Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, roofing represented a critical industry in the United States. Roofers worked to provide repairs and protection for large facilities, ensuring that health issues and hazards were prevented. Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic left no industry unaffected.
Whether with closures, remote work or reduced budgets companies had to adapt, including leaders in the roofing industry. Deemed essential, roofers continued to keep up with repairs and ensure essential facilities, such as hospitals, were protected. Ultimately, the industry was down 4% year over year, but recovery accelerated in 2020 Q4 as paused projects began again, positioning the industry for upcoming growth.
To get his take on leadership in uncertain times and how the industry will move forward in 2021, we spoke with Curtis Sutton, President at Rackley Roofing in Carthage, Tennessee, which specializes in commercial roofing. A veteran in the industry, Sutton had similar challenges to many organizations, but with strong leadership, transparency and careful attention to company culture the company is poised to emerge stronger than ever.
In March 2020, Rackley Roofing made a rapid shift to a dispersed workforce to ensure safety combined with field associates that continued to work on the jobsite every day. Though they were able to return to the office with proper health and safety measures in place later in the year, the company culture they had worked hard to build took a hit.
“You can have culture in place, but if you’re not able to interact face-to-face, culture can start to fade,” Sutton recalls. “It started to slip away when people weren’t able to be around their coworkers.”
To hold on to their company’s culture, built on a set of six core values (including humility, accountability and customer service), Sutton added a daily morning call for each employee to ensure everyone was connected. Even though there were still some aspects of their culture that couldn’t be duplicated in a distanced environment, Sutton remained dedicated to providing his employees the same experience they had prior to COVID-19’s impacts.
“Everyone’s willing to work around something if you have something to offer them,” he says.
Sutton also responded intentionally to his employees’ valid concerns and fears surrounding the pandemic. “People were concerned, but we communicated a clear and consistent message, taking steps to make sure people were comfortable and safe,” he adds.
Rackley Roofing assuaged the team’s worries in part through carefully monitoring business activity. Their scorecard system helped to ensure transparency and awareness around the state of the business. “We keep track of weekly jobs and other data,” Sutton says. “Everything for us revolves around the scorecards. They help us make decisions based on what’s true for our individual company.”
“It was extremely important to share everything at that time,” Sutton reflects. “We did it a little more often than normal, and we made sure that the team was aware of how leadership was approaching and monitoring the business. This helped build confidence and enabled the team to perform.”
Leadership in 2020 came down to one word for Sutton and Rackley Roofing: confidence. “Being confident about what we were seeing made it easier for us to be leaders within our company,” says Sutton. “With our scorecards, we relied on facts to drive decisions. We kept track of exactly how the business was faring so we could make decisions independently.”
“We also encouraged our teams to remember that there was no reason they couldn’t grow through this,” he adds. Though there would be some changes to the typical workflow, Sutton encouraged his sales teams to seek out clients that did still have a budget to maintain their roofs and capitalize on those opportunities.
Additional leadership training also played a role in adapting to the changes that came with 2020. The Rackley team incorporated a mid-level management group that met every week with the goal of developing better leaders throughout the company. And Sutton himself didn’t miss a chance to develop his own leadership skills.
“I listen to a lot of leadership podcasts, which help me gain a nugget of information or two from each one,” he says. He sought out general information about guiding a team to ensure he was keeping his mindset positive and growth-minded. One impactful lesson he learned was not to follow the status quo—and Sutton did just that, refusing to let the COVID-19 pandemic dictate his company’s success, instead adapting and confidently moving ahead.
The pandemic did require a few changes to the company’s day-to-day operations, and Sutton points to communication as a main adjustment.
“We started to send videos to all the foremen’s phones via text message and Slack [messaging],” he says. “We had already been using technology for our operating software, so most of the team in the field was used to doing daily reports and taking photos through that system.” Slack helped the team send messages to different groups in the field at once, and the team relied on it more than previous months.
Eager to move forward, “we’re not missing a beat,” Sutton says. “The outlook on the industry is very positive—people are still building new structures, and there’s a lot of work out there to be done.”
After making it through 2020, Sutton took away the importance of positivity in uncertain times. “I didn’t know this was so powerful until this year,” he says. “I’m pretty positive, but I may not have shared it as much with our company as I should have. Continuing into 2021, I’ll be sharing it much more often.”
Considering other important lessons from 2020, Rackley Roofing is also taking significant steps to invest in its people and culture in 2021. The company partnered with a diversity, equity and inclusion organization to help its leadership team and employees learn, develop and change together. Rackley Roofing also added a new role. The Employment Engagement Manager works to ensure that everyone in the company has a voice and is heard. Sutton found, throughout this process, that the learnings weren’t always comfortable.
“We found that our leadership team may not have been as engaged as we thought, which only makes us better,” he says. “We can now work on things we didn’t know we had an issue with.”
“We’re trying to transform the industry,” he says. “We’re going to have mishaps along the way, but we plan to take care of the problems we have and keep going.” He encourages his team along these lines, as well, reminding them that Rackley Roofing isn’t interested in the status quo—they’re wanting to change the world, one roof at a time.
Curtis Sutton, President of Rackley Roofing, joined the company in 2010 with nearly 25 years of experience in the roofing industry under his belt. Sutton took ownership in 2017 and continues to impact the industry as he combines respect for the traditional craftsmanship of a roof and passion for incorporating the latest technological innovations.
Rackley Roofing works to transform the roofing industry with unmatched customer service, documentation and safety as a full-service roofing company. Established in 1974, Rackley has become one of the leading roofing contractors in Tennessee for both industrial and commercial roofing needs. Dedicated in-house roofing crews each focus on one specialty so Rackley customers receive unparalleled service that exceeds expectations.