Performance coach Dave Stitt continues his series with a look at how construction leaders can foster a more inclusive management culture
To stay competitive, your company needs to recruit and retain talent from sections of the population that currently avoid construction, including that half of it who are not male.
In some ways, recruiting is the easy bit. You can divert cash and attention to an outreach campaign and get your company in front of jobseekers who come from underrepresented segments of the population.
Retaining them is another matter. Here, company culture – how people are with each other all down through the organisation – plays a big role. Do the recruits feel comfy, welcome and at home? Or do they feel odd, out of place and intimidated?
Culture is a difficult thing to shape from the top down. I know, because I led a number of big culture change programmes for national contractors.
Company boards must make it clear that racist, sexist or otherwise exclusionary ‘banter’ or behaviour won’t be tolerated.
But is that enough? The risk is that relying on that alone encourages people merely to watch what they say without challenging their underlying attitudes.
I feel it’s better to promote effective behaviours among managers that (a) serve them well and (b) make new recruits feel welcome and at home.
Coaching does that. Managers can and should be coaches, especially in construction.
When managers coach, they stop telling people what to do. Instead, they start conversations with the people who report to them.
The conversations have a purpose: to help your people think more effectively for themselves about how best to fulfil their accountabilities.
Your goal is to get them thinking. And you start by asking: what do you think?
Micro-cultures of exclusion
Here’s why I think this will help make the culture of your company more welcoming and effective for everybody.
Consider the culture of construction. The people who work in the industry are predominantly white and male.
Left to its own devices, any culture breeds micro-cultures of exclusion. You might call them cliques, but sometimes exclusionary micro-cultures spread beyond smaller groups.
In these micro-cultures are unspoken codes of behaviour and shared assumptions about what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
This includes humour, what’s considered fun, who is esteemed and why, conceptions of right and wrong, how conflict is handled, and more.
These unspoken codes govern who is welcome in the club and who isn’t. It’s just human behaviour; we’re all drawn to people who are like us, over and against those who are not.
Sadly, characteristics that have nothing to do with the work at hand – such as gender, skin colour, accent and religious observance – can mean exclusion from the club.
Those with the wrong characteristics who don’t understand the implicit codes, or who are not minded to follow them, can find themselves shut out, deprived of warmth, support and a sense of belonging, even if there is no explicit hostility.
The industry has come a long way in the 47 years I’ve been in it. At the professional level, white, male, macho culture is less prominent, but exclusionary micro-cultures still form under the surface in any part of any company, any time.
Closed versus open source
An exclusionary micro-culture is a closed system, like a piece of proprietary software. To outsiders its rules are hidden and unintelligible.
By contrast, a coaching management culture is open source: the rules are explicit, intelligible and anyone can contribute according to them.
The simple act of saying “What do you think?” and meaning it, is an invitation to join the club. It says: “You’re good, you’re welcome, you’re valued. Come in and help us.”
Can it really be that simple: a thing you say? Partly, yes. There is more to it, as I explain in my book Coach for Results, but that’s the starting point.
When it’s a habit of your managers to say to their people “What do you think?”, they are building an open, welcoming culture in which people can thrive, whatever their gender, race or religion.
It’s the antidote to exclusionary micro-cultures.
Dave Stitt FCIOB is a chartered civil engineer, and professional certified coach at DSA Building Performance.