How to make this mindset work in your firm

It appears to be all the rage—we live in a world where everyone wins, as long as everyone is 10 or younger. Arguments abound regarding the pros and cons of celebrating a world of winners. On one hand, it helps create an environment of positive reinforcement and grows young minds to think more about team collaboration, sportsmanship and enjoyment. Contrarians argue that it positions young people to have unrealistic expectations about the world and instills a sense of entitlement.

One of the greatest examples of the dystopian world of non-winners is, in fact, the world of construction. Ask any estimator or business developer about their awards for second place on bid day and you might be greeted with a slew of four-letter words. At best, you will receive a barrage of laughter.

The same cynicism pervades just about every aspect of a firm's culture, and it often becomes hard to find any winners at all. Consider bid day—even when a firm wins, the first comment made is, "What did we forget?" That's hardly the ticker tape celebration one would expect on the heels of a successful project.

So, does this mean that contractors should maintain a sizable stock of participation trophies for their bid team? No, but moving the needle from the netherworld of negativity would be a stark improvement. Simply put, when was the last time someone in the firm was caught doing something right? There is never any shortage of setbacks, challenges, issues, mistakes or accidents in the world of construction. "Bad news" is a term heard all too often on the jobsite.

However, it is as important as ever for contractors to identify and reward the right behaviors and incentivize the firm's associates to do the right thing. In an industry where skilled labor is short and employee retention is on the minds of every business owner, rewarding good work can go a long way. Set yourself apart from the competition by seeking out opportunities to appreciate and acknowledge your employees.

First Place: Begin with Core Values

With so many things happening day to day in any firm, what should a firm emphasize? The best areas to focus on are the core values that serve as a firm's DNA. Safety, quality, customer service, innovation and integrity are just a few of the most common values that many firms use as basic tenets.

However, all too often, core values are relegated to some poster or business card and are rarely exemplified in daily business activities. This does not mean a firm that has the aforementioned values acts hypocritically—in fact, some of these values are so deeply ingrained that leaders do this naturally. However, what better way is there to illustrate practical applications of core values to newer and younger associates than by rewarding the right behaviors?

For many employees, incentive compensation provides the connective tissue to profitability. By rewarding an individual that demonstrates superior customer service, a firm can reference specific instances of firm-first behavior.

Second Place: Reward Collaboration

Rarely does a firm's success rely on the efforts of a single individual. For instance, a project requires the efforts and sweat equity of many team members, internally and externally.

So often, firms dwell on the projects that seem to drain so many of the firm's resources. Consider rewarding a project team with some sort of firm-wide acknowledgement for the team's contribution to a finished, successful project.

Whether it is a commendation, such as a plaque or certificate, or even some sort of "trade contractor thank you," it sends a message of positivity. These same team members probably receive their fair share of bad news frequently on the jobsite.

This is hardly a "Best Project of the Year Award," and additional great projects can also be celebrated, to be sure. Ultimately, the aim is to recognize the contribution of the team toward the greater good and acknowledge the efforts of team members outside of the firm.

Third Place: Reward the Little Things

This is not to say a firm should provide trophies for walking, but it is readily apparent that firms seem to only celebrate the grand slams or mega-successes. Each day a firm wins by hitting singles, doubles and triples, but those moments are discounted and relegated to daily operating procedures. Every Friday need not be "gold star day," but rewarding the talent of the firm should occur more frequently than Halley's Comet. A great deal of good can come from a CEO or president acknowledging the positive contribution of its team members.

Whether that is a passing reference in a newsletter, blog, company address or even on an impromptu site visit, the immeasurable good will only provide a jolt of momentum to the project team.

Participation

There are many pundits who will argue against celebrating wins and positively acknowledging team members because it will only alienate the team members that are not acknowledged. If a firm only provides a small number of positive messages, doled out like rations during a famine, it is easy to see how a positive tool could be perceived as a negative one.

However, firms that celebrate at the correct frequency and acknowledge the correct behaviors should never worry about the minority that feels slighted. Consider the alternative: because a few people may feel wrongly disenfranchised, the whole firm will now shy away from rewarding anything positive. In some cases, it is not the message of positivity that they are against, but some deep-rooted angst, possibly stemming from a past, perceived wrongdoing by the firm. Begin working to change employees' views about how much they are valued within your organization.

Rewarding good work is a relatively easy task that can speak multitudes across a firm. A culture that focuses on its greatest asset—its people—is one that succeeds. Leadership can put the trophies down and become cheerleaders, celebrating its winning team.