I've been afraid to write this story for one reason or another and have put it off years. The problem is as large as an elephant sitting in our living rooms but ignored. We know the elephant is there but we choose to live with it and clean up a mess everyday. The problem is that workers in our industry don't realize how valuable they are and some employers don't always value workers, as they should. When I refer to workers, I'm referring to people in the field who install the products we bid. When I refer to employers, I'm referring to those of us who are considered management. The two groups are normally called "field" and "office."

The office

If you've never worked in the field, try to imagine what it's like. Ask yourself, "If I worked in the field, how would I want to be treated?" Some of you came from the field. However, you may have forgotten what it "feels" like. So stop for a minute and try to get your head into the field workers mindset. Before I start bashing office people, I must say that "not" all office people are what I describe. Our goal as office people should be to serve rather than be served and I know many of them are great servants.

However, there are many office people who would rather be "served than serve." Office people are in a perfect position to serve people in the field. A servant is simply someone who is "working in the service of another." Serving another person should be considered an honor, as well as a blessing, in disguise.

Consider the fact that roughly 70 percent of any given job is labor. The other 30 percent of a job is material, equipment and other miscellaneous items. The office worker has control over 30 percent of the job, whereas the field has control of 70 percent. In other words, the office has the least control over the largest percentage. The office may "think" they can control labor but in truth they can do very little in terms of actually ensuring success in the field.

The reality is that the office really has no direct control over the 70 percent other than to "serve." I know this is frustrating to some office workers because it's hard for some of us to realize that we are not as "in control" as we might think. There isn't a magic form or report that will put us in control. However, I do believe there are four words that will have the greatest impact on both the office worker and the field worker.

Those four words are, "how can I help." By saying these words, you are basically telling the field that you've done your best on 30 percent of the job and now it's up to the field to do their best on 70 percent of the job, and that you are ready to "serve" them in any way to help ensure their success.

As an example, consider your children. What do you do to ensure your children's success? Like most parents, you're probably investing a lot of your love, time and money in your kids because you want the best for them. Some people think business is just business and it's not personal. For me, business is personal because I invest my love, time and money into people, not jobs, and it has paid off personally and financially.

I have a dream

When I think construction, I don't see "office or a field." I don't see a boss or supreme leader. I don't see office people as more valuable than field people. I see mutual respect between office and field, and value each equally. I do know that field people have the greatest opportunity to make the company money. I also know that roughly 70 percent of our cost is labor. In other words, field people have direct control over 70 percent of any job we do. How much control does a project manager, estimator or owner have over labor? In all honesty, they have no direct control over productivity-unless they are servants.

When my wife makes spaghetti sauce, she puts all these different ingredients into a giant pot and the stuff just sits and simmers all day long. I don't know why all these different ingredients end up becoming so tasty. The individual ingredients seem to cook down and become "one," complementing each other perfectly.

When I see construction, I see "sauce." I see a team of people who complement and serve one another. I see people who respect one another and who support one another. I see field leaders and office leaders who have the same common goal. I see people truly listening and working out the best solutions together.

I see an environment where foremen and superintendents are free to express their ideas. I see organizational charts turned upside down, showing management serving field, respectfully.

When the office turns a job over to the field to be built, I would hope the office has determined the job was bid properly, the contract negotiated fairly, the material bought out effectively and overall has done all that it can to ensure success on the 30 percent the office has direct control over.

At that point, the office serves the field in any capacity to help the field be successful. As in basketball, if you're not willing to pass the ball and receive it back only to pass the ball again to the person who is in best position to score, you're going to lose.

Who's your daddy?

Our chief financial officer, Dennis Norman, is an interesting guy. He's a money guy. He reminds me of my controller, Dave Twedell. They both understand money and they can spot an ego from 30,000 feet. Money guys are not interested in organizational charts or control issues. They are interested in making a profit! In their eyes business is as simple as 1+1=2 or, "Don't spend more than you make." They really don't care who's more important or who is doing what to whom. Money guys are like doctors: They don't care what you look like with your cloths off and are ready to "serve."

How do you see people? Do you feel office people are more valuable than field people? Would you rather be served or serve a co-worker in the field or office? Is it more important for you to be right than wrong? Do you want all the credit or would you be happy receiving some or none?

Office people can either inflict pain or they can serve by asking how they can help, and then they can say "thank you." Serving the field is talking to them. Find out what they need, what's going good, what's going bad? If profit were a person he or she wouldn't care who's in charge.

The office is in a perfect position to create a "sauce" of people ingredients that serve and respect one another or they can create a "follow-the-leader-or-else" environment. Field people will adapt in either situation but one will be more beneficial to both than the other.

Not all but many office people think they deserve to be millionaires and the field deserves whatever union scale is. Well, I believe carpenters can become millionaires if office people considered the fact that the field controls 70 percent of the job cost. The math is very simple: Field people control 70 percent of any given job and the office controls 30 percent. Who should be reporting to whom and when? Who should be serving whom and when? I believe whoever figures out a way for carpenters to become millionaires will become a billionaire.

I agree the owner takes the most risk and should be compensated for that risk. I also believe there should always be a chain of command and system for accountability. However, risk, organizational charts and accountability do not replace servanthood, and mutual respect for the welfare and success of everyone in the sauce.

Remember: Teamwork begins with a fair contract.