Staying in the Loop…Without Stepping on Toes

“But guys, you’ve got to keep me in the loop on this sort of thing.  Jerry called me and wanted to know when we were going to get back out to the site and finish up the last phase of our construction.”

This experience was shared with me from one of my clients but it has been repeated millions of times by most contractors and their leaders.  As most construction leaders, especially those at the senior level, will admit, “I’ve got to trust my direct reports with taking over some of the tasks and responsibilities I once completed, BUT, they need to keep me ‘in the loop’ so I don’t get blind-sided by a client.”

Staying in the loop, without stepping on toes, is sometimes both a science and an art.  Leaders need to know what’s going on and the latest developments, yet, Direct Reports may not always provide that information as quickly as their Senior Leader needs or wants the information.  So…how do we narrow the gap for both the Direct Report and their Leader?  Let’s look at a few techniques that can empower both parties and strengthen the confidence and trust in one another.

  1. Senior Leader Must Communicate What the “Loop” Is

Call me stupid, but the Direct Report needs to know what the Senior Leader considers to be the “Loop.”  The “Loop” might be related to any information that pertains to a client, a project, other contractors, etc.  In some situations, the “Loop” may be of a confidential manner that only the Senior Leader and Direct Report are to exchange.

Beyond the reason for the “Loop,” the Senior Leader also needs to communicate who is included inside and outside the “Loop.”  This effort is especially important for the Direct Report to know, keeping them from exchanging information with others “outside” the “Loop.”

  1. The Senior Leader Must be Crystal Clear on What They Expect

This must always be the action of the Senior Leader whenever they hand off responsibilities they once completed and now have included the Direct Report to execute.  This step makes the understanding of the delegated tasks, the clarity of the “Loop,” all works to empower the Direct Report to maximize their performance.

“Crystal Clear” suggests that the Senior Leader present what they need from their Direct Report, when they need some completion, what meetings they may be attending that the information will support, and how they might assist the Direct Report.  Let me be clear, “Crystal Clear,” must be completed by the Senior Leader.

  1. The Direct Report Must Be Given Push-Back Freedom

The Senior Leader, when handing over tasks and responsibilities, must allow their Direct Report to ask questions to gain greater insight and understanding.   I would even recommend that the Senior Leader allow their Direct Report to “push back” on anything they might question, be concerned over, or even completely disagree.

Pushing back isn’t a sign of dissent or sabotage but more, it’s the opportunity for the Direct Report to improve a process, a decision, even a policy.  Obviously, depending on the situation, the Senior Leader may need to over-rule the push back, but even this can produce greater understanding.

  1. Both the Senior Leader & Direct Report Need to Meet Regularly

This is almost a no brainer, yet it is amazing how often I have found that such a meeting is irregular.  There may have been a sincere effort made early but soon the Senior Leader is off doing other “Senior Stuff,” and the Direct Report is left holding the bag, making decisions without the assistance, insights, much less the update opportunity of their Senior Leader. 

This technique must be a discipline that both individuals hold too.  Yes, the Direct Report can be the reason a meeting is not held, but as a matter of fact, I’ve found that the Senior Leader is more often the absent attendee.  If this trend continues, the meetings just end and the two individuals move more to just update on the fly.  The Senior Leader and Direct Report will do a lot of this anyway, but you must work hard to set in place some regular face-to-face meetings.

  1. Senior Leaders Needs to Remember…It’s Not Personal

I’ve never experienced any Direct Report purposely withholding any information from their Senior Leader.  I’m sure this has happened before but I have never witnessed it.  Therefore, Senior Leaders must remind themselves that failing to receive an update on a situation, a client, or a needed decision, isn’t done to make the Senior Leader look bad.   In the vast majority of the cases, the Direct Report is just busy and hooking up with their Senior Leader may be too challenging  The two individuals are literally like “two ships passing in the night.”

  1. There Must be Mutual Benefit to Knowing High Priorities

This effort must be embraced and exercised by the Senior Leader and the Direct Report.  If the two are really on the same team, then both parts of the relationship will benefit from each other updating and reminding one another on high priority issues, needs, dates, etc.  There may be several items the Direct Report is working to complete but they need to know what the highest priorities are for the Senior Leader.

  1. Success, Failures, and Completions Need to Be Confirmed ASAP

Any successes, failures, and completions that happen need to be shared between the Senior Leader and their Direct Report.  This almost sounds too common sense but it is amazing to witness a Senior Leader finding out late about a success that the Direct Report knew about but had not shared.

It is this exchange of successes, failures, and completions that keeps the “Loop” live and moving forward.  It’s the common sharing and updating that reinforces the trust between the Senior Leader and Direct Report.

  1. Trust Must Respect Boundaries…Even in the Loop

One of the more sensitive experiences is when a Direct Report may be working on something for their Senior Leader but the effort involves their maintaining some confidentially with others.  The Senior Leader needs to be sensitive to their Direct Reports’ relationships and networks, not needing to know every single detail that the Direct Report may have discussed with others.  Certainly, this same example goes the other way as well, the Direct Report must respect the confidentiality that their Senior Leader must maintain in their efforts and communication with others.

In the end, staying in the loop is a relationship building experience between Senior Leaders and their Direct Reports.  For the Senior Leader who is purposely delegating tasks and responsibilities, they must engage their Direct Reports through using the eight efforts presented in this article.

Remember, define the “Loop” clearly, and you will have less chance of stepping on the toes of those whom you want to take on greater responsibilities.

Brad Humphrey

The Contractor’s Best Friend 


[AUDIO] Exceptional at the Ordinary Things

To perform every project with such proactive and positive effort is reflective of people who take pride in their work, their preparation, and their reputation.  This is what most contractors need to direct their time and attention to, the raising of the ordinary things as needing and benefiting from exceptional work efforts.

Learn more in this week’s podcast, “Exceptional at the Ordinary Things.”



There is little fanfare given to the leader or worker who goes about their job every day, performing work in a disciplined and consistent manner.  The attention often goes to the individual who pulls off some miraculous effort to save a project from disaster.

What is interesting however is that for the leader and worker who daily, practices consistent discipline to insure they have the tools they need, and make sure their work efforts are methodically followed, their results are consistently better.  This is what I have come to call, being “exceptional at the ordinary things.”

There is little doubt that “ordinary things” do not possess much excitement.  I mean, how can some of the following items be considered anything but ordinary?

  • Making sure the equipment and vehicles are gassed up, lubed and oiled, and properly loaded and unloaded.
  • Taking the time to see that all plans, pictures, and specifications are in the job file.
  • Double or triple checking prints for accuracy.
  • Looking to see that all working areas are safe and pose no threat to workers due to power or gas lines in the area.
  • Regularly having the crew picking up after themselves to insure the site is clean.
  • All project tools and equipment are accounted for daily and returned to their respective storage areas.
  • Preparing for each new day, conducting morning “huddles” with the workers to be sure that they know their roles and the scope of work for the day.

Such tasks do not require a “Hail Mary” pass effort, but instead, a daily consistency to perform the same procedural things that are required to achieve the needed quality, safety, and to meet critical schedules.

If more contractors over-emphasized being exceptional about performing the ordinary things, more companies would reap the benefits.  I mean, consider briefly a few benefits to those who are exceptional at the ordinary things.  Can you imagine:

  • Less risk to workplace injuries?
  • Better house-keeping of job-sites?
  • Equipment that last longer due to consistent PM?
  • Jobs that start on time?
  • Less tool replacement costs?
  • Customers are bragging on your worker’s efficiency, quality, and clean job-site?
  • Projects that make the estimated profit?
  • Greater peace of mind for you?

So, if there are so many benefits to be realized by having all our workers being exceptional at the ordinary things, how can we influence or encourage this experience?

Let’s look at a few efforts that leaders and owners can make to influence their employees to be exceptional at the ordinary things.

  1. Formally Create and Document the Ordinary Things

Whether it is creating a “pre-start” list of tools, equipment, building components, etc. needed for the day or providing crews with an inventory management sheet to keep better track of what they are to bring back to the yard or tool crib, you will need to document the expected procedures to follow.

  1. Compliment Individuals When They Practice the Basics

Remember, “praise what you want practiced.”  When employees receive recognition for doing the basics, they will be more likely to maintain the effort.  No different than a professional athlete who methodically prepares for their daily workouts, being consistent on the little things allow the bigger things to be more easily completed.

  1. Make it Your Norm to Remind Workers About Consistently Following Every Process or Procedure

Contractors will grow frustrated if they assume their workers are all doing the “little” things each day to bring about the best results.  Reminding workers helps to keep them focused on following process steps.  Being disciplined in the “ordinary” things will make it easier to take on the extraordinary things with more confidence and preparedness.

  1. Review Problem Jobs with Leaders and Workers to Determine What Isn’t Consistently Followed

Finding inconsistencies in following procedures or processes is almost always the reason behind poor work results.  Reviewing jobs that had higher than expected costs should always be looked at to determine the cause of the increased cost and what was or was not followed.  Inevitably the reasons come back to confirm that one or more things were not performed as required.

  1. Conduct a “Spring Training” One to Two Times Each Year

If the professional sports teams can require their coaches and players to prepare for the season, is it any less important for our own people to have their own form of “Spring Training”?  Use such times to re-educate work efforts, include hands-on learning, and challenge workers to strengthen the “ordinary” tasks and how they are to be completed.

  1. Prepare to Discipline Those Who Fail to Practice the Basics

This can be challenging for the contractor that has lost control of workers embracing the need to perform well on the ordinary things.  However, when workers, and leaders, are disciplined for failing to perform important basic but needed tasks, then the message begins to be understood that doing the little things really do matter.  Failure to do so could cost one their job!

Just think what your performance could be if all involved would spend just as much energy and focus on performing the ordinary things?  Consider how much lower your equipment costs could be or much cleaner or safer your job sites might be if each worker made an exceptional effort to complete the small and ordinary tasks.

One final observation about this topic.  Being exceptional at ordinary things reflects the degree of pride within the employee.  It is easy to get excited about a new project working for a high-profile customer but not about a small project within our own company.  But both project types benefit from workers who are focused, consistent, and attentive.

To perform every project with such proactive and positive effort is reflective of people who take pride in their work, their preparation, and their reputation.  This is what most contractors need to direct their time and attention to, the raising of the ordinary things as needing and benefiting from exceptional work efforts.

Brad Humphrey

The Contractor’s Best Friend