Steven Bitzer Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

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 example.

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