Four Steps to Improving Communications

Timely, clear and accurate communication is essential for operational perfection and improvement in field communication

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Joe’s crew had all the formwork completed and was ready for the concrete trucks. The trucks were held up in traffic and would eventually be more than an hour late. No one called the crew foreman for almost 45 minutes.

Bobby’s crew had planned on planting trees and shrubs all day, along with installing the needed edging and mulch. It wasn’t until they arrived at the client’s site that their estimator called about needing to prepare an additional area, not connected to the current site. The estimator knew of the additional work the day before but had failed to let Bobby know.

Casey found himself arguing with five other foremen about the only skid loader on the site. Because no one had lined out the order of its use, six crews totaling 38 workers were prevented from working effectively and timely. The jobsite superintendent was at a client meeting, and the project manager was not on site that day.

Any of the above situations sound familiar? Change the names, perhaps the specialty of construction, and any of the three examples could be yours.

Every construction company relies on its crews to execute excellence. Construction leaders know the significance of timely, clear and accurate communication. Whether the communication is face-to-face, by phone, e-mail or text, every interaction is critical to the success of your projects.

Let’s take a look at a few specific “musts” that can take your crew communication to the next level of effectiveness.

1. Communication must be timely

Timely communication is everything to a crew. Whether providing an update to project needs BEFORE they leave the yard or letting the crew know that a supplier will be 90 minutes late delivering much needed materials, timely communication helps to maximize the crew’s time management.

Timely communication is improved when everyone is on the same “page.” The “page” components include:

  • What work is being done?
  • What is the start time?
  • What are the crew needs?
  • What material needs exist and from whom are we getting materials?
  • When are materials needed? 
  • And, what schedule has been created that specifically addresses order and action?

2. Communication must be accurate

Timely communication, if it’s not accurate, is worthless and wasteful for crews. Most construction leaders recognize that perfection is difficult to achieve; yet it is still a goal that we, as leaders, must strive for. Therefore, consider a few tips on refining your “line of sight.”

  • Verify information provided against information that was requested. Does it match or meet the request?
  • When receiving information from others simply restate or summarize the info received. Does it mirror what the “giver” of information provided? 
  • Record information received. Not only do you have a record of the information but you enhance your memory retention should you lose your notes. 
  • Finally, secure the needed information, data, specifications, customer needs, etc. at the beginning of every project, AND provide the same to your crew leaders!

3. Communication must be consistent

Nothing frustrates employees more than to have inconsistent information. Most workers can handle a change in work detail or order, but if the message received slides through “well maybe,” to “definitely,” to "well, hold on,” the confidence that workers have in the information will go south quickly.

Double-check information before passing it along. If information is being sent to multiple people take the extra time to ensure that every receiver of the information understands the one intended message. Don’t let the urgency of the moment dictate too quick of a response if you have doubts. It’s better to ask for another few minutes to confirm rather than communicate something that will change with more “intel.”

A quick recognition: Construction by its nature is a series of stop-go-slow down-stop-go, right? However, it is critical that as leaders who might direct information that we increase our accuracy, timeliness and consistency in any way we can.  Again, most workers don’t expect perfection but they need to be supported with as much consistency as possible.

 4. Communication must be easy to understand

Here is the “translation” element to better field communication. It requires that you know and understand your field workers. This includes their knowledge of the task at hand, the focus or goal for the day or week, and clearly the educational level that your field leaders and crew possess.

For example, if you are communicating to a recently hired field leader (superintendent, project manager, foreman, etc.) who is still learning your firm’s slang for process activity, you might need to use less of the slang — the verbal shortcuts — and spend a bit more time explaining your message or direction. Use language that is clear to your listeners.

Field communication certainly reflects every other change that construction has experienced over the years. At the heart of any method or tool you employ, however, lies first your commitment to provide, expect and sustain communication that is clear, timely, consistent, accurate and easily understood.  Keep these “communication musts” in mind as you strive for operational perfection and see the improvement your field communication will realize.