Often I’ve heard managers say “He is useless” or “you can’t rely on her”. My question is: have you actually told them they are useless and asked them to improve? If they are actually useless why are they still working for you?
When I’ve had cause to complain about a quality or safety problem I’ve sometimes been told; “you know, it’s so difficult to get good people these days”. Yes I know it’s sometimes difficult to find good people. All the more reason to train your crew, improve construction communication and ensure they deliver the project requirements as you expect of them.
Is your contractor reliable?
A contractor’s reputation can be negatively impacted by the attitude of employees, behavioral problems and employees’ poor safety or quality performance. I’ve had members of the public phone me complaining about a truck with the company logo on it, being driven inconsiderately or dangerously.
I’m sure most of us, on occasion, had to mollify a client who was upset when one of our employees was rude to them. On occasion, working in remote areas, I’ve had clients complain because our employees were causing havoc in the local village. Recently in my city, a contractor received negative publicity because their workers left their food wrappers, cans, and bottles littered on the sidewalks and in the adjacent nature reserve.
The contractor is even in court facing charges of environmental degradation because of damage to their employees and subcontractors caused in the nature reserve. This scenario leaves us to wonder, in the course of the project did the contractor’s management ever speak to their employees about littering, or take action to stop it?
Why communication is important in construction?
Many of the problems on construction projects are due to poor construction communication and crews not knowing what’s expected of them. Managers often don’t communicate the project rules, behavior expectations, quality standards, and safety requirements. Then when someone doesn’t perform they blame the transgressor for the mistake, even though they weren’t told differently.
Construction is a unique industry because many workers are transient – they aren’t full-time with one employer. Some are unskilled laborers, new to the construction industry going from one work opportunity to another – one day working on a farm, the next at a construction site and then moving elsewhere.
Projects are of relatively short duration so crews move from one project to another. Each project has its own unique rules, requirements and safety hazards. Employees work for different managers who often demand different standards and enforce discipline in different manners.
How to improve construction communication?
So what should we do to improve on-site construction communication and employee performance?
1. Project inductions
Many projects don’t have employee inductions. This means workers, both the contractors’ and subcontractors’ employees, start working on the project without fully understanding the project rules and safety hazards. Unfortunately, proper inductions are few and far between. Inductions are delegated to the safety officer who typically focuses on general safety hazards and seldom focuses on project-specific hazards, let alone discussing the rules on the project and what’s expected from the laborers.
Many companies don’t even have a company induction. Employment contracts are usually fairly limited and the conditions aren’t adequately explained to new recruits, nor are the consequences of breaches to the rules fully illuminated.
Inductions are an opportunity to welcome newcomers to the project and give them a basic overview of what the company is doing and how they’ll fit in. Project inductions should include the following:
- A welcoming statement
- An overview of the project (and the company if there are new employees)
- The project rules – including work hours
- Behavioral expectations
- Safety requirements and project-specific safety hazards – including accident reporting procedures
- Quality standards
- The procedures for reporting problems
If every worker on the project has attended an induction that covers all of the above, there shouldn’t be an excuse for non-compliance.
2. Set the example
Regrettably, some managers expect their team to follow the rules, then ignore the rules themselves. I’m often surprised at how observant most employees are and many times an excuse for inappropriate behavior, a safety slip-up or poor time-keeping is that their manager did the same thing.
Managers need to abide by the rules they expect their team to follow.
3. Set the standards from the start and enforce them
It’s useless to have rules and standards and not enforce them. It’s very difficult to enforce standards midway through the project once they’ve been ignored from the start. Managers shouldn’t walk by an unsafe practice or poor quality work. Doing this implies that the work is acceptable.
Don’t let some laborers get away with shoddy work or breaking the rules and then try and enforce standards with others. Employees often look at what their fellow workers are doing and follow their example. Managers, on the other hand, may apply standards and discipline in a haphazard or inconsistent manner – sometimes favoring friends or long term employees, or deliberately avoiding conflict with fractious employees. Ensure there are checks in place to ensure managers don’t participate in favoritism.
4. Continuously communicate with employees
Some managers are quick to bark out orders, while others assume employees know what they are supposed to do and have the knowledge to successfully complete the task. Talk to employees and make sure they understand what they are supposed to do, how they are going to execute the task and why they are doing it. Safety is often enforced as a series of rules, and breaking these rules results in punishment. If employees truly understood the serious consequences of unsafe practices they may more readily work safely.
5. Provide feedback
It’s pointless to complain when an employee does something wrong and not tell them what they did wrong and how they should improve. Sometimes employees are oblivious that their standard of work isn’t what is expected. Just telling them may result in a big improvement. Of course, positive feedback can be just as important as negative feedback.
6. Provide training and the correct equipment
Does the employee have the training and knowledge to carry out the tasks expected of them and to be able to execute them to the required standards? Do they have the required equipment to complete the task safely and productively? Simple on-the-job training can improve quality, safety, and productivity.
Generally, I’ve found most employees are willing to learn and to deliver work to the required standards and requirements. Putting in a little extra effort to correct poor behavior and work, and to explain the project requirements is more than compensated by fewer problems and mistakes later.
However, on occasion, there are some employees who aren’t willing or capable of delivering what is expected of them. If they aren’t prepared to change, then action must be taken to terminate their employment. Retaining workers with poor behavioral and work ethics sets a poor example that other employees will be tempted to follow.
Make sure your team understands what is expected from them and has the equipment and knowledge to deliver the project in accordance with the standards that the company and the client expectations.