Now I was reminded of this habit when a project manager invited me to visit his construction project. Ten years ago he was a young site engineer, newly qualified and learning the ropes on one of my projects. He remarked that he still remembers my actions of picking up the small items of formwork equipment and involuntarily repeats the habit on his project.
The impact of our good examples
Over the years I probably picked up a couple of thousand dollars of equipment, which to some might not seem worth the effort of getting their hands dirty. But it’s the indirect impacts of my action that made the real contribution.
- Supervisors and their team saw that I placed a value on the items I collected. They saw I cared enough about the items that I picked them up. They therefore took a little extra care to look after the equipment they were working with. Some years ago the mayor of New York took action against crime and he started with broken windows. His proposition was that if you ignored the small criminal acts it was setting an example that all crime could be ignored. I set the example that we should look after the small items of equipment which then automatically meant that the bigger items would also be looked after.
- There was a multiplier impact of my actions which is demonstrated by the project manager that was a young engineer many years ago. I may have only picked up a couple of thousand dollars of equipment over the years, but this habit has been multiplied a hundred times over so the cumulative impact is probably hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- My team saw that the manager wasn’t scared to get their hands dirty. I was more respected for these actions.
In my years in construction it never ceased to amaze me how observant construction workers were. It was noticed when the Construction Manager arrived late in the mornings, when they took an extended lunch break or left early in the afternoon. But they noticed other bad habits as well. Once a worker was caught stealing items from the project and his defense at the disciplinary hearing was that when the project had scrap metal (waste reinforcing bars and other items) the project manager instructed him to load it onto the truck and take it to the scrap yard to sell. The scrap metal was paid for in cash which the worker handed to the project manager who then put the money in his pocket. Now the project manager later paid the money into the company’s system but the worker didn’t know that, and automatically presumed the manager had pocketed the money for their personal use. They perceived that the project manager was stealing and it was therefore acceptable practice to also steal.
So we see that just as good habits have a multiplier effect so to can bad habits also multiply. The project manager who has an extended lunch break could cause all the workers on the project to have an extended lunch break. But it’s not just about the habits of the project manager it also comes down in ensuring that everyone in the team keeps to the same rules. Allowing one worker to leave the job site early today, inevitably leads to ten workers leaving early tomorrow, more the next day until everyone leaves early. When everyone leaves five minutes early and nothing is said, then the five minutes becomes ten minutes and ten minutes becomes fifteen. Everyone leaving fifteen minutes early on a large project could cost hundreds of dollars every day.
Safety is one area where some managers set a poor example. The CEO of one company frequently visited projects and didn’t wear the correct personal protective equipment – except when he visited my projects. Even if he was only on the project for five minutes I insisted he wore the correct safety footwear, hat and glasses. Not only was it for his safety but those were the rules on my project and everyone was expected to follow suit. But setting the right example meant we had no problems with our team not wearing the correct personal protective equipment.
Leading by example not only means that managers should be seen to be obeying the rules and doing the right thing, but it also means that they shouldn’t walk by others who aren’t doing the right thing. Walking past poor quality work, an unsafe act, unproductive workers or someone misusing equipment is perceived by others that these acts are condoned and accepted.
Next time you arrive late at work, or neglect to obey the safety rules on your project consider who is watching and the impact your behaviour will have on the project team. It’s no use lecturing workers on poor time keeping, being intoxicated at the work place, of unsafe practices and poor quality work if management ignores the rules and condones some workers poor work.
Even today if I see litter lying in the street outside my house, or that’s in front of me in the park, I pick it up and throw it in the trash bin. If I don’t do it, who will? Again I don’t actively go and search it out, but if it’s there at my feet I pick it up. It doesn’t cost me anything and it’s better than whining about the litter in the neighbourhood. Oh, and just maybe I’m setting an example for others in the neighbourhood to follow!
Are you setting the right example? What are the workers on your project saying about you?
Footnote – The photograph above was taken on a project site many months after the contractor had demobilised. Obviously the items of equipment had been covered by dirt and been forgotten by the contractor. But even if the contractor had discovered the equipment when they demobilised from the project the items had probably corroded and possibly have risked been damaged by vehicles.
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'Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide'
'Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide'
'Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors'
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