Common Contractor Questions, Part 2

Norb Slowikowski

June 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 present the second 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.

What’s a good rule to apply when an owner spots a problem situation on the job site?
Remember, people typically don’t deliberately foul things up, so watch out for overreacting and placing blame. Instead, keep your focus on the problem and what caused it. You should involve the foreman in the solution, since he’s the one in charge.

When everyone focuses on a problem, a sense of achievement and belonging occurs. Follow these simple rules to make sure the process is successful:

• Attack the problems, not the people.

• Involve key people in the solution.

• Maintain emotional control.

• Be a coach.

Question: What are the key elements of effective job site supervision?
First of all, the job site supervisor must be able to identify the barriers to productivity and eliminate them. He must identify the underlying causes and avoid treating the symptoms.

The first step is to specifically identify the problem. Is it poor morale? Too much waiting? Poor planning? Logistics? Ineffective scheduling? Lack of support from the office? Late delivery of materials? A problem that is specifically identified is already half-solved.

The second key element is listening. Do we really tune in and understand what people are saying? Do we hear people out before reacting? Do we repeat back to people what our understanding of the message is? Do we give people one-on-one quality listening time on a periodic basis? Do we understand what people expect of us? Do we encourage and listen to suggestions from the field? Remember: If someone is not listening, communication fails.

The third element is motivating people. Knowing what makes people tick is knowing their driving force. It’s satisfying their needs and wants, which includes the following:

• Sincere appreciation for a job well done.

• Involving them in decision-making.

• Supporting them when the going gets tough.

• Letting them know how they’re doing and coaching them when improvement is needed.

• Giving them all the information they need to do their job effectively. For example, labor budget, scope or work, blueprints, shop drawings, addendums, copy of the contract, adequate tools and equipment, etc.

• Treating them as key members of the team.

Everything we’ve talked about in this two-part article can be easily summed up in the following:

Let your people on the job site know what the goals are and involve them in developing an Action Plan to achieve the desired results. Let them help you solve problems. Let them create a sense of "team” so that everyone is moving toward the same goal—improving productivity on the job site.

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