Don?t Try Management by Screaming and Yelling

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If you think Generation X workers are sensitive, check out the next group coming into the job market. But don’t blow up. You can’t do that anymore. Your only choice is to adjust your management style to their sensitive nature.

April 03, 2000

If you think Generation X workers are sensitive, check out the next group coming into the job market. But don’t blow up. You can’t do that anymore. Your only choice is to adjust your management style to their sensitive nature.

Now, if you think this is a joke, guess again. There’s a reason immigration is at its highest level in U.S. history. We’re short of people for every job in this economy, and residential construction is hurting more than most others because of its redneck reputation.

This industry is known as the last bastion of hard-charging, John Wayne-style management. Perhaps that’s because it is still male-dominated, and many of the men in leadership positions learned their management style in boot camp and came up from the job site, where diplomacy is still in short supply.

Why you scream and yell doesn’t really matter. Just stop. "My way or the highway" won’t cut it anymore. "It’s true," says Sarasota, Fla., semicustom builder Lee Wetherington. "I don’t yell, or at least I try not to, because you don’t get far with this new generation that way. Yelling actually shuts them down."

Wetherington is old school, a former Marine drill sergeant, but has come around. "It’s a different world. We have to assume more of a coaching and counseling role."

Michigan-based management consultant Michael Anleitner, who works with clients in the auto and home building industries, says this is the result of more than just the short supply of people in every job category. "There used to be a huge gap in education and knowledge between managers and new hires in this industry. Not today. Many new hires are more educated and have better computer skills than the people doing the hiring. These people are not going to take abusive treatment. The first time you scream and yell, they may listen. But keep doing it, and they just tune you out.

"Then they leave," says Anleitner. "Many home builders are now excluding themselves from the best and brightest. These young people see the chaos, get yelled at, and they leave. They never come back."

However, like every problem, this one is really a disguised opportunity. "Learn how to manage this new generation, and you have huge opportunities to grow while others founder," says Anleitner.

That description would probably fit Houston-based David Weekley Homes, recently identified as one of the 100 best companies in America to work for by Fortune magazine (see PB, March 2000, page 72).

"Builders don’t have plants or factories. Our only major asset is our people," says Weekley. "So first we try to do a really good job of matching the person to the position. We put candidates through a lot of testing to determine their strengths and weaknesses. "Then we try to manage each person as an individual, put them in positions that maximize their strengths, but where their weaknesses can be supported. Screaming and yelling are out. That’s the old model. It just won’t work anymore."

But can all the screamers in this high-decibel industry really reform?

"It’s tough for people to change, but it does happen," Colorado-based consultant Chuck Shinn says. "Negative feedback just scares people, and they hide things. The best approach is where positives and negatives flow in both directions, but that’s hard to achieve."

Fieldstone Communities in Southern California opens that flow with confidential internal surveys of all employees in which employees have the freedom to air complaints without fear. "We also try to involve employees in the development of team goals and work methods," Fieldstone president Keith Johnson says. "When everyone has a hand in establishing a goal, they work harder to achieve it than any manager could ever force them to work by yelling."

The bottom line is simple: Don’t scream and yell because it does not work, and your employees will leave.

"I heard one of my best people in the accounting department telling a co-worker that she gets an offer every other day," southwest Florida builder Pat Neal says. "Well, I can’t pay them more every time they get an offer, and I can’t match benefits with the big, national builders in my market. But I can let my people know that I respect their achievements and appreciate their effort.

"I try to spend as much time as possible with them," says Neal. "Personal attention is something the nationals have a hard time matching."

Benevolence without despotism. "I try to listen more carefully and be sensitive to personal as well as economic needs." There’s that word again: sensitive.

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