Steven Bitzer

Steven Bitzer’s communication strategy revolves around a single philosophy: Tell it like it is. He says the best way to keep your
employees in the loop is with simple, straightforward communication in which you pull no punches, whether the news is good
or bad. It’s that honest approach that has helped Bitzer keep everyone on the same page at Deerfield Construction Co. Inc., the
$52 million construction firm of which he is president. Smart Business spoke with Bitzer about how real, honest communication
can keep employees involved and benefit a business in the long run.

Get to the point. If you communicate what
you want and how you want it, and then
show them the way, you can get what
you want. Good, straightforward communication is key. At Deerfield, we don’t
hide anything. We have a monthly luncheon and we show our employees where
we are with regard to our goals. So our
employees know exactly where we’re at,
our gross profit, our other critical success factors.

I believe you get what you focus on. We
try to make those critical success factors
things that have meaning and value, not
only to Deerfield but the employees. If
they know we’re meeting those goals,
they’re seeing it on a monthly basis, they
know every December that Deerfield
met its goals or exceeded its goals,
bonuses are secure and the recognition
is there.

I think employees respond to things
they can impact. If a company is meeting
its goals or hitting its targets, there is satisfaction with the individual for the team
that they’re doing a good job and meeting their goals. That feels good.

If it feels good, then there is a continuation in an attempt to meet the target or
beat the target. The more informed
employees are about where you are at in
the company, whatever you would
decide in your business what those critical success factors are, there is no dark
side to that. It’s all up and straightforward and open. You always have people
in business say, ‘Wow, if I’d have known
that, I’d have done something about it.’
Here, we don’t have many times where
we can say that, unless it’s a surprise.

Communicate in person. I have 43 employees. I am face to face with every employee at a minimum of once a year with
whoever they’re reporting to in the
room. Usually, we’re talking about salary
increases or that type of stuff.

I believe you don’t do a review and talk
about salary in the same meeting. If an
employee’s review justifies an increase,
we’re meeting to talk about the increase
so that I can recognize them face to face
for the outstanding job they’re doing, and do it in front of their manager.

Normally, I go to my employees, they
don’t come to me. If I’m meeting with
our superintendent on a project in
Oklahoma, I go there. We do the review
in his backyard, not mine. It’s where that
person will feel the most comfortable.
It’s their environment, not mine.

All people don’t think this way, but if
you’re going to the boss’s office, usually
you think you did something wrong.
That’s the way it always seems to be, and
that’s one thing I’d really like to see
change in business.

Encourage employees to improve. When we
started our team review process, internally our people were very defensive
because the questions are ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
We do meetings every week on our job
sites, and one of the questions was,
‘Were all the meeting minutes posted
within a 24-hour period?’

That’s black and white; it’s not 26 hours
or 28 hours, it was by the end of the next
day, those meeting minutes should be
posted. If every one of them wasn’t, the
answer was ‘no.’ It doesn’t necessarily
make it a failure, but they know that if they missed that one, they’re not going
to do that again.

I don’t mince words, but I try to push
the idea that confrontation is not good. I
prefer to call them ‘carefrontations.’ You
don’t want to point out that someone is
doing a bad job, you want to point it out
so that, in our case, all our meeting minutes are there next time.

Of course, there are reasons, and there
are excuses.

If the superintendent or coordinator
were sick, I can deal with that as a ‘yes.’
That rarely happens, but there are good
reasons for certain things and there are
excuses. You need to take the excuses
away and make them accountable for
what you expect. We know what we
want our job files to look like. We can’t
go out on a job site and expect a sub-contractor to do a job that we can’t do
ourselves. It goes back to leading by

Remember that it’s about your people. There is
a lot of good in people, and no matter
what we do and how technical we get in
business, many industries are still a people business.

You have to have good people to be
successful. There is good in everybody,
and all you have to do is get it out of
them. Bonuses help, obviously, at the
end of the year, but that’s more of personal satisfaction for the individual. If
you’re recognizing someone in front of
their peers and managers, that’s something different. That’s a different level of
recognition, but both are very satisfying
and very important.

People work because they have to.
They have bills to pay and families to
take care of. But it’s also part of the life
cycle of satisfying yourself in a job that
trips your trigger, then you go into retirement and you want to be comfortable
and safe in your retirement. That’s the
cycle, and everybody wants to keep it.
Everybody wants to be better than the
last generation.

HOW TO REACH: Deerfield Construction Co. Inc., (513) 984-4096 or