Spin Screed

Articles written by guest contributors

Monroe Porter
Monroe Porter
Mistakes a foreman makes
By Monroe Porter

Managing people has always been and will always be a challenge. The good news is that contracting cannot be outsourced to China, so there will always be a market for contracting services. The bad news is that fewer and fewer Americans see the trades as a career opportunity. Such shortages have placed more and more challenges on front line supervisors and foremen. This article is designed to identify some of the more common mistakes foremen make.

Don’t assume workers think like you
Common sense is not always so common. Everybody is different and communicates differently. Learn to adapt to individuals and understand how they communicate, what they are good at, not so good at, and what they are willing to learn. This is key to being a good manager. Culture and learning differences can heavily impact people’s learning and communication styles. In many ethnic cultures, asking a question can be seen as a sign of ignorance or disrespect. Make sure your expectations are clearly understood and communicated back to you.

Gifted craftsmen can quickly become frustrated by others’ inability to see the obvious. For the gifted, technical things may have come too easily for them. The same thing applies to craftsmen. Just because you are a great craftsman, doesn’t mean you will be a great supervisor. My dad was one of the most gifted tradespeople I have ever known. I am not a gifted tradesperson. My Dad would do and see things that I just couldn’t grasp as easily. Such graphic and mechanical thinking was just not my gift. Once I got it, I had it. But he had a hard time understanding why I didn’t see what he saw.

Don’t “should on” people
No matter how hard you try, correcting a field employee’s performance after a job can be taken as criticism, not coaching. People don’t like to be “should on.” “You should have done this.” Or, “You should have done that.” No matter how hard you try, some employees are going to react negatively.

The best way to train people is pre-job. Ask people how they would do the job. Pre-job training is a phenomenal training tool. Where would they start? How much will they get done each day? What type of obstacles do they see? You can gently correct and coach their answers. “Well, what about this?” Or, “Have you considered this?” Collaborate and agree on reasonable goals and then hold them accountable to meet the goal.

Your job is to make stars, not be a star
Many great athletes don’t make great coaches. As a supervisor, you must make the transition from doing great work yourself to the satisfaction of seeing your people do great work. Your ego has to shift. It’s not about you; it’s about them. This can be tough because it is easier to say the heck with it and do it yourself. But there is only one of you. All you can give equals 100%. Your 100% and someone else’s 80% still produces more.

Failure to set daily work plans
A few years ago, a study was made on site with construction workers. When asked how much an individual should get done each day, the reply was merely as much as I can. Those who think they’re doing as much as they can often find they can do more if you set daily production goals. Most people strive to meet a reasonable goal. If you and I were going to have a race, the first thing you would want to know is how far.

More importantly, setting daily work plans allows you to see what obstacles might be in your way so you can avoid those obstacles. The value of planning is in the process, not the actual answer. Think of planning as a visualization of your goals. If you were going to drive from Philadelphia to Boston, not hitting New York at rush hour would be a key component of your plan. Construction is no different.

Planning does not come easy to some blue collar folks. Living from paycheck to paycheck, lack of education and a 4 o’clock payday attitude can be hard to overcome. Your role is to develop a planning mentality. If they can teach Shamu the whale at SeaWorld to ring a bell for a fish, you can teach your people how to plan. It merely takes a repetitive process.

Delegation is not abandonment
You cannot merely walk away and expect people to perform flawlessly. First, you must ensure they know what is expected and how to do it. Delegation progresses as the employee’s knowledge and experience grows. People want to see the boss and know that he or she cares about their performance. Employees are a little like children; they need to see you and know you care about what they do. Don’t smother them, but don’t abandon them either. Child abandonment will ultimately leave you with a damaged child. Employee abandonment eventually leaves you with a damaged employee.

Managing people is never easy. Hopefully, these tips can prove helpful.


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.