The Jobs Rated Almanac career guide ranks a livelihood in construction 248th in its list of the 250 most-desirable careers. That statistic provides 247 reasons why contractors must change the way they deal with employees if they want to attract the best talent. For the record, exotic dancer is rated No. 249 and lumberjack is rated No. 250. Garbage collector is rated No. 243.

Clearly, contractors have a problem. If they want to change the industry's image, they must stop complaining about today's workers, because management contributes more than its fair share to problems. So what should contractors do?

It's not about money. Once people get to an acceptable income level, money moves down their list of priorities. Since construction is one of the highest-paying industries in the United States, money is not the issue. When people leave a company over money, or at least gives that as their reason, they are really indicating they are not happy.

Here are nine ways to attract and keep employees.

Learn to be flexible

Focus on the results instead of the method. Of course, common sense applies. There is usually more than one way to do things. Whenever possible, allow people the flexibility to do it their way. Why? Because your people will have more fun, and when people are enjoying themselves, they are productive.

Get everyone to participate in the planning process

Don't tell people what to do. If they understand what needs to be accomplished, let them suggest the process. If they aren't sure what needs to be done, help them understand the desired result and then let them suggest the approach. If they come up with the right answer, pat them on the back. Say, "Great idea!" Then let them do it. If they still don't get it, ask questions to redirect them. This works better than correcting them; let them correct themselves. This causes a lot less resistance.

Continuously develop and educate your staff

If people don't know what to do, they will have difficulty participating in the planning process. It's essential to train, educate and develop them. But once you have done that, get out of their way. Training is expensive, but the payback is fantastic.

Motorola is not a construction company, but they estimate they get back $30 for every dollar spent on training. With that kind of return, how can you not afford to spend more time, money and effort on training?

Encourage creativity

By its very nature - every project is unique - the construction business requires creativity. So why develop rigid procedures? If you asked a group of contractors how many have built the same building twice, no one would raise their hand. Some have built similar projects, but never one the same.

So why do many contractors tell their staffs to "do it the way we always do it," when they've never done it before? You don't need to re-invent the wheel every Monday morning, but allow your people to try new things. Creativity is one of the two sustainable competitive advantages construction holds over other industries.

Communicate effectively

The No. 1 reason why projects fail (or any task for that matter) is an unclear definition of what's required. We tell people they're incompetent when they are actually performing an outstanding job doing the wrong thing. That's not incompetence; that's poor communication.

As big a problem as that is, a bigger problem is management's participation in one-way communication. Effective communication requires listening, not just speaking. Management should take more time to listen to their people. They might begin to understand the real problems. Just the process of listening substantially increases morale and productiv

Create a fear-free environment

Fear paralyzes. Some companies today actually pay a bonus for making a mistake. Not for dumb ideas, but good ideas that failed. This approach sends the message that initiative is rewarded; not just those that succeed.

When people are punished for making mistakes, they pull back and only do the safe things. They accept failure, but blame the process instead of taking accountability for the results.

"Mistake" bonuses are often small - usually $25 or less - but they send an important message: It's OK to try new things. We support you.

Build trust

Many company owners complain about the lack of dedication and loyalty from their employees. In part, this is due to a lack of trust. Employees don't feel trusted when they are controlled by extensive rules and regulations instead of being able to think for themselves.

However, no one can ask for trust: It must be earned. Think about your reaction when someone says, "Trust me." Employees are no different. Companies must give trust in order to earn the trust of their employees.

Accept employees' ideas

says, "I trust and value your opinion." Besides, the people on the front lines often have better solutions. That's a win-win for you and your employees.

Enhance the work environment

This is not about buying doughnuts every morning. It's about creating an enjoyable atmosphere where people are happy to contribute because they receive satisfaction from a job well done.

All of these suggestions are about increasing your employees' opinions of themselves. After all, people only produce what they think they are capable of doing. Management's job is to increase their employees' expectations of their own performance. Of course, you don't throw new workers or apprentices into the pool and expect them to swim. But you can provide a nurturing environment and the necessary training.

(Ted Garrison is president of Garrison Associates, an Ormond Beach, Fla.-based construction-consulting company specializing in profit and productivity issues. For more information, write 1092 Hampstead Lane, Ormond Beach, FL 32174; call (800) 861-0874; fax (386) 861-0874.

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