Mason Contractors: Keep Your Offensive Line in Check
By Damian Lang
With the lack of work available to bid, regulations, inflation, increasing health care costs and other issues a business has to face today, many of us get so tied up in mere survival that we sometimes forget we must remain positive with our people.
At Lang Masonry Contractors (LMC), around 25 percent of our field employees’ pay is incentive based (pay based on piecework). We also pay our foremen about 90 percent based on piecework. During the last few years of tighter bidding, our employees have felt the effect of how lower sales not only relate to lower profits for the company, but also reduce their incentive pay.
Although our crews increased production to help offset the drop, it wasn’t enough to keep the employees’ incentive pay from being reduced as it directly ties to the overall price of the project. This direct correlation helped LMC survive the recession. Although this has been difficult for the company, it also has been tough for our employees.
A few months ago, during our monthly foremen meeting, the foremen brought up how the pay system had affected them during the last few years. They mentioned that their pay on some jobs was getting tighter and asked if there was a way we could give them a salary or guaranty on how much they would earn, instead of basing their pay almost solely on piecework. These are the same guys who did very well with this program in the good times. It took the recession to drag on and on, before they spoke up. My project managers and I listened intently to their concerns. I told them we would consider their request.
My team was looking toward me for some positive answers. With this weighing heavily on my mind, I brought it up to John, a paving contractor with whom I network. John said, “Maybe you are not giving them pep talks anymore. These foremen are your offensive line and, if they are not up for the game, they will leave holes in the line where the competition can get to the quarterback.”
I sat there thinking, “Right, and I know who the quarterback getting slaughtered will be!”
He went on to say, “Your foremen need to know it is you and them against the world.” I knew he was right. We had been so busy dealing with survival issues during the recession, we forgot to consider the effect it had on each of them. After all, they took cuts to help our company survive, too.
At the next foremen meeting, while staring at 10 faces with a combined service of about 200 years with LMC, I ran point on letting them know that we realize they have taken a hit for the company during the slow times. I also let them know how important they were to our company and that I realize the foremen have the hardest job in the company. My project managers and I presented a regular, hourly pay system we’d put together as an option for them, with a dollar-per-hour amount instead of incentive-based pay.
I informed them I wasn’t crazy about it, as I always wanted the foremen and company to work together as a team. And, without their pay being tied to what gets accomplished each day, I felt they could lose the edge that drove them to continue to get great results. We gave them one week to choose how each wanted their pay structured in the future, and we let them know it did not have to be all or none. Each had the option to go hourly pay or stay on the incentive-based system we have had in place for more than 20 years. Not one person elected to go to hourly pay.
Looking back, I think what meant the most to our foremen was that we listened to their concerns. We also focused more on the positive side of things, while letting them know how much they mean to our company. And, the good news is, we still have our starting offensive line in place and are ready for a winning season.
Damian Lang is a mason contractor in Southeast Ohio and inventor of many labor-saving masonry systems and products. He also is the author of the book “Rewarding and Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry.” To order a copy of his book or network with him on future tips or strategies, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 740-749-3512.