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Honoring The Field

This article is dedicated to the men and women who work in the field. Yes, contractors in our industry take 100% of the risk, but they can do nothing alone. It takes the combined effort and integrity of the tens of thousands of dedicated union craft workers who together build our communities, our states and our nation. They deserve respect and should be honored for their efforts every day.

It angers me that sometimes those who work in our industry do not get the recognition for the expertise they bring to their jobs – not to mention their work ethic and the sacrifices they make pulling two or even three-hour commutes each way to support their families. Success is not a cubicle and a keyboard for everyone. Our craftsmen and women create things of lasting value with their heads, hearts and hands — and often make a very good living doing so. Some people simply can’t appreciate the fact it might not fit their ideal of what “success” is in America today.

My dad was a union Carpenter and went on to become a union contractor. My grandfather and great-grandfather were blue-collar Italians who went on to become builders in San Francisco. They all worked their asses off. Their work ethic was legendary. It was their example — not my college GPA — that made me who I have become. The roots of America were forged by working people. And construction, most interestingly, has been the economic ladder used for more than a hundred years by those who wanted a better life. First the Irish, Italians, Chinese, Eastern Europeans and African Americans climbed that ladder. Now Mexican and Central American craftworkers are doing the same.  Some were discriminated against or looked down upon at first, but they kept going, fueled by their total commitment to their own potential, their families and their future. They chipped away enough to create a handhold on the American Dream. They deserve the honor and respect for their hard-won success against so many odds.

In today’s society, young people often admire those who have made fortunes by creating ideas. Yes, we are in the “idea economy” today, and to a lot of young people it looks easy and accessible. But the world doesn’t operate solely on a fast-money digital platform. Working people still form the backbone of what makes America great. I have tried hard in my parenting to pass that message on to my children. The lady at McDonald’s in her paper hat; the maid at our hotel; the truck driver in that rig; the janitor at your school; the waitress at Chili’s – they are not there to serve you. They are there because that is the best job they can get to take care of their families. And they may have another job on top of it. And you, I tell my children, will pay attention; you will stop and appreciate them. And you will not take for granted any advantage life provides for you. Working people work hard, and they will be respected for it.

Construction Unions and Associations have a similar philosophy. They support and serve union contractors who are committed to providing their workers what they need and deserve. Those who work for union companies receive some of the highest pay and best benefits in the nation, and they know that is something to live up to. There are cheaper ways to do contracting – but it is often on the backs of those who do the work. These contractors (many of whom carry frayed union cards in their wallets) understand their people and have a kinship with them that transcends the paycheck. They understand the importance of working people, and no matter their own success, they know that without those willing and loyal craft workers, there can be no industry.

Honor the field – it’s the right thing to do.

Preparing for 2018: What’s Your Story?

As you look ahead in 2018, chances are you’re thinking in terms of budgets, new work opportunities, equipment purchases and a thousand other details involved in running a successful business. Manpower is probably right at the top of your list, too. How are you going to find a new crop of bright, qualified people eager to get after it and work their tails off?

Regardless of whether you are a contractor, labor organization, utility, oil company, manufacturer or service provider, if you want to attract real talent next year – and beyond — you have to focus on one thing above all others: tell your story, and tell it well.

In today’s business environment, having a great story to tell is essential. A 2016 Forbes article called storytelling “the new strategic imperative of business.” People respond to a powerful, authentic story about what your organization does, why you do it, and your goals for the future. It motivates them and makes them want to be a part of what you’re doing.

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The Abuse of Apprentices Stops Now

“I can’t believe I signed up for this s***.”

And so began a tale of stupidity, short-sightedness and tradition that reflects a broken culture and wasted talent.

The words were spoken to me by a young man in March 2017 after I gave a presentation  to 400 young people serving their union apprenticeships. During my talk, I asked a question that I have been asking for over 10 years to well over 100,000 union craftsmen and women: “How many of you during your apprenticeship were hazed, teased, called names, given meaningless work, ignored or not taught because the guy in front of you was afraid for their job?” And in that room, like the other 200 times before, 95% of the hands slowly rose into the air.

Ninety. Five. Percent. In the year 2017. Not 1970 or 1990. Today. Now.

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The Skilled Workforce Illusion, What Good Leaders Look Like & How To Find Them

Skilled Workforce Illusion

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The Construction Leading Edge podcast from www.constructionleadingedge.com is an interview with Mark Breslin of Breslin Strategies, and in this construction podcast, we cover topics including the following:

Topics covered in this construction podcast:

  • Why we need a well-led workforce, not just a skilled workforce.
  • Common mistakes contractors make when it comes to their field level leaders.
  • What is the ROI for investing in field leaders?
  • Characteristics to look for when you’re hiring or promoting leaders.
  • How to move up in the ranks of your company if you’re an up-and-coming leader.
  • Key areas to train your leaders on.
  • What progressive project owners understand about field leadership, and what they’re doing to make sure they get it on their projects.

Hey Employers: Shut the Heck Up: 90% vs 10%

Most of the union employers I know have at one time or another complained about the quality of their apprentices. For sure the reviews over the last few years is that the training is getting better, the instructors are more professional and that they see progress. But the reality of the situation is this: the union and apprentice program only have their hands on an apprentice for around 10% of their hours during apprenticeship. The employer has him or her for the other 90%.

In my view then, the quality of the apprentices reflects the employer community’s ability and commitment to developing the apprentices. Their complaints might be best directed at the mirror.

This is a big shift in mindset. Most employers want to simply call the union hall and get a qualified individual sent out ASAP. But in the case of apprentices, this is simply unrealistic. That 90% of on-the-job training is going to make all the difference in their performance, attitude, and behavior. The link here is for the foremen and lead men on the jobs. Employers need to communicate to them the critical importance of coaching and development.

Apprentices cannot be the necessary evil or the pain in the ass new guy or girl.  Apprentices are the foundation for the future. And employers, whether they like it or not, have the majority of the responsibility to develop apprentices into top craft workers. This is a conversation that has to occur time and again until they get it. Most will reject it, thinking that is what the union is for. But this discounts the partnership that labor and management must engage in. Whoever wins the War of Talent, wins the War for Market share.

Remember, the partnership of talent development is an absolute necessity – so reach out to at least one employer a month to ask for the necessary help and support to build our next generation.

The Three Most Important Words a Leader Can Live By

Three words sum up one of the greatest challenges and opportunities for most leaders. And those three words are as simple as this:

ASK, DON’T TELL.

These words are critically important for leaders at every level of an organization. No matter if you are a CEO or an aspiring rookie leader.

Here are five reasons why everyone needs to Ask, Don’t Tell:

1. Leaders are usually great at giving directions. Telling people what to do is fine, but does not engage them.
2. Asking people their viewpoint prior to taking action creates higher levels of buy-in.
3. Input leads to innovation and improvement. Can’t do it without the “ask”.
4. Asking people before telling them trains them to think for themselves and allows you to test and evaluate their judgment.
5. Asking shows respect, appreciation, accessibility, and humility. All these lead to higher levels of loyalty.

Now if you are like me, a hard charger Alpha type, this is not easy. Especially if you are under a deadline or under pressure of any sort. But by using these three words religiously, I have turned my job from Director to Teacher. From Dictator to Team Leader. From Quarterback to Coach. I can tell you for certain, those three words will do more than you can imagine. And the cool part is, you can’t really forget the concept.

Hey, it’s only three words.

ASK, DON’T TELL.

And remember its people before projects. That’s what makes the difference.

 

Seven Tips for Effective Delegation

Delegation is the key to advancement. If you can’t find effective ways to move things off your plate and onto others’, you cannot advance.  If you can’t delegate in a manner that leverages the talent of those around you, then you can’t advance.  If you hoard tasks and responsibilities because you like them, have always done them, or are afraid to let go, then you cannot advance either.  So here are seven strategies to delegate well:

  1. Be clear in identifying the desired outcome, including the deadline.
  2. Be clear with your original directions. Do not assume they can or will fill in the blanks.
  3. If necessary, make them write down key details. Sometimes people are too embarrassed to take the notes they will need an hour, day, or a week later.
  4. Ask them if they have any questions before they engage in the task. This saves both you and them time.
  5. Tell them they can come for help if necessary. But if they encounter a problem in execution, tell them not to bring you a problem only but at least one alternative to solve it. Otherwise, you create a dependent workplace culture where thinking for one’s self is not encouraged or required.
  6. Delegation frequently leads to mistakes. Analyze the mistake. Avoid blaming. Determine whether a mistake is someone else’s fault or your own. That’s right. Yours. If you did not help someone understand a task, timeline, technical aspects, or other vital information, how can you expect that person to succeed? If it is the employee’s mistake find out how it was made. Does he or she have a skill deficiency? Poor analytical or judgment skills? A lack of confidence? An inability to obtain the buy-in of others? Spend the time this time so that the problem is unlikely to occur next time.
  7. Praise accomplishment. Delegation has a payoff for you and them. You don’t have to do the tasks, and employees get ownership of a positive outcome. Let them know if they did well. For many people that is the best motivation for taking on more responsibilities next time.

For more resources on training leaders to delegate and prioritize click here.

Remember, delegation is the ladder of advancement for almost all of us.  If we don’t let go of things we like to do, we won’t move on to things we need to do.

Transformed: Create a Professional Foreman for $22.50

Transformed:  Create a Professional Foreman

Most field supervisors engaged in the construction, energy, utility, or other traditional blue collar role do not self-identify as professionals.  That is inaccurate.  That is lame.  That is a failure on the part of the employer or union to which they are part of.  Most of all, it’s just sad.

Here is an individual usually working his or her ass off, with some of the highest degree of commitment and risk associated with his or her job performance.  But his self-perception is that he is “just” a blue collar guy. Not a professional, but the lead on the job.  Well I have a solution for you and it is going to cost you the same as a lunch for two at Denny’s.

It is time for every employer to provide a personalized business card to every field supervisor that says, along with their name, Professional Construction Foreman.  100 business cards are around 20 bucks.  With this simple gesture, you will transform this individual’s self-perception; perhaps forever.

It is hard to be a professional unless you call yourself one.  It is hard to be a professional if your employer doesn’t call you one, but with a business card, that says it in black and white.  A professional business card that you show to your spouse and maybe even the kids.  Representing something to be proud of:  your company.

This individual is your representative with owners, subs, OSHA, vendors, inspectors and a lot more.  Get with the program!  Spend the $22.50.   Transform identities to transform performance.  Change someone’s self-vision, and you can change their life.  Or you can spend it at Denny’s.  I hear the Grand Slam is great.

To get more information on how to communicate the need for professionalism to your field supervisors click here or email Jackie at:  jdixon@breslin.biz.

For Labor Professionals: Don’t Be the Problem… Be a Problem Solver!!

Problem Solving
Be a Problem Solver

When training labor professionals in communication or business development I begin with trying to change their orientation to problem-solving.  See without even knowing it, most of them have created a handicap with their relationships with their signatory employers, who really need to be there for them when a favor is required or a testimonial provided.

The question I ask labor professionals is this.  When one of your employers hears that you are on the phone calling for them what do they immediately think?

They think, here comes a problem.  Why, because that is the only time you communicate with them.

Contractors and employers value problem solvers.  They are surrounded by trusted people who work with them every day to solve problems and create opportunity. You, on the other hand, are a “problem-bringer”.  Fair or not, there is rarely a perception of you bringing any value at all.  You are just another problem to be solved that does not add anything to the success or value of the business.  That is not the place any labor professional wants to be.

In the training program, I teach how to transform that relationship from “problem bringer” to trusted ally.  Why is this important?  Because in business the quality of the relationship most often determines the value of the relationship.  If you want to be able to utilize powerful relationships to advance your goals you have to have something to offer in return.

There are a lot more than these three, but in service of changing labor relationships (especially for new agents or organizers) I suggest these ideas:

  1. Call two employers a week.  Five-minute call or less.  Check in with them. Ask what they need.  Tell them about upcoming training.  Be brief, polite and don’t bring them a problem.  If you talk to 100 employers a year – or some of them numerous times, they will no longer think problem when you call.  They will think opportunity and partner.  Ten minutes a week?  Yes, everyone has that time, but most don’t have the discipline.
  1. Set up a communications schedule with all your employers.  Newsletter? E-mail?  Annual training report?  Letter from the Business Manager?  Why?  Because if you want your employers to remember what you did for them every three years when you are negotiating a new agreement, you better be telling them about it in between.  If you don’t communicate your value and achievements to those who are working with you why would you expect them to enthusiastically reward you.  Most unions communicate well to everyone except their employers.
  1. Don’t be a compliance-minded representative.  This is especially important for new agents.  Don’t go out with your contract and your save the world attitude, or worse your half-informed view of the employer.  Diplomacy and relationship building go a long, long way in their business.  I know dozens of really great agents and Business Managers who laugh and shake their heads remembering how lame they were their first few years trying to be important instead of being useful, professional and outcome driven.

 

If you are looking to provide this kind of training to your labor professionals, email Jackie Dixon at jdixon@breslin.biz or call (925) 705-7662.

Don’t be the problem.  Be the solution.  Don’t be the problem.  Be a trusted ally. Don’t be the problem.  Be the person that has so much good will and favors owed to you that when you need what you need, you don’t even have to ask.

 

Managing Problems: Time is Not Your Friend

There is something unpleasant that you are putting off.  In reality, you need to do something right now. You are thinking that time might take care of the problem.  You are thinking that he, she, or it (as the case may be) will magically be transformed.  You are procrastinating. You hope that ignoring the situation will simply make it go away.

Stop bullshitting yourself.  

Time is not your friend, and a good leader knows it.  Sure, there are times when you need to let something settle down, let tempers cool, let more information come in, or allow for a strategic opportunity to offer itself.  I am not talking about any of these situations.  I am talking about that thing you know you need to do now and yet keep putting off until later.  Most of the time these situations have to do with people issues.

Leadership demands honest assessment of a situation and prompt action.  Lots of people will tell you that is how they lead, but they will be lying through their teeth.  The truth is that most people do not want to take actions resulting in personal discomfort or conflict.  Most managers hold the completely illogical position with respect to people issues that “they will get better.”  Whatever the problem is, it will not get better on its own.  Either you are actively engaged in fixing the problem or it is getting worse.  No matter how much you want to ignore it, the consequences will get worse by the day.  Classic examples of waiting for change that will never come include:

  •      The employee you know you need to discipline or fire but never do
  •      The leader or supervisor under you who is really not ready, capable, or competent (besides, with whom would you replace this person, anyway?)
  •      The family member, friend, cousin, or long-term employee about whom you think you “can’t” do anything
  •      The terminally late employee (but, hey, it’s just a few minutes)
  •      The great producer who is a cancer in the team
  •      The employee you would not trust to walk your dog but whom you trust with your clients

Leadership demands brutally honest assessment and immediate action. Don’t allow things to accumulate.  You cannot lead and manage by looking over your shoulder.  If you let things stack up, you can find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of actions that need to be taken—not to mention the stress and mental anguish that goes along with the territory.

For more leadership and development resources for you and your team, click here.

They say that time heals all, but it sure does not solve all.  Remember, the more often problems get delayed the more backlog of bullshit, politics, discomfort and stress emerge in the workplace. Encourage all your leadership team to deal with it now.  Pull off the Band-Aid and move on.