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Harnessing Decisions for Quality and Safety in Construction

Stokes McIntyre | September 1, 2023

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Three construction workers walking together on a construction site

Let's dive into a topic close to my heart: how to set up your field crews for success. Your construction project must be delivered on time, on budget, and at a high quality to make your clients happy. So, how can you increase the odds of project success? A big factor is the decisions your crews make in the field.

If you're a contractor, be it a general or a trade contractor, your success directly reflects your crew's decisions. The crew is the heart and soul of any project, right? Regardless of the job size, your crews are often unsupervised. They make vital choices about installations, equipment, work techniques, and safety precautions. These choices add up and have a huge impact on the overall success of your business. This article examines ways to empower crews to make great decisions and ultimately help your business to thrive.

Daily Decision-Making

Field crews grapple with myriad decisions daily, from installing work and managing safety issues to deciding which tool to use. But that's not all. Crews often face decisions that deal with handling tricky personnel scenarios or stepping up to leadership roles. The weather too can throw a curveball that requires intelligent decision-making. For instance, how does one decide whether to work under certain weather conditions?

And then there are the jobsite-specific choices. When installing work, the crew may be faced with deciding the right way to install things or in what order to do it. We've all seen the hassle of rework when things aren't installed correctly or in the correct sequence.

Picture this scenario: A crew member is midtask but unsure of the next step. Do they power on with the installation or seek help from their supervisor? Is approaching the supervisor even okay? How exactly does the company want this installed? And, what if the plans don't match the actual work? These are the choices crew members encounter when installing work, and they can significantly influence the project's success.

Let's drill down into the four significant areas where the quality of decision-making really packs a punch. You probably already have a good idea of what they are, but let's spell it out: we're talking about decisions involving workers, rework, productivity, and, of course, safety.

Safety Decisions

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for every 100 workers, there are roughly 3.1 claims filed in a year. Doing some quick math, that means that if you're a contractor with a team of 500, you're looking at approximately 15.5 claims annually.

Let's put a dollar sign on that. The National Safety Council suggests a claim's average cost is $41,353. But here's the kicker: Studies indicate that the indirect costs for these claims can rocket up to $4 for every dollar of direct claim costs. For a contractor with a 500-person workforce, that can mean a staggering total of around $3.2 million per year in workers compensation claims.

And the hits keep coming. There could be general liability claims filed by the worker. There's also the potential to damage your reputation, which could lead to lost bids. So, it's pretty clear that the financial impact of these decisions is not something to be taken lightly.

Safety-related decisions can pop up at any moment, really. A crew member might be about to execute a task and wonder, "Is this safe?" That's a decision they may face multiple times a day, or even every hour. Or consider tools: Is this the right tool for the task? How do I operate it safely? What conditions could make it unsafe? Who can I talk to if I'm worried about safety?

These are real decisions that your crew members face in the field daily. And remember, their choices can lead to either fantastic results or serious problems. The goal is learning how to support them in making the best possible decisions every time.

Rework Decisions

Shifting gears to rework, according to FMI, companies spend around 5 percent of their revenue on rework. That means a contractor with $300 million in revenue could be shelling out a whopping $15 million on rework alone.

So, the financial repercussions of less-than-ideal decisions in the field, particularly around installations, can indeed be hefty. Rework isn't just a drain on resources, it reflects missed opportunities to get things right the first time.

Productivity Decisions

Let's move on to another crucial factor—productivity. Imagine if each crew member loses just 20 minutes each day due to unproductive choices, like showing up at the wrong location for a meeting, having to repark the car, or having to fetch the correct tools after mistakenly grabbing the wrong ones. These minor decision-making lapses can translate into major time losses.

Consider a $300 million contractor. This contractor would have roughly 1.5 million people-hours. If each person were to lose 20 minutes a day, it would result in a loss of around 78,000 hours annually. To put a price tag on this, assuming an hourly wage of $60, the cost of lost time would amount to about $4.68 million annually. Considering the typically thin profit margins in contracting, this kind of loss can significantly dent the bottom line. So, even seemingly minor inefficiencies can have a substantial financial impact on the bigger picture.

From what we've discussed, you may think I'm pointing fingers at the field worker. After all, they're the ones making these day-to-day decisions, right? So, aren't they to blame for the financial losses? But that's not where I'm going with this. The real focus should be on the leaders—the employers. It's their responsibility to equip their field crews with what they need to make the right decisions every day. A good leader should shoulder the responsibility if a worker makes a less-than-ideal decision in good faith.

The million-dollar question, then, is how can leaders effectively empower their field crews to make successful decisions? Admittedly, it's easier said than done. The nature of the construction industry often means dealing with a remote workforce, many of whom might not even have a company email address. Face-to-face interactions might be limited to the occasional training sessions. The challenge, then, is how to help leaders navigate these hurdles and set their crews up for success, despite the unique challenges of the construction sector.

The Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) Loop

Maybe you've heard of it before. This isn't a concept we at MindForge came up with, but we find it a beneficial framework in our mission to empower field workers. The credit for the observe, orient, decide, act (OODA) loop goes to John Boyd, a military strategist and Air Force colonel.

Col. Boyd is widely recognized in military circles as one of modern history's most significant military strategists. His insights continue to shape how the US armed forces operate and strategize. One of his key contributions is the OODA loop, which he designed to help pilots gain the upper hand during aerial combat. The idea is to keep repeating this cycle to continually assess and adjust to the situation, helping pilots outmaneuver their opponents in the air.

This OODA framework isn't just restricted to the military; it has been widely adopted and has found utility across various fields. Firefighters, law enforcement, and businesses have embraced this concept to better respond to their environments. At the heart of all this is decision-making—and not just decision-making, but rapid, successful decision-making.

Col. Boyd's OODA loop encapsulates how humans naturally interact with their environment. We observe through our senses, process what we see, and then orient ourselves to our observations as per Col. Boyd's framework. Based on this orientation, we decide on our course of action, and then we act. Once we act, we create new circumstances that must be observed afresh. This leads to a dynamic and continuous cycle of observing, orienting, deciding, and acting. If we can practically harness this naturally occurring cognitive process, we can significantly enhance decision-making efficiency in the field.

Whether they realize it or not, our field crews are constantly cycling through the OODA loop. The central question is then what decisions are they making? What actions are they taking? Col. Boyd argues that we orient ourselves based on six key inputs, one of which is our knowledge—essentially, what we know.

Let's use the scenario of picking the right ladder for a job as an example. Suppose I've leaned a ladder against a wall. However, the ladder is not tall enough—it doesn't extend 3 feet above the wall—and it's positioned such that the ladder's angle isn't correct. Now, when I observe this, if my goal is to climb that ladder, I'm going to scrutinize the ladder, consciously or subconsciously. My prior knowledge will then inform my decision. If I know what a safe ladder setup looks like, I might choose a different one if the current one doesn't seem correct.

The culture of my surroundings also contributes to how I perceive the situation. The prevailing culture on the jobsite, the culture within my company, or even my personal norms and beliefs can all influence my decisions.

What about values? My personal values or the values propagated by my company, depending on which is more prominent and what has been communicated to me, will also play a part in decision-making.

Then there's motivation. What drives me? Am I motivated to wrap up work as swiftly as possible because I'm eager to get home and spend quality time fishing? Or, do I feel driven to invest extra time in fetching the right ladder?

And there are my skills. Do I have the skill set to apply my knowledge to use the ladder correctly? The skills I possess may influence my decision.

Past experiences also weigh in. Do I know someone who has fallen off a ladder? Have I personally fallen off a ladder before? If the answer is yes, maybe I would decide to get a different ladder. On the other hand, if I don't know anyone who's suffered a fall from a ladder, and I've never experienced such an incident myself, I may decide to use the ill-suited ladder.

The OODA loop does not necessarily guarantee successful decisions. How you orient does. Therefore, organizations must try to equip their workers with the right skills, knowledge, and experience and establish the appropriate values, culture, and motivations. By doing so, it's more likely that the workers will make decisions in alignment with the organization's expectations.

The OODA loop can serve as a tool to audit employees' decision-readiness. It can also function as an action plan to aid our workers in making better decisions.

Improve Decision-Readiness

Let's shift gears a little and discuss how we can self-assess and improve decision-readiness. If you believe there's room for improvement in safety, quality, and productivity within your operations, consider employing the OODA loop as an excellent self-evaluation tool.

Ask yourself the following questions, as organized by the OODA inputs.


  • Are we providing our field crews with frequent knowledge updates and training around safety, standard operating procedures (SOPs), and company values?
  • Are our SOPs readily accessible and updated regularly?
  • Do we conduct regular training on job-specific information to help our teams navigate different jobsites efficiently?

Skills and Experience

  • Do we have an effective mechanism in place to assess the skills of our crew members and identify gaps?
  • Are we facilitating the transfer of "street skills" from our seasoned field crew members to our newer recruits?
  • Do we pair younger crew members with experienced colleagues for on-the-job learning and experience sharing?
  • Are we utilizing the power of storytelling to share lessons learned and enhance our teams' experiential knowledge?

Values and Culture

  • Have we clearly defined and regularly communicated our company's values to crew members?
  • Are hiring and firing decisions aligned with defined values?
  • Have we documented and communicated our company culture effectively?
  • Is our leadership promoting our culture through communications, training programs, and direct interaction with field crews?


  • Are we communicating the impacts of decision-making to our field crews to help them understand the importance of their decisions?
  • Do we offer incentives (e.g., financial rewards for safety initiatives or low rework) to encourage our field crews to align their actions with the company's success?

Use the self-assessment to ensure your field crew has the proper knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make decisions that contribute to your company's success. Remember, it's about continuous improvement and always keeping the lines of communication open.

Steps To Improve Decision-Making

Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, take the following action steps to improve field crews' decision-readiness.

  • Consistent knowledge refreshers. Complement your hands-on training sessions with regular, concise reminders to keep essential information at the forefront for application in the orientation stage. The availability heuristic highlights our tendency to act based on the freshest information we've received. Therefore, ensure your team consistently receives important knowledge refreshers. Employ communication apps to maintain regular touch points with your field workers, ensuring they're always in the loop.
  • Make knowledge digestible. Just think about it: in their downtime, your team is likely watching videos, whether mastering the art of brisket smoking on YouTube or browsing quick clips on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Why not harness this preference to your advantage? Craft concise videos about your company's procedures, safety guidelines, and best practices. They'll likely be more eager to watch and learn. And hey, you don't need a film crew! Your smartphone can do the trick or you can even explore artificial intelligence video-making tools like Synthesia.
  • Maximize union and association training programs. Whether you're a union, a merit shop, or even both, there's a treasure trove of apprenticeship and training opportunities. Urge your teams to tap into all the learning they can. Get involved with groups like the Associated Builders and Contractors or the American General Contractors to further elevate your crew's skills.
  • Learn from the best in the business. Think about it—there's classroom knowledge, and there's the hands-on wisdom gained on the job. Your company might even have its unique touch to ensure top-notch results. Why not let your seasoned crew members be the teachers? Get them to record how they do their work, and share these insights through platforms that reach all team members, even those without a company email. This way, those invaluable tricks of the trade get passed on, ensuring a consistently skilled workforce.
  • Share your values with stories. Every week, spotlight stories of team members who've genuinely embodied your company's core values. By showcasing real-life examples of these values in action, you give your field teams relatable models to look up to. When they see their peers living out these values, it reinforces their importance. And remember, it's not just about your employees; loop in your subcontractors too. They represent your company on the job and make crucial decisions. Ensure they're aligned with and understand what you stand for.
  • Hire, fire, reward, and reprimand based on values. When considering bringing someone on board, be it an employee or a subcontractor, always check how they align with your company's values, and then use these values as a guiding star when evaluating potential candidates. If they don't share your values, it may be best to rethink that partnership. After all, shared values pave the way for decisions that match your company's vision and expectations.
  • Motivate continuous learning. Encourage your team to stay updated with regular training and be active in team communications. Consider offering rewards, be it a bonus or a special team lunch, to those who remain committed. With tools like MindForge, you can easily track who's fully engaged in the training sessions and who's opened messages. After all, a team that's constantly learning is a team that's more likely to make successful decisions.
  • Highlight the big picture. Let your field teams in on why you're emphasizing decision-readiness; it's all about the collective success of the company and its individual triumphs. Everyone aims to make sound decisions and take pride in their contributions. Show them the way and help them recognize the value of their choices.
  • Pair wisely for better learning. Team up your seasoned crew members with newcomers whenever you can. This helps rookies navigate decisions on the ground more confidently. Also, ensure your experienced team members are equipped to mentor by offering them tailored leadership training designed specifically for field leadership roles.
  • Turn mistakes into lessons. If a decision doesn't pan out as expected, spin it into a learning moment for your entire field team. This approach fast-tracks gaining experience, allowing the team to benefit without everyone enduring the same slipup. Use storytelling that includes detailed descriptions, dialogue quotes, and drama, making them memorable. Paint a clear picture of the situation, and underscore the crucial moments to ensure they resonate and stick.
  • Document the essence of your company culture. Your company culture isn't just about what you expect; it's genuinely reflected in the daily behaviors you encourage and accept. Begin by documenting the specific behaviors that capture the heart of your culture. Make this a living document that evolves as the company grows. By writing these down, not only are you setting clear expectations, but you're also giving everyone a road map to understand the soul of your organization. Remember, your culture becomes real not in what you say but in the behaviors you consistently allow and champion.
  • Nurture your company's culture. Your company has a culture, but is it shaping up the way you envisioned? Documenting your culture is a great start, but it must be shared regularly to come alive. Remember that consistent communication is vital to guiding your teams to make decisions aligned with your company's culture. Given that almost everyone has a smart device these days, make the most of these devices and software apps that allow you to reach all workers, including your subcontractors. Ensure everyone understands so they can make decisions aligned with your culture.


Creating a decision-ready workforce may seem overwhelming at first glance. Still, with a framework like the OODA loop and a dedicated, step-by-step approach to influencing how your crews orient, you can make substantial progress in influencing decision-making in the field. The journey begins by understanding the importance of clear communication, continuous learning, and a well-established culture, but it doesn't end there. Take baby steps to integrate these actions into your operations; with time, you'll see tangible outcomes.

Our goal here is to offer a theoretical framework and inspire action that leads to meaningful change in your organization. By equipping your team to make better choices, you not only enhance the success of your projects but also contribute to your team members' personal and professional growth.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to foster a prosperous environment where everyone thrives—your field workers get to build successful careers, your leaders are celebrated for their efficient project delivery, and your organization continues to thrive, win more projects, and achieve financial growth.

Thank you for investing your time in understanding the potential of the OODA loop in decision-making. Please reach out if you have any questions or wish to discuss further. Here's to making impactful decisions and paving the way for a successful future!

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