What Executives can learn from Foremen and Superintendents

In the construction industry, I find that the best foremen and superintendents are the ones who can put their people in the best position to succeed. They listen to their workers, pay attention to how they work and who they work best with, and understand their skill sets. In essence, they are constantly evaluating their crews and putting the workers in their areas of strength in an effort to meet or exceed the on time on budget goals of the project. I wonder how often those of us in the management positions are taking the time to do the same thing.

Over the course of time, companies are forced to adapt to changing conditions, such as retirements and staff members moving on to other companies. These changes frequently force others to fill in or take positions for the sake of continuity, but they might be ill-suited for the role. Certainly these people try hard, work late and do the best they can for the company and ultimately they become adequate at the job. Adequacy. Adequacy is the sister of complacency, and both are the enemies of growth.

When I was a kid, I never said I wanted to grow up and be adequate at something. I wanted to be good at something; often, I wanted to be great at something. Adequacy, though, is laziness. It is “good enough”. When we accept adequate performance it is because we aren’t having to do extra work or address problems. No problems, no headaches, so just let it slide and worry about something else. Jim Collins, in Good to Great, states “Good is the enemy of great.” I believe that statement to be true and, therefore, adequate is the enemy of good. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be surrounded or associated with adequate; I want to be associated with great or, at a minimum, good.

A good or great company sometimes needs to stop, take a breath, and examine the talents of their management staff. Is the company out of sorts? Is there a wobbly tire causing the company a less than smooth ride? Is the company growing, maintaining or even decreasing? In many cases, the cause of stagnation isn’t bad managers or lack of effort, it is merely the managers already on staff are not placed in their positions of strength. Unfortunately, many managers are terminated or choose to leave a company because they aren’t performing to the level the company desires; or worse yet, they remain in place for years in stagnation.

It is essential for successful companies to learn from what the foremen and superintendents at construction sites do: assess your people, understand their strengths and weakness, and then place them in positions best suited for their success and, ultimately, the company’s success. A re-organization doesn’t have to mean terminations.

*previously published on LinkedIn

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