Category Archives: Leadership

[AUDIO] Making the Call

Learn how to take the initiative and “make the call” for your business – it just may just work in your favor, pushing you, and your workers, to being fully engaged, busy, and productive.

 

[TRANSCRIPT]

One of the most common comments heard on most construction sites is, “Whatever we planned for today will change.”  This comment is more than spoken words, it often becomes a mindset of the crew leader.

What’s actually surprising is that very few things change that much during the average day in construction.  Sure, the concrete scheduled to arrive for the 11:00 AM pour might be delayed, or one of the contractors arrives to the site an hour late, or even, the quick thunderstorm that suddenly appeared before blowing through in ten minutes, are all examples of changes.  Yet, such changes do not always have the massive impact on production if field leaders are better prepared for “Plan B” when such interruptions take place.

It is the responsibility of every construction field leader to, when a change, or adjustment is required, that a “call” is placed to the appropriate individual.  That appropriate individual for most contractors is their job scheduler.

The impact of a call made to the job scheduler can strengthen logistics, make greater use of company resources, and keep the client’s confidence in the contractor.  Yet, with all that is good about calling the job scheduler immediately after recognizing or experience an unscheduled change, many field leaders continue to be slow to make “the call.”

What are the benefits of calling your company’s Job Scheduler?  Let’s consider a few very critical benefits that can even touch your own job security.

  • Calling the Job Scheduler gets the person with the widest knowledge of needs, available resources, and customer needs in the decision-making process.
  • Calling the Job Scheduler “sooner versus later” provides the Job Scheduler with more time to consider more options that may strengthen the company’s next move.
  • Calling the Job Scheduler reduces the number of people who will all have an opinion about “what we should do,” but have little to no authority to change the schedule.
  • Calling the Job Scheduler can make the schedule change sooner, often mitigating the potential loss of wasted time and increase the potential profitability from a situation that could have been a disaster.

Don’t think for a moment that calling your Job Scheduler is taking them away from what they are paid to do…this is their job.  But what the Job Scheduler does not have are your eyes, field presence, and a feel about the situation.  Similar to a Football Team’s Offensive Coordinator, sitting up high in a stadium, they may have a broader view of the playing field, but it is still the QB who is still engaged and allowed to bring what he “feels” is the right call.  Consider the two roles:  The OC is high up and sees the entire field; the QB, however, can also feel the momentum of the other players, feel more the temperature and motivation level of his teammates…and that of the opposing team.  It’s not a perfect science but the need for both roles is important.

So too is your role as the Field Leader to keep your Project Scheduler informed and updated on how you are seeing “the field,” and, what the “temperature” of the crew members best dictate, or how much pressure is your customer placing on your project to move ahead, or what the developing weather appears to be.

Communicating what you are experiencing is crucial to the Job Scheduler as he or she takes your input and considers how best to support the next move based on what he has his hands on in regard to information.

It is the Job Scheduler that often has a better bead on how plants are operating, what other projects can be moved back or accelerated, or if “Option B” is the better choice and will make the best use of the crew involved.  It is the Job Scheduler who more often will have a better feel on how thin the equipment resources currently are, or are there enough operators to make certain changes, and even what is the expectation of the most demanding customer.

Here are some situations that you will want to act clearly and quickly in making a call to your Scheduler.

  1. Assess a Mistake

You are paid to make decisions, so make them!  If you, or your Foreman, see something that is not right, assess the situation.  You should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Can we fix it now?
  • Will we need additional support to fix?
  1. How much time will this impact the schedule?

Notice what the first question is NOT?  “Who made the mistake?”  You can deal with the “Who” later; for now, you must assess what is to be done and how that will impact the schedule.

If the time estimate is anything more than 30-60 minutes the Foreman should call their Supervisor and give them the update.  Don’t delay and certainly do not wait until you have fixed a problem IF the time lost is still going to make an impact on the schedule.  When in doubt…call your Supervisor!

  1. When your Customer Changes Your Scope, Location, or Starting Point

While we work for the customer, they can take us off our intended schedule of work.  If any Foreman, and crew, arrive to the job site and the customer, who might be a GC/Superintendent, informs them that they need the crew doing something different than what was scheduled, get clarity as to the request or redirection, the Foreman should contact their Supervisor ASAP.  In some cases, the Foreman may need to join the Supervisor on the call with the Scheduler to determine what needs to be changed in the schedule.

Don’t take the changes put on you or your crew personally, but do take the initiative and contact the Supervisor or Scheduler to address the changing situation quickly.

  1. When Site Is Not Prepared for Our Crew

Probably the easiest to address but again, it appears to take longer than is needed to contact the Supervisor or Scheduler.  When our crews show up to our project site and what was promised, in advance by the GC/Developer, to be prepared for our crews to work…is not ready, then a quick call to the Supervisor is needed.  We simply cannot afford to have wasted time spent on a GC arm-twisting our Foreman, almost sweet talking them into staying and doing something else.  This gums up the entire schedule for that job and others.  And, of course the GC will never remember this episode later when they charge our company with getting something completed after it was the GC who held us up.

  1. When Projected Weather Conditions is Not Good

With more “stay outs” involving our crews working farther away geographically, we must rely on our Foremen to be the “weather man.”  If the weather is forecasted to be a real nasty event then a quick call to the Supervisor, or the Scheduler, needs to be placed for greater assessment.  Depending on the location, the costs involved thus far in the project, and the need of other projects, it’s imperative that such communication must be made.  The “call” must be placed with as great of clarity as possible.

  1. Resource Quantities are Short in Numbers or Are Wrong

This situation cannot happen!  It’s a reflection on so many others including Estmating, Cad-Techs, Yard, the projectd Foreman, and even the Supervisor.  But this situation can happen.  When it does, the Site Leader at the site must assess the shortage and identify exactly what is needed.  Then, the very next action is to contact the Supervisor or Scheduler to update and discuss next steps.  Again, it may be less expensive to keep the crew at the site, working on what can be accomplished, or, it may make more sense to have the crew drive to another site to assist.  Either way, the “call” must be made quickly, allowing the Scheduler more time to consider the next best moves that strengthens the schedule’s success.

None of the five situations are new.  Most of the actions suggested to address the situations are not new.  Yet, such situations still exist.  Therefore, it’s not for lack of education or experience that we continually revisit what should be done, so it must land on the leader’s shoulders, Foremen and Supervisors, to take quicker action.

Making “the call” is not a sign of humility or guilt, it’s a sign that we respect our company’s commitment to complete jobs on-time and at or below projected estimates to turn a profit for our company.  Now, by making “the call” in a quick and timely basis, we are accomplishing a few things:

  1. We can track the nature of the calls to measure what we are still short of perfecting.  Thus, we identify opportunities for improvement.  That’s a good thing.
  • Making “the call” sooner, rather than later, we are increasing those in charge of more coverage and authority to better position our company to make the best of a difficult situation, hopefully resulting in greater profitability. Remember, a profitable company is a lot more fun to work for and with, providing more benefits to everyone.

Don’t be slow to make “the call” when needed.  Be faster on the draw to call your next in line leader, even the Scheduler to get out in front of a mistake or potential delay.  Make such a call may just work in your favor, pushing you, and your workers, to being fully engaged, busy, and productive.

Make…the call!

Brad Humphrey

Advertisements

Can Contractors Bring America Back?

NOTE: This article originally appeared on ForConstructionPros.com

Eight reasons author Brad Humphrey believes the construction industry is the perfect place to resurrect the middle class and a great America

Think this title is too far fetched? Consider some thoughts from an article by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker magazine entitled “The Pay Is Too Damn Low.”

  • Fast food restaurants and department stores pay minimum wage because of low margins on the products and services they provide.
  • These same industries could get away with such pay in past years because many workers were teenagers and, per Surowiecki, “underemployed married women.”
  • Due to recent economic conditions, “main” breadwinners are actually filling many of these same jobs.

I think it is safe to say that most of us do not believe that America will prosper when the local hamburger franchise or low-cost department store chain employs a majority of this country’s workers. Therefore, is it possible that contractors, hiring construction workers, can bring back America? Can construction company owners and leaders bring back the ever-needed middle class?

Let me share a few thoughts why I think that contractors are exactly the right medicine for bringing back not only the middle class but our great country too!

First, few contractors pay their workers minimum wage? Why? Come on, that’s way too easy. Construction is hard work, conditions are often less than ideal, and even the most basic of laborers still needs to be able to read, count, learn and think to some extent.

It is not uncommon at all for construction workers to gross $35K to $60K in wages during the year. The more skilled construction workers can make every bit of the high end to this range and more — sometimes a lot more! Can you think of any better industry to help spark the revival of the middle class and the rebuilding of America than construction?

Second, what this country needs, in addition to jobs, is a resurgence of morale and motivation. I know few industries that have more self-motivated leaders than construction; that is, contractors and their leadership teams. Construction leaders are often, by nature, more optimistic and entrepreneur-like in their thinking and actions. For the most part, such leaders are learners and enjoy seeing others do well and succeed. Can you think of any better spirit for America to embrace today?

Third, the greatest percentage of contractors are “Red, White, and Blue” Americans. They understand hard work and deeply appreciate the opportunity that they’ve been given to create their own business and sell their services to those in need of dedicated workers to meet their construction needs. Sure there are a few “Carp” out there, but most contractors are “Thoroughbreds” and understand how to make money and how money works. Can you think of a better reason for America to begin prospering again?

Fourth, the greatest percentage of contractors are focused on employing the best available workers…regardless of age, sex or color! I’ve had the honor to consult with contractors in the Deep South, the Northeast, Northwest, the Southwest, the Midwest and the West Coast. Nowhere have I ever found a hint of a contractor who was prejudiced or had a hatred for people different than themselves. In fact, I found just the opposite: contractors who paid and recognized their workers for jobs well done no matter their color, age or sex. Can you think of a better attitude more Americans need to embrace today?

Fifth, no one works harder than the construction owner and leader. They are often the first in the office or on the jobsite each morning and the last to turn out the lights at night. Their work ethic is a testimony to how much they love their company, their employees and their industry. Sure they want to make money, but they also like to put people to work…and keep them working! Can you think of a better strategy for many of our politicians and government leaders to take?

Sixth, contractors recognize talent and what that talent is often worth and they are not afraid to pay for it. OK, contractors have budgets, but they will also do just about anything legal to hire talented people and pay them what they are worth. It truly makes contractors feel proud when they know that their workers are paid well enough to own a house, to pay for their kid’s college or to take a nice family vacation every year. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky thinking; it’s a reality for a lot of construction workers. Can you think of a better financial objective to get the middle class back again and stronger than ever?

Seventh, as most contractors know, the infrastructure of the United States is in horrible condition. Roads and bridges are at an all-time “low” in terms of risk to the driving public. Many schools, court houses, fire stations, etc., are also in great need of remodeling, if not a total new rebuild. (And don’t even get me started about the need for more housing for all economic levels of Americans.) There are so many projects that need to be funded and completed that there may not be enough contractors, and construction workers, to complete all of the work if it were all to come in at the same time. Can you think of a better way to truly stimulate the economy with “real shovel ready” projects?

Eighth, construction owners, leaders and workers are some of the brightest people in the country. While many construction leaders are college educated, that is not always a sign of a successful contractor and leader. Some of the most successful contractors in America do not have a college diploma and quite honestly, are smarter than a lot of people with a PhD! Contractors and their people are creative, think outside the box and are not afraid to take a risk. Construction people are creative and strategic problem solvers and can often figure a way around what the architects and engineers deemed impossible or didn’t have the “horse sense” experience to see. Can you think of a better group of people to place more trust for rebuilding the United States than the American worker?

Yes, there are a lot of reasons why I think contractors and their leaders can bring back the America that truly rewards hard work and big dreams! The dwindling “middle class” can once again be resuscitated and much of this can be achieved through the construction vision, planning and execution of contractors.

Just as the automotive, steel, rubber and paper industries may have created wealth in the United States in years past, so now may the construction industry lead this country back to prominence and financial stability. Far fetched? With the great personal drive and determination of so many construction owners and leaders poised to spring into action, I think it is very realistic and possible for our construction industry to bring America back to a country again known for its commitment to excellence, opportunities and achievement.

You and I are part of the greatest industry in the world. Breathe it in! Be proud of yourself and your workers. Let your people know how much you appreciate them by stopping by to tell them yourself this next week. Can you imagine what would happen in America if all owners and leaders did the same?

Strategic Tips…Keep Focused & Straight

In the 100-meter sprint, coaches regularly remind their runners to keep their eyes focused and maintain a straight path through the finish line.  The primary reasons for this includes the fact that when running, many runners tend to veer slightly one way or the other.  The bobbing of one’s head can slightly influence the leaning of the body, and the runner must work hard to keep his, or her, head steady, eyes focused on a point of reference.In the 100-meter sprint, coaches regularly remind their runners to keep their eyes focused and maintain a straight path through the finish line.  The primary reasons for this includes the fact that when running, many runners tend to veer slightly one way or the other.  The bobbing of one’s head can slightly influence the leaning of the body, and the runner must work hard to keep his, or her, head steady, eyes focused on a point of reference.

My suggestion for contractors and leaders might be stated similarly.  When your company is undergoing strategic planning, plotting out the next three to five years of growth and development, keeping focused and straight, will your strategic effort be on track and in the right lane!

But what should our strategic efforts be focused on?  Focus on WHAT?  Just as important is to stay straight as you proceed to work on strategic plans.  So, Straight to WHAT?  Well, let’s explore both questions briefly.

In setting your strategic direction, you first need to identify three to five “Strategic Objectives.”  Most often, your Strategic Objectives will address growth in market domination, improving our work processes, even moving to a more efficient software that will strengthen our finance to estimating to field accountability.  It is in each strategic choice that clear statements should be written.  Often, a team of leaders and workers are formed who will take a specific strategic objective and “flush it out,” putting a statement, create goals, and build action plans, all aimed at achieving the needed objective.

If you created a few strategic teams, it is important that they meet to collectively address the strategic objective.  Because such objectives are often created at special Strategic Retreats, added team members to a specific Strategic Objective Team, will need to be educated and updated on the objective.   

You will find it helpful, and important for the long-haul, if the team considers writing, or rewriting, the Strategic statement that was quickly developed during your strategic retreat.  The original statement may not need an entire rewrite, but chances are that the Strategic Objective Team may want to make the statement more clear and accurate.

There is not only one “right way” to enhance a strategic statement, but it should reflect the team’s consensus that it provides direction and clarity.  From the completed statement, don’t be afraid to add a few sub-points if it helps to clarify the statement.  Remember, it is the Strategic Objective, this statement, that will help to keep the Strategic Objective Team focused, bringing them back to the team’s “lane,” when they have veered slightly left or right.

Now, let’s take on the “Straight to WHAT?” consideration.  This may be a little more challenging.  It is in moving the team along that you will want to create some measurements for completion.  For example, let’s look at the following statement that was actually developed as a Strategic Objective. 

Create individual accountability to reduce rework & call-backs

At first glance, this might suggest that just a lowering of rework and call-backs is proof alone that the company has achieved this strategic objective.  Though no one would argue that a bona-fide reduction in rework and call-backs is very positive, does this single measurement alone confirm that our team was successful.  Well, yes and no.

Yes, if we did realize less rework and call-backs.  No, because this alone doesn’t prove that we have created individual accountability.  So, the team, in order to remain “straight,” will greatly strengthen their efforts if they can map out a few targets, or goals, that will collectively bring more confidence that their Strategic Objective has been addressed completely.
To continue using this example, let me add a few more thoughts that might be entertaining discussion for this example.  Thoughts such as:

  • How do we create more accountability in existing workers?
  • How can we “on-board” accountability in our newest and future workers?
  • What reduction in rework and call-backs will allow us to celebrate?
  • What current processes/systems need to be reviewed to determine their impact, good or bad, on our present rework and call-backs situation?
  • Finally, the presence of rework and call-backs itself provides a measurement (of poor workmanship); what other measurements might we consider that address the improvement efforts needed?

Now, in some cases, the pure discussion of the questions, like those above, might generate some new thinking that can go far in assisting the team to arrive at some new solutions.  And where some solutions may not change much, perhaps the new answers will come in the form of a measurement or slight re-alignment in a process.

It is in the “Straight to WHAT?” portion of your team’s movement that will require the most “heavy lifting.”  It is here, where attention to detail, challenging the status quo or tradition, and making bold recommendations, that your Strategic Objective Teams will find some needed discussions and decision-making.

Keep your Strategic Objective Teams focused on these two items and you will greatly reduce the amount of confusion and frustration.  As leaders, encourage the team to discuss further, looking in new and different areas, before committing too quickly to a solution or strategy.  Remember, we are not interested in finding another Band-Aid, but instead, to find the best possible solution to achieving your Strategic Objectives.

In growing your company today, you will benefit greatly from engaging more of your leaders and workers.  In fact, drawing on the brain power of your “Thoroughbred” employees can add much to taking your company higher and further.  Making your company the preferred contractor and employer, can be greatly enhanced by applying the two recommendations presented in this article.  

Good luck but more, work hard and keep it the two areas addressed in this writing.  Remember, your future success may depend greatly on these efforts.

Brad Humphrey, The Contractor’s Best Friend