Best Ideas of the Year

Mark L. Johnson / December 2021

As the year winds down, it’s time to reflect on how we can be better at what we do. I sifted through my work and have five recommendations for you.

Reinforce Your Company Culture
Instilling and maintaining a strong culture is a tall order for any construction firm. Employees work on multiple job sites, with multiple partners, pretty much at all times.
    
“Everybody is in their little bubbles, and it’s hard to actually reinforce the shared values and goals of people within the company,” says Cynthia Wang, a Northwestern University professor of management and organizations.
    
The pandemic has made it worse. The danger is your company’s values could unravel. What should you do?
    
Start by giving employees a greater sense of control, but also have frequent employee check-ins. Find out how everyone is coping with projects and life. This will build trust—the bedrock of your culture and the foundation for innovative ideas.

Start Prefabricating
A McKinsey & Company report says much of the construction value chain is moving from job sites to off-site facilities. My reporting shows wall contractors are investing in laser cutting machines, automated cold-formed steel roll formers and BIM technologies.
    
“Off-site manufacturing and prefabrication has the potential to enable standardization and drastically improve productivity in construction,” says Greg Eckstrom, senior vice president at California Drywall.
    
By using standardized processes, you too can produce panels and kits and ship them to job sites for speedy assembly. But it’s time to get moving. Prefabrication is fast becoming a permanent way of doing business.

Keep Your Sanity
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and everyone is stressed. Unfortunately, organizations have “misdiagnosed the resulting stress as acute rather than chronic,” says Jennifer Moss in the Harvard Business Review. What can you do?
    
Watch your hours. The risk of occupational burnout increases significantly when your workweek averages more than 50 hours. Burnout rises even more at the 60-hour-a-week level, says Gallup.
    
Cut back on meetings. Steven Rogelberg, author of “The Surprising Science of Meetings,” says pre-COVID-19 studies show U.S. organizations wasted $37 billion annually in unproductive meetings.
    
Cut back on Zoom meetings. A video call requires hard work “to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language,” says the BBC. Simply put, Zoom is exhausting.
    
Listen to people. A British study found that the average adult will say “I’m fine” 14 times a week, but only 19% really mean it. Moss says we should all be professional eavesdroppers.

Money Can’t Buy Markets
Katerra raised some $2 billion, but in June closed its doors. How did it all go so wrong? Answer: The company was doing too much.
    
“They were trying to be a vertically integrated builder that controlled every part of the supply chain—the architect, the engineer, the general contractor, the supplier, everybody,” says Travis Vap, CEO of South Valley Prefab in Colorado.
    
Construction is complex and has lots of moving parts. Prefabrication is manufacturing with even more moving parts. The key is to focus. South Valley Prefab markets just three prefabricated products: a backup panel, a finish panel and a masonry veneer panel. Perhaps you could focus on load-bearing panel frames. Or, bathroom pods. Or, modular rooms. But probably not all three.

Overcome Stigma’s Impact
When people with mental-health and substance-abuse problems are treated differently from those with other chronic conditions, they likely won’t get the help they need.
    
According to the McKinsey article, “Overcoming stigma: Three strategies toward better mental health in the workplace,” 37% of employees don’t want others learning about their mental illness, and 52% want to hide their substance-use disorder.
    
So, provide mental-health literacy training to employees. Have your C-suite executives talk personally about mental health. Try to eliminate discriminatory behavior. People can have “a substance-use disorder,” but they are never “addicts.” And make sure your physical and mental health care plans, employee-assistance programs and other programs reflect parity.
    
“Making it happen wouldn’t just be a symbolic move by employers,” McKinsey says. “It would be, in fact, one of the most tangible things they could do for their workforces.”
 

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.