Managing people has always been and will remain 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 and Canadians see the trades as a career opportunity. Such shortages have placed more challenges on front-line supervisors and foreman. This article is designed to identify some of the more common mistakes foreman make. 

You’re not Managing Yourself

Common sense isn’t always so common. Everybody communicates differently. Learn to adapt to individuals and understand how they communicate, what they’re good at and not good at. The willingness to learn 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 the inability of others to see the obvious. For the gifted, technical things may have come too easy for them. The same thing applies to craftsmen. Just because you’re a great craftsman doesn’t mean you’ll be a great supervisor. My father was one of the most gifted tradespeople I’ve ever known. I am not. He would do and see things I just couldn’t grasp as easily. Such graphic and mechanical thinking just wasn’t my gift. Once I got it, I had it, but he had a hard time understanding why I didn’t see what he saw from the start.   

Don’t “Should On” People

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

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

Make Stars, Don’t Become One

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 because it’s not about you, it’s about them. This can be tough because it’s easier to say, “The heck with it, I’m just going to do it myself.” There’s only one of you. No matter how hard you try there’s never going to be more than one of you. All you can give is 100 percent. Your 100 percent and someone else’s 80 percent still produces more.

Failure to Plan

A few years ago, an on-site study of construction workers asked how much an individual should get done each day. The reply was merely “As much as I can.” Setting daily production goals will increase production. If you and I were going to race, the first thing you’d want to know is how far. Most people strive to meet a reasonable goal. More importantly, working to set daily plans allows you to see what obstacles might be in your way and gives you time to avoid them.

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 doesn’t come easy to some blue collar folks. Living from paycheck to paycheck, lack of education and a ‘four-o’clock and payday’ attitude can be hard to overcome. Your role as supervisor is to be able to build a planning mentality. If the trainers at SeaWorld can teach Shamu to ring a bell for a fish, you can teach supervisors how to plan. It merely takes a repetitive process.

Delegation is not Abandonment

You can’t merely walk away and expect people to perform flawlessly. First, you must ensure that they know what’s expected and how to do it. Delegation progresses as the employees’ knowledge and experience grows. People want to see the boss and know what he or she cares about regarding their performance.

Employees are a little like children, they need to see you and know you care about what they do. Such a process need not be overwhelming but 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.