Setting Expectations on the Job

Norb Slowikowski / August 2018

How are you supposed to perform if you don’t know what’s expected of you? I’m of the firm belief that you cannot get on someone’s case for lack of performance if you don’t give them proper guidance in the first place. Furthermore, most companies are running leaner operations, so the biggest challenge to profitability is in setting the right 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 some good expectations to communicate to your people so they know how to approach the job correctly.
So, in order to set up the best motivational climate in your workplace, a process needs to be followed. By using a step-by-step process that adheres to the tenets of motivation, we set our team up for success. What follows are the four main keys to providing effective motivation.
Have a productivity focus. 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.
Put simply, 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 in order to accomplish the bigger goal of finishing the project. It’s the little things getting done that add up to the final goal being achieved. 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 the opposite to be true. People then feel like they are 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, not inspection. The foreman has to be on the job site every day. When he sees somebody doing something wrong, he has to intervene right away and make corrections—but in a positive manner that teaches the person how to do it correctly.
Conduct effective planning. A foreman needs to anticipate and forecast his needs at least a week in advance. Tell the GC what you will be doing next week, and ask if the GC is OK with that. Once the GC signs off on that schedule, line up the proper tools, equipment, material and manpower. 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 site, put them exactly where your crew will need them. When other materials are needed from the shop, make sure they know exactly what needs to go where on the job site.
Have a daily “5-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. Ask if they have any ideas as to how they could be more efficient or productive. 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, have him sign off on the extra work order. 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 sign it, then tell him he needs to talk to your project manager because you need written authorization.
Make sure you know how much authority you have on the job to make decisions. Everyone has boundaries. Enlist your project manager. Don’t be the bad buy. You have to live with your superintendent every day. Go to your PM and ask how much latitude you have, how much money should be spent on the job, and what to do if there is a problem with the superintendent.
Display leadership. A good foreman manages the job and leads the people. You don’t have to manage people because people will manage themselves if they are given the right conditions. I believe in the “lead goose” concept—geese who alternate flying in the front of the “V” formation. You want to develop lead geese in your organization.
To be a lead goose you first have to let people own their jobs. You can do that by explaining what you expect of them. Next, give them everything they need to do their jobs. Last, give lots of positive feedback and get rid of criticism.
Finally, hold people accountable. If they aren’t performing up to your expectations after continued coaching, set some consequences. Tell them if they continue their negative behavior, they will probably lose their jobs.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill. To contact him, email