Category Archives: Employee Development

[AUDIO] Exceptional at the Ordinary Things

To perform every project with such proactive and positive effort is reflective of people who take pride in their work, their preparation, and their reputation.  This is what most contractors need to direct their time and attention to, the raising of the ordinary things as needing and benefiting from exceptional work efforts.

Learn more in this week’s podcast, “Exceptional at the Ordinary Things.”



There is little fanfare given to the leader or worker who goes about their job every day, performing work in a disciplined and consistent manner.  The attention often goes to the individual who pulls off some miraculous effort to save a project from disaster.

What is interesting however is that for the leader and worker who daily, practices consistent discipline to insure they have the tools they need, and make sure their work efforts are methodically followed, their results are consistently better.  This is what I have come to call, being “exceptional at the ordinary things.”

There is little doubt that “ordinary things” do not possess much excitement.  I mean, how can some of the following items be considered anything but ordinary?

  • Making sure the equipment and vehicles are gassed up, lubed and oiled, and properly loaded and unloaded.
  • Taking the time to see that all plans, pictures, and specifications are in the job file.
  • Double or triple checking prints for accuracy.
  • Looking to see that all working areas are safe and pose no threat to workers due to power or gas lines in the area.
  • Regularly having the crew picking up after themselves to insure the site is clean.
  • All project tools and equipment are accounted for daily and returned to their respective storage areas.
  • Preparing for each new day, conducting morning “huddles” with the workers to be sure that they know their roles and the scope of work for the day.

Such tasks do not require a “Hail Mary” pass effort, but instead, a daily consistency to perform the same procedural things that are required to achieve the needed quality, safety, and to meet critical schedules.

If more contractors over-emphasized being exceptional about performing the ordinary things, more companies would reap the benefits.  I mean, consider briefly a few benefits to those who are exceptional at the ordinary things.  Can you imagine:

  • Less risk to workplace injuries?
  • Better house-keeping of job-sites?
  • Equipment that last longer due to consistent PM?
  • Jobs that start on time?
  • Less tool replacement costs?
  • Customers are bragging on your worker’s efficiency, quality, and clean job-site?
  • Projects that make the estimated profit?
  • Greater peace of mind for you?

So, if there are so many benefits to be realized by having all our workers being exceptional at the ordinary things, how can we influence or encourage this experience?

Let’s look at a few efforts that leaders and owners can make to influence their employees to be exceptional at the ordinary things.

  1. Formally Create and Document the Ordinary Things

Whether it is creating a “pre-start” list of tools, equipment, building components, etc. needed for the day or providing crews with an inventory management sheet to keep better track of what they are to bring back to the yard or tool crib, you will need to document the expected procedures to follow.

  1. Compliment Individuals When They Practice the Basics

Remember, “praise what you want practiced.”  When employees receive recognition for doing the basics, they will be more likely to maintain the effort.  No different than a professional athlete who methodically prepares for their daily workouts, being consistent on the little things allow the bigger things to be more easily completed.

  1. Make it Your Norm to Remind Workers About Consistently Following Every Process or Procedure

Contractors will grow frustrated if they assume their workers are all doing the “little” things each day to bring about the best results.  Reminding workers helps to keep them focused on following process steps.  Being disciplined in the “ordinary” things will make it easier to take on the extraordinary things with more confidence and preparedness.

  1. Review Problem Jobs with Leaders and Workers to Determine What Isn’t Consistently Followed

Finding inconsistencies in following procedures or processes is almost always the reason behind poor work results.  Reviewing jobs that had higher than expected costs should always be looked at to determine the cause of the increased cost and what was or was not followed.  Inevitably the reasons come back to confirm that one or more things were not performed as required.

  1. Conduct a “Spring Training” One to Two Times Each Year

If the professional sports teams can require their coaches and players to prepare for the season, is it any less important for our own people to have their own form of “Spring Training”?  Use such times to re-educate work efforts, include hands-on learning, and challenge workers to strengthen the “ordinary” tasks and how they are to be completed.

  1. Prepare to Discipline Those Who Fail to Practice the Basics

This can be challenging for the contractor that has lost control of workers embracing the need to perform well on the ordinary things.  However, when workers, and leaders, are disciplined for failing to perform important basic but needed tasks, then the message begins to be understood that doing the little things really do matter.  Failure to do so could cost one their job!

Just think what your performance could be if all involved would spend just as much energy and focus on performing the ordinary things?  Consider how much lower your equipment costs could be or much cleaner or safer your job sites might be if each worker made an exceptional effort to complete the small and ordinary tasks.

One final observation about this topic.  Being exceptional at ordinary things reflects the degree of pride within the employee.  It is easy to get excited about a new project working for a high-profile customer but not about a small project within our own company.  But both project types benefit from workers who are focused, consistent, and attentive.

To perform every project with such proactive and positive effort is reflective of people who take pride in their work, their preparation, and their reputation.  This is what most contractors need to direct their time and attention to, the raising of the ordinary things as needing and benefiting from exceptional work efforts.

Brad Humphrey

The Contractor’s Best Friend


Re-Energizing Your Boomers

Much has been written just in the past few years about the battle of the generations.  The “battle” is primarily between the up and coming “kids” known as the Millennials and the over-the-hill gang known as the Baby Boomers.  But what has been written and what is often experienced can be two almost completely opposite realities.

The Millennials, we are told, are not responsible, have little interest in learning, is rarely loyal, and wants to be president of something before they turn twenty-seven.  Boomers, on the other hand, are stuck in their ways, will not help educate the younger workers, doesn’t want to change anything, and are just trying to ride out their current job until retirement.  Both generalities couldn’t be more “fake news.”

I’ve written and spoken on the Millennials for the past several years.  Quite honestly, most of the adults between the age of 20-34 years of age are outstanding.  Sure, there are some “Carp” in the mix but there have been “bottom feeders” in every generation…Boomers’ included.

But in this article, I want to address the group closest to my heart…and DNA, the Baby Boomers, whom I am a card-carrying member.  Let me present some methods to re-energize and to re-engage your Boomer Employees and Leaders.

  1. Don’t Make it Easy for Your Baby Boomer to Fade Away

If one of your Boomers says something like, “Oh, let the younger do this, you don’t need me on this anymore.”  Don’t buy it!  If some Boomers see a younger employee taking on something that they normally did in the past, they may try to quietly slip away from the responsibility to perform the task.  Short of the Boomer training a Millennial a new skill, don’t let the Boomer just fade away.

  1. Position Your Boomer to Talk About Solutions

That’s what our Millennials are missing, experience gained by doing some things the hard way.  While not all Boomers will not want to become trainers (I’ll address this point later.), set up your Boomers by just asking them to talk about, “How we used to do it.”  Most Millennials want to learn so set those who may know more than anyone else on how we took care of stress cracks in the pavement, or redirecting water away from the building, or getting a few more years of life from one of your ornery piece of equipment.

  1. Resist Assuming All Boomer Just Want to Retire

Did you realize that some of the higher death rates among retired people falls within the first few years of retirement?  As I tell people who ask me when I’m going to retire and slow down, “What, and die within five years.  I don’t think so!”  Retirement is an American thing.  It’s not uncommon to find other countries where some of the workforce works well into their seventies, even eighties.  Now, I’m not pushing for an increase in mandatory retirement, but Americans are living longer, as are many other developed countries.  Don’t assume that all Boomers just want to retire and spend the rest of their lives on vacation.  Many do not have the financial power to do this and even then, how much of only fishing, golfing, even hanging with your grandkids can you do?  (OK, now that I’m a grand-father, I’ll give you the hanging with your grandchildren!)

  1. View Your Boomers with the Work Culture Needed

OK, not every Boomer is the best example of your work culture, but most are.  Consider a few questions:

  • Do they show up to work early?
  • Do they still work most of the day?
  • Do they tend to pick up tools without being asked?
  • Do they understand teamwork?
  • Do they practice, “Measure twice-cut once” more often?

OK, not every Boomer is perfect but they are more accustomed to working the right way, doing things right the first time, etc. than many other workforce generation.  Leverage your Boomers to be examples, mentors, coaches, etc.

  1. Engage Your Boomers to Dictate SOPs for Work Processes

Notice I wrote…”Dictate SOPs…”  Few Boomers , or any other age group, wants to write Standard Operating Procedures.  However, they might verbalize what order a work procedure should be executed if someone else will record the steps.  Get your current Boomers, the ones’ you really do trust and count on, to provide the step-by-step efforts needed to complete laying out a job-site, load a truck, complete a  RFI, or insure all OSHA documentation is compliant.  You don’t have to be a Boomer not to like to write but many experienced Boomers will talk all day about how to do things. 

  1. Engage Your Boomers to ID the High Potential Workers (HPW)

Those Boomers on your projects, leading that crew, running their department, etc., they know who the real “players” are for your company.  Let them contribute by sharing their thoughts and perspectives on tomorrow’s leaders, craftsman, and loyal employees for your company.  They know who the real jewels are so let them share with you their choices.

  1. Match Your High Potential Trainers with High Potential Employees

One of the tendencies developing among our Millennial workers is their quick assessment of whether they are being trained early in their employment.  A client of mine discovered, to both of our dismay, that the new employee averaged less than 60-days in their employment.  The primary reason?  They felt that they have not been trained on anything of value.  We immediately began a matching of older, more experienced, worker with a new hire.  We didn’t keep all the new hires but we witnessed the longevity of the new employees increase more than 300%, some even staying longer.  It can be done but you must engage your willing Boomers.

  1. Ask Your Boomers for Their Assistance

Go to your Boomers and sincerely ask for their assistance in teaching, mentoring, coaching, or befriending a new hire, especially a Millennial.  Explain to your Boomers what you are doing, what they can do to assist you, and why it is important that they transfer their knowledge and experience to the new hire.  You may be surprised to find how many Boomers will help you and may surprise you with all that they can do to assist your new hires.

  1. Keep Training & Educating Your Boomers

I may have seen this slip up as much as or more than anything else contractors will do.  Many construction owners and leaders are so focused on getting the “young’uns” trained that they forgot to keep training the Boomers.  This is mistake can cause many Boomers to think, “Well, I guess they don’t care about me anymore.”  Trust me, it happens more than you think and you don’t have to do this!  Even if it’s the third or fourth time your older Foreman have been through leadership training in twenty years, they could use the refresher.

  1. Never Slow Down Encouraging Your Boomers

This may sound too easy but this point might be the second mistake I witness many contractors making.  Again, we are so focused on encouraging our new workers that we often forget to say, “Thank you for a great effort,” to our older workers.  I’ve never yet witnessed a Boomer telling their senior leader, “Really, Bob, quit telling me thanks and how great I am…you’re killing me boss.  Really, you’re causing head to swell.”  Most of time I hear complaints from the older worker about all the cheerleading and “love” the newer and younger workers are getting.

My whole motivation in this small diatribe was simply to impress upon you to not keep your appreciation for your Boomers…a secret.  Executing some of the ten items above may actually lift the morale of your Millennial workers as they see that you don’t get forgotten or put out to pasture just because you have some gray hair and a few more wrinkles about the face.

Re-energizing your Boomers may do wonders for your company and work to increase the performance and profitable results driven by your Boomers.  There’s a whole lot more you can gain from your Boomers, be careful that you don’t send signals that their time has come and gone.  Some of their best contribution for you and your company may be yet to come.

May the “fountain of youth” satisfy the thirst for the Boomers in your company who still have much to do and contribute!

Brad Humphrey

The Contractor’s Best Friend