3 Important Lessons To Share With Your Team!

1) Adversity is inevitable in the construction industry. As a leader, you must take a step back, look at all of the information, and create a plan of team cohesion and empowerment to turn frustration and finger-pointing into forward action and success!

2) How well do you know your people, both personally and professionally? Taking the time to have open and honest dialogue with your team members will help you tailor your leadership approach to their needs, resulting in higher job satisfaction, lower turnover, and increased employee effectiveness!

3) Be yourself. As you push for ever-greater heights within your career and leadership role, it is helpful to remember where you came from, what makes you unique, and to stay grounded through all the ups-and-downs/success and setbacks you will continue to face to make smart decisions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that there are over 150,000 unfilled construction jobs. The AGC of America found that 73% of firms had a hard time finding qualified workers. Building a strong team has never been more important and hard to come by.

Today’s guest is Jim Pappas, VP and district manager of Hensel Phelps. Jim joins Sue Dyer in Episode 4 of the Construction Dream Team Podcast to discuss leadership and what his company does to lower turnover and keep their employees for life! The following show notes are a transcription from the audio segment recorded between Jim and Sue. Please subscribe to our FREE newsletter to never miss an episode and receive helpful information on exactly what you can do to build your dream team!

Jim Pappas’ journey into construction

Jim grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and loved architecture. He attended Purdue University and was fascinated by all of the tall buildings, feeling that he knew what it took to design them but had no idea how to actually build them. Jim transitioned from civil engineering to architectural engineering with an emphasis in construction management which brought him to Texas where he was hired by Hensel Phelps. Jim has since traveled the country and learned a lot about construction and how we do it across our great nation.

Hensel Phelps has a vision of building iconic buildings across the country. Their employees are passionate about building great things and working with great people.

Jim’s Most Challenging Construction Experience

Jim doesn’t view any experience as his “worst” because he believes that it is necessary for someone dedicated to their career to go through adversity in order to grow and become better at what we do. Jim’s most challenging project was a beach-front resort in Florida. The project was 4-6 months from opening and one Saturday Jim got a call saying there was a flood on level 8 of a combination condo-hotel tower that had flooded down all 8 levels into the garage level and water was running onto the street. There much frustration and sorrow amongst the team and completing the project on time was going to be a difficult task. Jim and his team were working 7 days a week, double shifts. Fortunately, the project opened on time and everyone learned a lot in the process, but having that setback happen 4-6 months from opening was heartbreaking.

Leading a Team through Adversity

As a leader, it is important to take a step back before making decisions and take information in. You can wonder what you did wrong or what you could have done differently, but that doesn’t solve the problem. You must accept that you are where you are, and gather your team together to begin addressing the issue. In Jim’s case, they contacted the owner with the building’s risk insurance. He then assembled a team to do an assessment and figure out where they needed to go from there. Some people pointed fingers, trying to blame those whose fault it was, but they had to put that aside and come together to focus on the mission of opening on time. Customers had already booked rooms and conventions, and so the team gathered together and developed a path forward. It is important to empower your people and show them what they can do to make a difference.

How does Hensel Phelps keep their people?

It starts with doing the right thing. Hensel Phelps is founded upon employee ownership; we share the gains of the company at a level that other companies do not. We incentivize people in two different ways: financially and with the idea of employee ownership and the culture it creates. People realize that their success is often based upon the people they are training; not only what they do themselves, but who else they can train to replicate their job. It creates a culture of ownership and personal involvement. We have a great thing going and want to keep it going.

Creating a Culture of Ownership

Any great culture is created through a shared sense of responsibility. Hensel Phelps employees take ownership for their jobs, even it means staying after hours, because their focus is on the project’s requirements and not themselves. We motivate people to be a part of the bigger picture; that their job is more than just a paycheck and that their project is more than just a building. For example, building a hospital is important for making people healthy, so opening on time makes it so that more people in the community can be healed and kept healthy. The impact of our employees’ work spans far greater than just a paycheck.

Effective Recruiting and Onboarding

Hensel Phelps’ recruiting process starts with an initial campus event (if recruiting a college) and interview. We then bring them to a job site and show them presentations about what Hensel Phelps is about. It’s a courting process where we don’t just choose our hires, they choose us as well. We typically have five senior-level staff interview the people we hire, ask different questions, and see if prospective employees are a good cultural fit. We then onboard them and go through different levels of training and teaching throughout their careers. We have a leadership development initiative program, an emerging leaders seminar, and a women’s leadership seminar. Our leader management system offers three types of training: one-on-one, self-directed, and classroom training. We’ve developed these systems to teach technical expertise along with our culture and company history. We transfer folks, even on a temporary basis, in order to share and display our culture throughout the country. We are a large company, but because of how tight-knit our employees are within the culture, it feels like a small company. Right now we have about 2400 salaried employees and 1200 craft people. We have 8 different districts, a service group, and a development group.

Leadership Development

Hensel Phelps develops leaders through their Leadership Development Initiative. This program is for people who have spent 5+ years with the company. We support specific trainings that are soft-skills based: accountability, managing change, communicating effectively, coaching and developing people, and having difficult conversations. We started a doing a survey of all of our employees every two years and use that data to analyze and see where people are at within their careers and what some of the lessons are. There is a lot of technical training within our industry, but there is very little training about relationships and people. We learned that in order to succeed, you have to know your people and develop them into effective leaders. We spend a lot of time working to increase the interpersonal skills of our staff necessary for project success but not necessarily related directly to engineering.

What can you do to create a team and culture like Hensel Phelps?

Do you know your people? Do you know what motivates them? Do you listen to what they say? People don’t quit their companies, they quit their manager. You should know where each of your staff are at personally and where they are at within the confines of the project because those two aspects intersect. If you don’t know what’s going on personally, it will affect the job site. Getting the best out of people is often doing what’s best for them overall. We review our employees twice per year and go over their needs and progress in detail. We want to challenge managers to turn B-level employees into A’s, and challenge A’s to take the next step and opportunity.

What is the Best Advice Jim Pappas has Ever Received?

Jim says that the best advice he has ever received was to be himself, to continue to stay involved and be challenged. Always reach for more, but don’t let it change you. Take what you’ve learned from other people and channel it into how it works for you. Don’t try and be someone that you aren’t; be the best you that you can be. It is also important to stay present. Construction is a very busy industry and it is easy to get distracted, but wherever you are, you need to be there and be present to make a difference.

Resources For Listeners

Hensel Phelps website: www.henselphelps.com

BecomingYourBest.com: Steven Shallenberger has developed the #1 Leadership Program in the world to empower your group with the mindset and skillset to become great leaders and build high-performing teams.


Parting Advice

Know your people, but also empower them. See what they can do together. We can do more together as a group if we can be open and honest. Also, don’t lose hope when you may have an owner that is against it; always do the right thing.

We hope you’ll join us next week for another exciting and informative episode if the Construction Dream Team podcast with your host Sue Dyer!

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