Communicating Clear Expectations = Successful Performance, Part 1

Norb Slowikowski

March 2006

The latest trend is to push more responsibility to the job site level. Schedules are tight, so decision-making is done right on site, and issues immediately arise. Companies are also running much leaner operations, so the biggest challenge to being profitable is in communicating clear expectations. Each foreman must have a clear understanding of what is expected if the goal is to maximize profitability on the job site. Here are the first three of six key expectations that you must communicate to your foremen.

Be Productivity Driven. A foreman has to understand the labor budget and either meet or beat that budget. Since 50 to 60 percent of the money on the job is in that budget, there is a lot of money to be made there.

A foreman needs to know his crew and communicate what he expects of them. He needs to make sure his crew understands how much work they need to get done each day to accomplish the bigger goal of finishing the project. The foreman should say to his crew: "Here is the task I need you to accomplish by the end of the day. Can you do it?” Some people think crews will resent that kind of direction, but I have found that it makes people then like they’re connected to something bigger than themselves, and that is motivating.

The foreman is responsible for meeting the general contractor’s schedule, which is always very tight. I tell foremen: "If you are having trouble with the schedule, then call your project manager and superintendent. Work as a team. Don’t try to do everything by yourself.”

Another expectation of being productivity driven is achieving quality results. The contractor wants the work done right the first time. I believe in prevention and not inspection. The foreman has to walk around and be present on the job site on a daily basis. When he sees somebody doing something wrong, he has to intervene right away and make corrections—but in a positive manner, in a manner that teaches the person how to do it correctly. Do not criticize; instead, coach. You don’t want to have any do-overs. Communicating expectations without follow-up may results in deadlines not being met or work being shoddy.

Be an Effective Planner. A foreman needs to anticipate and forecast his needs at least a week in advance. Ask the GC, "This is what I’ll be doing next week. Are you okay with that?” Once the GC signs off on that schedule, make sure you get the proper tools, equipment, material and manpower lined up. If you do it a week in advance, your warehouse or tool shop can get you the things you need. You also need to coordinate with the other trades. Planning is key to visualizing the big picture.

Get Organized. Once you get the tools and materials you need to the job site, put them exactly where your crew will need them.

Have a daily five-minute huddle with your crew to talk about what needs to get done for the day. Ask them if they see any obstacles to accomplishing the day’s tasks, and if they have any ideas as to how they could be more efficient. Get your crew enlisted in the goals of the day at the beginning of each work day. Make sure you document work that isn’t within the scope.

If the GC wants you to do extra work, say, "I’d be glad to do that, but I have an extra work order for you to sign off on.” Be very specific on the work order, including how long it’s going to take, what materials you need and your labor costs. If the GC doesn’t want to sign it, tell him he needs to talk to your project manager. Tell the GC that you can’t proceed without written authorization.

Make sure you know how much authority you have on the job to make decisions. Go to your project manager and ask the following: How much latitude do I have out here? How much money do you want me to spend on the job? How far do you want me to go if there is a problem with the superintendent?

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