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You Go First – Building Real Employee Partnerships



In Employees Are Not Cost Centers my advice to employers is Forget starting with how much you will have to pay someone; start with how much someone will return on your investment.

Trades and construction businesses want great returns on their employees and subcontractors, but often fail to adopt the behaviours and make the decisions that would get those returns. Employers in the trades and construction world need to get past the paycheck.

If all you give me is money, all you get is my hands. If you want my head and my heart, you are going to have to go first. You need a partnership, and as Bret Simmons wrote in Enabling Covenantal Relationships:

You are not entitled to partnership; you earn partnership by first providing it to others. “How can I help?” may be the single most important question you can learn to ask as a leader.

Many business owners have a good understanding that in the financial world,returnfollows investment, not the other way around. That this understanding doesn’t extend to their management thinking is bewildering.

Build partnerships with your employees and independent contractors move your business forward:

  1. Start with Bret’s question: “How can I help?” The magic in that question is not the offer of help, it is the question that begins a true conversation. Show that you give a shit. Ask a question. Find out what keeps your employees awake at night.
  2. Model the value of feedback. Ask for feedback on how things are going on the jobsite. And when you get it, even if it isn’t what you want to hear, don’t blow a gasket, don’t make excuses, just say “Thank you.” An environment where everyone feels the permission to speak honestly, is an environment that builds partnerships.
  3. Provide real feedback. Good feedback is not just a feel-good “Way to go!” Positive feedback lets an employee know they are doing exactly the right things in moving the organization ahead.
  4. Model gratitude. I wrote in Beyond Positive Feedback gratitude is positive feedback taken to the next level. Gratitude is the message that your role in the organization matters to me personally.When you model gratitude, you are providing the best antidote to the griping, blaming, and backstabbing that is all too common on jobsites.
  5. Share information. On a lot of jobsites the answer to “How can I help?” would be “You can tell me what the hell is going on around here!” Far too often employees and contractors feel like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed bullshit. If you want your team to act like they are part of a team give them context. How much? It depends. But I can tell you almost every organization I have worked with has erred on the side of too little, not too much, information.

Do you want your team to start acting like a team? You go first.

Clemens RettichClemens Rettich has over 20 years of experience in education, management, & small business. He has supported and run small businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and community development programs for over 20 years.