Common Contractor Questions, Part 1

Norb Slowikowski

May 2008

In my work with contractors around the country, I have been asked a lot of questions about people management, leadership and the skills field supervisors need to be more effective on the job. With that in mind, I now present the first of a two-part column about the most frequently asked questions I receive, along with my answers and ideas as to why they’re important for achieving optimum productivity on the job site.

Question: What is the main objective that a contractor should strive for in trying to improve productivity in a company?
I’d have to say, "establish a motivational climate.” You can’t possibly motivate an individual with the same techniques that worked 10 or more years ago.

Most contractors are aware of this principle, but I will recite it anyway. I call it the "lengthening shadow approach.” As a contractor goes, so goes his organization. If a contractor is uptight, angry, hostile and disrespectful, the company will soon take on that personality. Everyone is a lengthening shadow of the leader.

For that reason, a contractor should look at his foremen and superintendents as key assets to success. If a contractor is a positive and fair individual, he’ll spot that foreman who’s out of tune with the company culture and will do something about it in a positive way—simply using straight talk and listening.

Establishing a motivational climate also requires positive reinforcement for a job well done—rewards for top performers, involving field supervisors in the decision-making process and encouraging them to ask for help right away when they need it. This requires upper management to adopt a "let’s fix it” attitude, instead of blaming others when problems occur.

How can an owner stay in touch with all levels of his organization and still run the business effectively?

Actually, it isn’t all that hard to do. I call it The MBWA Approach: Manage by Walking Around.

A contractor should schedule time to visit the job site and find out what’s going on. Most contractors practice this principle anyway. It’s just good business sense.

But don’t restrict your fact-finding to job progress. Talk to—and especially listen to—your people. Don’t be so certain that your foremen and supervisors will automatically tell you they’re having problems. You need to encourage feedback without repercussions attached.

Let your people know that you’re interested in them and in their work. Ask them if you can help in any way. Give some credit where credit is due. Nothing is more motivating than for the boss to show appreciation. It’s amazing what that does for people, and there’s no cost attached to it.

Are there any "must-do’s” that owners should carry out when they visit the job site?
People today want three things. First, they want to feel involved and be a part of the team. Second, they want sincere appreciation for a job well done. Third, they want the feeling that you’ll support them when they’re facing difficulty, that when an obstacle occurs, you’ll take action to assist them or help them remove it.

The old excuse that good employees don’t need positive feedback because they know when they’re doing well is archaic thinking that doesn’t match with what employees want.