Culture in the Modern Building & Construction Industry

Most professionals have long heard the quote “culture eats strategy for breakfast” made famous by then President of Ford, Mark Fields (actually coined by management consultant and author Peter Drucker). At the core of the phrase is the belief that without an influential culture to buy in and execute, even the best strategies are doomed to failure. As building techniques, materials, markets, and the workforce undergo a rapid transformation; it’s essential to understand how critical a positive and engaged working culture is for builders, manufacturers, and channel suppliers to meet the challenges of a changing landscape.

The Millennial Workforce In Residential Construction

How did we, the industry, get here?

Historically, a construction industry culture would widely swing depending on size and type of ownership. The smaller and more wholly owned companies tended to operate in a more familiar, informal, and relaxed atmosphere. On the other side, you have large corporate conglomerates that are publicly traded or owned by private equity houses. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the industry developed a perception of being a good ole boys club, steeped in who you knew and how much you could spend on golf, alcohol, and dinners. This aura did not endear itself to emerging Gen Xers and Millennials who would be entering the workforce in the 21st century. In a sense, the construction industry found itself with an identity issue and an ensuing culture crisis which became more evident at the end of The Great Recession. The good ole party was over, now what?

Recovery and emergence of the Millennial Falcon

As the economy and industry began to climb out of the doldrums, the Millennial generation (born between 1982 – 2004) was entering the workforce and was about to make Generation X look like a distant memory. This new labor pool was born and raised in the age of internet, social media, and mainstream globalization that would firmly establish a new diverse makeup of employee candidates who physically and emotionally embodied stark contrasts to the previous generations. Studies reveal serious indicators that firms of all types, but particularly those who have lagged culture progress such as the construction industry, need to pay attention to now. 

Critical Stats on the Millennial Workforce:

The Millennial Workforce Costs The US Economy In Residential Construction

  • Millennials will make up 50% of the US workforce by 2020, 75% by 2030.
  • Millennials are the least engaged generation in the workforce. Only 29 percent are engaged while 55 percent are not involved, and 16 percent are actively disengaged.
  • They change jobs more often than other generations. About 21 percent of Millennials report switching jobs within the last year, and 60 percent are open to a different opportunity.
  • Millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy an estimated $30.5 billion annually.
  • While half of Millennials say they feel good about the amount of money they have to spend, less than 40 percent are what Gallup defines as “thriving” in any one aspect of well-being.


Millennials and Gen Xers share many traits, and unfortunately, many employers mistakenly dismiss their lack of engagement as lack of maturity and worse, sense of entitlement. Nothing could be further from the truth. The M generation generally exhibits many of the independent and non-monetary motivators that the Gen X brood was known for, but without all the cynicism and social discourse. This generation seeks and desires meaningfulness beyond the mighty dollar and does so in a more socially acceptable and inclusive manner.

Playing politics, skirting ethical boundaries, tolerating intolerance, the relentless pursuit of more money and power, and being a part of a “good ole boys” club will generally fall on deaf ears. What they will bring to the table is more effective and efficient ways of thinking, communicating, and operating across silos. What they desire in return supersedes the paycheck alone. They want empowerment, purposeful meaningfulness, autonomy, security, and a culture that fosters a healthy balance of accountability and acknowledgment.

Don't misunderstand the Millennial's quest

Unfortunately, many organizations and cultures have mistakenly misinterpreted the Millennials quest for meaningfulness as entitled and soft. Typically, this view is developed by late Gen Xer’s and Baby Boomers who were taught that the company’s career path and demands came before individual needs and wants. In the era where there are now more jobs than qualified workers, the Millennials and the emerging iGen generation see this view as outdated and will seek firms where their career aspirations fit their needs vs. accepting what management wants them to do. This philosophy directly challenges the construction industry’s keen perception of the company first and will need to be addressed to attract and retain new talent.

As with all generational analysis and profiling, it is critical to remember and be mindful that characteristics and traits associated with any generation involve broad characterizations across a population consisting of millions. A dedicated leadership team is still required to invest time and demonstrate a level of care to engage employees of all generations and understand everyone’s specific strengths, weaknesses, needs, and motivators.

Building your culture around the new workforce reality  

While many companies have begun to realize the need to shake up their cultures and begin to change the paradigm in the construction markets, many have not or worse, over-corrected and have implemented cultures that appeal to generations several decades back who are exiting the workforce, not joining it. Here are some suggestions on what to do and what not to so if you desire to build a culture for the next 100 years vs. the past 100.

Write it down

Write down what you want your culture to be and have it adopted from the top down. Make a concerted effort to erase any acceptance of non-ethical and non-diverse policies no matter who it impacts. Easy to say on paper, but executive privilege no longer can be an excuse for unethical and discriminatory behavior. Adopt a zero tolerance policy of accepting and excusing discriminatory behavior and open the executive and leadership suite to people of all creeds based on merit, results, and ability to lead, motivate and inspire others. Anyone who believes “the industry” won’t accept or listen to non-white males should be coached or removed quickly as this will only perpetuate the problem.

Courage to eliminate is required

Have the courage to eliminate people who don’t get on board and represent the ways of old. Everyone is replaceable, even those who claim to have “books of business” or “key relationships with customers.” Start with the senior managers of your firm and have the courage to seek input from lower levels of the organization. You will find truth there (360-degree reviews are a great tool), and it checks the empowerment box for the rest of the organization.

Accountability doesn't have to include fear

Understand that developing a culture of accountability doesn’t have to involve a culture of fear. Many firms, typically larger ones, aspire to high-performance culture status at the expense of employee engagement. The phrase “good is not good enough” is often heard at such companies. All people and particularly the new generation of business workers desire constructive feedback and want to make a difference. Instilling a culture that emphasizes the consequences of failure vs. results of success will not attract and retain the best talent.

Measurement and buy-in is critical

Make sure measurement systems for results are communicated, agreed to, and the people executing them are bought into that measurement criteria. This buy-in means they need to be involved in the crafting of strategy and resulting goals vs. receiving mandates from the corner office. If you treat the organization as a cult and assume all will follow organizational authority alone, you will receive zero discretionary effort from the whole of your workforce, particularly those from Gen X and Millennial population.

Modern compensation packages

Construct compensation packages and work environment that will appeal to the audience you seek. Pay will always be a factor but dare to also demonstrate the value of work/life balance and ownership. Consider implementing unlimited time off policies, invest in better healthcare benefits, health/education incentives, and if feasible, forms of equity in the company.

Understand the Millennial experience

Remember that Millennial's watched jobs and careers be decimated during the Great Recession and understand that long term pensions and benefit guarantees are long lost relics of the past. They have also watched major corporations move job overseas, cut benefits, and reduce the workforce at will. Accepting that younger talent has options and making talent retention doesn’t have to come at the expense of the balance sheet. Invest in talent and proactively seek ways to retain them. A touch of loyalty goes a long way, and contrary to old school management belief, doesn’t necessarily lead to entitlement.

Seek employee validation

Once you believe you have the engagement and culture down, which should be validated and measured by continuous employee engagement surveys, market your culture as a critical reason to believe in your brand or brands. Companies whose brand represents a positive culture and high employee satisfaction are incrementally valued more than just good product brands. Engage your marketing and HR team and empower them to spread the word.

Arcitell seeks to innovate building materials products and culture

Jeff Adams, CEO of new cladding manufacturer Arcitell routinely states that the company wasn't formed for the last 100 years of construction, but the next 100. As much as its innovative technology aims to disrupt the traditional exterior cladding product space, the dedication to cutting edge applies equally to its desired culture.

Arcitell seeks to challenge many of the status quos of native building material manufacturer cultures by establishing a transparent, technology-driven, results-oriented, and accountable environment that motivates and empowers employees at all levels of the organization.

At its core, the revolutionary nature of Arcitell’s products is a direct reflection of the influential foundational culture which is being built to bring it to the globe. To learn more about Arcitell and its progressive products, technology, and culture, visit the corporate site at www.arcitell.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

For over 20 years, Mike has worked in the building industry. He was a key player at Louisiana Pacific leading a team of over 60 regional sales and marketing professionals in executing the exceeding organization goals. At Arcitell, he is in charge of the sales and marketing of Arcitell's Qora Cladding product into the North American market.

 

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