Wind turbine construction jobs are not for the weak of heart. The long working hours and ever-changing whereabouts can trigger discord with work-life balance. Construction is also a risky business. Not only can these jobs take a toll on one’s home life, but they require physical activity beyond a typical desk job, as well as presence of mind each and every day. If you have an off day, the consequences can be fatal.
It’s common for construction companies to incentivize projects, to try to increase employee engagement and performance. With promotions, bonuses, and additional time off, there is encouragement to perform work ahead of schedule and under budget. While incentives may seem like a great answer, they can quickly create a perilous work environment of cutting corners and making decisions without logic.
The pressure or longing to complete tasks quickly can often outweigh the necessity of completing tasks safely and correctly. The easy answer to combat this incentivized risk is to add checks and balances through third parties and/or in-house teams. While that is prudent and necessary, it doesn’t solve the entire problem. These checks and balances don’t always have the necessary authority, silos can develop, toxic work environments can fester, and all kinds of problems can arise.
So how do you combat mistakes and ensure safety, while enabling innovation?
One Energy is the largest installer of on-site wind in the U.S. After several years of performing traditional construction management services, we strategically moved to self-perform all aspects of the construction process. (Meaning, we use in-house labor to install all civil, foundation, electrical, and erection work.) Over the last decade, we’ve learned that it is possible to innovate – to become faster, leaner, and more efficient – without incentivizing risk or sacrificing safety and/or quality.
Here’s how we do it:
- Robust training and cross-training. Our daily decisions are often made in a vacuum, with employees instinctively assessing “How will this affect me and what I am accomplishing in this moment?” While those questions are important, team members must also think about the parts of the overall process that are affected by missteps. Train your employees to be effective in their roles, but also invest in cross-training, so employees see the bigger picture.
- Employees need breaks and clear expectations. An employee who shows grit is great, but I need our team members to stay engaged for their entire careers. Burnout is real. Set boundaries and expectations for employees in their roles – including time away from the job.
- Spend time finding the right hires. Hiring is difficult and finding people when you need them is even more challenging. Some of the best potential hires are people you already have a working relationship with. You might be surprised by the places we’ve found brilliant hires, from waitstaff at a local restaurant to fellow gym members. Get to know people. Get to know your industry. Spend time finding the right fit and remember that it doesn’t always have to happen overnight, and it doesn’t have to be typical.
- Celebrate the wins and analyze the losses. Rewarding people for a job well done is a great way to take care of them, whether it’s company-wide or on an individual basis. However, when something doesn’t go well, don’t shy away from the conflict. Address it, learn from it, and move on, rather than avoiding the conversation or ignoring it outright.
- Allow ALL employees to innovate (in a controlled environment). Innovation is not something many companies allow at all levels, but it must be a priority in construction. Allow for and encourage the free flow of information – but make sure implementation is strategic and deliberate, with alignment at all levels.
- Vertically integrate. Build a team that can rally around each other. Our teams are part of the process from green field to operational project, and there is a lot of pride in participating at (and completing) each stage. Build and develop a team that wants to take on the world – from start to finish.
- Empower employee fulfillment. Employment is selfish by nature; we all work to get paid and to feel fulfilled. Money is nice, but fulfillment is the goal. Take good care of the people who take good care of your business.
Too many construction crews get into a “finish at all costs” mentality and lose their field of vision. It’s easy to let one thing slide, and then another, and another. Sliding into that culture could cost some teams a lot more than money. Make sure that team is not yours.
Chelsea Bumb is the Head of Construction at One Energy.