The vast majority of contractors are having a hard time finding workers, including project managers. While offering competitive salaries is important, it’s not the key to staying properly staffed. Relatively few people leave because of salary; they leave because of a lack of engagement. Productive employees who are given support and authority and are encouraged to be entrepreneurial stay with their employer.  

Hire Based on Expertise, Not Experience
Look for candidates with depth of knowledge in a particular sector, and then put them with other similar workers. For example, it takes a different set of skills to construct a multifamily housing development than a U.S. Navy storage building. Assembling the right team is more critical than finding enough people to complete the job.

Stay Involved
Construction executives should try to visit multiple sites to talk to and listen to managers. When problems arise, ask the manager what he would do if this were his company. Then, work from the answer toward a solution—one the manager is committed to because it started with his, not his boss’s, idea.

Be Supportive
Managers must walk a fine line with their clients, while business owners can be more direct. If a client isn’t responding to a manager’s request for something, such as a vendor payment, have the owner call the client to clear the logjam. That backing builds loyalty.

Keep People in the Loop
Onsite managers and workers can feel disconnected from the company, so the C-suite should offer updates on new contracts, opportunities for work and how other projects are going. Hearing news directly from the owner helps everyone feel like they are part of the organization.

Give Employees Time to Relax
Now that the construction market is busy again, it’s tempting to keep a team on the job every day and move it to the next project without a break. That leads to burnout, which shows up first as lost productivity and then as resignations. Strive for zero turnover by building in redundancies. When managers need time off for family or other reasons, they should feel comfortable asking for it knowing that someone else will cover for them.

Encourage Entrepreneurship
Managers and employees hear about projects long before they become public knowledge. Give managers the opportunity to go after that business and manage the project. As they are rewarded for their self-motivation, they will feel a greater sense of ownership in the company’s future and will be less likely to leave. 

Create Incentives for Client Satisfaction
Projects bring in today’s revenue; relationships bring in tomorrow’s dollars. Reward managers for getting letters of recommendation from the client and design team. Those endorsements lead to new work. Clients and design teams refer the company to prospects and new projects. That only happens when managers work to exceed everyone’s expectations.

Know Who to Keep and Who to Let Go
Replace the bottom-performing managers every year. Measure managers on basics such as being on time with pay applications, but also intangibles such as communication with clients and the design team. Recognize that some people will be recruited away from the company. Don’t make rash decisions on salary matching; if the numbers don’t make sense, wish the employee well and look for the next smart hire. 


John Scherer is owner and president of Gulf Building LLC, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. For more information, visit gulfbuilding.com.