The Road Less Traveled

The construction industry is at a crossroads currently, which in many ways is to be expected given new technology, modernization, and changes in our economy. However, one of the most common struggles we are currently challenged with is not a physical one, rather it is a mental tug-of-war with the old ways of the industry and the new ways that we have been so slow to adopt. Reluctance to change is not uncommon in life, and in fact, it is human nature to avoid any form of transitioning to new ways of doing things. Instead of venturing in new directions, it is more comfortable to stick with the predictable path with fewer potholes. Unfortunately for us, this type of decision making has led to less than exceptional results within our industry. While the rest of the world seems to have moved forward in terms of inclusion, diversity, and respect, it is apparent that in construction, our industry is still getting away with many ‘old ways’ of doing things. The good news is, hope is not lost, as there are some phenomenal people in the construction industry that are ready to help navigate this new terrain, including Brent Darnell!  

At Brent Darnell International (BDI), Brent’s mission statement reads: “To help to transform the construction industry to be more collaborative, more relationship-driven, leaner, and more fun with a focus on health, wellness, and peak performance.” Does that mission statement sound familiar to you? If you’re anything like me, and have been around the construction industry for decades, it likely doesn’t sound familiar, which is exactly the problem that our industry faces. As an industry, we would likely not be labeled as collaborative or relationship-driven. Come to think of it, when was the last time you had a meeting about your health and wellness or having fun, for that matter?! Though the construction industry has not been a front-runner on issues such as these, Brent Darnell wants to change that dynamic. In our conversation, Darnell went on to discuss one of the defining moments in our industry that he focuses on, explaining, “I think we are at a crossroads. I think we’ve lost this human element and there’s a lot of great tech out there. There’s all this wonderful stuff for scheduling, for budgeting, for bids and creating that and tracking that. But we have to get back to the human dimension of this, and it rears its ugly head in workforce development, in diversity and inclusion stuff in successful and unsuccessful projects. I ask people all the time, think of the most successful project you’ve ever been on. What were the relationships like? Well, they were good. We were like a team and we liked each other and we hung out with each other. Okay. Think of the worst project you’ve ever been on. What were the relationships like, oh, they suck. We hated each other. It was so adversarial, and it’s like nobody ever says that was the best project I’ve ever been on. And we hated each other’s guts. Those two things never go together. There is a correlation there. So I don’t know why we don’t focus on the relationship stuff to begin with.” In sharing our stories with one another, Darnell and I both commented on how amazed we are at how productive the average worker in construction is, in spite of the high-stress environment. He explains, “So you’ve got a project with high risk, lots of money, high stress. And guess what the people do on that project? They eat crappy food, they don’t get enough sleep, they don’t exercise, they don’t support each other, they don’t manage their stress, and then we expect them to perform at a high level. And here’s the amazing part – they do perform at a high level.” However, these habits, while remarkable, are sadly creating unquestionable negative trends in the construction industry. The results of burn-out and lack of self-care are leading to increased suicide rates, debilitating injuries and illnesses, and high levels of stress that are resulting in minimal new recruitment into the industry.

I’m aware that when it comes to creating and implementing a more vulnerable and relationship-driven workforce, many of these attributes are seen in the industry as weak and less productive. Factually speaking however, this could not be further from the truth! Darnell commented, “Well, it is improving, but it’s a big issue. And I think part of it is just a cultural issue with men and emotions and that vulnerability we’re taught has been to not be vulnerable and to not need to ask for help and to be independent, to be strong, and then it’s exacerbated by the industry because it’s this hyper-masculine environment where you just cannot be vulnerable and you can’t ask for help and you can’t not know something. We are starting to shift that. I mean, guys like Cal Byer and Sally Spencer-Thomas, they’re really addressing that whole ‘vulnerability/masculinity’ sort of issue.” One of the most common areas of mismanagement in the construction industry today is how we have treated our labor force, and it is possible that with some small tweaks in management style could go a long way to creating the loyalty that our industry is seeking. “It’s a huge struggle,” Darnell explains, “and I have executives say, Well, there’s no loyalty these days. They’ll go over for a few bucks more, and I’ll say, okay, have you been loyal to them? Have you supported them? Have you supported their lifestyle? Not just their work stuff and what product that they’re giving to you, but do you help them with how they’re doing their finances or how they’re struggling with maybe a new baby or maybe a health issue or a financial issue? Are you helping with that kind of stuff? And if you’re not, then you’re falling into that commoditized labor trap. And you’re right, that gets into management as well. It’s commoditized to the point where you’re going to commoditize me. Then I’m going to go where I can get the most money, right?.” 

The absolute beauty in the message that Brent Darnell so clearly articulates in his eight books, speaking engagements, and curriculum, is that we have control over our human connections and when you begin to master this with your team, the benefits will be astronomical! Your organization will inevitably be more productive, loyal, profitable, healthy and happy!  Who doesn’t want that?! So here we are, at the fork in the road, asking ourselves who is going to join us in learning what it means to be more inclusive, more diverse, more professional, more vulnerable, more healthy and gosh dang it – have some more fun! Brent  Darnell said it best when he said, “There’s nothing heroic that takes place without vulnerability.” So, construction industry, let’s be heroes together and change this culture one person and one business at a time! 


In The Zone Podcast Episode

Brent Darnell International – 

Workplace Suicide Prevention –

Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention –

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