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August 2014   

Removing the Hidden Barriers to Productivity

By: Norb Slowikowski

Many times, contractors are unsure about why productivity is down or why there are work delays on the job site. The answers are not all that complicated, yet the common causes remain hidden because many times owners are not in tune with what is really happening on a job site. This lack of listening, support and follow-through results in inefficiency and poor morale.

Following are some of the major hidden barriers that have surfaced through extensive discussions with a sampling of superintendents and jobsite foremen.

Hidden Barrier #1: A Negative Work Climate
The missing pieces include the following:

Foremen do not understand the scope of work. It is rarely explained to them.

Too much criticizing. You make a mistake and you are sure to hear about it (many times belittled and put down). Little help is given to correct the mistake.

Too much second-guessing. You make a decision and then your boss comes around and says he would not have done it that way. But when you call for help, everyone is too busy to get involved.

Too many non-productive activities caused by late deliveries, lack of instruction and insufficient information.

Hidden Barrier #2: Poor Communication System
The biggest barrier is lack of listening. When you have an idea or a solution to a problem, you cannot find anyone who will take the time to hear you out. You are constantly interrupted and told to follow the bossís way of doing things, even if it doesnít make sense. Basically, input from the field is not encouraged.

Another barrier is the project managerís unfamiliarity with jobsite conditions. When you try to talk to him/her about a problem, there is little understanding of what youíre talking about. Worse, there seems to be little desire on the part of the project manager to go to the job site and find out what is going on. This results in the crew keeping problems to themselves or telling the PM what he wants to hear.

A third barrier that goes under this heading has to do with ineffective job progress meetings. These meetings are generally poorly organized. Without an objective and an agenda, too much room is left for "preachingĒ and a lack of input. This ends up being a colossal waste of time.

Hidden Barrier #3: Inadequate Tool & Equipment Maintenance and Repair Program
This problem starts when the foreman fails to tag defective equipment and identify what is wrong with it. The result is defective equipment being delivered to another job site. Even if the equipment is tagged, there is nobody in the shop qualified to repair it and itís not even sent out for repair. The warehouse supervisor simply stacks the equipment in a corner. This one factor costs the contractor a lot of money, since the foreman does not have operable equipment to do the job.

Hidden Barrier #4: Poor People Practices
Field supervisors identified the following "de-motivatorsĒ that they consider to impact productivity in an extreme manner:

Lack of pre-job planning. You are told to come to the office to pick up the blueprints for a job that starts tomorrow. Nobody sits down with you to explain the scope of the project you are asked to take on.

Disrespectful treatment. You are tired of being yelled at or berated in front of others.

Lack of recognition. You get little or no positive feedback when you do something well. You are taken for granted. It would be nice to hear good news once in a while.

Lack of participation in the decision-making process. Office personnel make decisions about jobsite problems without asking for the foremanís input. Many times wrong decisions are made, and we have to live with those decisions with little or no support from our superiors. The decisions are reactive instead of proactive.

So, there you have it. Do any of these hidden barriers sound familiar? Before you say, "they donít exist in my organization,Ē let me suggest that you come out of hiding, bring your field supervisors together and listen!

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill.

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