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Construction executives are always looking for ways to increase productivity and profits. Like most things in life, the solutions aren’t obvious due to patterns of thinking that make them invisible. As Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” So it is with performance issues.

The 80/20 Rule

Companies in all industries are subject to the 80/20 Rule also known as the Pareto Principle. The principle states that for many events in life, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. In the workforce, most managers say that 80 percent of work production is accomplished by just 20 percent of employees. This 20 percent (consisting of top performers) are the most valuable to companies. While the exact ratio in a given company may be slightly different, outstanding performers are almost always a small minority of the workforce.

How can companies reverse this ratio so 80 percent of the workforce consists of top performers? The common belief is that employees with the basic skills and desire could be excellent performers if truly motivated. That’s simply not true. In reality, everyone one has innate characteristics (often referred to as natural gifts or abilities). People tend to excel in work that aligns with these characteristics and struggle with work that doesn’t align. For example, a 6-foot, 2-inch NBA basketball player may excel at guard but would fail at center; a 320-pound NFL football player may excel as a lineman but would fail as a wide receiver.

Creating a company of top performers (reversing the 80/20 rule) starts with aligning job duties with the innate abilities of the workforce. This is extremely difficult to determine through interviewing or other traditional methods. If those methods were effective, companies would have far better alignment than they do. Just as professional sports teams have objective, science-based processes to select the right athletes for the right positions, companies benefit from the same mindset.

Create alignment between employees and job duties

There are six steps to create alignment.

  1. Communicate the commitment to help employees do work that aligns with their innate gifts. Be open and honest about the intent.
  2. Inform employees that some may move into different roles or have job descriptions modified where appropriate. If a suitable position is not available, the company will help them transition in a positive way.
  3. Develop an accurate view of the innate characteristics needed for top performance in each position.
  4. Administer a reliable and valid assessment tool to measure the innate characteristics of the employees. Due diligence is vital since most tools have limited effectiveness.
  5. Match employees with the appropriate roles. This may be a new role or entail some adjustment of duties. Though a perfect fit is rarely possible, if no good fit exists, discuss transition.
  6. With new hires, use the assessment process on the front end so only potentially top performers are interviewed and hired
What about manual laborers?

A challenge construction companies face is the wide range of employees they require. In addition to executive management and office employees, construction companies require less skilled, high-turnover, manual laborers. This can cause contractors to believe these employees are interchangeable with constant hiring to replace the high-turnover. This mass-hire mindset is expensive, filled with stress and presents quality issues. Because many competitors are locked into the same nightmare, this false belief can appear accurate. The good news is that applying the above process is just as valid with laborers as it is with executives and office staff.

For example, take the case of a midwestern construction company in the labor-intensive installation of steel rebar. They reduced their workforce in half and raised net margins from 17 percent to 36 percent using the above methodology. This is because the workers who were innately wired for the job produced more than double what the other workers could do.

Construction supervisors know they can’t predict worker productivity from interviews. Many big, strong, athletic men simply don’t want to do manual labor. Some of the best manual laborers are physically small or older and are not necessarily in good physical condition. The key is the mental makeup more than the physical makeup. In the case of laborers, it’s often the innate characteristic to roll up their sleeves, put their heads down and do the same task repetitively with high quality. Some people innately prefer work that focuses on their ability to think, plan, innovate and communicate. These people may be great for some office jobs, but not as laborers.

The way that companies manage employees matters. However, there is no amount of management intervention that will produce sustainable results when people are misaligned with their jobs. Companies that align their workers are poised to beat their competition.

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