Becoming more employee-friendly starts with leaders

March 21, 2018

This piece is presented by Journey Group.

One look at Journey Group’s southwest Sioux Falls headquarters, and it’s obvious this office was built with employees in mind.

There’s a spacious breakroom, windows everywhere and a layout designed for mobility, technology and flexibility.

The challenge is that the majority of Journey’s employees don’t get to spend much time there.

“For them, their job site is their workplace,” human resources director Jolene Smith said.

“They view our company as the project they’re working on and the leader in the field they’re working for.”

Journey’s challenge, as an employer, is to take the work experience and culture from inside the building and translate it into the field.

“We have to make sure our leaders represent our company and our culture,” Smith said. “We’ve started initiatives that will enhance our leaders’ ability to lead and cause employees to want to work here and stay here.”

That focus also ties directly to the company’s mission, which emphasizes impacting lives by building community.

“We recognized to meet this mission, we had to do something, and we focused on what we believe could make the biggest impact for our employees,” said vice president of operations Marlyn Bergeson.

Strengthening leaders

Construction managers traditionally weren’t taught how to be leaders, project superintendent Bill Lienke said.

Lienke, who supervises a team working on an expansion at Dow Rummel Village, is an example of how Journey is leading a shift in thinking around leadership development.

He’s one of many employees at Journey who have completed a three-day, off-site leadership program.

“They take you out of your element, out of your comfort zone and teach you to become a more effective leader,” Lienke said.

Soliciting regular feedback is key, he learned, and it needs to come from all directions – management, staff, clients and colleagues.

“One of the only ways you can know if you’re succeeding or failing as a leader is having someone tell you that you can improve,” Lienke said, adding he now regularly asks for feedback and colleagues have started to proactively offer it.

“And sometimes it’s a simple thing to adjust. I had someone just suggest that I talk louder in meetings, for instance.”

His training also helped him become more mindful of balancing work and home life, “and seeing small things impacting family life opened my eyes,” he said.

The hope is that supervisors will use the new insight to be more encouraging of their teams’ work-life balance.

“We find some of our best employees through referrals from other employees, and there’s a higher bar to get people to go to their friends and family and neighbors,” Bergeson explained.

“That means addressing things that are real for them. It’s not just that we’re safe and have competitive compensation. Those are the minimum requirements. It’s about being employee-friendly with how they have to plan for the rest of their lives. So we don’t treat them like they basically are coming to work and everything else has to fit around it.”

Journey also has offered training to leaders working for subcontractors on its projects, “so they speak the same language and there’s an understanding, whether we’re talking about constructive feedback or conflict resolution,” Bergeson added. “It helps us remove communication barriers and focus on building a better product and providing a better experience for everyone involved.”

Leaders also are empowered to efficiently remove barriers for employees in the field as they’re identified, he continued.

“That’s made a difference in our employees’ experience at work. We don’t have a magic pill, but there are things we do to help our leaders provide a better day-to-day experience.”

‘The why’

Another important shift for workers involves how they think about their work.

Journey has become more intentional about explaining “the why” that’s associated with projects and individual roles.

“Our teams are coming to build something that impacts lives in the community,” Bergeson said.

So, for instance, at the Avera on Louise hospital project, “we went out of our way to communicate what’s going to happen in these buildings. We’re here to build the place where someone is going to get healed. Our teams can be proud of that.”

At Dow Rummel, the Journey team talks frequently about why the building is being built, Lienke said.

“We’re building a state-of-the-art memory care center,” he said. “We’re not here to make a dollar. We’re here to make the resident comfortable from the day they move in until maybe their last day on Earth. That’s the why.”

And it resonates with the team, he said.

“We communicate that a laborer pushing a broom is also significant to the project. It’s one of the most important roles,” he added. “Recognizing why we’re here and recognizing when people are excelling at something really gets buy-in from everyone on the job site.”

The approach goes beyond buildings, Bergeson added.

“Our teams that are building bridges are proud of that. It’s taking care of the traveling public. It’s making things safer than they used to be. That communication piece is way more intentional than in the past.”

Journey plans to continue honing its approach to workforce recruitment and retention, including adding a full-time training and development manager, and communicating career development steps within the company to employees.

“It’s key that people recognize all the opportunities to grow in our industry,” Bergeson said. “You can come in as a field person and if you aspire to work into management, we’ll help you become a leader in the company. It’s all possible here, and you don’t have to do it on your own.”


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Becoming more employee-friendly starts with leaders

Journey Group realized that for many of its employees, work revolved around two things: The project they’re working on and the person they’re working for. That was the start of a workforce strategy.

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