By Damian Lang
On a hunting/golfing trip I organized with 35 friends a few weeks ago, I played in a scramble best ball tournament with a select group of passionate golfers. As we enjoyed a great round of golf, we felt we were on target to beat the other teams and win the first-place bet. But then on the 16th hole, the weather changed from cloudy to wild and windy, thanks to a fast-moving storm.
Our real challenge was finishing the three remaining holes in the cold rain. We needed a plan to get to the clubhouse before the real storm hit. The teams that teed off before we beat the rain and were warm and dry in the clubhouse awaiting our arrival and results.
Well, I would love to say that all went smoothly and our strategy on approaching the three holes was perfect. But we persevered and did not lose any strokes achieving par on each hole. We finished a stroke behind the winner, even competing with the foursomes who had great weather the whole round.
How did we weather the storm? We transformed a game that seems to be based on individual accomplishments, into a game of teamwork.
On the drive back to the hunting lodge, I thought about the importance of my values, not just winning the match, but how the others felt about my companionship and contribution to our team. Some questions ran through my head:
Did I play the best I could have for the team today?
Did I show support for the rest of the team members even when they hit bad shots?
Would they want to play on my team in the future?
These questions are about more than just golf. At my companies, we were lucky to have great teams on board and a set of core values to help us weather the storm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of the things we did to build great teams.
Start with the best players
The golfers I played with were sorted by skill level – A, B, C, and D – and we had to set up the teams so no one team had an advantage. But in business, we get to pick our players. If we pick the best ones, it is likely we will win the game.
I always seek the best of the best players we can get to be on my teams. There is a reason why top athletes are paid many times what the average player makes. That is because top players win games; average players do not.
Make sure they are improving to become “A” players or remove them
You have heard that leaving a bad apple in the basket, will spoil the whole basket. When left to stay on the team, poor performers will spoil the whole team.
You need to take time, especially in these times of uncertainty, to make those tough decisions on your team roster. Perhaps it is time to reassign a loyal employee to a different position or to a crew where his skills are a better fit. But most importantly, you must know when to cut loose those employees who have not adopted your core values. To move forward in these challenging times, you need the best of the best to win.
Develop core values that define the attributes your team members must possess
When deciding to hire, promote, or keep people on the team, we study our core values and make sure the team members are in line with them. By instilling these core values into our business when times were good, it helped us during the pandemic. We have management staff who worked as a team. And just as importantly, our managers were able to work with our superintendents, field, and factory employees, and were able to count on them as we all share the same core beliefs.
Watertown Enterprises is a group of three construction companies, manufacturing, distribution, and labor service companies. Here are the core VALUES for our teams:
Lead by Taking Action
Exceeding Customer Expectations
Swift to Change
These core values hang on the wall in every office, conference room, jobsite trailer, and even on the bathroom wall at our headquarters. Here is how these core values play a part in building the best teams.
To me, honesty is the most important attribute team members must demonstrate, so it has always been at the top of our list of core values. It starts at the top. When leaders share what they can and what they know to be accurate, it sets the tone for everyone.
Not everything we share is good news. We had unexpected job shutdowns, canceled bids, and just the general uncertainty that happened almost every day during COVID. But being honest allowed everyone else to create plans and adjust.
If a manager is making decisions for self-interest, instead of what is in the best interest of the team, he does not display amazing judgment.
When teammates have amazing judgment skills, they can make and assess decisions quickly. When those fast-moving storms approached the golf course, we did not have time to debate each approach shot. We just had to decide and hit.
The same is true on the job site. When faced with a tough decision, managers need to ask, “How does this decision fit within our core values?” This provides a benchmark that leads to amazing judgment.
Leading by Taking Action
There is no room for procrastinators on a good team. Can you imagine trying to win a football game when your quarterback cannot make a decision on whether he wants to throw the ball?
Studies have shown that the greatest leaders of all time had one thing in common: the ability to take action. Sometimes they decided wrong, but they always decided.
We must all have a passion for one another as a group. This starts with understanding each other’s personalities, wants, and needs, then utilizing each of our strengths to benefit one another.
Each player must have a skill set that compliments the overall journey of reaching the goals we set each year. And they all must have sufficient training to improve their game throughout the year.
Exceeding Customer Expectations
We teach that every person in the company is in a sales role. That means regardless of whether we make money on a project or product we sell, the customer must be happy with our products and services when it is all said and done. That is what exceeding customer expectations is all about.
When we are in a meeting after losing a lot of money on a customer, I always ask if that customer is happy. Then, I let the team know that a happy customer is an outcome we desire, regardless of money made or lost. Happy customers come back time and time again. Upset ones do not.
Swift to Change
One of the only certainties in life is things will change. We encourage making decisions and changing things quickly. However, if you make the wrong decision, you must make a decision to fix it just as quickly. You cannot sweep bad decisions under the rug. Instead, we encourage our people to admit to their mistakes, so we can deal with them, move on, and make sure they do not happen again.
When you instill core values into your company, everyone takes on positive change with swift acceptance. And just as important, good employees will provide fair insights on how to improve those changes that are limiting your goals.
I credit a lot of our success in using core values as a metric to make decisions while building our teams. Develop your own core values. Then when you decide to promote, keep, or remove a team member, study to see if the person fits in your culture. This will make your decision clear, so you can practice the core value of taking action and moving on.
Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Buckeye Construction and Restoration, Malta Dynamics Fall Protection and Safety Company, Three Promise Labor Services, and EZG Manufacturing. Combined sales at the companies will exceed $100 million in 2021. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make jobsites safer and more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com. To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 740-749-3512.
About the Author
Damian Lang is a mason contractor in southeast Ohio and inventor of many labor saving masonry systems and products. Lang has served as the Marketing Committee Chairman for the Mason Contractors Association of America. He is also author of the book Rewarding and Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry. To network with Damian on contractor tips or tips you have and would like published, contact him at email@example.com or 740-749-3512.