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Chuck Bowen | September 6, 2013

Chuck Bowen

“Hey, you want to see what $65,000 worth of iPhones looks like?”

That’s what Matt Bland said to me while I was sitting with him and his brother Kurt at their Apex, N.C., headquarters this summer.

“It’s really not that impressive,” he added quickly.

It’s true, 65 large worth of new iPhones isn’t that impressive – they’re just so damn small. But that the Bland brothers had them at all is impressive, because they’re giving them to their crew leaders. It’s part of a roll-out of a newly integrated software system and a focus for the company on improving communication among disparate groups of employees.

I’ve met plenty of owners who don’t even trust their crews with the shovels and rakes, let alone something as new and shiny and potentially dangerous as an iPhone. But that’s not how the Blands see it. They see these phones as another tool to help them better manage their employees in a rapidly growing business in expanding markets.

The brothers have also ordered a custom-built iOS app that integrates their internal tracking systems so managers can stay on top of key metrics – and, again, communicate better.

The old adage is that if all you have is a hammer then every problem is a nail, and so maybe I see failures of communication most because I’m a writer.

But what the Bland brothers have done with that one single purchase has done more for their long-term success than almost anything else they could have done. In one call to AT&T, they’ve set up a channel for their crews and their foremen to communicate more efficiently about weather, projects and even job opportunities. They’ve created a system that effectively tracks employee time and location. They’ve given employees tools to photograph and troubleshoot problems in the field quickly. And, most importantly, they’ve shown their entry-level employees that they trust them enough to handle the responsibility of having a shiny new toy.

Good foremen and crew leaders are worth their weight in gold to any contractor. The Bland brothers asked their employees and found that benefits like a new a phone were more popular than a straight cash bonus. The employees get more value from those things than they do from a little extra silver in their palms.

So what is it that your people want? What keeps them coming back through miserably hot summers and the threat of layoffs in the winter?

What are you doing to invest in them that will keep them around?


– Chuck Bowen

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