Tony Panzica Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

If Tony Panzica gives you a job, he trusts you to do it, so he won’t be coming around to check up on you every few minutes. Instead of worrying about checking on every detail of what his employees are doing, the president and CEO of Panzica Construction Co. trusts that the systems built into the construction management and general contracting company will tell him when people aren’t performing. Instead, he spends his time finding new ways to push the $135 million company forward. By freeing up his schedule to allot more time to visit job sites and talk with employees and clients, he’s learned how to keep growth consistent while also keeping his 150 employees happy. Smart Business spoke with Panzica about why it’s important to put people first and how a few hors d’oeuvres can get employees to open up.

Make employees priority No. 1. We are very concerned about people and what makes them happy and what makes their families happy. If you don’t have happy employees, they can’t produce, so I’m very concerned about their allocation of time. I try to force them to go home at a reasonable time to spend time with their children, so that the next day they can come back fresh, and they’re ready to go again.

Every leader ought to have the ability to empathize with people and see things through others’ eyes. If you are not able to empathize with them, you can’t understand what their problems are, and you can’t work with them to grow.

I try to be very flexible with employees; if they find they have to be with their families or take care of a personal issue, I let them take the time. Employees are your most important resource, so you motivate them by trying to make them understand that you understand their needs and are sensitive to their needs.

From when they first begin, I usually step in their office or ask them to come to lunch, so that I get a chance to get to know them a little better. I reinforce the concept that I’m here to talk about any issue that they have, and I’d rather know about it before than after. If you reinforce that kind of message enough, they usually accept it pretty well.

Trust your staff members enough not to baby-sit them. Once someone is hired, I trust them to do what they do. They say, ‘Well, how will you know if I’m doing my job?’

It doesn’t take long for a client or another leader to tell me that something has gone wrong. I don’t have to sit there and baby-sit you, and, if I do, I shouldn’t have hired you in the first place.

What’s very important is that most employees will say, ‘A job is a job, and it’s not what I’d choose to do all the time, but since I have to do it, I want something that makes me feel fulfilled as a person.’ You can fulfill people’s needs by empowering them and letting them take charge of their own destiny, rather than interfering with their day-to-day operations.

There are many companies that get overinvolved in the day-to-day operations, and they interfere too much. I don’t need to interfere with you because you’re here to do a job, and if you’re not able to do it, it will show.

Get more information during interviews with job candidates. I ask open-ended questions that lead them to tell me a little bit more about themselves without me probing. I’ll ask them questions about what their interests are, and people usually open up.

They don’t usually just say golf, they’ll say, ‘My son plays baseball, and we like to do this or that,’ and then you can usually find out a little bit more about them.

Take staff meetings off-site for better feedback.

We go to a local restaurant and just sit down and order hors d’oeuvres and maybe a beer or something at the end of the day. We just open up and allow them to tell me what issues are bothering them about projects, and what I’ve found is, getting them away from the office atmosphere, when the projects are completed and they don’t have to run someplace, they’re usually pretty open, and they tell me things.

And many times, after that meeting is over, I will find that one or two of them will want to stay on a little bit longer and say, ‘You know, I’m really having a problem with this superintendent,’ or, ‘These resources weren’t available.’ That’s how I find out things; if I can get them out of the atmosphere that they work in day to day, they’re usually a little bit more open.

Be where clients can see you. The biggest challenge in the major growth side is trying to get people to accept your capabilities. As you grow, it’s hard to get (clients) to trust you to move on to more difficult and more involved projects because many people say, ‘You haven’t done this before, so I don’t want to give you the chance to do it here and learn.’

The only way you are going to be able to do that is persistence. As a leader, you have to show clients quality and that your performance is of the utmost capability.

I’m on every job we have at least once a week. That’s helpful because the field employees don’t really get a chance to see management very much at most places, so when they see somebody that actually cares enough to be there once a week, and when clients see that, they say, ‘This is a pretty interested leader; he’s actually here checking things out himself.’

That’s where the personal touch with every client is very important. They know that if they see me on the job every week, there’s a relationship, and they can pick up the phone and call me to resolve a problem.

HOW TO REACH: Panzica Construction Co., (440) 442-4300 or