Business 101: Getting Your Foremen and Leaders on the Same Page

Bob just completed a leader's morning "huddle" before the rest of the crews got to work. He was sure that each of his foremen was clear as to the changes during the day due to a combination of equipment problems, customer needs and a few laborers missing work due to illness and vacations. However, within 30 minutes of concluding the meeting, Bob was receiving phone calls from his foremen, each asking Bob to repeat what he had said earlier.

This situation isn't foreign to most contractors. Just when you thought you were crystal clear, the very same people who just minutes before stated they understood their instructions are either calling to get another dose of the same message or, worse yet, perform the wrong efforts thinking they understood the initial instructions or directions.

Getting all of your leaders on the "same page" requires more than just talking. Let's take a few minutes and consider the specific efforts you can take to bring greater consistency and adherence to needed project requirements.

  1. Focused and attentive

This is so easy most of us simply don't do it! Before you communicate with the people who need your message, be sure to confirm that they are focused and attentive. Too many meetings involve people who are distracted, having small talk with the person standing or sitting next to them or working on something else. The increased use of Blackberrys and the like has become very common in many construction companies. While they are a great high-tech tool, they should not be allowed during a meeting, especially when critical information is being presented.

Getting your people's attention can be done simply by asking them to get focused, waiting for their eye contact, pausing occasionally after you speak to draw them back to you, and even stop your own speaking when an individual or two are obviously not paying attention. You are not rude by employing such simple tactics; in fact, the individuals to whom you are directing your focus and attention are projecting their own rudeness if they are not focused and attentive.

  1. Repeat for clarification

To ensure your people are with you mentally, don't be shy about asking them to repeat what they thought they just heard from you. Having them repeat back to you will provide you with proof of what they thought they heard compared with what you thought you just communicated. How might you specifically ask an individual to repeat back to you what you just shared? Try the following question:

"Jack, would you tell me what you thought you just heard me share?" or "Jack, just to be sure that I'm communicating clearly, would you repeat to me what you think you heard me say?"

No matter what approach you choose, do not be shy about asking your people to repeat what they believe to have heard from you. You may be completely surprised at how they understood your comments.

  1. Strength (clarity) through verification

If it works in global politics it can work for leaders in the construction industry. When you are talking with your staff, it is often a good idea to have them verify what you are saying. For example, you may have asked one of your workers to track the number of anchor bolts used during the previous day of work. Ask your worker to verify the number by sharing with you the exact amount they had counted.

Whenever you have requested a subordinate to measure, monitor, track, etc., it is good to have them verify the request verbally. While they may have done their figuring with pen and paper, still have them communicate their efforts. This often invites greater attention and strengthens their ability to be on the same page with you.

  1. Develop a 'Four Quarter Strategy'

Football coaches realize that each quarter of their game is critical. Strategy in the first quarter might be a bit different than the strategy in the fourth quarter. Such differences are often the result of situations. It is no different in construction.

Look at your eight- to 10-hour work day as made up of four quarters. Therefore, you have four quarters of 90 to 120 minutes each. Make it a new habit to touch base with those you most need to talk to at the beginning of each "new quarter." This gives you a chance to review what is recent history (the last 90 to 120 minutes) and what needs to be addressed over the near future (the next 90 to 120 minutes).

Now, lest you think I'm joking, consider how fast instructions can go bad. If you can catch your people earlier, rather than later, in making wrong decisions or taking the wrong actions, then you can raise your overall performance and productivity.

(For more on the "Four Quarter Strategy," see the Business 101 column in the August/September issue of Concrete Contractor or visit www.ForConstructionPros.com.)

  1. Document your daily, weekly, and/or monthly game plan

Such planning is often captured through a daily goals list or a more formal look-ahead schedule. No matter your method of choice — and you should use a schedule method — be sure to document your future tasks and projects and give a copy to each person reporting to you if necessary.

There is simply no excuse for not documenting our daily or weekly schedules. This effort can't even be argued in light of all the data available, and training workshops that can be taken that reinforce and teach proper scheduling. Such tools are the nonverbal communication tool that clarifies "what page you are on." Still better is to work with your people to develop such schedules. There are no magic pills to take when it comes to getting everyone on the same page. There is a great amount of time wasted and rework experienced in construction when much of it could have been eliminated had everyone involved been focused, attentive, and clear about the direction or information.

Don't let people get away with not taking notes or not giving you their undivided attention. Such behavior speaks of poor behavior and performance. Take charge of your communication and strengthen the effort to get everyone on the same page by being more active in your communication by using the five tips presented here.

For more information about getting people on the same page, contact Brad Humphrey by e-mailing him at brad@pinnacledg.com. Brad, a former construction company owner, is president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting and training organization specializing in the construction industry. Brad is a highly requested speaker at many construction conventions across North America.

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