Last week we held a two-day, in-company Partnering Retreat at a fishing lodge in Florida for one of my clients. We fished from 5 to 8 a.m., came in for breakfast, worked all day, ate dinner and then fished as late as anyone desired.

All of it was great, but the real benefits came from the partnering. The contractor not only spent time fishing, but he also spent time with his staff — the traveling superintendents, 13 jobsite foremen and five service techs, all who came to participate in the sessions.

Friday’s session involved everyone in a company group meeting covering, “Things We Could Do Better.” We asked for written suggestions before we began, sorted them out in specific categories and made up our agenda.

By soliciting written topics before the program started we were able to cull the topics that would normally harpoon a constructive session. We did not discard any of those topics but shelved them for Saturday’s smaller group, roundtable discussions.

We had the accounting department at one table, the estimating and project managers at a second table, the service department at another and all of the jobsite supervisors as our largest group. Once again, each team leader asked for discussion topics and feasible options for improvements to formalize a written agenda.

As we had predicted, each of those Saturday morning sessions produced suggestions, options and questions that required cooperation with the other departments. On Saturday afternoon, we repeated the full company meeting to review the agreed upon recommendations along with creating a realistic time table for initiating them into practice. Three-fourths of those recommendations were unquestionable “NOW” ideas that would be in place by the end of the first week. The rest would be in place by the end of one month, with the exception of a few long-term improvements.

Our retreat ended with the Saturday evening meal, where the contractor sincerely thanked all of his staff for their involvement. After dinner we kept the estimator, accountant, service manager and two project managers to review everything we had covered. They were all pleased with the feedback from their own employees, but amazed at the recommendations and cooperative commitments from the other departments.

We also had each of these managers estimate a realistic cost in both time and money to initiate and administrate the changes in their departments and what they predicted in savings. These cost vs. results estimates put the icing on the cake! What really shocked and amazed them was how simple and basic these ideas were and why they struggled for so long trying to work without them.

Getting Results: We don’t have enough space in this article to cover all of the situations that were discussed, but we can look at some of the suggestions for the overall company session. I’m not really sure that most of these suggestions involved my recommendations simply because I was present. The primary concern, however, on most of their issues was, “Why don’t we do what we already know we should be doing?”

In fact, five foremen and one traveling superintendent had attended one of my jobsite supervision seminars about four years ago. Two-and-a-half years ago they brought me into their shop for some consulting and a jobsite foreman program tailored to their operation. They also sent a copy of this magazine to each of their managers at home so their employees were quite aware of my personal philosophies. One of the written comments that was submitted stated, “Paul uses the word ‘Pro’ to favorably brand those proud contractors, supervisors and craftsmen who look and act as true professionals. Unfortunately, our company could be branded with that same word, except we would be abbreviating ‘procrastinators.’” That comment was not signed and the service manager who wrote it was amazed that the contractor put it on top of the agenda.

His opening remark for Friday morning’s session was, “We do not do all of these things that we know we should be doing simply because we are too busy. Even though this sounds like a comfortable excuse, the sad fact is that we are too busy simply because we do not do what we know we should be doing! That is the primary purpose for this meeting and I’m asking all of you to help me change it.” He then distributed written copies of the agenda for the entire Friday meeting so that every employee would have time to think about each item before it was openly discussed. Topics like getting First Aid training, updating MSDS sheets and improving jobsites were on the list.

We culled and shelved the comments that were specifically related to one department for Saturday’s agenda. We also shelved questions about more wages and better benefits for those roundtable discussions. One big issue was the privilege and cost of service techs and jobsite foremen taking home a company vehicle. All of these items were amicably resolved with practical solutions.

As this contractor and I reviewed the results of this partnering session, we both felt extremely satisfied with the attitudes and involvement of his employees. None of them were aware of his underlying purpose for scheduling that meeting. He had already lost three of his good employees and knew the others were getting offers to change jobs. We never mentioned any of this during the sessions, but stressed the importance of creating the “best job in town.” This would keep his employees happy to be on board. We also initiated a recruiting and retention bonus to “jump-start” his ambassadors to recruit their friends and acquaintances. The retention bonus gives the sponsoring employee a vested interest in keeping the new employee on a fast track, exciting career, which is what they really want to accomplish.

I know you are very aware of our critical craft shortage. You should also be aware that other contractors are talking to your employees. You may want to try that yourself while they still work for you.