Allan Block

Articles written by guest contributors

Monroe Porter
Monroe Porter
Foremen – to make stars or to be one
By Monroe Porter

What do Bart Star, Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky have in common? All were legendary players but failed as coaches. Being the best at what you do does not automatically make you a great coach or supervisor.

Vince Lombardi has been labeled as the best football coach ever, yet he never played professionally. Lombardi knew the game and was great at translating this knowledge to players and raising their level of performance. Sometimes the better we get at something, the harder it is to communicate and teach that talent to others.

Dad was a bad coach
To this day, my dad was the greatest carpenter and working foreman I have ever met, but he was an awful teacher. To be honest, at times we butted heads as I do not have his natural mechanical ability, and his impatience with me showed.

I did have the utmost respect for him. He was naturally gifted in his craft ability and planning, and he was one of the hardest working guys I ever knew. I am sure he would have been a talented engineer if he had the opportunity and did not have to quit school in the depression to support his family.

One of my fondest memories of working with him is when I used the Pythagorean Theorem (a2 + b2 = c2) to determine a measurement. He could use a framing square and do the same thing, but this mathematical approach seemed like magic.

His smile pridefully acknowledged that I knew something he didn’t. That smile is one of my fondest memories of him. Why am I telling you this? My dad was a star player but not a star coach. He could bring any job in on time through sheer determination and skill, but he was horrible at training others.

Most of his jobs had less than 5 people and he brought them in ahead of schedule with pure work ethic and planning. Through his intense effort he influenced those around him. Like many foremen, he was good at some things but not others.

How to become a good coach
Coaching can be defined as helping people learn and improve. Coaching people should follow a pattern.

  • Show the person what is expected.
  • Let them try it.
  • Offer feedback and if necessary, redirect.
  • Let them try it again.
  • Offer feedback and if necessary, redirect.

Repeat the process until the new skill is mastered. Without practice it is unreasonable to expect a person to do something right the first time. Vince Lombardi said, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Getting it right is hard work.

Great managers help turn an individual employee’s talents into productive workplace performance. Being a good manager is more like playing chess than checkers. With checkers each piece is the same and interchangeable. With chess, pieces have different attributes and abilities which greatly complicates strategies to move those pieces to win. Great managers understand the individual abilities of employees and strategize a coordinated effort to win.

Evaluating foreman potential
Not all foremen are created equally. Your organization’s foremen probably include an array of personality types and skill sets. Some see the foreman position as part of an important career path. Others were thrown into the position out of necessity.

Learn how to evaluate each and use them for their strengths. Here are just a few of the things you can use to rate people. Score each foreman on a scale of 1 to 10 to identify their strengths and their areas that need improvement.

  1. Craft and problem-solving ability
  2. Training and development of others
  3. Customer service
  4. Good communicator
  5. Planning and production goal setting
  6. Ability to meet budgets and schedules
  7. Safety compliant
  8. Communicates and polices company policy
  9. Willingness to learn new skills
  10. Paperwork abilities

Hiring foreman-quality people
How strong is your bench? Take a piece of paper and list all of your non-foreman employees. Now rate each on his/her ability to one day become a foreman. One contractor I worked with needed 3 more foremen. But after evaluating his workers, he only found 1 person he believed would be successful at it.

You may find it advantageous to spend the extra money to hire stronger entry level employees with more upside potential. The right people will learn quickly. The best companies grow their foremen internally. But to do that they need potential candidates. When doing job interviews, show entry level people a career path. Explain that it is possible for them to advance quickly depending on their abilities.

The number one skill in being a good foreman is being a good communicator. Communication tends to be a personality trait with learned social skills. If entry level employees are poor communicators, they will probably struggle as foremen.

Developing supervisors is not easy. Having a culture that promotes good supervision and employee development takes time and energy. My suggestion is to develop a learning culture and then monitor once a quarter. Such quarterly reviews are coaching, not a pay review. The purpose is to identify where you need to focus your efforts. Anything you measure, you get better at.


Monroe Porter and PROOF Management offer business consulting through industry networking groups and he can be reached at (804) 267-1688.