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"Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest."
Note to the Young People's Society, Greenpoint Presbyterian Church, 1901
Mark Twain

Worker Climbing a Telephone Pole at Sunset

Throughout my career I have watched managers struggle with the simpleminded relationships that are depicted on organization charts and try to reconcile them with the complexities of individual strengths, human weaknesses, and the diversity of working relationships that people can develop. In a desire to keep a management concept consistent or a chart symmetrical, they push people into inappropriate positions and force incompatible people to work together. Yet, it's no big secret that it's much better to organize around effective people who like one another.

The greatest successes have been the result of supporting the right people, instead of following a corporate strategy or management theory. The past and future should be viewed as the result of people and their actions - not as the result of organizational theory or an abstraction called management.

Nonetheless a clear need exists in any company for organization and direction. Leaders, by definition, must be organized enough to say where they are going and whom they are going to rely on to take them there. An organization chart can help set company direction by clarifying vague relationships and by establishing levels of authority. To be organized, a company's people must know what the score is all the time, which means using a management information system that works at the corporate, group, and project levels. Besides project management, four kinds of administrative activities should be reflected in a construction company's organization.

Wage and salary policies, purchasing, recruiting, information management. These activities are ongoing and have predictable needs for staff. Developing new capabilities and creating new organization. The leadership of the company must be responsible for new directions.

Management Lessons

A crow was sitting on a tree, doing nothing all day. A small rabbit saw the crow, and asked him, "Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day long?" The crow answered: "Sure, why not." So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the crow, and rested. All of a sudden a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it. To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very high up.

A turkey was chatting with a bull. I would love to be able to get to the top of the tree, sighed the turkey, "but I haven't got the energy." "Well, why don't you nibble on some of my droppings?" replied the bull. "They're packed with nutrients." The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the top of the tree. Soon he was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot the turkey out of the tree...Bullshit might get you to the top, but it won't keep you there.

A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold, the bird froze and fell to the ground in a large field. While it was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on it. As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, it began to realize how warm it was. The dung was actually thawing him out! He lay there all warm and happy and soon began to sing for joy. A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate. Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung and promptly dug him out and ate him. Not everyone who drops shit on you is your enemy. Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your friend. And, When you're in deep shit, keep your mouth shut.

Direct promotion, developing new skills, hiring promising employees. Daily routine should be set aside to pursue opportunity when it emerges. These activities traditionally fall into the extracurricular activities of the key leaders, who must have some reserve for this effort.

Unhappy clients or employees, bad bids, or slipping schedules. When trouble strikes you should react immediately and with vigor. If a valued employee quits, find out why. Although you can rarely prevent it, you may find a legitimate problem with a solution that will prevent more losses.

Most companies and organization charts consider only the administration of routine activities and staff accordingly. Yet seizing opportunities, solving problems, and planning growth are far more important - and much more difficult - tasks. Leaders must reserve capacity for these extra responsibilities.

Most people equate the theory of organizational hierarchy with degree of importance and salary range. The lofty boxes on the organization chart aren't always of greater importance, nor should they necessarily represent more money. Sometimes outstanding performers don't make good managers. It's foolish for a company to kidnap technical or professional skills for a management assignment - especially foolish for a construction company, which is dependent on technical as well as managerial functions. If estimators and schedulers must move into administrative roles to be recognized and rewarded, the entire company will suffer from the loss of their applied skills. If technical people are given the authority, respect, and rewards they deserve, they will gladly allow others to provide management support.

People are a construction company's greatest asset; salaries are its greatest expense. Matching them proportionately is the greatest challenge and frustration managers face. There are so many complications-between personalities, emotions, economics, negotiations, and inflation.

We all value our own contributions more than anyone else does; thus we all feel underpaid. Evaluating people quantitatively is impossible. Personalities and production interfere, and the fact is some people are just plain worth more in their position than someone else. Different companies pay different salaries, and some will always pay more than you do.

It's not uncommon in the sporadic construction business to hire people for more than they are worth at critical moments in the company's development. Unfortunately it's only an upward spiral; the people making more than they should will never admit it, and the others see the higher salary as the fair standard. Some people who have just been paid a premium to join another company will leak their new salary to their old colleagues before they leave. Rumblings of discontent increase.

The first thing a manager must realize is that there are inequities within a company. The economy, company growth, major projects, mistakes in hiring, changes in the industry - all can destroy a methodical approach to compensation. Someone can join a company at a fair salary, do a good job, get promoted, and be compensated at a decent rate of increase. Then a big project comes along and the company must hire people quickly, probably at a premium. There is an explosive situation: the untested new-hire is working alongside a valued employee with seniority - and the recruit is paid more.

So, given the fact that inequities will exist, a wise manager will make sure there are mechanisms to adjust. Of course, you can't average some salaries up and some down - raises are the only real means available. But any company would go broke if it "standardized" everyone up each time a disparity emerged.

The solution is time - with time, individual inequities can be worked out by using promotions, bonuses, and routine salary reviews. Usually an annual review is frequent enough for meaningful evaluation, but your people should be confident that you will treat them well in the long run.

If you work hard you will achieve more, gain more responsibility, be paid more, earn more respect, and be happier. The people who get ahead are those who do more than what's necessary - and keep on doing it. Every great leader and doer I've known has been, above all, a relentless, tireless worker. There's no way to make it to the top of any company, or stay there, on 40 hours a week - especially in the construction business, where a smooth-running project depends on an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes planning and attention to detail.

But we all have families, houses, church activities, intellectual pursuits, hobbies, sports, and recreational interests, and these are the very important parts of a whole person. Extensive overtime dulls productivity and dampens enthusiasm. So where is the balance?

Routine tasks should be taken care of during the 40-hour week, and there's no point in increasing the volume of ordinary work. Energy is an investment. It should be used to produce the exceptional result, to work on a special project that will help the company or develop a new skill, or to meet an important deadline. Overtime should be goal-oriented time, dedicated to a specific improvement in quality or to innovation.

Companies will have people who like to work hard if they like the work. You can keep people enthusiastic by creating an atmosphere of and rewarding intellectual vigor, innovation, and quality work. There's a balance in workload too: Overstaffing means boredom for hard workers, understaffing mean frustration.

The most valuable advice a leader can give an employee is a good example. Taking the pay and prestige of leadership means you have to deliver more. Managers have to work harder to gear up, establish momentum, set examples, and train new people. Leaders have to set direction and persuade others to join their movement. Companies are always looking for people to groom for leadership positions. Extra effort should be invested in developing a career path, not in producing short-range income.

The company pays you to take a vacation every year and refresh yourself. You're cheating the company, and probably yourself, if you spend the time doing chores at home. Go - there is never a good time. And come back full of ideas and enthusiasm.


Construction Site Safety: A Guide for Managing Contractors Construction Site Safety: A Guide for Managing Contractors

Addresses the fundamental elements of a successful construction safety program. Explains the industry trends and best practices that enable job site managers or field engineers to understand the necessary steps to ensure that contractors follow safety guidelines.




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