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OE Construction Corp

Tough But Fair: Having Difficult Conversations with a Construction Team Member

Imagine this scenario: you’ve got a good team out in the field on a new project but one of the workers isn’t pulling their weight. They’re always late and constantly play a game of ‘was I supposed to do that? I thought so and so was doing it!’ If you’ve managed people for long enough, you’ve likely come across this person. They think they’re kicking it. You, and others on the team, don’t.

Now, it’s coming to the annual reviews at year end and you’ve got to deliver the news to this person that they aren’t in fact ‘kicking it’ and they won’t be eligible for a bonus.

Fun, right? Not really. One of the most difficult things a manager has to do, whether they’re leading a company or a team of field personnel, is to have difficult conversations with a team member. It’s a skill that you have to develop, in a management context, because most of us don’t come ready made with this ability. 

So how can you have this conversation and still have a positive outcome?

Make sure there isn’t a larger issue that the employee is dealing with

Often, when an employee is chronically late or has some other attitude related issue, there could be a deeper problem in the works. It could be something happening in their personal life that they haven’t been wanting or have been fearful to share. Open the door to let them communicate with you if there is more to the issue than you’re aware of. It might not be something you can help with, but it’s best to know what’s really going on if you want to find a solution.

Remember that managing is your job

Managing doesn’t just mean giving orders to others and waiting for them to perform: it’s a give and take relationship with each team member. You are responsible to the project, to your company, to yourself, to other team members and to that employee who isn’t up to snuff. If they are underperforming, it’s on you to get to the bottom of it.

Perhaps you had an earlier engagement with that person that went well from your point of view, but not from theirs. Perhaps they’ve been feeling like you don’t trust them and so they’ve started sitting back and waiting rather than getting the job done proactively. If they appear to be unmotivated, it’s not fair for you to assume that they’re a ‘bad employee’ and react to them accordingly. You have to assume that there is something you can do to help motivate them return to the fold, so to speak.

Speak the truth

An important reality in managing is to make sure that your team trusts you. Trust is vital to good, open communication that is both given and taken with respect. If your team doesn’t trust you, they won’t respect you. Ruling from a place of fear will only get you so far: it’s essential to always be truthful with your team. 

With trust and respect comes expectations. You should have high expectations for your team, and they should know what those expectations are. Creating a culture of achievement within your team will motivate the good employees to do more and will help the ones who are struggling to see a path for their own improvement. Setting expectations and assigning people with responsibilities based on their abilities will motivate them to achieve. Lack of clarity and mistrust of your team will only breed contempt between you and them and among the team itself.

Having these conversations with everyone on a regular basis ensures that they know exactly where they stand and what they can do to improve.

Don’t let problems fester

Year end reviews shouldn’t be the first time that the employee is hearing that there are issues with their performance. There should have been ongoing communication and reminders about how they’re doing, both positive and negative.

Leaving the ‘bad news’ until it’s become a problem that will be difficult to resolve positively isn’t good for anyone: not you as the manager, not the employee, and not the rest of the team who are watching how this will go down.

Always remember that adding a little positive feedback can certainly help the negative go down better. 

 

OE Construction Corp

Simulator Training is the Way to Go

In the construction industry, a lot of companies are choosing to train new employees on the job. While that usually involves shadowing a more experienced employee for a while, there is no replacement for sitting at the controls of a piece of heavy and equipment and actually doing the work. 

Or is there?

Whether for the training of new equipment operators, or to help existing operators advance their skills, equipment simulators are giving a lot of people a training and career path in the earthwork and underground utility construction industry. 

Experience in the field takes a while to acquire, but simulators move training along faster, bridging any gaps in the skills of employees more efficiently.

Thanks to a recent CAT equipment simulator demonstration and hands even, OE Construction got a first hand look at the ways in which simulator training could be leveraged to help deal with the number one issue the entire construction industry is facing: hiring and retaining qualified employees.

What is equipment simulation training?

If you haven’t already participated in this, an equipment simulator is basically a special machine that is setup with software and equipment controls to emulate actual 

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equipment operation, all kinds of equipment and models such as dozers, excavators, loaders, haul trucks, motor graders, scrapers, and so on. 

The system is setup to allow an equipment operator to explore the machine controls and options, to practice using the equipment controls to operate the equipment in all kinds of virtual scenarios, to master the machine operation from beginner to advanced operation techniques, to even work with the simulation in virtual 3-D mode to emulate real life situations and job site conditions.

What are the benefits of equipment simulation training?

Employee screening — since finding people who are already trained in specific pieces of equipment isn’t always possible, using the simulators as a screening technique for hiring is ideal. Testing potential employees in the simulators to see how they react, their level of coordination and to verify the skills they claim to have, but without putting actual machines or other employees at risk, is a great way to find the right staff.

Improved safety and less risk during training — each piece of equipment is monumentally expensive, to say nothing of the importance of safety for both the operator and the people working in the field with them. Leveraging simulator training is a great opportunity to experience real life situations with zero risk to projects, existing equipment and personnel. 

Each person, whether new to the company or someone who needs to upgrade their skills, can be trained more efficiently, with less risk and and lower costs, such as those that are associated with equipment damage or project delays caused by accidents.

Improved safety on the job site — even an experienced operator can face some new challenges in the field, be they related to weather or other circumstances. These can be simulated safely, giving the employee a chance to really hone their skills before attempting them in the field. Overall, this contributes to a much higher level of safety.

“Simulators can recreate the feel and experience of load shifting, unsafe lifts and other hazards, so that trainees learn to respect the machine before they ever get into the operator’s seat. Trainers can also condition operators to respond to the unexpected by injecting equipment faults or inclement weather into the simulation. This is knowledge that is difficult to teach in a real machine, and it results in operators who are better prepared than they were without simulation, particularly when they have the opportunity to repeatedly practice specialized or difficult maneuvers in a safe, controlled environment.” Source

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This kind of improvement becomes measurable, as there is a direct correlation between experience / knowledge / skill and safety.

Feedback and retention — using simulators allows those being trained to get immediate feedback on their work. With high quality communication and feedback comes retention: if people feel qualified to do their jobs, and supported in learning more in their work environment, they’re more likely to stay with a company than those who are left to ‘sink or swim’. 

Stay tuned as OE evaluates this technology in our own company; we’re hoping to share some pretty exciting developments in the operation of heavy equipment!

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OE Construction Corp

Dealing With Conflict on the Job Site

When different people with their own unique personalities get together to get a job done, there is always the possibility of conflict. In an office environment, the single biggest cause of conflict is misunderstanding. Communication through mediums like email have led more than a few people to misconstrue comments by others and the lack of immediate feedback makes it possible for an easily resolvable disagreement to escalate.

On the job site, conflict can take on a whole other level of seriousness. Part of the problem is the number of different stakeholders involved in any one project. From clients and owners to architects and engineers and down the funnel to contractor and subcontractors, everyone has a different perspective on the project, and likely differing opinions on how to get it done.

Here are a few ways that conflict crops up in construction:

  • Poor project planning leading to financial difficulties or a general instability in the project timeline.
  • Difficulties vis-a-vis the public or others who are not directly related to the project.
  • Client initiated scope changes midway through the project, resulting in re-work or other perils.
  • Lack of communication and information flow so that the team in the field does not have all the information that the head office does.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it encompasses the large majority of conflicts in the field. 

Understanding conflict on the job site

The key to understanding and resolving conflict in most any situation, including on work sites, is to understand perspective.

Each person sees an issue, problem or overall project from the context of their own experience and background. Those variations can result in people seeing the same issue / problem very differently. That can result in a conversation, a disagreement, or even full on conflict. 

man holding glasses perspective

Perspective is the key to resolving conflict: 

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Let’s say there is a conflict between an engineer and a contractor that relates to an essential step in an excavation project. Both individuals are coming at the problem from their own unique set of experiences and both may have positions with merit in terms of how to proceed. Resolving the disconnect requires both of them to see things from the point of view of the other person. 

This can get complicated in highly specialized work environments, where one person may feel that they have the credentials that would simply overrule the other person’s opinion. It’s rare, however, that pulling rank resolves problems effectively, and it could even result in overlooking an important factor that might have improved the project. 

Dealing with conflict on the job site

First and most important: don’t ignore a problem. Acting like an ostrich and burying your head in the sand isn’t going to make a conflict go away. If anything, it’s likely to get worse.

Instead, it’s important to move forward in a positive way, to save time and money and keep the project on track.

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Dig deep on the problem. Often, a conflict looks like one thing on the surface, but when

you dig a little, it turns out to be something else altogether. Getting to the root of the issue will make it easier to deal with it full on.

This requires active listening and really attempting to understand the perspective of the other person, in order to come to a resolution. If you don’t at least understand the other person’s point of view—whether or not you agree with it—you haven’t dug deep enough.

Don’t get emotional. Believing in your point of view passionately is one thing. Escalating into a shouting match that doesn’t move the needle in terms of resolving anything? Not ideal!

It’s more than likely that a position taken by one person isn’t personal: it’s their perspective. Operating with mutual respect and avoiding engaging in the blame game can go a long way to helping both sides understand one another.

When you look at the reasons for conflict listed at the beginning of this post, and you dig a little deeper, you can see how much each of them revolves around communication. Clear communication in the first place can help avoid so many conflict situations and ensures that everyone understands what the expectations are and where they fit into the whole project. When conflicts do arise, working collaboratively to find a solution is far more effective, efficient and could lead to improvements in the way you do things every single day!

OE Construction Corp

Women in Construction Career Stories: Part 2

This is Part 2 of our career “stories” from my peers in the construction industry. The question I get asked most often is “How the heck did you end up in construction?”. These stories are about women who had a family connection or background in transportation and construction. They highlight the lessons learned along the way, and show that who we surround ourselves with has a lot to do with where we end up. We want to hear about the unique talents women in construction bring to the table. So, if you are working in the industry or thinking about a career path in this direction, reach out and let us know more. 

I was born and raised in Alaska, from a family who made their living in the very industry I now have my career in – construction. I moved to Colorado in high school and had no question that after, I would go to college. I started my freshman year with the intent of getting an elementary education degree. Halfway through that first year, I switched my major to business management. I had no idea “what I wanted to be when I grew up” so that felt like the safest degree I could get at the time. Four years later, I was the first in my family to graduate with my college degree – a bachelors in business administration with an emphasis in management. 

I struggled to find my place in the career world after college. Due to my outgoing and social personality, I continued to find myself in sales roles. None of those roles satisfied me – I wanted to find something more, something I could find passion in. A family friend pushed me to come to work at United Rentals. With no other job prospects at the time and feeling at a dead end, I gave in. Four years later, here I still am. I have found that purpose and a passion I was looking for. The construction industry is small, everyone knows everyone in some capacity. With that, comes a sense of family. Because of that, I take what I do very seriously. Providing trench safety knowledge and training to our customer base is more than “sales” – it’s more than renting out a product. 

We are educating because we care. We are a teammate to our customers, helping them solve issues in order to increase production and most of all, keep everyone safe and going home the same as they came to work. Yes – the days are long, we are always on call and everything is an emergency but being in this industry, is worth every second of that. Shelby Hone – Trench Safety Specialist United Rentals Trench Safety 

Construction has always felt “familiar” or comfortable to me. My dad started his own masonry company before I was born, (short-lived) but ended up laying brick for 40 years. Retired as a Foreman less than a decade ago from the Brick Layers Union. My mother was the first female cop in southeastern Wisconsin in the mid-70s. She worked with only male officers her entire 25 year career. 

My 2+ years with CO811 have been the best fit for me in my 19 years of professional work history. Safety and preventing damages/injury is innate to me, (but didn’t realize it until I landed this job). Neeley Duran – Damage Prevention Liaison Denver Metro Division Colorado 811 

I got my start long before I even knew I would be in this business. My dad ran a heavy truck finance and lease company in Fargo North Dakota for 40 years so I was around the business all of my life. But I never thought I would work in the same business as my father. In 1996 I was a month from graduating from Arizona State with a business and finance degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had worked as a bank teller while going to school and was robbed at gunpoint so I knew I didn’t want to do that anymore. I grew up in Fargo North Dakota so I really wasn’t a big corporate person, I didn’t want to just become a number. So I went to my parents to see if they had any suggestions. My dad made a suggestion that I go and interview for a finance job in Denver Colorado. My dad said there was a Freightliner dealership in Denver that is hiring for a finance and insurance rep. The owner of the dealership was a salesman at the dealership that my dad worked in Fargo, and the person that ran the finance and lease company was also a gentleman that used to work for my dad is Fargo. So my dad knew they were looking to hire and grow their finance business. I flew to Denver for the interview and got the job. May 31. 1996 I left Phoenix to start my journey in Denver Colorado. 

I started out in the front office learning the difference between a tractor and a truck. Before taking this job I thought a tractor was a green thing that plowed fields named “John Deere”. I had a lot to learn. My new position was logging repairs and tracking work orders on the used truck inventory. I tried to learn as much about the transportation business as possible. I answered phones, made copies completed title work and anything else I could get my feet wet. 

In 1997 we became a Select Truck Used dealer. I was given the opportunity to move into a finance and insurance position. I worked in a small house with 8 sales guys while our new building was being built just adjacent to the small house. My office was right next to the bathroom which definitely built character one way or another. There was a swamp cooler on the wall in my office. Everytime we turned it on dust and dirt would blow all over my desk for about 2-3 minutes. I worked with owner operators, vocational and new start up individuals. This was a very crucial part of my learning experience. Working in a small house with 8 sales guys will build character like it or not. One of the salesman told the customers I was his “little sister.” I build some amazing friendships with fellow co workers and customers. I have very fond memories of those times. My dad always told me that I would be more successful than a man in the same position. My dad has been very instrumental in my growth and success in the business. In 1999 we moved into the new building, we had hit it big. I was going to get my own office away from the bathroom and upstairs all by myself. Well that didn’t last but a few weeks and I was back downstairs. We had trouble hiring and maintaining a full time receptionist. So I got the pleasure of working on the same floor as everyone else. Which was OK because it was lonely upstairs all by myself. All of this was ok, I liked what I did and who I did it with. 

In late 1999 I was given another opportunity. I was asked if I wanted to move over to the lease company. I talked it over with my dad and he gave me the courage to make the move. He has always said “Women will be more successful in a man’s world. A man will remember a woman walking into their office to talk about financing trucks and trailers more than another man.” This was going to be a national program allowing us to work with body manufactures all around the country. I jumped at the opportunity and was so excited for the next journey. However from late 1999 – late 2000 we struggled finding someone to fill my position. I spent and got the pleasure of going back and forth between the lease company and our used truck department. Again I never complained because I got to spend time again with all of those great people that made me who I am today. 

Finally late 2000 I was able to really jump into my new position. We started calling on any and all manufacturers from Canada to Florida and California to New York. We lost more new vendors than we retained. It was the losses that made us all stronger and more hungry to get this new program off the ground. It was shortly after that that we were able to really get the ball rolling. I continued to work in the roll of lease and finance rep for the west coast over the course of 18 years until another opportunity arrived. 

2018 I was asked if I wanted to move into a managerial position. I was so scared as I had never managed anyone before. After much thought and guidance from my mentor and largest supporter my dad, he told me “go for it”, so I decided to go for it. I now manage 3 other individuals and we work the west coast. We have a portfolio of just shy of $80 million and we are on track to do $100 million in 2020. All I can say is my dad was right! It started out as a job and 23 years later it has bloomed into a career. Cassie Bergo – Trans Lease Inc. 

So, if you are a young woman looking at construction as your potential career path, take a look around you and try to connect with programs and resources at your school, other outside programs such as Transportation and Construction Girl (https://constructiongirl.org/), Associated General Contractors Construction Careers Now (https://www.buildcolorado.com/), ask your family and relatives if anyone they know is in construction, check out community college programs and college certificate programs (there are many out there) and don’t give up! There are so many career opportunities in construction, positions from the back office (accounting, administration, engineering, estimating, project management) to the field office (apprentice trade programs, field workers of all types, coordinators, field engineers, surveyors, foreman, superintendent and so on). 

Transportation and Construction Girl (Hoya Foundation) is in the process of creating videos with women’s stories about the industry and how they got their start. Look for more information about the videos in 2020, I promise they are stories of great inspiration. 

Terri Olson – OE Construction Corp. 

Careers in Construction Event Group Photo

OE Construction Corp

What’s More Important: IQ or EQ?

According to research, your overall success in life can be directly attributed to your EQ. 

“Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge.” (Source

The article quoted goes on to mention that people will more happily do business and work well with an individual who is likeable, over someone who is technically more proficient. 

So how does that apply in the construction industry?

What are IQ and EQ?

Before we go on to look at the question of how EQ can be more relevant than IQ in business, including construction, let’s review what each of these measures are.

IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, refers to a person’s technical competence (math, verbal, spatial skills), as well as their ability to reason logically. Einstein was said to have an IQ of 160. 

EQ, or Emotional Quotient, refers to someone’s personality, their ability to understand the emotions of others and to lead with that understanding in mind. In integral part of EQ is the ability to communicate effectively, as the quote above notes, influencing the behavior of others, rather than leading by fear.

When you’re looking at hiring someone to fill a certain role in the field, their skillset is important, and let’s face it: you’re first looking at a resume or an application, not someone’s personality, at least when you’re deciding whether or not to interview them.

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But there is a fair body of research that says that you should hire for personality and attitude and train for skill. It’s the same reason that colleges started looking for more than good grades in the kids they let in. A more well rounded person, with a good personality and communication skills, has every chance of success, and perhaps even more so. 

Hiring based on EQ may seem easier said than done, particularly in industries like construction, but given the shortage of qualified workers these days, it’s certainly worth thinking about. While machines and technology can take over some roles and jobs, they can’t do everything: we still need people who can make the whole ship move forward!

“In August (2019), 7.1 million construction jobs went unfilled, and 80% of construction companies say they struggle to recruit and hire people, according to a survey by software firm Autodesk and Associated General Contractors of America.” (Source)

This shortage makes clear that it’s worth investing in training someone who has an outstanding EQ and giving them the skills they need to move forward. They will be more successful than someone who has a high IQ but no people skills.

Why EQ matters in the workplace

If you think about it, once a person has learned the technical skills they need to do their job, a lot of what creates difficulties in any workplace is the human interaction. Whether it’s as a project manager or team leader, someone who runs equipment in the field or works in the back office, they’ll have to deal with people and all their many personality quirks. 

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The individuals with a high EQ are in a better position to interact appropriately and effectively with others, both above them and below them, as well as their own peer group. 

“It turns out, success in both life and business is a matter of emotion, relationships, and character, rather than raw intelligence.” (Source)

Applying EQ in hiring for the construction industry

Figuring out who the individuals are who will be able to manage their emotions, can evaluate and appropriately react to the emotions of others and make decisions even under stress is valuable. These are the candidates who will be able to advance and will promote the strengths of others who work with them. It all leads to a healthier and happier work environment.

“For example, imagine that a high-potential Project Engineer joins a team on a complex project. An average Project Manager would carefully oversee the employee’s work, give advice on areas for improvement, and provide training as needed for the success of the project. However, a Project Manager with emotional intelligence might design specific stretch assignments for that Project Engineer based on his or her long-term career goals and existing strengths, create opportunities for coaching and mentorship, and encourage open communication to ensure that the employee feels valued and respected. Employees appreciate working for someone who is clearly invested in their success, and they are likely to be much more engaged in their work and much less inclined to pursue other opportunities than employees whose leaders exhibit less emotional intelligence.” (Source)

Given that qualified candidates are hard to come by, having managers and team leaders with a high EQ can help stem issues of turn over. So while skills are important, a construction site can be a stressful place, and having people working on it who can function well under pressure, acting as a positive force when leading others, is vital for the long term success of any company.

At OE Construction, we look for more than skills. We look for the people behind those skills because we want our teams to be like family, supportive and strong, through thick and thin!