“The deepest craving of the human nature is the need to be appreciated.” William James
This question has been asked in many different words on construction sites, but at the end of the day it means, “How’d I do today, Boss?” If I can answer that question with truthful, unbiased information, I have connected this person with his daily performance evaluation. One of two things will usually happen: either earning bragging rights or assessing the damages and learning from mistakes. Either way, truthful, accurate results create a crystal clear vision and mission for tomorrow! Let the conversations begin!
This is where organizational learning happens intuitively. When frontline workers receive performance results daily and the results can be viewed by all the crews in the company, you can begin to imagine the conversations happening within the company. Not only some bragging, but also some suggestions on how to improve a method or task. We humans are built for connection. The ability to connect with each other has been accelerated with our smartphones and social media. If you want to accelerate the pace of learning in this area, add a fun incentive and watch what happens to the level of intelligence and respect in conversations.
What are the Right Metrics?
The right labor metrics are the ones that the user understands and relates with. The frontline workers in my company relate to terms like SF/MH (square feet per man-hour) and CY/MH (cubic yards per man-hour), or SFCA/MH (square feet of contact area/man-hour). These kinds of measurements may seem overwhelming to produce if you don’t currently use them — in fact, very few companies in the construction industry try to teach them to frontline workers.
If you are ready to check out at this point, stay with me! I’m not giving you theory, I’m giving results from experience that has worked in my company as well as for our clients. I am a concrete finisher and I understand how much coordination and effort is needed to hard-trowel a floor in the wide open on a hot sunny day with certain equipment. I know how many people and the level of experience that will be needed to accomplish 1500 SF/MH (total man-hours for finishing today divided by total square feet completed today) and that this does not include forming or pouring, only finishing, applying curing compound, sawing, and clean up. I’m also aware that this is a good day and that these days don’t happen every day. I’m going to be very tired at the end of the day but it will be worth sending a message like this to my peers and other crew members: “1500 SF/MH today plus some pictures of the most beautiful edges you’ve ever seen! Let's see you beat that!”
I also know before the day ever started by looking at the work if we could realistically accomplish this with the manpower and equipment we have. I also know in my heart if an estimator or project manager has given me a realistic budget. I say all this to give you a sense of the knowledge a frontline worker has with the right metrics. Most companies want to measure and teach dollars or man hours. It’s better than nothing, but most of the finishers I have ever been privileged to work with only truly understand the dollars that go in their own pockets. So here’s my question: I have 10 finishers that are looking for a job, 5 understand SF/MH metrics and 5 understand dollars. Which group would you want to hire from first?
Measuring the Right Metrics Leads to Performance Improvement
So let’s look at the company from 30,000 feet. If we all support and answer the frontline worker’s question, “How’d I do today, Boss?”, with the right metrics, the conversations will lead to improvement in performance and will raise the level of intelligence in communication between the frontline worker and his supervisor. The result will be foremen and superintendents spending more time setting up and presenting accurate, achievable daily plans and goals as opposed to standing over frontline workers driving production. Fear-based motivation just isn’t sustainable anymore.
The daily results over time can show whether the estimate that won the job was correct. This can be very intimidating for the estimator at first, but over time historical labor production numbers make an estimator feel more at ease when quoting jobs. If the estimator was uncomfortable estimating a certain item, he wouldn’t hesitate to ask for the opinion of the frontline worker. When the estimator is very comfortable with his labor estimates, imagine how accurate and effective sales/marketing can be after learning what type of work is most profitable? They’re then free to focus on resource leveling with those types of projects. The operations manager doesn’t need to exercise in as much hidden fear about his labor forecast, schedules, and promises to customers. I can assure you that he will also have more time to manage with less time spent on continuous daily hot button issues.
How about the effect on accounting and payroll if I answer the frontline worker’s question daily? All electronic time tickets by cost code along with quantities completed and approved on a daily basis can turn at 2½ day miserable payroll experience into a 30-minute process without mistakes. Sound crazy? This is 2016! I can go on and on talking about how answering this one question, “How’d I do today, Boss?,” affects HR, safety, quality, and more. But I think you can get a sense of how answering this one question affects every position in the company.
The Right Measurements Improve Morale and Culture
As owner of a construction company operating under this culture developed by answering and supporting this question, I can tell you it’s fun and energizing coming to work every day. When we’re all focused on supporting the frontline worker, the analytics of strategic planning, ROI, vision, mission, and values seem more connected to the whole company and what we’re offering our market. I have found that by focusing on useful, understandable information that can answer the question of “How’d I do today, Boss” the work day is ten times more fun! Not to mention lots of added profit as a by-product.
My goal is to encourage and create an urgency to produce the right metrics in your company if you don’t currently have them. The construction industry is in desperate need of attracting workers who feel they have opportunities for long-term, rewarding careers. Don’t stand by waiting on a better time to develop these metrics in your organization. Those who effectively answer this question of the frontline worker and develop the right labor production metrics will dramatically increase the progression toward lower operating costs, a more positive work culture, and greater profitability.
In this article we considered the importance of the right metrics and how we can help answer the deepest craving of our human nature. Although developing the right metrics may be the first place to begin, it will not guarantee success. The right metrics with the wrong motives will fail to create a fun and rewarding place to work. The missing ingredient is trust. I look forward to covering this topic with you in our next article.