Establishing a Motivational Climate

Norb Slowikowski

May 2005

The foreman not only has to identify what makes people tick, he also has to put a process in place that facilitates peak performance. When people can do the things they’re good at, receive all of the resources they need to be effective and have processes to follow that lead to quality results and good morale, then peak performance can become a reality.

What follows is the recommended process for establishing a motivational climate that leads to peak performance.

Implement a Feedback System

Feedback is necessary if the foreman is to achieve open, honest, two-way communication between the job site and the office. Without this form of reciprocity, the company will simply get "stuck in the mud.” Feedback lets the foreman know if he’s on the right track or not. The foreman is responsible for giving feedback to his crew and for encouraging feedback from his crew. Without feedback, problems do not surface in a timely manner and progress is stymied. Effective feedback provides the following benefits:

  • It helps in identifying obstacles and barriers to productivity.
  • It lets people know how they are doing.
  • It fills gaps in knowledge.
  • It lets people know where to take corrective action.
  • It alleviates fear of the unknown.
  • It is a means for building positive relationships and teamwork.

Now let’s review the guidelines for developing a feedback system.

Managing Conflict

Conflict between people occurs quite often on a job site. Conflict is not something we plan for—it just happens! The foreman has to learn how to deal with it and get it resolved.

Simply put, conflict is unresolved controversy that occurs due to one or more of the following:

  • People not getting what they want or need.
  • Differences in perceptions about expectations.
  • Lack of information.
  • Confusion about role demands.
  • Lack of involvement in decision-making.
  • Lack of explanations for pending changes.
  • Duplication of work.
  • Ineffective delegation.


Negotiation is an interactive, cooperative process in which people attempt to resolve conflicting needs and demands. Those engaged in the negotiating process need to understand that it includes the following key elements:

  • It is the art of compromise and accommodation.
  • It is based on a "needs” focus.
  • Its objective is to achieve mutual agreement.
  • The parties involved must understand that they both may perceive the same situation differently.
  • It is the most appropriate response to conflict situations. (Conflict is defined as any situation where people have differing interests, and both parties could be affecting each other’s pursuit of those interests).

So far, we’ve discussed how a foreman can identify and manage conflict while working with his crew to tackle problems that may arise on the job site. Now we are going to delve into the different ways to negotiate an agreeable settlement that will resolve any conflict.

There are a number of ways to negotiate when dealing with conflict:

Avoidance. Don’t deal with it at all. Walk away.

Accommodation. Giving in. The other person gets what they want, and you lose—it’s a quick, temporary solution.

Domination. It’s based on "position power.” You use that power to get what you want while ignoring what the other person wants, which builds resentment.

Compromise. You settle somewhere in the middle. Each person gives up something of equal value.

Con. You try to get as much as you can from the other person by concealing some of the facts. The other person finds out later that he lost something in the transaction.

Collaboration. Both parties deal with the issue head-on. All of the cards are put on the table. There are no hidden agendas. Both parties strive to identify the underlying causes to the conflict situation by doing the following:

  • Showing respect for each other and trying to understand each other’s point of view (requires active listening).
  • Showing concern for the needs of the other person.
  • Being assertive. You state your position without emotion, even if you disagree with the other person’s position.
  • Engaging in creative dialogue . How can both parties help in getting each other what they want?
  • Generating creative alternatives for resolving the conflict.

Utilizing the collaborative approach is the best way to negotiate and resolve conflict because it is the negotiating process based on these five key principles:

Separate the people from the problem. To accomplish this, you must base the negotiating relationship on the following:

  • Accurate perceptions. This requires empathy, which is really trying to understand the other person’s point of view (putting yourself in their shoes). Also remember not to blame them for your problem. Have them participate in the solution and discuss each other’s perceptions openly.
  • Appropriate emotions. You have to be aware of what you’re feeling and what the other person is feeling without getting emotional. Let the other person "blow off steam,” but don’t react in kind to emotional outbursts.
  • Clear communication. This requires listening actively and paying attention, not simply reacting to what the other person is saying. Think before you speak, then speak for a purpose.

Focus on interests, not positions. A position is something you have decided on for every interest. But there are several possible positions to satisfy it, so don’t jump to conclusions! It’s important to use the building blocks that lead to agreements:

  • Find out if the other person has multiple interests.
  • Make a list of the other person’s interests, in order of importance.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of the proposal from their point of view.
  • Then, communicate what you want and why. Be specific about your interests.
  • Talk about goals. Be concrete but flexible.

Generate a variety of solutions before deciding what to do; invite creative options. n Be clear about what both of you are trying to accomplish. What are the objectives? n Identify the specific actions that could be taken to reach the objectives. Remember: You aren’t deciding on anything, you’re just generating options for consideration.

Base agreement on objective standards and fair procedures. Identify the standards on which both parties can agree. Think about the following questions: Are we both trying to reduce costs? Are we both trying to improve quality? Are we looking for better ways to be more efficient? The real question is: Can we produce something better than what we have through effective negotiating?

Prepare in advance what you’ll do if negotiation fails. Do this in advance of the negotiation meeting.

Know when you plan to (or should) walk away in advance. Before you walk away from further negotiating, you must first establish a list of actions you might take. Then, highlight those that you consider to be viable options. Finally, select your best option. In other words, you are asking yourself this key question: Are my options better than the options we discussed in our negotiation process? The foreman is responsible for solving problems as they occur so that he can make sound decisions that keep the project moving in a positive direction. To be an effective problem-solver, the Foreman must know what he’s trying to accomplish (is clear about his objective) and then be able to determine why there is a gap between the desire and actual results.

He must investigate and identify what the root causes are contributing to the problem. "Shooting from the hip” and dealing emotionally with problems only make things worse.

About the Author
Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill. See his ad on page 87.