Granting authority along with responsibility is strategically smart.
You rely on your foremen to keep crews in line, keep daily work on schedule and maintain tools and equipment. But how much power do you give them to make important decisions in the field? Giving them more authority to act autonomously, without sending decisions up the chain of command, could increase your productivity in these five ways.
- Improving safety. Because they have oversight of work crews and can spot unsafe behavior, foremen can have a huge impact on meeting the company’s safety goals.They know the safety program inside and out and have the information they need to immediately change unsafe working practices. Foremen should be responsible for confronting unsafe behavior immediately and, if it’s part of the company protocol to do so, discipline repeat offenders. Management training can help foremen understand what drives unsafe behaviors and better equip them to make decisions in the moment to keep workers safe.
- Reducing the punch list. By giving the foreman handling a project’s punch list the authority to immediately assign tasks that need rework in order to satisfy a client’s request for corrections, managers can speed or even eliminate their punch list review process and keep the project on schedule.
- Inspiring crews to be problem-solvers. Foremen set the tone for the entire crew. Empowering them to solve problems in the field encourages crews to do the same. At interior contractor HKS&S, each field crew is encouraged to use a Lean Stand-Up Board to illustrate weekly work plan maps and daily production goals. These boards are central to meetings with the general contractor, during which foremen and their crews are encouraged to lead or participate in discussions on project sequencing, milestones and safety. Installation crews follow the example set by their foremen and use the Lean Stand-Up Boards to add or build on ideas for project improvements, from decreasing waste to refining sequence planning.
- Boosting accountability. When foremen have limited authority, they have limited responsibility. Trusting these on-site managers with specific managerial tasks, such as setting productivity goals for crew members or leading schedule reviews with the management team, helps them grow into more accountable team leaders. Noted Tom Richert, principal at Lean Project Consulting, “More than empower foremen, which is important, they need to be given responsibility for understanding, planning, and coordinating their work. Some understand how to do this well; other need training and support. A good first step is to request foremen use the Last Planner System to plan and learn from their work. Even if other trades are not using the system, Last Planner gives them a framework for seeing the work and organizing it so crews have the opportunity to be more productive.”
- Retaining talent. Empowering employees is one surefire way to make them feel more valued and more engaged — keys to reducing turnover. Research shows that an empowered, engaged workforce translates to greater productivity and profits.
One study out of Brigham Young University surveyed on-site supervisors in residential construction and found that freedom and autonomy were the elements they felt contribute most to employee empowerment. The next two were information sharing and training. Along with granting foremen authority, construction companies should provide those two essentials to help their foremen use the authority well.
Megan Headley has been writing about every aspect of the built environment since 2004. As owner of ClearStory Publications, LLC, Megan demonstrates her passion for helping contractors create more productive and safer jobsites, and more sustainable and successful projects.