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Articles written by guest contributors

Monroe Porter
Monroe Porter
Dealing with 4 o’clock payday guys (gals too)
By Monroe Porter

There is an old joke about plumbers that goes like this: All you need to know to be a plumber is that hot water is on the left, cold water is on the right, sewage flows downhill, don’t bite your fingernails, the boss is a jerk, payday is Friday at 4 o’clock and beer Friday is at 4:15. Managing blue collar workers has been and always will be a challenge.

There are lots of great, conservative working class folks who manage their life and money well. However, there are also a lot of working class folks who have a lot of drama, frequently are short of money and life-plan poorly. Payday equals beer and cigarettes more commonly than payday means a 401k contribution. Many grew up in households where living from paycheck to paycheck was the norm. Or as Jeff Foxworthy says, “You might be a redneck if you think the stock market has a fence around it.”

Contractors often take these short-term thinking craftspeople who rarely plan their lives, and then ask them to organize and plan jobs. Then the contractors become upset when field foremen and lead people do not do a good job. Lack of planning and organization are the number 1 factor that impacts productivity and job success. Yet we tend to promote people who are not good with these skills. So what can you do to change this?

First, understand that it is all about perception and habit. In order for foremen to be better planners, we have to help them understand that the habits and skills they used as craftspeople are not necessarily the same habits and skills they need to succeed at being a better supervisor. You can yell at them and complain but that rarely works. It takes training, discipline and a change in their self-perception.

Start with training
Most contractors fail to understand the real value of training. They tend to see training as a 1-day event where we teach someone a skill and then the training is over. You learned it now, we can quit. It doesn’t work that way. The real value in training foremen is to change their perception of what a foreman’s job is, and what it takes to succeed. Having personally trained over 10,000 foremen, I cannot even begin to estimate how many 100s of times a foreman has told me that the class changed his perception of his job.

Appeal to their pride
Most foremen were good craftsmen. They took pride in what they built and experienced gratification in the process. They knew if they built something square, made neat clean cuts, left a good looking finished product, had few callbacks, etc., that they were doing a good job. Clearly identify the skills they need to work on as foremen and help them develop that same sense of pride in accomplishing these skills.

What skills to focus on
The most important skills that impact jobsite results are planning and organization related. Yes, good foremen also need to be good communicators, but retraining this skill is much harder to accomplish.

Communication is an unconscious act. We don’t think about how we talk and listen; we just do it based on habit and personality. Retraining unconscious skills is not easy and takes time.

However, with planning, it is less of a matter of retraining that it is a matter of developing a new habit or skill. It is much easier to develop a new habit than to try to break an old one. Focus on basic planning habits that impact jobs such as:

  • Job start up at the beginning of each job
  • Daily production goals
  • Ordering material
  • Making sure the next work area is ready for you
  • Job close out

Work on one of these at a time. Clearly define these skills as what a prideful foreman should focus on. Create a discipline that forces the behavior change. Without a discipline you will fail as people’s motivation to learn a new habit fades before the new habit actually develops.

Emphasize the behavior and discipline over and over. If your dog can be taught to sit or fetch a bone, you can change foremen’s behavior. The procedure is fairly similar. You repeat the behavior over and over until a new habit is formed. We do this with our dog, but with foremen we just explain it intellectually and think they will do it right because they know what is expected.

Planning skills don’t come easy
Remember, just as good craftsmen are disciplined hands-on workers, good foremen should be disciplined planners. For many craftspeople working with their hands comes naturally. Planning, however, does not come naturally for most foremen.

For example, suppose you have a problem with foremen ordering material in a timely manner. Start a procedure where the foreman is to walk the job immediately following lunch each day and determine the next day’s material needs. Call foremen after lunch each day and ask for the material list. Project managers’ emphasize this every day over and over. In a month or 2, you have a new habit created. Repeat the process working on one skill at time.

This same list of planning skills and procedures should be part of the orientation with a new foreman. And, the foreman’s proficiency in each area should be central to their performance review. They must be held accountable and coached in each skill until they become habits.

How to train
When doing the training yourself, try to spread the training out over a period of time. My suggestion is to train 1 hour a week for 6 weeks. Focus on 1 skill a week. If need be, have the foremen come in an hour early or stay an hour later. This allows you to train with the least impact on production. By spreading the training out, you are gradually changing your company culture and keeping the foreman’s perception of their duties alive longer.

If you hire someone like me, go with half day sessions. Now, the cost for a half day will be the same as a full day and most folks want the most bang for their buck – but honestly the half day works better. Foremen are not used to sitting in class all day.

In closing, you can’t change “field mentality quickly” but by working on planning and organizational training, you can have an immediate impact.

Monroe Porter is president of PROOF Management Consultants, a company specializing in seminars, and business consulting for contractors. He is also founder of PROSULT™ Networking Groups developed to help noncompeting contractors. Call (804) 267-1688, email Monroe@Proofman.com or visit Proofman.com.