Is it possible to build a positive company culture in the construction industry?
Updated: Jan 30
Yes, we think so. But why would we want to implement culture change in a tough industry like construction, when many still believe that a hard-nosed approach still works? Because we believe it has run its course (as with many things in the world) and it is time to change something or risk not finding people to work the trades.
For years the majority of HVAC, plumbing, and electrical technicians/installers have worked in an industry that has been strict, hard nosed, and abrasive when it comes to workplace environments and company culture. With 20+ years in the trades, I was one of those installers and technicians early in my career and a supervisor now.
I recall times of being yelled at so loud that I could not make out what the person was saying (or I stopped listening). In the end it was not my fault that the issue occurred. Rather than attempt to apologize or explain his reasons for scolding me, it seemed as though my supervisor thought "Well, he knows he didn't do anything wrong, so he's good." It would've been nice if he had some common manners or just reflected back to the golden rule!
I have always been a driven individual that loved change. I moved a lot as a kid (which I actually enjoyed for the most part) and I never minded starting a new adventure. The one thing I did not appreciate was a manager or a supervisor who felt the need to talk down to or belittle others in any way. I would say I was probably fairly vocal about it at times, especially in my younger years.
I remember ending my day and wondering "why didn't I take the college path?" But then I realized this problem exists everywhere and change had to happen. My next thought was "how can an apprentice or a low level guy like me help inspire change?"
The answer would not come to me until working my way through a few companies (as most in the trades do) and realizing that there is a definite disconnect from owners and employees. I had some great experiences in the trades and have met some pretty amazing people through my career. I really wanted to see the great people all find a home one day, as I have at United Mechanical, Inc. (UMI).
I started with United after departing a company that was full of:
The same old promises offered at most HVAC companies
A true disconnect between owners and employees (as I mentioned earlier)
When I arrived at UMI, I went through the interview process and tried to sell myself the best I knew how: "I am great at everything, and I can do anything!" Well little did I know that being a residential guy for all those years and working my way to GM at the past company, really meant nothing in the commercial mechanical field.
I waited patiently for a call back, while postponing 4 other decent job offers (with the same type of company I departed). I told each of them that I needed to wait to hear from one more. You see, I had been advised by an engineer friend of mine to wait for a call from UMI. He told me "If you sign on with UMI, you'll learn that you don't know much about air conditioning." Boy was he right!
The day finally came when a rep from UMI called me and said "Hi Jim, we would like to offer you the position of an A/C service technician, at a substantial pay cut."
I paused and said "What the heck? I accept!" I needed a change, and I really felt this was it. Fast forward seven years and I am now the General Manager for the Services Division. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here and always look forward to the future. The past is what holds you back if you have not learned from it.
Why all the back story? Well, culture did not hit me until only a few years ago when I was tasked with growing the company. I soon realized the only way for positive growth was through the people we employed and the clients we kept happy.
United Mechanical has afforded me the opportunity to build something that I have always wanted to work for. The idea that business has to be run 'by the book' and 'driven without feelings' is a thing of the past. The "slam-your-fist-on-the-desk-to-get-things-done" mentality, does not work anymore.
It took some time to realize I had to stop trying to fix machines and instead, help people. Not easy for a guy like me with a strong D personality (anyone familiar with DiSC will understand).
When I was in the field as a service technician, Mike Clark (president of UMI) started to work on the team. He invested in a coach (Lee Knapp) that would guide me away from the old ways of thinking and direct me to the new way of thinking. I have learned a ton from Mike and Lee. They have helped guide me in such a positive fashion that it's inspired me to push for positive growth in others. This has been quite the process for myself and many members of our team. It has taught us to be flexible with people, open and honest with each other, and to strive for work/life balance. All of this is being accomplished with Mike's full support. Onward and upward is the only way to go!
These pictures are of team members we have had the pleasure of working with. The majority is still with us at UMI. Others have moved on to adventures of their own.
I am fortunate that UMI has invested heavily in people (me being one of them) from the day I started. To have found a home where I want to go to work everyday is the ultimate success story for anyone looking for a career:
That will sustain you through any economy
Where you can learn skills that can be used world wide, while
Becoming a better person
In the past I heard that investing in people is a new-age concept that is popular with the younger generations. If that is the case, then why would we (as upper management and ownership, who are older and all different generations) want to change it? The answer is simple. It is an appealing idea to love what you do and love where you work! Find a company that focuses on its people and you will find a company that you can call home.
I realize this starts at the top and we are very fortunate to have an involved owner / president that strives for greatness everyday in business and his personal life.