Setting Expectations on the Job

Norb Slowikowski / July 2016

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.

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. The foreman should tell 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 resent that kind of direction, but I have found the opposite to be true. With this method, people 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. If there is a problem, foremen should work as a team with their project manager and superintendent.
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 walk 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 that teaches the person how to do it correctly. Communicating expectations without follow-up may results in deadlines not being met or work being shoddy.

Conduct Effective Planning
A foreman needs to anticipate and forecast his needs at least a week in advance. Say to the GC, “This is what I’ll be doing next week. Are you OK 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. When other materials are needed from the shop, make sure they know exactly what needs to go where on the site.
Have a daily “5-minute huddle” with your crew to talk about what needs to get done. Ask them if they see any obstacles or if they have any ideas as to how to 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, tell him you’ll need him to sign off on an 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 want to sign it, then tell him he needs to talk to your project manager because you can’t proceed without written authorization.
Make sure you know how much authority you have on the job to make decisions. Everyone has boundaries. Enlist your project manager and ask how much latitude you have, how much money you can spend on the job, and how far you can go 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.
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 because criticism is not a motivator. When people are in trouble, they need to be coached, not criticized.
Finally, it’s important to hold people accountable. If they aren’t performing up to your expectations after continued coaching, set some consequences. If negative behavior continues, let them know they will probably lose their jobs.
In summary, if you do not communicate and clarify what you expect of your team, they will do what they think is important, which may not align with your expectations. Remember: You get what you expect.

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