that they are getting the field in the office together and saying, “These are the rules of the game that we play. You all need to play this game together correctly according to the rules.” Also, make sure that they’re holding the leaders of the office and the field, the operations, and the project management accountable for playing according to the rules that they establish.

I’m wondering if this is a case-by-case thing, but is this everybody, or how often are you seeing conflicts? Is this something that nearly every construction company you’re dealing with deals with? Do they all have problems with conflict amongst their own employees?

Yes.

Almost all of them or are all?

I would say all of them to one degree or another. It’s not unusual. Don’t feel that you are unusual if there are conflicts between the field and the office. They’re just there. The key is making sure that you’re doing whatever you can to overcome and minimize those conflicts.

COGE | People Problems
People Problems: Conflicts between the field and the office will always exist. The key is ensuring that leaders do whatever they can to overcome or minimize these challenges.

 

I said in the beginning that you were making me think about everything that’s going on with our own business here. Let’s say I had somebody that I consider to be top performing. I love the guy to death, but he has a conflict and it’s not something that’s going to be cured. It’s a constant thing. It does not change. Maybe it’s a character flaw. Do you fire? In my opinion, being completely honest with you, I do not think this is something that can change but it doesn’t affect other employees. It affects the management.

You then have to ask, “Is the management willing to deal with it?”

I would answer yes.

When is it a yes or when is it a no?

Are you asking me or are you asking Matt?

I’m asking the therapist right now, Eric.

The answer is I don’t know. It’s on a case-by-case basis. Another way of putting it, Matt, is what’s this costing you in terms of emotions and money?

I care about every single person that works for us. I would go to battle for any of them any day, but I don’t want to think about your problems. If there are family problems, people just bounce. I’m all for that. I love family, but it’s little stupid things. “I don’t want to stress about your problems,” is my big thing. Am I wrong for thinking that?

This is the question that I ask my clients when they’re dealing with an individual who’s talented but troubled or troubled. Matt, if this person walked into your office and said, “I’m moving or I have an opportunity with another company down the street and I’m going to take that opportunity,” what would you do?

Chances are fought a little bit to keep, but not necessarily like, “This is going to make or break anything.”

There’s your answer, but it’s interesting. You said, “Fight a little bit to keep.” Why would you fight a little bit to keep it?

It’s because I know the value that they do provide is worth something.

You have to ask yourself the question, “Is the value that they’re providing sufficient to put up with the BS?

So far, yes. I wanted your opinion to see if, “Am I stupid for doing this?” That makes a lot more sense though. I’m going to think of it that way from now on and maybe judge over the next 90 days.

If you ever get to the point where the answer to that question is, “It’s been great having you. Have a nice day,” that’s when you need to let them go.

I want to talk a little bit more about how to facilitate those conversations and conflict resolutions. Maybe I’ll tee it up a little bit, but let’s talk about how to have difficult conversations in an organization like what Matt was bridging to here. One of the things that have been pounded in my head is how you start a conversation is typically how it will end.

I picked this up from Dr. John Gottman who’s an amazing psychologist. A lot of his work is around how to make relationships work. I’m quoting him a little bit loosely here, but I think it was like, “90% something of the time, you can predict an outcome of a conversation based on how it starts within the first couple of minutes.”

My question to you, Eric, is in such a fast-paced, stressful environment like construction, there’s some uniqueness in construction versus other industries, but specifically for the environment of construction, what do you think is the best way to handle those disagreements and conflicts as they come up when you got 10,000 balls in the air that you’re trying to juggle?

The first thing is you have to set aside time to have that individual one-on-one conversation. When you’re having an individual confrontation, you need to get right to the point. There’s a model that I use that I learned from Susan Scott and her book Fierce Conversations. It’s a model that I teach consistently. It helps you to get into a one-on-one confrontation with someone very quickly. The first thing you have to do is to name the issue. Let’s say the issue is a lack of urgency and a lack of planning. That’s the issue that someone has. It’s a project manager.

COGE | People Problems
Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time

You’re not planning the work correctly, and you have a lack of urgency in terms of dealing with issues. After you name the issue, you select a specific example that illustrates the behavior or situation you want to change. You always do this or you never do that. You always name the issue and give a specific example. “With this particular project, it took the crew fourteen hours to put down 400 tons of concrete, and it shouldn’t take that long.” This is the issue. Here’s a specific example of it. Can you describe your emotions about the situation?

“I’m frustrated as a result of this issue because it has an impact on the financial health of the company and the relationships with the client.” You then clarify what’s at stake. Now, this is very important in the confrontation because if you are my boss and you’re coming to me, the first thing I’m asking is, “What’s at stake here? Is this my job? Is this my position? Is this a reprimand?” If his job or her job is at stake, you need to say that right up front.

Identify your contribution to the problem if you’ve contributed to the problem in some way. For instance, maybe I might say in this situation. You are not very good at planning and I have to say that I haven’t been good enough at teaching you how to plan. If you’ve contributed to the problem, you need to say that because you know what it’s like when someone comes to you and starts confronting you. The first thing that you are doing in your head is you’re saying, “This is happening because you haven’t done X, Y, and Z.”

If there is an X, Y, and Z there, you need to say that. You indicate your wish to resolve the problem because if you’re having a confrontation that isn’t, “I’m firing you right now,” that means you do wish to resolve the problem, and you need to let people know that. After that, you invite your partner to respond. You name the issue, select a specific example, describe your emotions, clarify what’s at stake, identify your contribution to the problem, indicate your wish to resolve it, and then invite your partner to respond and you should do that in 60 seconds.

You got to prep, though. If you prep that, you can do that in 60 seconds. I can say, “Dave, I’m concerned with your lack of urgency on this project. At Atascadero, where you’re from, Matt, on this particular project, you didn’t kick ass there. As a result of that, it’s causing me great frustration and it’s impacting our relationship with the client. If this doesn’t get fixed, I’m sorry, but your job’s at stake. This is key. You’ve got to nail this. I know I haven’t given you enough training. I’m committed to giving you that training, and I want to resolve this issue. Can you give me your perspective on what’s going on?” I did that in about 60 seconds.

What’s your framework for handling those disagreements, then?

I have a slightly different framework, Brek, and the one that I use is disagree but commit. If we’re in a meeting and we’re talking about how we’re going to run this project. Let’s say I bring in my project manager, my superintendent, and my foreman. Let’s say I’m the chief of operations, and we’re talking about how we are going to run this project. We’re going through a handoff process. You might even have the estimator in there, and you’re talking about how you’re going to execute.

One guy has one opinion, and another gal has another opinion. You’re talking about that and there is some conflict there or disagreement. You allow that disagreement, but at the end of the meeting, someone’s going to have to make a call as to how we’re going to execute this. At that point, even though there’s disagreement, you’ve had a chance to give your feedback. Now, let’s commit to this course of action, knowing that we can always come back and revisit the course of action if it turns out to be the incorrect one.

I figured that it would be somewhat along the lines of your framework. I want to talk a little bit more about if people are the root and also the root solution, changes to a project are part of the game. How do you motivate people when they’re struggling?

It depends on what area they’re struggling in. Give me an example.

Maybe executing a project. One of the things that we talked about in the episode is maybe the resistance to properly collecting data from the field or the field submitting that data. If they’re not motivated to do that, which enables an organization to run effectively, let’s diagnose that as a struggle for an organization on either side. How do you motivate people when they’re struggling?

It goes partly back to the idea of role and responsibility. I have to diagnose the problem. If someone’s struggling if they’re demotivated or they are demotivated because the people that they’re working with are not responding to their requests for information, I might need to get the field in the office together and say, “If we’re going to be able to execute this project profitably. Field, you have a responsibility, and Office, you have a responsibility. Both of you need to execute that responsibility.” Again, it goes back to me holding them accountable or their manager holding them accountable for that.

Ultimately, you’re hosting an intervention to see what in the hell’s going wrong and where.

Sometimes you got to do interventions. You got to figure it out.

Leave nothing unturned and basically talk through everything.

Yes, and again, that’s why having those project meetings once a week where you’re bringing in people and you’re saying, “What’s the progress on the project?” You’re bringing in the project manager and, hopefully, someone from the field so the field can get their hand raised and bring in their issues. That’ll help you to keep these projects on track.

It’s something we’ve talked about way too much. Communication as a whole in construction sucks. I’ve worked with too many people and no matter how big they are, whether they’re turning $50 million or $100 million a year, they all have the same issue that nobody seems to talk about.

You have to insist on that, and you have to work hard on it. It’s never-ending. That’s why you have to get into habits of communication that are based on commitments in terms of, “What’s my daily rhythm of communication? What’s my weekly rhythm of communication? What’s my monthly rhythm of communication?” It may vary from project to project, from situation to situation, but you have to get into a consistent routine. You also have to get into that habit where you’re holding yourself and other people accountable for that consistent communication.

We’re on the topics of meetings, Eric. There are two things that you seem to be very proficient at understanding and coaching your clients on how to run a kick-ass meeting but also shifting from time management to calendar management, which we’ll get into. I like your whole kick-ass meeting type of phrasing, but first, how do you identify a kickass meeting? Also, what would be the ideal outcome of a kickass meeting? How do you typically structure one?

A kickass meeting is one where we have identified a specific problem. We have the right people in the room to address the problem and we’re using a very simple but powerful structure to go from problem identification to idea generation, to idea prioritization, and then action planning. We’re doing that in 60 minutes or less. The issue with a lot of people is that they try and solve problems, and the leader either thinks 1 of 2 things.

Either I suck at running meetings, or my team sucks and they never want to come to agreements. They’re butting heads all the time. The problem isn’t that you suck at running meetings or that your team sucks. It’s the structure of the meeting that’s the problem. If you have the right structure, you can learn how to facilitate a meeting and get people to come to an agreement on how you’re going to solve your issues.

If you know the right structure in facilitating meetings, you can get people to agree on how to solve your problems. Share on X

Let me explain that in a little bit of detail if I may. The first thing you need to do is to identify the problem. Let’s say you have a safety issue on your projects. Your incident rate is not where you want it to be, and you want to address safety. You bring in people from the field, the office, your safety person, or whatever the case is, and you ask the question, “In what specific ways can we improve safety on our job sites in the next 90 days?”

You have a clear question right there. The key word in that question is the word specific. The reason why is that the more specific you are in your thinking, the more actionable you will be in the ideas that you produce. You bring people into the room and let’s say you have a room with 7 or 8 people. For this type of meeting where you’re looking to solve problems, I wouldn’t have more than 7 or 8 people. Maybe nine at the most. If you get too many people in, it’s too difficult to run.

You get the key people in there and then you give them too few minutes to write as many ideas as they can come up with in two minutes to that question, “In what specific ways can we improve safety in the next 90 days?” In this process, at this point of the meeting, there are no bad ideas. Whatever idea you have, you write it down, you get another one, you write it down and you get another one. You’re trying to be as specific as possible and dump as much as you can in two minutes.

You can then ask everyone to look at the list of ideas that they’ve generated and pick their top two ideas. They’ve probably generated anywhere from 2 to 6 ideas in two minutes or maybe more for some people. Even if they’ve generated only one idea, that’s fine. You ask them to pick their top two. You go around the room and let’s say you’re in a room and you have a whiteboard or you have a flip chart. Even if you’re out in the field, you might have a little iPad or something like that where you can make notes.

You go around the room and you gather one idea at a time from each person. You start and you get your first idea. They share it with you, you write it down on the board. You ask clarifying questions because sometimes people need to talk out their ideas to clarify what they’re saying. You go to the next person and get their idea. You only let them share one idea at a time. You go all the way around the room getting their ideas. If you’re going to participate and you’re leading the meeting, you share your first idea last.

You go back around the room and get everyone’s ideas, but you go the other way. The person who went last gets to go first the second time around. You should get two ideas from every person in the room. Now, you’re going to get duplicate ideas at some point. That’s fine. You ask them to share their next best idea. At the end of that, you should have about 12 to 15 ideas on the board, on how you’re going to improve safety in the next 90 days.

There’s an old saying about meetings. “When all was said and done, a lot was said and nothing was done.” You’ve got this list of ideas and they’re probably all good ideas, but you’re not going to execute all of them in the next 90 days. What you do then is prioritize, and this is how. Let’s say you have twelve ideas on the board. You distribute four votes to every person in the room. You ask them to pick their top four ideas from the list of twelve.

Everyone votes. You go around the room, you collect the votes, and what you’ll find is that 1 or 2 ideas will get more votes than all of the other ones. In fact, what you might find in many cases, and I’ve been using this process for almost two decades, you’ll find that the top two ideas will then be supported by the other ideas that get votes. What you do is take the idea that has the most votes.

Let’s say it’s safety, and the best idea is we’re going to have a tailgate meeting every single day for five minutes. We’re going to have a 5 to 10-minute tailgate meeting on every single project, every single day to remind us about safety. Let’s say there are 8 people in the room and that got 6 votes, and that’s the most votes. You look at everyone in the room and you say, “If we commit in the next 90 days to having a tailgate meeting every single day to discuss safety, how many people will support that by a show of hands?”

I promise you, 99% of the time, you’re going to get unanimous consent to that idea, and the only time you don’t get unanimous consent is if someone is unclear on the idea for whatever reason. By using this process, you get everyone to weigh in with their ideas, evaluate the ideas, vote on the ideas, support the ideas, and come to an agreement on how you’re going to solve your toughest challenges. You can do this in less than an hour.

This is going to sound so ridiculous, but what you’ve explained sounds amazing for one. This sounds like something I would do in grade school because it works. The other thing is it’s so simple that it works so well. You’re not only telling people how you’re going to fix a problem and you’re not giving them, “Here’s A, B, or C.”

Here’s what you’re doing that’s going to be that. That’s how you get pushback but as you’re saying, when you get their opinions on what they think could be done and they feel like they came together as a group and figured something out, I feel that everybody leaves the room thinking, “I contributed to that.” We’re going to make a change and I was part of that. I feel like they’re more entitled to push for that.

I promise you, if you use this process, you’ll find that it revolutionized the way that you run the types of meetings where you’re looking to solve problems. We know in construction, problems happen all the time. You’ve got to get good at solving problems and tapping into the genius of your team in order to do that.

I’m going to recap for the audience, but the four ways to run a successful meeting according to Eric are to identify the problem, share ideas, and vote. Prioritize them, evaluation, and come to an agreement. It’s simple and there’s agenda. As what Matt was alluding to, everybody feels like they contributed to it

I can tell you, I’ve built my whole business on that one framework. My business is way more than that, but without that, I wouldn’t have the business that I have now and the ability to help the people that I’ve helped because of using that process.

The second thing that I was alluding to is the changing from time management to calendar management speaking of processes. Tell us a little bit more about how you view both time management versus calendar management and how to factor in and embrace chaos because that’s important for a lot of folks in construction to learn more about.

It’s basically a mindset shift. Again, this is not rocket science by any means, but if you’re trying to manage your time and construction, you’ll fail miserably because there is so much chaos. I’m coming in and I’ve got my prioritized list of stuff I’m going to do that day, and all of a sudden, I get a call from my superintendent or my foreman, and that goes out the window when off I go.

I come to the end of my day and I haven’t done anything on my list and I wonder what happened. The first thing you have to do is to embrace chaos and realize that much of the time, especially the closer you are to the field, the more chaos there will be in your life. The further you get away from the field, the less chaos there will be or the higher you get up in leadership.

The closer you are to construction fieldwork, the more chaos there will be in your life. Share on X

You have to embrace that chaos and let’s say you are project manager. 80% of your time is going to be spent dealing with stuff like answering emails, contacting clients, coordinating with the field, and running around with your hair on fire. You get used to it. That’s reality. When it comes to calendar management, you have to ask, “When does my chaos occur? What are the times that my chaos occurs, generally speaking?”

Maybe I’ve got to get my guys lined up and get them launched at 7:00 in the morning and from 7:00 to 10:00, lots of stuff is happening. Maybe it mellows out a little bit in the afternoon. I may still get a few phone calls, but there’s space in the afternoon where what I can do then is a shift to my calendar management mindset, and I’m going to set out blocks of time. There’s going to be a time block, and it could be a time block for anything.

Let’s say I’m an estimator and a project manager. I do both. I’m going to block out time in my calendar in the afternoon to work on an estimate and for 90 minutes, I’m not going to take phone calls. I’m not going to take emails. I’m going to focus on one thing. I’m not going to multitask because multitasking doesn’t work. I’m going to do one thing, and that is work on that estimate.

Prior to getting into that time block, in order for it not to be interrupted, I’m going to communicate to other people saying, “From 1:00 to 2:30, I’m going to be working on an estimate unless there is an emergency, my door is closed. I will not be interrupted. After that time block, I’m happy to answer your emails or your phone calls or to have a conversation with you but during that time block, I’m managing my calendar and I’m focused on doing one thing.”

I’ve said a few times that I think that you’re my therapist right about now. I do think that I’m on almost the right path. I started doing this because I noticed that time went out the window in a hurry and that I couldn’t get to anything that I wanted to during the day. I got to a point where I would start putting the phone away, not having emails open, and focusing. I wasn’t doing it so much as a scheduled thing and we also don’t have a huge company, but I’m able to put everything away and work on one thing. That way, that one thing gets done because I was noticing it over and over. I was going to get to it, but it wouldn’t happen. It happened way too many times.

This is the key. I don’t have client meetings on Monday. If someone asks me, “Eric, can you meet with me on a Monday?” I’ll say, “No, I can’t. I’m busy.” The only exception I’ll make with that is let’s say I’m going on a long vacation and I won’t be around for a while. I may open up my Mondays for a week so that I can meet my client’s needs but I don’t do that. I do other stuff on Mondays, stuff based on my business. It’s important for you to understand what time blocking means for you and what you need to do in those time blocks and then discipline yourself to set that time aside. Put down the crack pipe. Communicate to everyone that this is what I’m doing, and then discipline yourself to do that one thing.

COGE | People Problems
People Problems: Understand what time blocking means to you and what you need to do to set that time aside.

 

It’s helped me a lot. The next thing that I want to talk about is something that I’ve noticed as well. We’re not going to get into the family problems that I have, but the business we’ve done great. Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about building systems and running things a bit more profitably. You talk about this a lot in your new book, but let’s get insights. I’ve seen it myself with many projects that I’ve run, but as the project goes on, the profit seems to fade. It dissipates into Nowheresville and I can’t find it if I tried. What happening?

This happens a lot. It’s the shiny new thing syndrome and this is what construction companies do. They’ll have a crew working on a project or a project manager working on a project, and they get right to 85 or 90% completion, and then all of a sudden, another project comes along. What we do is start shifting resources to the new project. We want to get everything kicked off nicely. This other project hangs around. We try and juggle our balls in the air and all this stuff. The punch list is out there. It never gets completed.

As a result of that, my profit fades away. It’s challenging because the truth is I need to bring on this next project in order to keep the cash coming in and keep the company rolling over and this is one of the keys. Companies will designate one person or one crew, and it depends on the size of the company and who’s the project closeout expert.

It’s the person who does a good job of saying, “Give me that punch list. I’m going to knock those things out. Let me go down and make sure all those things get taken care of.” Maybe they have enough energy and ability to be able to handle that punch list so that you can shift resources off, but you’re focused on buttoning up that last 10% or 15% of activity so that that profit isn’t fading away because you’re not finishing up on time.

I have a guy. His name’s Jay. He’s great, and what you described is him. He’s also our lead, but he’s the most team player person you’ve ever met. He asks me all the time. We have the same name so he calls me Junior. “Junior, is there anything that you guys need to be taken care of to that we can move on?” We’re on a separate project and he’s asking me about other stuff. “What can we wrap up to take it off your plate?” and what you described is him to a T. That right there saves my ass more times than not because I can’t do everything.

One strategy that I would encourage you to think about is getting that project closeout expert or team or someone who loves doing that stuff and bang out that punch list so stuff isn’t hanging around costing you money.

Now that you’ve put that together, you pieced together a puzzle in my head. I’ll think about that more from now on.

Eric, we were chatting when we were going to tee up this show. I want you to share with everybody what I asked you. When people call you for advice, what are they usually asking? You mentioned two things and I thought it was great. The 1st one was when a leader of a company was promoted and the 2nd thing that you said was how to turn a project leader into a people leader. I want to talk about the first one first. When a leader of a company was promoted, talk to us a little bit more about what this conversation looks like and what types of advice are they looking for or what you tend to give when someone was promoted.

When someone is just promoted, the first 90 days are essential. In that first 90 days, I would sit down with that person and walk them through a high-performance dashboard. I would ask them as they’re coming into this position, “What do you think is the one thing that you need to achieve in the first 90 days to be able to say with any credibility, ‘I’m getting off to a good start?’”

It’ll be interesting to see what they have to say because if you’ve promoted this person into a new position, hopefully, they have some talent. They have some capability. They have some brains, and they would have a good answer to that question. Perhaps, they wouldn’t have a great answer, and you can help to clarify with them what that rally cry or that one thing should be.

Once they’ve clarified that, then you ask them, “If this is the one thing that you need to achieve in the first 90 days, what are your top three initiatives that are going to help you to achieve that rally cry? What are the actual things that you’re going to do?” Have them identify those three things. Make sure that you are aligned with them on that. Give them feedback. Get some metrics that are related to those initiatives that tell you whether or not they’re executing them in order to achieve that rallying cry.

Once you have that in place, then ask them, “In the first 90 days, what are the key relationships that you think you need to develop?” Let’s say someone’s coming into a project executive role, and this happens many times in construction companies. Let’s say they were picked over somebody else and that somebody else is going to report to them.

They do not like that. I just saw that happen.

That is one of the key relationships. Now, relationships are two-way streets. You can do whatever you can to try and build a relationship with someone, but if they don’t want a relationship with you, then it is not going to happen. Having said that, you should make a commitment to developing a relationship with that person doing everything in your power to do that.

Relationships are two-way streets. You can do whatever you can to try and build a relationship with someone, but it will not happen if they don’t want it. Share on X

Do you think it would be better as a company not to publicize the fact that somebody’s going to get promoted yet do it one-on-one with that person? Oftentimes, the example I’m using right now, they’re a big company here in California. It was like a game of, “Who’s going to be the next boss.” There were seven people I’m talking to, “That’s going to be me.” All six of them were very bummed out when the seventh one got it. All of them had some resentment towards that seventh, all because of the fact that it was publicized.

Let me answer that in a couple of ways. Sometimes it’s unavoidable because you have to publicly post these positions in larger companies. You publicly post it, and then people apply. The grapevine works, and people know who’s applying. It’s hard to avoid it. From a small scale, you can probably manage it a little more effectively, but this is one of the challenges with having a company and having limited spots for people to move up into. Sometimes people are going to be offended that they weren’t the ones picked. You do risk losing them. You do risk them having resentment, and that’s something that you have to manage. That’s a reality of business.

I have a lead position opening soon and I know a couple of people that are qualified for it. I know who’s going to get it, eventually. I get that. Even though it’s not being publicized, everybody knows that it’s up for grabs.

That also begs a question about, “How is it that I can keep my talent over a long period of time?” I don’t have spots for everyone in leadership at the moment, let’s say, but how can I grow my company or how can I give people other opportunities? I work with this one company and they’re very large. They purposely opened up new divisions so that they can reposition talented people in those new divisions so that they don’t go to the competition. It’s one of the reasons they grow their business so that they can make room for the talent they have in their company.

Rather than losing them, they give them a place to go.

Yes, exactly, but that’s not an option for everyone. That is what I would call a strategic driver. A driver of a strategic plan could be, “We have talented people and we want to make room for them, so let’s open up another geography or another project segment that we go after,” or something like that.

That’s the position that I’m in right now because I have a very talented guy. I love the guy to death. I also have another one that came from one of our competitors. I’m trying not to have him work directly. They’re side by side. They should be at least. We’re trying to figure out how to move things around to make it work.

Once they’ve identified those key relationships, they can be external or internal. Let’s say you’ve got a customer relationship that you need to shore up. You tell them, “In the first 90 days, you need to go out and take this guy out for lunch, take him golfing, or whatever the case is. Make sure you shore up that relationship.” After the key relationships, you then ask them about their top development opportunities. “What do you need to do in the first 90 days to develop yourself? What help do you need? What resources? What support do you need to be able to perform at a high level in your position?”

Get a rally cry initiative, metrics, key relationships, and top development opportunities. Get a dashboard right up front. In the first 90 days, and I know some people aren’t going to like this, but you need to meet with that new person every week with the dashboard in hand and ask them, “How’s it going? What’s working? What’s not working? What help do you need?” so that you can come to the end of 90 days and say, “I did everything I could to make sure this person succeeds in their new role.” After 90 days, you redo the dashboard and you use that on a consistent basis to help people to be focused on how to perform at a high level.

I have a follow-up question, Eric. The second part was turning a project leader into a people leader. I could probably make some assumptions, but we have guests on, and us making assumptions. I want to ask you outright. What’s the biggest difference that you see between a project leader and a people leader, and how do you bridge that gap?

Projects are black and white, generally speaking, with the exception of some of the drawings being a little bit gray, but people are gray. People aren’t black and white. A lot of times, you get engineers who have an engineer’s mindset who kick ass running a project, but then when they have to run a team of people, they communicate in a way that can be abrupt. It can be emotionally unintelligent and I don’t mean being a sissy or something like that, but they don’t pick up on emotional cues sometimes.

They need to be educated on how to communicate, how to handle people’s issues, and how they differ from projects. That shift can be challenging. They have to learn how to have those difficult conversations as we talked about. They have to learn how to bring people to an agreement and not only say, “I know the right way to do it because I’ve got experience. This is how we’re going to do it.”

However, you guys picked up from the process I shared and the act of getting people’s input will get their energy then focused on how to solve the issues. You have to focus them on making sure that they’re holding people accountable. When I’ve only got 1 or 2 people to hold accountable, maybe I can handle that but if I’ve got 6 or 8 people to hold accountable, I need to be then consistent in meeting with them on a regular basis so that I can surface issues, I can deal with problems, and I can keep my team moving forward together.

If not, that’s how things fall in the cracks and get left behind.

This is another thing because it’s challenging because they didn’t get into construction to lead a team of people. They got into construction to build stuff. Now, they’ve got to shift their mindset and they think this is the problem. They think that they’re wasting time having one-on-one meetings with their people, but they’re not. They’re leveraging themselves to deal with the issues that they’re having on the projects. If you run those one-on-one meetings effectively, it’ll have a massive positive impact on the business but you have to discipline yourself to do those on a consistent basis.

By running one-on-one meetings effectively, you can positively impact your business. But you have to discipline yourself to do them on a consistent basis. Share on X

Eric, we got one more thing that we want to talk about before we go and talk about your book as well. We’ve had 2 to 3 episodes where we got some perspective from a couple of our guests on how to handle a recession and how to find your mentors in terms of when things are chaotic. Also, we got some good insights into the market with John Burns.

One thing that you mention is that talented people are your best asset no matter what the economy is doing. We can all 110% agree on that, and I couldn’t agree more with this. When the economy shakes or crashes, the labor pool reshuffles. You alluded to this on the opportunity where if you can grab that talent, that’s an opportunity that doesn’t come every single day.

When s*** hits the fan, as a business, how do you coach leaders and business owners on how to maintain a level of conviction in their business and projects that enable them to attract that talent in the best people when everybody else is stumbling over themselves and repelling the best people? How do you coach them on handling that?

You have to be grounded in your own personal convictions and you have to be committed to playing long-term games with long-term people. Construction is a relationship game and you may get away with burning a couple of people and being a hard ass and all this stuff but the best contractors that I know, particularly in the culture that we’re currently living in, the most successful ones are the ones who understand that relationships are at a premium.

I am committed to playing long-term games with long-term people. I’m going to conduct myself with integrity. I’m going to stand for what’s right for the contract that we’ve agreed to while also being flexible where I need to be flexible. I am not fly by night person who builds a project and the economy goes south, therefore, I’m going to go try something else. I’m long-term committed to construction, my clients, and my community.

Having that mindset, I’m playing long-term games with long-term people. The economy’s going to go up and down. 2008 happened. I remember that. Everyone freaked out and it was challenging. I got clients who’ve been around for over 100 years, and the reason they’ve been around for years is that they treat their people right. They work with integrity and they are committed. They play long-term games with long-term people.

We’ve touched on this a bit before with some others, but I feel like too many people hire without giving people a vision of what could be working for them. Oftentimes it’s, “Here’s how much you’re going to make. Do you want to start tomorrow?” Rather than, “Here’s where you could be.” I’ve hired a lot of people like that too, but I enjoy having a team that knows where we’re headed, what we’re doing, and where they could be.

We’re in a small area. I’m hearing a lot of local journeyman carpenters saying, “How are you looking right about now? We’re getting slow over here.” Their leaders are not telling them, “Don’t worry about that. We’re good.” Whereas personally, not to sound cocky, I’m telling our guys, “Don’t stress about that. We’ve got it covered. We’re booked out solid. We’re going to keep working no matter what.” We have a downturn right now. People are getting slow, but that’s not something they have to worry about because they see that long-term of, “We’re not going to be gone next May. If I’m gone, I fucked up.”

I used to sell copy machines back in the ‘90s. I know it’s classic. I used to do tons of cold calls. One day, I walked into this one office and there was this guy. He is probably my age at the time. I was in my twenties or whatever. I asked him, “Give me some advice.” He said, “Okay. Let me give you some advice. Low overhead and stay humble. It’s not what you make. It’s what you keep.” If you want to get through a recession, that’s how you’re going to get through it. If you run your business like that every single day, particularly construction when the recessions hit, when the bad times hit, you’ll have the cash in hand to be able to get through that.

Keep your most talented people. Keep them on for a little bit longer than your competition can, attract that talent, and you’ll be able to ride it out. If you have high overhead and if you’re spending money on fancy toys, and if you’re going around with your chest puffed up because somehow you think you’re a genius because the economy’s doing well, and you know everyone’s doing well, “Low overhead. Stay humble. It’s not what you make. It’s what you keep.”

I was too young to go through 2008, but I love talking to contractors that made it through. They’re resilient in a way that they bunkered down and made it work. Hearing how they did it, as you’re saying, oftentimes, it’s super lean and they pulled through but the story’s always different. It varies everywhere you go.

Some people hired a bunch of people and made it through but it’s always interesting to me how that works out. I think we are headed toward a recession. If not, we’re already in one. It depends on who’s declaring that. Before we let you go, Eric, please tell us a little bit more about your book. I bought it before hopping on the show. I am super stoked about it. What can people expect from it?

I appreciate you buying the book, by the way, Matt. The book is called Construction Genius: Effective Hands-on Practical, Simple, No BS Leadership Strategy Sales and Marketing Advice for Construction Companies. I’ll tell you where I got the subtitle from. I got that from a client, and he said, “Eric’s leadership training is effective, hands-on, practical, simple, no BS.” The premise of the book is simple. People problems are costing your construction company millions and the book is about how to solve those people problems.

COGE | People Problems
Construction Genius

I’ve said it forever. The building is the easy part, and running the backend and keeping everybody happy is the biggest problem. You’re solving a bit of a disconnect we’ve got there. I’m looking forward to reading it. Where can people pick it up?

You can pick it up at ConstructionGeniusBook.com. You can click on the Buy Now button. The website will give you a little more information. There are some awesome reviews already from people coming in. I’m thankful for that. You can go out to Amazon and find the book and buy it. It’s Kindle. There’s the audio version, the hardcover, and also the paperback version.

I got to tell you this funny story. I’m up in Sacramento here. A guy contacted me. He said, “I purchased seven copies for my leadership team. Will you come by and sign them?” That was awesome. What a great thing. I went by and I asked the guy, “Give me the name of the person and what’s their biggest challenge so I could say, ‘Read chapter 2 or read chapter 6.’” I signed all the books. It was killer. I am excited to do that.

That’s such a personalized thing too. It was awesome. Where can people find and connect with you before we go?

You can find me at ConstructionGenius.com and then also on LinkedIn. You can search for Eric Anderton. You’ll find me there.

You also have a killer podcast.

The show is Construction Genius. It’s a highly-rated podcast, and I have killer guests on it. I love doing the show. You guys are doing a great job, by the way. You asked great questions. Congratulations. Keep doing it. My show has opened up so many doors for me and it’s a killer place to get to know me.

There’s enough to go around the table for everybody. Eric’s show is highly recommended as well. There is a plethora of episodes there. Eric’s goal is to get to 500 episodes. We’re running with the big dogs. You’re going to motivate us.

Be consistent and keep doing what you’re doing. You guys are good at doing the interviewing. You’re doing a terrific job. Again, long-term games with long-term people. That’s what it’s all about.

That was my favorite answer to that. Eric, thanks so much for joining us on the show. Everybody, if you enjoyed this episode and you learn something new, take a couple of seconds out of your day and write us an awesome review. It helps us. We’ll see you next time.

Thanks again for reading this. Please check out their show, Bred to Built. They’ve got a lot of tremendous episodes on there with great guests. As I mentioned, the book, Construction Genius: Effective, Hands-On, Practical, Simple, No-BS Leadership, Strategy, Sales, and Marketing Advice for Construction Companies. That’s my book. I know you’ll enjoy it.

Get yourself and your leadership team a copy of the book, and then what you should do is read one chapter a month and meet together for 30 to 60 minutes. Discuss the chapter and how you can use and apply it to improve the leadership of your business. Check out the book on Amazon. Also, get Audible if you like to listen to audiobooks. I personally narrated the Audible. You’ll enjoy it. Thanks again for tuning in.

 

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