UCON Upfront: September 2021, by Mark Breslin, UCON CEO
Construction needs a make-over. We are shag rug. We are avocado-colored refrigerators. We are mullets. We are outdated.
The big change isn’t technology. It isn’t sustainability. It isn’t pre-fab. It isn’t the methods of production or productivity. None of these need the real work. It is our culture, and the potential payoﬀs for re-creating it are extensive.
Not that I am a big authority, but with four generations of construction in my family, I have experienced the culture over the years. I appreciate the legacy of grit and determination we have as our industry foundation. I am a product of that “old school.” It helped me move up faster and further than I ever could have imagined. But all good things must come to an end to make way for something even better. And that is the task at hand for company leaders, the association, and the industry.
Today’s culture needs to be another extension of the powerful cultural changes that have already occurred. A few examples: Safety going from a pain in the ass to a number one value system comes to mind, drug-free job sites instead of beers at lunch, the end of abusing apprentices, among others. We have made some progress for sure, but more untapped potential is there, and it can operationally and economically impact every reader of this article in profound ways.
One stark example of legacy thinking was an event I went to not long ago—a celebration of the company’s many years in business. The oldest employees got their 30 and 40-year plaques, and tears were shed. All in all, it was a feel-good moment. The CEO asked me what I thought about it. I told him that there was not one of his best and brightest young people in that audience that gives a shit about doing 40 years to get a plaque. That the reality is that he and his company were way out of touch with today’s culture. He looked like I hit him with a brick. (How not to get invited to things by Mark Breslin…)
The theme for this culture change model is organizations making the decision. Do they want to be market-centric or employee-centric? Do they want to be project-driven or people-driven? And that is the threshold issue by which strategy and resources need to be aligned. The very short version that I have used in many presentations is this: we need to go from a culture of “Building the Work, to one of “Building the People Who Build the Work.” Easier said than done.
What are the compelling arguments for this change and the time and money it will take to do it right? I can think of three:
- Talent shortages across all lines of our business need to compel us to create workplaces where employee development and advancement are ﬁrst. If you don’t, then you can pay more for them; lose them to others who are doing it, or end up with B and C players because you don’t know better.
- Culture is now your brand. You can’t BS people anymore. You can’t even pay people to endure a weak culture. They will see it, feel it, and know. The best companies in America are all over this and don’t even think to shortcut it. Employees, end-users, and everyone in-between knows how that feels.
- The demand for a people-based culture is there. By 2025 75% of the world’s workforce will be Millennial. Younger talent is starving for development, coaching, honest communication, greater opportunity, and the story of what is next for them. This is the currency of retention. This is the intake incentive to the best talent on the market. This is the future, and it is here now.
Leaders must be the culture creators and protectors. In fact, as CEO of UCON, I really only have two critical jobs (added to the 23 lesser ones), and they are Governance (How decisions are made and executed) and Culture (How to mix our mission with care and personal commitment, so everyone feels it). Is there a tangible reward?
Well, UCON is on ﬁre. We have added 42 contractors in 8 months in 2021 (see page 8, and this month’s insert). Record- breaking growth. More man-hours generated than ever in our history.
Higher levels of membership engagement than ever. I believe that we have the best people doing the best work they have ever done. And the best part is that’s not because of me. Not at all. That’s the culture paying oﬀ. A long-term, uncompromising, and laser-focused eﬀort to build, grow, and protect a culture that everyone feels when dealing with UCON. It makes us not only credible and magnetic, but unbeatable. And the members feel it.
Sound interesting? Ok then. For concrete examples of how to build this culture, I am doing something I’ve never done. I invite all of you to call me up for a discussion on it. Yes, there are thousands of you reading this only a handful will take me up on the oﬀer. And so here is my email...what a profoundly bad idea...email@example.com. Hit me up cold. Member or non-member. Why? Because this is what UCON is about. This is what the industry needs to be about. And if one more of you is willing to help create the culture change, we need, then I am in service to you.
In closing, the most progress (and payoﬀ) for culture change can happen with our younger people and our ﬁeld supervision. The ﬁrst group because they demand it and the second group because they need it so badly. Keep in mind you can ignore and rationalize culture (which is what probably at least 75% of construction organizations do), or you can decide you want something better. Best practices aren’t hard to ﬁnd but they need the weight of leadership to become real.