Damian Lang, the president of Lang Masonry Contractors in Waterford, Ohio, puts considerable effort into attracting, keeping, and nurturing workers who have the right attitude and the willingness to learn.

"As soon as someone walks through the door, he gets an interview," Lang says. "If you don't do this, he's going to the competition."

Lang strongly believes in promoting from within the company. He prefers to hire nice, industrious people without a lot of masonry experience. "We'll take an employee with a great attitude and a little less talent every time over someone who has all the skills but a poor attitude." At Lang Masonry, which is an open-shop firm, "everyone in the field starts out as a laborer, and we let them climb their way up."

Compared to many other masonry contractors, Lang Masonry offers generous benefits and avoids laying off people. Despite these perks, employees are not coddled but are rewarded systematically for what they do. Lang's high expectations are coupled with an understanding of human nature, together forming the basis of his innovative "pay for performance" incentive plan.

Field employees are divided into three classifications. The rate at which they advance, or whether they advance at all, depends on individual effort. At present, about one-third of Lang's employees are at each level. Periodic evaluations determine who moves up (or gets demoted) to another level, adding both to their base pay and bonus.

When people are paid on a per-hour basis alone, "there is no direct connection between the job that is being done and the pay workers are receiving," Lang insists. "This encourages mediocrity.

The pay-for-performance system has led to improvements in safety, quality, and production, which, according to Lang, are the three critical components of a well-run business. Bearing this out, Lang Masonry was named Subcontractor of the Year for 1999 by a major general contractor, Turner Construction Co. of Worthington, Ohio.

Each job has a safety committee led by a safety manager, who conducts weekly tailgate meetings on topics ranging from scaffolding safety to electrical hazards to cleaning.

Lang is constantly looking for other ways to propel production such as using additional equipment rather than more workers.

Lang Masonry always selects scaffolding to fit the job. "We use the right equipment for the project," Lang emphasizes.

However, it is Lang's approach to grouting that is particularly noteworthy. To make low-lift grouting more efficient, Lang (with help from Buzz Thieman and Dan Kern) developed a piece of equipment called the Grout Hog-a hydraulic-powered grout delivery system designed to cut labor costs by as much as 75%. E-Z Grout Corp. markets his invention to other masonry contractors.

Lang, 35, who attributes his success to "honesty, simplicity, and hard work"says, "If I had been taught the old ways, I don't think I would've been as creative."

Lang regards himself as part of two communities-the region where he works and the masonry industry-and feels an obligation to both.