Finding, Motivating and Retaining Your Best Construction People

Finding great Construction talent is hard.  Keeping them empowered, engaged and retaining them even harder.

I called it the perfect storm.  2008-2010 many long tenured successful construction men and women hung up their hammers and went home.  At the very same time, the colleges and technical schools were at an all time low in enrollment into their Construction Management degreed programs.  The kids were told that the jobs just weren’t going to be there upon graduation.  Fast forward six years and we now have a significant talent shortage.

Today, construction is busy and almost everyone needs more talent.  After twenty years of running an Executive Search firm focused on Construction, it is by far the most challenging time to find great people at a somewhat reasonable price.   A two-pronged approach (talent planning and retention strategies) is needed to not only solve this issue for today, but moving into the future as well.

Let’s discuss one approach, retention.  Having spent twenty plus years as a student of people, several things stand out.  To retain top performers or top potential people, you must keep them motivated, engaged and show them how they can direct their future within your organization.  You also must hire people who culturally fit and share your core values or they simply won’t work out to begin with.

Let start with bad hires and how to avoid them.  We’ve all done it – hired the fast talking, smart Project Manager/Superintendent who is an amazing interviewer.  He or she promises all the right things.  You check their references (or not) and it confirms their technical skills are sharp.  But what about values?

Values are driven into an organization from the top leadership down.   They not only tell us who will integrate into our company, but it also directs what is acceptable behavior on a daily basis.  For example, if you value people who take calculated risks or are entrepreneurial and self-directed, hiring someone who needs constant attention and hand holding doesn’t work past the first onboarding stage.  Another example is a firm that values someone who doesn’t punch a clock but gets the job done as needed (we call those half days 6:00am-6:00pm).  They struggle with most Millennials who are ready to run out the door the minute they see the clock hand strike 5:00 because they focus on work-life balance!

As a solution to this challenge, we have been working with our clients on values alignment and career-pathing.  Values alignment is done with the senior leadership team and is an exercise where the leaders must force rank values – all without talking!!  Its some of the most rewarding work we do, because out of it comes alignment not only on the common core values, but we discuss how those values behave within the organization everyday.  We also use this arsenal of information for interviewing (if the candidate’s share many core values the likelihood of success is high).  Ultimately we work with Supervisors to not only conduct performance reviews against the technical part of the job, but how the individual behaved against the values.  From this we developed a scoring system which allows people to be identified a High Potential or High Performing.

Once identified, we focus energies with this group on Innovation Summits.  High Potential employees are given critical thinking and problem solving exercises to develop stronger leadership skills.  High Performers work on strategy and innovation.  Not only are these filled with new ideas for leadership, but the employees are empowered and energized around new projects.

Career-pathing is another solution for retention.  It’s an exercise where the employee leads the performance review and ultimately set their own career-path.  Goals are agreed upon and now it becomes the employee who “owns” the successful completion.  No more micromanaging – they simply know what needs to be done to be promoted or receive the raise they would like.  But the onus is on them…not the Manager or Supervisor.  Employees certainly have reported feeling very empowered by this process.

Finally we recommend a stakeholder analysis against your strategic plan.  The question you are looking to answer is, “do we have the team members in place to ensure we will accomplish our must do-can’t fail goals for the year?”  You can build a pro-active talent plan instead of reactionary hiring when in panic mode.

So in conclusion, it still is going to be hard to find and keep talent.  But reality is, when a Headhunter calls and offers them a promotion – they now are armed in the knowledge that the same opportunity exists where they are and you seek their opinion.  We have increased retention numbers that prove this process works.

Sharon Hulce


Employment Resource Group Inc.

(920) 996-9700