If you value your employees as people, they will value your company.

Last month, we discussed the urgency of upward communication from your employees. Hopefully, you shared that article with your management team and jobsite employees. That will create an effective "downward communication" that would help open those ever-present and costly upward communication gaps.

Naturally, many of you own and manage a small company without a formal written chain of command or designated middle managers. In your opinion, all of your employees answer only to you so you don't need middle management. This will work -- as long as you have only one employee. You can easily understand why a simple written chain of command is so vital to open any honest upward communication.

We all know that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This basic fact should always be considered as you write your company's organization chart to ensure you don't have a valve that is only half-open, or even closed on any of your communication lines from the bottom to the top. This open communication is equally important for "top-down" information to your bottom-line employees.

We discussed some of the barriers to effective upward communication last month, but you must also accept the fact that human beings are not typically good communicators. You also know that the majority of our industry's supervisors, lead men, foremen, project managers and contractors were never trained in basic human relations or communication.

We certainly don't expect to properly train all of your management team with this short article, but we will look at some of the critical dos and don'ts for your jobsite supervisors:

  • Wear a smile and make it fun! Construction is a tough and dangerous occupation, but you can still maintain high morale and make it fun. All of your daily concerns about productivity and problem solving can create a frown on your face that will smother any possibility of open and honest upward communication. Your constant smile may not always be easy, but it is definitely always effective.

  • Take a sincere interest. Help every employee in your crew (which actually makes your job easier) eliminate any question of favoritism. You cannot fool them. If you are not sincere they will know it.

    Ask rather than tell orders. With new or shy employees, you should always give them two options and ask which would work better. "Do you think we should use a stepladder or get that rolling scaffold?" They will then make it work because it was their idea!

  • Be fair. Use a fair measuring system with their daily involvement. This ensures them that what they do goes on their scorecard and is reflected in their paycheck, as well as their career progress in your company.

  • Applaud a job well done. Acknowledge small victories to eliminate frustration or a lack of confidence. Rather than belittling a poorly done installation or a minimal day's productivity, remind them how tough it was for you when you started in the trade.

  • Always discipline privately. Say anything good about that employee to as many people as you can, but anything negative should be said ONLY to him or her and ONLY in private. Do not preach or give them a sermon. Explain your company's policy and why it is so critical that everyone follows those rules. Remind them that this incident will be documented in their performance file along with possible consequences of any future non-compliance.

    Always follow up with positive reinforcement of improved performance. Do not leave them in doubt, wondering how they are doing. They need to hear the "attaboys" to assure their confidence.

    Your comments will come back to that employee through the active rumor grapevine. You can imagine how motivating it is for that employee and their family to hear about their boss's bragging concerning their performance. You can also understand how demoralizing any negative comments would be.

    Keep in mind that anything you may have said or intended will be greatly exaggerated when it is repeated. There is a notable adage that fits this situation: "If you can't say something good about that employee, say nothing at all."

  • Offer proper training. Be certain every supervisor is properly trained to recognize grievances in his subordinates and how to privately discuss and identify the problem. He should immediately resolve anything within his power and bring other grievances up the chain to get results.

  • Mentor new employees. A mentoring program can overcome any negative peer pressure from seasoned employees. This can be a Green and Gold combination or you may use any seasoned employee who is willing and able to buddy up and communicate openly with that prot¿. The person who recruited the new employee or someone who shares a ride to and from the jobsite is usually an exceptionally effective mentor. Your foreman needs to monitor this mentoring to ensure positive results.

  • Be a "coach." Someone in your company should accept the role of personnel director, human relations manager, or "coach" to continually keep every employee fully informed of your company's career-building opportunities. Sharing PM and other trade magazines, encouraging continuing education, promoting after-hours in-company training and "how-to" training tapes are very important, but often overlooked since no one is specifically assigned to make it happen.

    When you show your employees that you care about them, they will show that they care about your company.

    These 10 basic steps will help your supervisors open the upward communication channel, but only if you share this article with them. We also recommend getting involved with each employee's personal life, interests, hobbies, etc., even though many bosses feel this is none of their business. I have personally shown a sincere interest in each and every employee's off-the-job activities and called it "interfacing without interfering." Through all of my years, this involvement has proven to be mutually beneficial on the job as well as during our many after-hour relationships.

    This personal interfacing is especially effective for opening up mutual interests between our college graduates and craft-oriented employees. They soon discover they have much more in common than either has ever imagined.

    Let's look at some of the better "door-openers:"

      Sit down and eat lunch with your crew. During lunch and coffee breaks, communication about after-hour activities flows freely. Listen carefully to what they say and get involved without asking too many questions that might scare them off.

      Ask them to join you fishing, hunting, camping or attending spectator sports. You can also join them with their similar activities -- especially Little League or any activities in which their children are involved.

      Offer to help with their handyman, fix-it jobs at home in the spirit of that old Amish barn building or Habitat for Humanity philosophy.

      Arrange for any employees who live near each other to car pool and share riding experiences. This also creates effective mentoring time.

      Discuss sharing of tools that many newer employees cannot afford. Some of your employees also need to learn how to sharpen and maintain their personal tools.

      Encourage older employees to learn computer skills from your younger employees.

      Most importantly, respect their confidentiality. They need to know they can share their personal thoughts without any negative retribution.

    However, if you are not able to personally reach any one of your employees, you should consider transferring him or her to another crew. In addition to being very cost-effective for your business, talking with your own employees is very rewarding, and it is extremely self-gratifying to help your fellow man. Talk is cheap -- but it is definitely worth a fortune!