"In all my years with this company, I’ve never seen it this bad.” This observation has become an unfortunate refrain from all the contractors I’ve dealt with over the last year. There’s no doubt about it: This is the toughest time in decades to be in construction. These market conditions can exploit companies by causing negative mindsets that lead to a sense of inaction. Employees feel there is little they can do to offset the negative spiral, and complacency becomes the norm.
Since "turbulence” means "being in an agitated, disturbed state,” it leads to unrest, conflict and negative behavior—if we let it.
So the key question becomes: Do we have any other choice? The answer is, "Absolutely!” Tough times require tough leaders. Since we do not control the market, we must look within our own companies and find out if we are functioning at maximum effectiveness. There is a better way to manage in turbulent times and sustain the growth of the company. In short, leadership comes down to being proactive instead of reactive.
In my work as a trainer/consultant for 28 years in the construction industry, I have discovered that sustainable companies survive and thrive regardless of what is going on in the marketplace. When examining these companies, I found that they had a foundation built on "Five Key Pillars” that were never compromised or allowed to falter.
A process is a systematic, organized way of doing things that leads to consistency and uniformity in the way things are done. They had processes for estimating, project managing, field operations, warehouse distribution, accounting, etc. They had process manuals for each function, and all employees were trained to follow those processes. They were "must dos,” not options. The result was a higher level of effectiveness.
These companies focused on retaining good employees. They provide ongoing technical training and development of apprentices and journeymen, management and leadership training for foremen, superintendents and project managers. They follow up with a coaching process that assigns each individual’s supervisor/manager to be the employee’s coach after the training session. This ensures the application of learned skills in the job situation.
When people don’t receive the information they need to be effective in their job, they are at risk, and risk can lead to costly mistakes. It’s extremely important that the foremen receive the information they need to effectively manage the project. Such information includes the following:
• Scope of work.
• The quality specs for the job.
• Contractual responsibilities.
• A job information packet that includes the above information along with a procedure for managing the labor budget and tracking production by codes.
• How to process extra work authorization.
• How to handle requests for information.
• How to perform two-week look-aheads.
• How to provide specific documentation when barriers to productivity occur on the job site.
This information must flow from the field to the office in a timely manner.
It takes a team to effectively manage projects. By strengthening the "Team Triangle” relationship (foreman – superintendent – project manager), there will be a positive impact on productivity improvement. Reality in this industry is on the job site, since that’s where profit is generated. The office support team must be available to help the foreman be effective in executing his day-to-day responsibilities. Without support, people flounder.
This means that people must be responsible for executing their key job responsibilities for meeting expectations and standards, for following processes and for achieving desired results. These are not options, they are "must-dos,” and the manager/supervisor must hold people accountable if the company is to grow and prosper. When people are not held accountable, they do what they want, which is unacceptable.
When all is said and done, we need to make a crucial decision. Let turbulence be a negative factor that immobilizes us, or let it serve as a positive factor for creating organizational change. No matter what’s going on in the marketplace, companies are stronger when they accept turbulence as a catalyst for organizational change.
Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill. See his ad on page 45.
Slowikowski will be presenting "Are You a Project Manager or a Project Witness?” during AWCI’s Academy (Jan. 23–26, 2012 in Dallas) and again at AWCI’s Convention (April 15–19, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C.). In addition, he will also lead one of his Hard Hat Productivity Seminars, "Nine Critical Factors for Maximizing Profits,” during the convention. Visit www.awci.org for more information.