MindSet

Carl and Deb Potter have a good article here in Mountain States Construction. It addresses a key to what is needed for true safety on construction Projects. Safe work won’t happen just because of new Federal regulations. Safe work won’t happen just because the boss demands it. Safe work won’t happen just because we give trinkets for good behavior. Safe work requires that the people whom it affects the most – the individual workers – understand it, believe it, and practice it.

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Compromise

Some things require compromise. Give and take. Pick your battles. You probably know all the sayings.
Some things require no compromise. Not giving in. Not backing down.
You have to choose. What’s critical? What’s important?

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4 Minutes, 20% Personal Projects, and Gen Y

4 Minutes Early

Previously I wrote about the Project leader who was cracking down on workers who were leaving work 4 minutes early. He felt they were stealing time. They were being unproductive. They we cheating. It’s easy to say that the four minutes weren’t really important. It easy to say he was right.

These workers, older and younger, seemed to be disconnected from the work. They were obviously anxious to leave.

The leader thought that by leaving early, they were demonstrating a carelessness for the “workday”. His second point comes from a different but similar view. This second idea is that “office workers” should not be so hasty to beat the traffic of the “field workers”. This is another idea of respect – not so much for the workday but for the craft worker. They work everyday in the cold and heat and dust and mud. Many of the office workers have had most of the day in the air conditioning or central heat working at a desk with a computer. Perhaps one is more important than the other?

20% Personal Projects

3M, Google and some other companies offer workers the opportunity to spend as much as 20% of their time on a personal Project that is not directly related to their primary work. That can seem outrageous and just another sign of those wacky dotcom people. But, Google actually reports that it has some tangible benefits. How does that compare with the idea of 4 minutes early?

Certainly it seems to many to take a different leadership mindset to even consider such a radical-sounding idea – allowing workers to spend “paid time” on any Project of their own choosing. Especially for someone who’s worried about the 4-minutes-early-rule. To implement such a concept requires a different view of people. It requires a different view of time. It requires even a different view of work.

Google is not a “construction Project”. You might say that Google is doing “really really creative work “and construction is not. Construction work is plagued by problems that have been struggles for many many years – injuries, lack of productivity, doing things the way we’ve always done them, and slow advances for new ideas. These are the very reasons that it would make sense for construction’s workers (office and field alike) to spend time doing creative things and working on side Projects to help solve the industry’s problems.

Then, There’s Gen Y

Penelope Trunk is CEO of Brazen Careerist, a career management tool for next-generation professionals. She writes and talks and thinks about how the next generation of workers views the idea of work. What do they expect in a job? Do they expect a job? How do they deal with bosses and coworkers? She says that the way they work and think about working is not the traditional way. They even think of learning in a different way – different from the old ways. Penelope also says that productivity (as seen traditionally) is not for these new workers. Not that they can’t or won’t be productive, but saying “be here at your desk from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday” does not in itself generate productivity. That idea may be more about control than about production.

So What?

Work and workers are changing. There are still those who worry about the 4-minutes-early rule. Still those who want to leave 4 minutes early. There are companies that are deliberately allowing what seems like a 20% gain in free time. And the newest generation of young adults that sees things in a new way. It’s a gradual but also a fast transition. We are moving away from “benefits” of controlling workers and work toward the workers having more control over their work. Moving toward the 20% option having more value than controlling the 4 minutes. Projects can benefit from accepting these new ways.


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Operation Stand Down for Homeless Veterans

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans is holding their annual event called Stand Down around the country. Their site explains Stand Down this way:

The original Stand Down for homeless veterans was modeled after the Stand Down concept used during the Vietnam War to provide a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations. At secure base camp areas, troops were able to take care of personal hygiene, get clean uniforms, enjoy warm meals, receive medical and dental care, mail and receive letters,  and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment. Stand Down afforded battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being. That is the purpose of the Stand Down for homeless veterans…

Some cities have already held their event. Others are still scheduled this month and next. This may be an opportunity for some of us to give back. Check out the schedule here.

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4 Minutes Early

They were all 4 minutes early. Some might have been even earlier. Not early for an appointment. Not early for a meeting. Not early getting to work. Four minutes early – leaving from work.

But, he was watching. For some reason he had decided that too many were leaving too early. He kept it up for days. The watching. The warnings and the threats. Some had valid reasons for being early. Some got caught doing something they had been doing for awhile. Some were cheating the Project and the Company.

Others now decided that they wouldn’t give a single second more than they had to.

Was the watching worth it? Did it solve something or create something worse? Was he teaching the managers and supervisors to watch their people? Was he teaching people to be loyal workers? What was the cost of the early leavers? What was the cost of the method to try to resolve it?

So, which is worse, the crime or the solution?

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Conflict is Good. Conflict is Bad.

People don’t always agree. When they obviously don’t, we often call it “conflict”. For some people, conflict is always considered “bad”. Somehow, their expectation is that we should never have conflict. Project work is obviously not immune to this kind of disagreement. Some of this conflict or disagreement is beneficial to the Project. Some of it is not.

The Boss Who Can’t be Questioned

You might believe that the days of the powerful boss who is never questioned are long gone. Or that she is just a person whose principles are outdated. The days of command-and-control may seem to be gone, but they aren’t. There are still plenty of folks who are in charge, who know they are in charge, and who believe that being in charge means that they are not to be questioned. This kind of supervisor doesn’t worry too much about conflict. If you disagree, you won’t work with that person for very long. They will try to end the “conflict” by removing the disagreeable person. For them, disagreement (conflict) with them is bad – they view it as undermining their authority. Nothing on the Project changes if they don’t agree with it.

The Project Worker Who Can’t Disagree

Then, there’s the worker who can’t or won’t disagree. They don’t like conflict, and, to them, even disagreement feels like conflict. These folks would almost let something go completely wrong before they would dare disagree with the leader or the group. They view conflict as bad even when they might have a better idea for helping the Project.

The Situation that Invites Disagreement

Project world people will disagree. They will disagree because of personal belief. They will disagree because of experience. They will even fight for a better way. For better results. When two people on the same Project disagree about an idea, it’s conflict. Conflict in this sense can be good. A new idea may be implemented. The plan may be scrapped and you have to start fresh. At a minimum, even when the original plan stays in place, it’s strengthened by the challenge.

Conflict is Good. Conflict is Bad.

Conflict seems like a strong word. It sounds like fighting. It sounds like there’s trouble. But, there may be conflict with co-workers, conflict with suppliers, conflict with managers and leaders, and even conflict with the Customer. Conflict can be bad for your Project when it’s based on a petty issue. Or when it’s about the boss being the boss. But, some conflict is healthy for a Project. Some conflict is good. Conflict that leads to implementing new ideas is good. Conflict that leads to healthy debate is good. Conflict that stands up for beliefs can be good. Fight against bad conflict. Fight for good conflict. You’ll have a better Project.

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Will Low-Bid Contracting Ever Die?

Ted Garrison writes an interesting discussion of the construction low bid process here at the Southeast Construction site. The industry’s thinking about this process seems to be changing more publicly. The changes have taken a long time, however.

As it became the norm, the “bidder” mentality may have produced a breed of construction contractors who thought that their only role was to serve the Owner’s wishes of cheap price. Cheap price is what many Project Owners, especially Owners who are also Public Agencies, still want. They believe it is best. Although giving the Customer what they ask for has some merit in a marketing sense, marketing should also serve Customers by advising them of better solutions to their problem.

In the current construction economy where many companies are struggling for survival, survival is leading some who had “sworn off” low-bid, multi-bidder projects to venture back into that arena. But they do it because they believe that maybe it’s a way to survive until things turn around. If you’ve been in that game, you know what it’s like. As the joke often goes, when 15 companies submit low bids for a project, the winner is the one who makes the biggest error. Or, it’s the one who bid below cost on purpose for some reason such as keeping people busy and hoping to get enough change orders to improve their financial position.

There’s still a contradiction in some companies who claim not to compete in the low-bid world. They still use low-bid selection with their vendors and subcontractors. They work hard to get work from customers through a more reasonable process such as negotiation or “best-value” competition. Then, when they win the work, they go out to buy materials and to hire subcontractors based on lowest price bids for the work. Maybe this can be explained in a material purchase (buying lumber, for example) but when the work involves a subcontractor who includes labor, materials, construction equipment, and some design, it’s almost “do as I say not as I do”.

Take a look at what Ted has to say.

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Birthing a Calf is No Big Deal

A few years ago I was driving a winding back road in middle Tennessee. This was an area with mixtures of single houses, plant nurseries, and farms. As I passed a field I noticed a cow on the ground near the road. She was about half-way to delivering her calf. No one was around. No other cows. No people. So, I stopped at the next house to let them know.

The lady of the place came to the door, and I told her what I’d seen. She looked in that direction and said “Well, that’s good”. I told her I thought she would want to know. She asked, “Did she look like she was havin’ trouble?”. She didn’t seem to be. “Thanks for stopping” she said as she went back inside. I thought she would be excited and want to go and check or would call someone else who would go and make sure things were going well. She was very nonchalant about it. To her, it was no big deal. It was an everyday event on that farm.

I believe that the lady of the farm cared about the cow and calf. I believe she wanted both of them to be safe and healthy. But, for her, this was something that must have happened hundreds of times in farm life. She had experienced this before. She apparently believed that things would likely work out fine this time.

Sometimes “things happen” on Projects. Some people immediately respond intensely and want to go into ACTION to do something. That’s how I expected the farm lady to react. Others don’t respond excitedly. They may ask a question. They may make a suggestion or comment. But, for them, it’s nothing to cause them to take immediate action.

What makes the difference?

  1. To me, the calving was unique. To the farm family, it was an “everyday” event. After years of experience on a variety of Projects, you encounter situations that have happened before. They may have caused a reaction in the early days of your career, but, now, they are more common.
  2. The cow did not seem to be having trouble. Experience teaches you that there’s usually no need to “help” with something that’s working.
  3. Apparently, she had other more pressing things to do. More pressing than checking on another cow having another calf. When something that isn’t unique happens on your Project, it doesn’t have to distract you from more important things that need to be done.

To me, the birth of the calf was a unique and exciting thing to witness. I guess that birthing a calf is really no big deal – after you’ve experienced it many times.

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Time for Thinking

No Time for Thinking

Sometimes there is just no time for thinking at work. Other than thinking “what do I have to do next?”. You may come across an issue that needs to be changed or a problem that needs to be solved. But, it’s time for a meeting or someone walks in with a question or that email you need arrives. No time to think now.

Some things don’t require any dedicated thinking. Experience kicks in and the thinking is almost automatic. Or it is automatic – it’s a reaction rather than a study. But there are issues that need dedicated thinking time. Something that we seldom commit to doing.

Make a Thinking Commitment

I find that the only way I’ll spend time thinking about something that needs some dedicated amount of time is to make a commitment with myself. To reinforce this need, I have to plan the time to do it. Maybe that’s while driving or riding home from work. Maybe it’s after dinner and after the kids are asleep. You may also need to set a reminder in whatever system you use and trust that keeps track of your appointments.

Of course the key is not just to plan to think but to actually follow through on your commitment with yourself to dedicate some focus time.

What to DO in Thinking Time

  1. Choose a location that’s suitable. Quiet is often better, but I admit that some people need some noise in the background. If you know yourself at all, you’ll already have an idea of what a suitable location looks and sounds and feels like to you.
  2. Have something to capture your results. We all know of those ideas we had or those mental notes we made that just left us when we were distracted. You need a way to write or type or record the thoughts that you produce once you get settled in your location.
  3. Use what works to get the ideas flowing. As I said before, some of us need a quiet place with no distractions. Some need to actually talk it out to themselves (or maybe with someone to serve as a sounding board). Some need to walk around or even run or bike. Some need to write on a white board. Whatever YOU know that works for you, do it.

Thinking isn’t always easy. But, if you’ll make the time, set the stage and record your thoughts for later, you’ll go a long way toward answering the questions that can’t be answered during the busyness of the work day.

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Can Safety Improvement Methods Work in Other Areas?

Much of construction Project focus is on safety. It’s an important focus. It’s about protecting workers and keeping them injury-free. Life – even work life – should always be foremost in our thinking – ahead of profit and schedule and everything else.

Construction once had a reputation for being lackluster about safety. Even as safety improves, many still say that “injuries are inevitable”. But, that’s now been shown to be false. Injuries are not inevitable. Through government enforcement, Owner insistence, and contractor initiative, positive safety measurement has grown from having a low number of deaths to having no first aid cases and no near misses. It’s become about worker health not worker lack of injury. It happened through focus and effort and genuine caring about the workers – through an attitude that “injuries are NOT inevitable”.

Instead of post-accident root cause analysis, safety management has become about analysis of the work task before starting work. It’s about prevention and worker involvement. If something does happen, it results in a top to bottom investigation and real attempt at lessons learned.

Productivity and schedule have long been key parts of large construction Projects. How can these elements of a Project improve on the scale that safety has improved? What if schedules went from “we’ll never meet that schedule” to “we can meet any schedule”?What if planning went from a dreaded chore to collaborative fun? What if productivity hardly needed measuring since “we always improve productivity”?

These sound like dreams.

So did “zero accidents” several years back.

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