I wish I had a magic formula or system for developing foremen, but there is no magic bullet. However, as a company we have trained thousands of foremen in basic supervisory skills and have helped numerous companies develop their organizations. Hopefully, the following insights will prove helpful in developing your field leadership.
Employee development should start by betting on and investing in your foremen. Every organization has people problems, and this issue is not going to go away. Trying to develop a solid field force can be an overwhelming proposition. By developing and maintaining stronger field supervision, you are concentrating your effort where you will have the greatest impact and get the most bang for your buck.
I have never been a fan of babysitting foremen with a construction manager or maintenance manager who rides around and checks to make sure your field employees are doing their job. This extra layer of management can be extremely expensive and prevents your organization from having better field people. For example, a general field supervisor with a truck and other payroll expenses is going to cost you a minimum of $50,000 a year. If you have five crews, this cost would be $10,000 per crew when spread out over the five foremen. If the average supervisor works 2,000 hours a year (40 hours a week times 50 weeks), the cost of such babysitting is $5 an hour. Why not develop better foremen, pay them better and stop babysitting people who cannot do the job? Not only is such babysitting expensive, it also inhibits the development of field leadership as people are not thinking and making their own decisions. Such babysitting actually enables poor foreman performance and keeps people from developing into better supervisors.
Building a better field organization and particularly field supervisors starts with two basic ingredients. First, you must have the right people with adequate potential. Second, you must train and communicate with those people so they feel they are part of the company and are team players.
Finding the right candidates will require some honest evaluation on your part. Start by looking within yourself and your company. Do you believe there are career opportunities within your company and that good people will work for you? I had a contractor interested in our PROSULT™ networking groups, and he mistakenly just saw me as a numbers guy. I write a lot of columns about numbers because success and reality start with numbers, but I spend most of my time helping with marketing and general business development.
I focus on the numbers for several reasons. I find many companies are not financially successful, and this directly impacts their entire organization. If you as owner are not making enough money, it can be tough to pay what you need to pay to find good people. Too many people use the half-a-brain theory. They hire a guy who is not what they want but can afford. This person has half a brain, and they figure they will put this person with someone else with half a brain, and thus get a whole brain. The problem is that the two empty halves tend to merge, and the end result is a brainless crew.
If you are going to promote from within, you must hire people with the potential to develop into foremen. If most of the people you hire have a poor driving record and can’t drive a company vehicle, how will they ever be able to become a supervisor? Take a sheet of paper. Evaluate every person on the list to see who has the potential to be a foreman. If most don’t have such potential, how can you successfully promote from within?
Now let’s talk about training and communication. Many companies try to undertake an extensive foreman training program that requires a lot of time and effort. Such an enormous task tends to kill the effort.
The goal of training should be to improve internal communication and to change the foreman’s perception of his or her job and make the person feel part of the company. What you actually teach is not nearly as important as the fact that you have some type of program. So, rather than try and develop this comprehensive course, here are some simple things you can do to help your field supervisors feel part of the company:
• Paperwork: Foremen are not good at paperwork, but what do we do to help them? Most companies do very little to help foremen do a better job in this area. Have a general meeting about paperwork and review the forms. Then, set times for your office person to go over paperwork issues one on one or in smaller groups. This not only trains the foreman, but it also develops a relationship between the office person and foreman.
• Job procedures: Critical job times are the beginning and end of a job. At least start with some standard procedures in this area. Also, review how you want employees to handle complaints - what they can take care of, who they should call, etc. Foremen also need to be aware of the scope of work issues and when change orders are needed, and how the company’s change order system works.
• Safety: Safety training is a must. Your insurance company, association or even OSHA can require information. Don’t forget to include driving and seat belt requirements.
• Customer presentation: Have a customer speak about what it is like to work with your company and what they are looking for in a contractor. This need not be elaborate. The customer can share his or her expectations and possibly some horror stories they have encountered.
• Estimate a job: Take a job or several smaller jobs and have the foremen put the numbers together for a potential estimate. When working on problems, put foremen in teams of two or three, but make sure they are not with their buddies. Problem solving is always easier to do in groups. Don’t embarrass people and have fun with the process. This can be a great way to review the analytical skills of your foremen.
• Communication skills: You can take a shot at training in the areas of communication, problem solving and human behavior skills. These issues can be difficult to teach. Communication is an internal habit that has been developed with personality, lifestyle, family and many other issues and won’t quickly change. This is also an area that can be difficult to teach without the help of a professional.
In summary, foreman development requires several things. First, you must have people who have the potential to be foremen. Second, you must communicate with these key people so that they feel connected and part of the company.