Foundational to all this is the capabilities and motivation of the organization's
employees. This is a symbiotic relationship here. The employee needs the organization
to provide it with a job, and the organization needs the employee to activate
its processes and systems so as to produce the product or service.
Creating a Productive Work Environment
An important organizational goal is to assist in creating a productive work
environment for its employees. Traditionally, this has meant complying with
the organization's polices and procedures. Generally, all organizations have
similar fundamental rules and expectations. The formal processes may be found
in the HR documentation, but the execution (implementation) is in operations.
Both the formal and informal practices are generally reflective of the type
of activity the organization engages in and the culture and climate the leadership
In most cases, organizations are vertically organized.
This is reflective of the specialization required to manage the various departments
or functions of the organization. These departments eventually tend to have
their "own" goals, objectives, metrics, and even language. This internal separation
and isolation among departments tends to create barriers, which impede efficient
production. Invariably, improvement efforts tend to focus on the worker rather
than the organizational systems. The resulting traditional interventions have
been rewriting or modifying programs, training or retraining the workers, emphasizing
certain aspects of the program, setting up priorities, increasing emphasis on
audits and inspections, giving incentives, or enforcing disciplinary measures.
There is no question that these interventions work to some extent, but eventually
they all "plateau," and we know they do not achieve lasting improved results,
because we tend to keep repeating them!
These traditional improvement activities don't get at the underlying barriers.
Yes, the worker has to work efficiently, be productive, and try to achieve and
even exceed goals—but system-driven barriers cannot be overcome by greater effort
on the part of the worker.
First of all, there may be issues with the worker. Some of these issues may
be physical or they may be "internal" to the worker, such as capability, knowledge,
motivation, personality, etc. On top of these, such things as values and perception
will also affect the employee's ability to perform. These should have been identified
at point-of-hire, or if not, there ought to be a process that addresses these
shortcomings with training, education, mentoring, coaching, constructive feedback,
etc., to bring the employee up to par.
Generating Greater Worker Productivity
There is a general expectation that a construction worker shows up to work
with sufficient knowledge and ability to perform the work. And since construction
employment is at the discretion of the employer, the expectation is that, for
employment to continue, a certain level of performance is expected. The challenge
is how to get the additional discretionary productivity from the employee.
This productivity "bonus" hinges on how the first line supervisor interacts
with the workforce. Unfortunately, in construction, the first line supervisors
are not given any formal training or education in this area. The expectation
is that they somehow magically gain this capability upon being anointed as a
supervisor. Some of the performance barriers may result from the immediate supervisor's
capabilities, knowledge, motivation, and personality, much like the employee's.
These are, in turn, affected by the organizational, processes, procedures, and
systems that set expectations for the supervisor.
Usually the supervisor comes from the ranks of the workforce. The skill set
required of a productive and successful worker is to be able to perform the
work effectively. This requires technical skills as well as physical ability.
A worker who does this well and shows initiative may be selected to become a
supervisor. However, the supervisor requires a different set of skills to be
successful at this position.
Let's look at the skill sets of workers, supervisors, and others in management
positions. Since the supervisor will be supervising workers who may be less
skilled, the supervisor still needs technical skills to provide the worker with
guidance and support. But to be an effective supervisor requires other skills
that are equally or maybe more important. Some of these required skills are
administrative and human relations, to name just a couple. So, for the supervisor
to be successful in his/her new position, it is incumbent on management to provide
the education and training required to make the new supervisor an effective
member of the management team.
Management by Objectives
Performance management is about meeting goals. Goal achievement requires
management. To be able to manage effectively, metrics are required. Newly promoted
supervisors must be given some tools with which to manage effectively. Peter
Drucker first publicized the Management by Objectives (MBO) approach to performance
management. Although opinions on this process vary, most will agree that this
approach involves the establishment and communication of organizational goals
and the setting of individual objectives supportive of those organizational
goals. Following goal setting, there needs to be periodic progress reviews with
feedback on the progress and achievement.
The key components of this process are:
- Understanding of organizational goals and objectives
- Effective mutual goal setting aligned with the above
- Agreement on goals and time to accomplish
- Support by way of necessary resources
- Frequent reviews and feedback
- Some degree of freedom in which to achieve the goals
The foreman and the lead-men and the foreman and the superintendent can engage
in a systematic goal setting process. The goals become targets, toward which
each individual strives. The feedback session provides an opportunity to evaluate
progress, provide constructive feedback, and more importantly identify barriers
that are hindering this. This gives the employee an opportunity to be heard
and the supervisor to actively support the individual's success. This process
furthers better communication and understanding as well as fosters greater accountability.
If pursued properly, the collaborative nature of the process promotes cooperation,
builds trust, and fosters involvement.
The Importance of Proper Planning
Sometimes the reason for poor performance results can be attributed to management.
Construction projects are a complex dynamic in nature and conditions can and
will change almost constantly. Planning is a necessary operational tool and
plays an important role in performance. Planning mostly is under the control
of management. The better the planning process and the greater time spent identifying
risk and barriers, the less stress is placed on the worker to achieve the productivity
or any other stated goals. Giving the worker some degree of involvement in,
and understanding of, the planning process as well as possible hurdles, fosters
better understanding, reduces tension, and possibly generates workarounds that
may be beneficial all around.
Much of the planning done in construction does not include a formal element
of risk assessment. Risk assessment/management consists of the logical process
of identifying and analyzing barriers to production, quality, and loss exposures;
examining alternative techniques for dealing with these barriers and loss exposures;
selecting the most promising technique(s); and implementing and monitoring the
results to see if, in fact, the barriers have been removed and the risks and
loss exposures have been dealt with most effectively. A comprehensive risk management
process not only looks at barriers to productivity, quality, and hazards, but
at all the risks that reside in field operations, in the tactical work plan,
in the means and methods employed to get the job done, as well as in the processes
and procedures for executing the work.
In construction, one of the most critical elements requiring control is time.
And time is vital to production which is critical to profitability. Sometimes
maintaining the schedule may create situations where the foreman must make "either/or"
choices. This can lead to potential problems. Supervisors may allow or even
encourage workers to take shortcuts in the name of being more productive. They
may look the other way when so-called productive workers do not follow good
All this may seem like the "right" thing to do, but it is short-term thinking!
In the long run, the negative results are much more detrimental and insidious
in nature than the momentary gains achieved. Management must also ensure that
workers have the resources, knowledge, and capability to perform the work so
as to meet the production goals.
The first line supervisor is in a key position with the greatest impact on
the workforce in creating an optimal work environment. The foreman is with the
crew much of the time and has the greatest opportunity to observe the workers'
practices and behavior, has the authority to direct the work, make task assignments,
and make any necessary changes as required. The foreman ought to be held responsible
for ensuring that only good work practices are followed at the worksite, that
proper planning and risk assessment have been conducted, and that a safe work
environment can and will result.
Utilizing Employees' Desire To Succeed
We have covered planning and risk assessment as way to assist employees in
meeting their productivity goals. We also covered goal setting and performance
reviews as mean by which to ensure that the employee achieves their expected
goals. This speaks to the "have to" element of performance. But what about the
more important "want to" element of performance? How does the supervisor motivate
the employees to want to exceed the goals and perform at a superior rather than
the acceptable level of performance? This is about the "human" side of management.
It is important for the supervisor to understand the human side of enterprise
and balance it against the organization's needs and production. Douglas McGregor
stated that much of management thinking up to that point was forged in the feudal
era and needs rethinking. He came up with the concept that became known as theory
X and an opposing one called to theory Y.
Theory X management thinking is that the average human being has an inherent
dislike of work and will avoid it if possible. Because of this inherent dislike
of work, most people must be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened so
as to induce them to put forth enough effort so as to meet their goals and get
their work done. This leads to the conclusion that the average human prefers
to be directed, wants to avoid responsibility, has relatively little ambition,
and wants security above all.
The opposing theory, theory Y, is based on the following assumptions:
- The physical and mental effort humans exert at work is as natural as
play or rest.
- External control and the threat of sanctions are not the only means
by which to get employees to work toward organizational goals.
- Individuals will strive to achieve goals to which they are committed.
Commitment to objectives depends on the rewards associated with them. And
the most important rewards are those that provide self-satisfaction and recognition
as well as personal improvement. The ability to use one's imagination, ingenuity,
and creativity in the solution of organizational as well as task problems is
a somewhat common human trait. And, most importantly, this human capability
is underutilized in most work settings.
So the newly appointed supervisor view of human nature will critically impact
his or her interaction with the workforce. Treating employees in line with theory
X thinking creates the climate in which they will exercise remarkable ingenuity
in circumventing and defeating external controls they resent. This will drain
energy from performance goals and objectives. In line with theory Y thinking,
the employees learn to exercise self-direction and choose to become responsible
for the organizational expectations and achievement of its goals. So in this
respect, the supervisor's role becomes that of a mentor, coach, and facilitator
who works toward supporting the employee in their goal attainment journey and
serves as the enabler of their success.