Family-Owned Earnhardt Grading Credits Longevity and Success to Two Fundamental Principles

Earnhardt GradingEarnhardt Grading is a turnkey site work contractor working mainly in the Carolinas. Based in Stanley, NC, it is a third-generation family-owned business founded in 1962 by Donnie Earnhardt.

Earnhardt was a custom farmer and did work for other farmers, including grading their land. As time went on, his grading work expanded. Due to his reliable, quality work, Earnhardt became a preferred provider of additional services. As the company’s reputation has grown over the years, so has the scope of its work. It now focuses on industrial, power plant/utility, landfill and commercial projects.

Workplace Environment

One key to the company’s success and longevity “is that we try to keep it a close-knit, family-type environment rather a corporate type environment,” says Fran Black, Earnhardt Grading’s controller. “Taking a family approach to business emphasizes trust, values and a teamwork atmosphere.”

The company maintains a transparent workplace wherein there is openness between supervisors and employees, and everyone is encouraged to make their thoughts and opinions known.

Another contributing factor to Earnhardt Grading’s long-time success is its “continuous improvement mindset,” she adds. “We are always looking at what could be improved upon to be more efficient and profitable, and then act on those opportunities. The value and importance of continuous improvement is communicated company wide.”

Earnhardt GradingEmployee Focus

One more focus, adds, Anthony Dohmann, CSP, the company’s safety director, is the recognition of its employees, especially when it comes to safety, and celebrating – company wide – business successes. Employees respond to appreciation at work, especially when it’s expressed through recognition programs of their efforts because it confirms their work is valued. This helps boost motivation, increase team building and engagement and improve productivity.

“We have a very strong safety culture wherein we encourage our workforce to adopt safe workplace practices to increase safety awareness, plus it helps reduce and eliminate incidents,” he explains. “Because our workforce knows the most about potential hazards associated with their jobs, we get them involved in our systemic safety approach.

“They are asked for their feedback and input, and their ideas are incorporated into these programs. Each year, a new recognitionprogram is developed to keep things fresh and interesting and to reinforce specific behaviors, practices or activities that result in better performance, improved safety and positive business results.”

Communication

Earnhardt Grading has about 120 employees. That makes keeping the workforce engaged and “in the loop” with goings-on in the company a challenge, observes Dohmann. “It is almost impossible to get all employees together at one time.”

The company produces a monthly newsletter to stay in touch with its people. The newsletter talks about what is going within the company, plus shares successes, challenges and lessons learned.

“If there was an incident at a jobsite, it is shared as well, along with ways to avoid a recurrence,” he points out. “The newsletter constantly reinforces the importance of always working safely.”

grading and excavation contractorHiring

While the worker shortage continues to be problematic for the construction industry, that is not the case for Earnhardt Grading, says Black. Thanks to the company’s positive reputation, a lot of the craft workforce that get hired comes from word of mouth, Dohmann adds. The company’s reputation and its positive corporate culture is well known, they both point out.  

There is not a lot of employee turnover at Earnhardt Grading and there are many long-time employees. Some equipment operators have been with the company for 30 years. 

To deal with the shortage of skilled workers, the company will hire people with zero or very little industry experience for certain positions, utilizing its onboarding coach-me approach. “We find this to be an advantage as we can train and educate them to our way of doing things,” says Dohmann.

Onboarding

Earnhardt Grading has created an onboarding process to help new hires smoothly assimilate and speed up and improve their engagement, Dohmann explains. “The sooner a new hire feels welcome, contended and prepared for their job, the quicker that person can become a productive member of the team and contribute to company’s overall success.”

As part of the onboarding process, new hires receive a different colored safety vest that has “Coach Me” on the back. The idea is to let others know they are new to the company, and perhaps the industry, and that any advice and guidance is welcomed.

Each new hire is assigned a dedicated mentor to help the new hire learn the ropes from a veteran and develop faster than they would otherwise do so.

“New hires are treated like family and are given the resources they need to succeed,” Black says.

family owned construction companyTraining

Both Black and Dohmann stress that mentorship and ongoing training and development is viewed as an investment – and not an expense – because they do several things. Among them, improve productivity through skills advancements – an integral component to business success – and help keep workers safe on the job.  

What’s more, they say mentorship and ongoing training and development give the company’s workforce the opportunity to enhance their professional skills. That has an impact on employee loyalty and retention rates because it makes them feel more valued.

This, observes Black, is one more thing that sets Earnhardt Grading apart from other companies in its field.

The company will soon open a new safety building – around 4,000 square feet – dedicated to hands-on skills training for its equipment operators. On rain and bad weather days, they can stop by and refine their skills to improve jobsite safety and help maximize production levels.

Turnover

“People are our biggest investment and we see them as priceless,” Dohmann says. Adds Black: “We go above and beyond with safety compliance and training. We want to enhance our people and make them more valuable and as safe as possible. We do that without a specially set budget that could limit what we want to achieve throughout the year.”

Both Black and Dohmann point out that the company’s reputation for its quality work, company culture, onboarding process and continual training and development helps with hiring and lowers retention costs because they reduce employee turnover.

Workplace Culture

Top management at Earnhardt Grading understands that a positive workplace culture has a huge impact on a company’s success because it affects job satisfaction, teamwork, morale, employee loyalty and retention, efficiency productivity and more.

Fran Black, Earnhardt GradingBlack explains that creating a positive workplace culture starts with hiring quality people that fit with the company’s values and behaviors. Next comes building a level of trust with them that encourages a high level of collaboration, teamwork and performance.

“We allow our leaders the freedom to make decisions without micro-managing every decision they make,” she says. “All levels of employees – from the workforce to upper management – are empowered to succeed in their roles.”

Moreover, she says the company doesn’t have unnecessary layers of management that can make put a lot of pressure on key management people, create a lack of teamwork and slow the pace of change, innovation and communication.

New Technology

While some business within the construction industry have been slow to adopt and take advantage of new technologies, Earnhardt Grading has not. It is always looking at new technologies and how they might fit into the company, says Black. A challenge is to make sure any new technology fits a business need and results in improvements. These could be cost reduction; increases in efficiency, operations and productivity; lowering risks; making workers safer; and better communications with the workforce and machines.

The company recently began using radio frequency identification (RFID) to improve work-in-progress visibility, Dohmann says. Cloud computing has been employed to increase freedom and access to information and drones are being used for such tasks as land surveying and job site inspection.

“As with safety and training, we don’t put a specific budget on technology,” emphasizes Black. “If it makes sense for us, we will make it happen”

Maintenance

Anthony Dohmann, Earnhardt GradingSince the early 1960s, Earnhardt Grading has focused on customizing its preventive maintenance programs for its machines. By doing so, says Dohmann, machine operating performance, reliability and safety have been improved and machine operational life maximized.

“Our reputation for how well we maintain our machines enables us to get a higher resale or trade-in value on our used equipment,” he notes. “It also helps attract machine operators.”

The Basics

There is one constant within the construction industry: continual change and evolution. Accordingly, the business environment is always changing as well. Plus, it is becoming more complex. Many construction companies keep adjusting their strategies for doing business in an effort to remain successful. 

Earnhardt Grading takes a different approach, Black says. The company sticks to the basics. Its longevity and success have come from remaining with what the company is good at rather than continually trying things that are out of its area expertise. In addition, it focuses on better mastering the fundamentals.

These two principles have stood the test of time, she says.

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