by Colm Allen
Even though business is booming, we all know the margins in construction are decreasing — at least with hard bid. Profit percentages are so tight, it’s hard to get an edge. With information so freely available, even the laziest of owners can figure out their contractors’ margins, risk, and ratings. If your construction company can get a competitive advantage by finding a “lost” warehouse full of white marble in Northeastern China, or a discounted container of copper pipe, so too, can your competitors. It’s called Google! Suppose you use a “cutting-edge” software that gives your company an edge; you will only have that advantage for as long as it takes your competitors to get up to speed. In these times of transparency, it is almost impossible to get ahead of your competitors.
There is only one way to get a competitive advantage in these super competitive days — your people. Technology just makes things faster; it doesn’t make you better at your job if you were only average to begin with.
When it comes down to it, construction managers are high-level customer service providers, via the construction of buildings. When the project is over, the thing that sticks with the client most will be the “experience”: the story, or journey, if you like.
Last time we checked, there was no software for “experience.” If you still believe you’re in the “building” industry, at least follow that with “relationships.” The best construction companies we know are not in the business of constructing buildings, they are in the business of constructing relationships. And only people can build relationships.
At Construction Recruiters, our clients are screaming for a certain type of employee. Their needs are less construction-focused, with more attention being paid to find soft skills: leadership, communication, critical thinking, creativity, empathy, etc. These desirable candidates can walk into a room, ask great questions, listen to the client’s needs, suggest solutions, employ process and deliver what was promised — with minimal conflict and quality execution along the way. Everyone says “That’s what we do!” Sure it is . . . this is the moment of truth: Were you invited to the table on the client’s next project, and how much of your pipeline is from repeat business?
One of the most desirable characteristics in modern commerce,is, by far, those most elusive of skills, communication and common sense. You can teach someone to use Timberline, but you can’t teach common sense or empathy. Think about any GC you admire, and I guarantee one of the top reasons is, that they communicate better. They’re better at communicating about what they do in the community (they are great marketers), amongst themselves, with their vendors, with their stakeholders, and with their clients. The future of construction is communication. Technology is just a tool to manage process, speed, or quality. You can’t build a house by text. Just like you can’t recruit by email. There are nuances to relationships that can only be communicated in person. And when you are spending $100M of someone else’s money, you’d better understand all of those nuances and make the client happy.
We agree with the adage that says “Hire for attitude, train for skills.” I’ve even said it in this column before. The days of the table-thumper are over. It’s all about consultative communication now. Hire people who show signs of teamwork and working for the greater good, then teach them how your company works. Candidates who have shown success in sports or philanthropic activities already appreciate that they may be great at their individual job, but they know they didn’t get there alone. They know how to rely on teammates, coaches, or volunteers. These people will share what they know and will often multiply themselves in your organization by mentoring their colleagues. Employees who share their successes and talents are the future of construction. They will feel engaged and will be the benchmark for your future hires. These are the people who will guarantee that your clients come back to you again and again. They make the journey one clients want to do again.
We spend all day here at Construction Recruiters talking to people, often in person, trying to identify the top 10% of candidates with outstanding communication skills. Give me a call if you’d like to know more about what we are hearing from candidates and seeing in the industry: 617 216-3666.