Productivity and Leadership

This post discusses the some leadership concepts and the relationship to field labor (or home office labor) productivity.

Recently, my friend and colleague, Dick Troell authored an excellent post regarding field labor productivity.  Dick’s discussion drips with ideas that show his experience and understanding of the men and women that perform construction in the field.

First, I wish to clarify my background and experience.  I have many years of experience in the field and on projects throughout the world.  However, I have never welded a diameter inch of pipe, placed a cubic centimeter of concrete, erected an ounce of steel, and so forth.  I am not a product of the trades; rather, from the managerial ranks.

There is a leadership component of the managerial challenge.  Leadership can have several positive influences on the labor component of the job.  In exhibiting this leadership, my experience suggests several beneficial effects result.

The main point of this discussion is the old saying that you need to walk a mile in my/their (field labor) shoes.  Applied, this means that a manager invoking leadership spends time in the environment of the field labor.  Common sense to most; but, this discussion is for emphasis.  If a manager has a vertical project, he or she must go up (or down) the work.  This is needed, even if you have personal fears of height or means of transportation.  Traveling up the side of a 40 story building in an open freight elevator during high, cold winds is not pleasant.  This is particularly true for me, as I have some discomfort with heights.  Similarly, if the project is linear, then you travel the path, right of way, etcetera.

This need to “walk in their shoes” is true regardless of the field conditions.  In fact, the more severe the field conditions, the more there is a need for the manager to experience these conditions.  If it is hot, get out there and sweat.  If it is cold, put on your protective clothing and get cold.  If it is muddy, don your boots and get muddy.  If it is raining, get wet.  It is essential that you experience these conditions and that the workers see you in their environment.  Being in and around the works under their conditions lets the workers know that you are interested and caring.  These are essential leadership attributes.

The first real project that I managed (after leaving military service) was (oddly enough) in a shipyard.  Our company was a subcontractor in a multiple ship build.  Prior to my arrival, the crews had completed 17 installations.  The man-hour consumption was approximately 17 thousand per ship.  I spent many hours in the work spaces (hot, humid and dirty) looking at the work and talking to the workers.  Changes were implemented.   The last unit consumed six thousand man-hours (compared to the 17 thousand prior) for the same work.

I was often asked how this was accomplished.  In reality, the main body of changes and adjustments were a direct result of comments and observations offered by the workers.  Largely, these men and women knew both the problems and the solutions.  It was a matter of implementation.  Further, they all knew that I cared.

During the time in the field, listen to the producers (and for that matter, the non-producers).  The producers will provide insight into key issues.  The non-producers are volunteering to leave.  Oblige them.

As the disruptions to productivity are identified, implement corrective action as quickly as possible.  Choosing the items that are easier to implement (some refer to it as “low hanging fruit”) creates the perception of progress.  This results in a positive influence and it is contagious.  Tracking cause and effect using managerial data or Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) is needed and instructive.  In this regard, focus on high quality data.

In other posts, industry studies and standards have been identified.  These authoritative references can be related to the specific field experiences as one lives within the actual field conditions.  This understanding is further enhanced by the feedback from the field labor personnel.

A good example is the impact of changed work on worker productivity.  As has been presented in other posts, there are several authoritative studies and analyses on this effect.  Through field observations and discussions, one can gain the understanding and expertise to apply these standards to the specific conditions on the specific job.

In summary, leadership is an essential factor in development of project management expertise.  Young managers can benefit from application of this important factor.  More experienced managers need to be ever mindful of leadership considerations as well.  Good luck in managing that job site and home office.