The best solution to completing tasks or solving problems may come from your employees.



I have always liked that old saying, “Two heads are better than one.” All the business decisions I’ve faced turned out more practical and profitable when I was able to incorporate another person’s opinions and recommendations. I have shared that philosophy with our management team as well as in my foreman training seminars, convention programs and monthly Plumbing & Mechanical articles.

As you may have guessed, the No. 1 question is usually, “How do you get their input?” My response is always this: Never give orders or tell your employees what you want them to do. Give them two or more options and ask them what they think would be the best solution.

You flatter employees when you ask for their input. Nobody likes to be told what to do. Your employees are rightfully proud you are using their suggestions and thankful for the opportunity to work with and move up into your management team.

Our company continued this profit-oriented comradery - what we call “upward communication” - for more than half a century because everyone involved is a winner. About 25 years ago, we adopted the fitting construction title called value engineering. It added fuel to our already blazing jobsite success story and opened up opportunities for our management team.

Value engineering emphasizes the profit-producing slogan, “There is always a better way.”

1. Prebid options
  • Will this project fit in our schedule? Do we have enough manpower?
  • Do we want to work in that location? How about travel and subsistence? Would flex time help?
  • Do we want to work for that client? How about past relationships?

    2. Bid-time options
  • How much should we prefab on the site or at our shop?
  • Should we offer substitutions and value-engineering alternatives?
  • What can we use from our warehouse stock?
  • Should we buy or rent power tools and equipment?

    3. Successful bid pre-job strategies
  • Coordinate buyout, submittals, delivery dates and installation schedules.
  • Create a “by who-by when” written schedule to assure on-time performance.

    4. Punch lists, warranty work
  • Schedule a company pre-punch inspection and checklist.
  • Define and assign specific respon-sibilities for on-time completion.

    These value-engineering strategy sessions can be scheduled at any time to meet your employees’ availability to attend. Always make certain they are aware of what topics will be discussed.


  • The ongoing search for a better way

    Although we added the value-engineering words to our profit-minded upward communication on jobsites, we did not add any meetings or strategy sessions. Those who visit or work on jobsites realize the opportunities to look for and enjoy a better way are ongoing and endless. In addition to what you and your employees are doing, your jobsite has many other trades solving similar challenges.

    By observing what each employee is doing, you may learn a better or faster method, as well as engage in some horse trading by sharing tools, equipment, manpower and even materials. Everyone gains and the jobsite morale boosts everyone’s productivity.

    Let me emphasize that asking is the key to successful upward communication. By using two or more options when giving a task assignment, you are asking that employee to think.

    Unfortunately, too many supervisors feel their employees are not capable of producing workable ideas, methods or solutions. They assume the employee does not have enough education, training or actual experience:
    • They’re too young. But many children worked with their parents or had summer employment.

    • They have no formal education. However, the solution to the actual task has probably never been printed in any textbook.

    • They don’t have enough jobsite experience. Yet this could be the first occasion on any jobsite that this solution was ever needed.

    I hope you are using a skills inventory database to identify what each employee already knows and what skills he can perform.

    What most misguided foremen learn when they give options to an employee is that the employee may not have the foreman’s knowledge or experience, but he can surprisingly come up with a better solution.

    Keep in mind that people are different. Some come to work every day and simply want  to do their job and go home. They are not interested in helping you make decisions. This is fine and we need those employees.

    However, the majority of employees have faith in their own abilities and are grateful for the opportunity to share their opinions. Many would be productive members of your management team.

    Along with the following suggestions, you will have no trouble thinking of a couple reasonable solutions applicable to whatever task you are assigning.

    1. Would you rather pre-assemble that piping and get help to hang it? Would a ladder work or do you need a scaffold? Do you want to install the pipe before the electrician runs his conduit?

    2. Can you cut that concrete with a hammer and chisel or do you need an electric hammer? Would your battery-operated tools do the job?

    3. Would we put up a tent to prefab that kitchen piping? Could we stretch a tarp between our two trailers? Or should we prefab at our shop?

    4. Should I get you a laborer today to backfill your ditches? Could he carry your material from our trailer to save you time? Would you rather have someone with whom you have worked with before?

    Another great psychological use of asking is to correct rather than criticize an employee who makes a mistake. This is especially crucial with the foremen who never learned you never criticize in public. For example, “Don’t you think that would work much better if you …?”

    Asking also minimizes the negative effect of supervisors breaking the chain of command. When an owner or project manager asks you what you think, it’s very different from getting contradictory orders!

    You can multiply all of this profit-producing value engineering with effective recognition and appreciation. Any good recommendation should be noted in the foreman’s daily log and entered into the employee’s performance file for future reference.

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