Building success in the construction industry with 6 management actions

As published on equipmentworld.com

Whether you’re just joining the workplace, a small or large contractor, work in a dealership or for a manufacturer, there are some management principles that can guide you through your construction equipment career and make you an even more successful leader.

The Six Management Actions are a tried and proven way of working. They are more than an ideology. They become your main beliefs and that of your culture. Deploy these daily and see what happens. It will bring out the best in your people and will change and sustain your company for years to come. Over the next few weeks I will take you through the Six Management Actions by chronicling some of the events in my career as examples of how they can influence (good or bad) your leadership style.

     The Six Management Actions

  1. Provide positive reinforcement
  2. Ask what problems and concerns people have and ask how you can help
  3. Treaty people with respect
  4. Ask for input prior to decision making
  5. Provide information and feedback in a timely manner
  6. Don't over or under manage

Action No. 1: Provide positive reinforcement

In the early days in the corporate workplace I didn’t have a clue about managing. I was ambitious and wanted to fill my day on the job with meaningful and productive activity. I didn’t think much about managing a team or for that matter leading a company. It was much more gratifying to complete a task or project on time and to my supervisor’s satisfaction, than to think about managing or being managed.

As time passed it became more apparent that a well-oiled team could accomplish much more than could be accomplished by one individual’s contribution. It was fortunate for me that I had very good mentors who, without knowing, in day-to-day activity used the Six Management Actions. They provided opportunities for me to work on a variety of team activities; e.g. continuous improvement projects, new design concepts, brainstorming sessions, etc.  It was through their mentoring and coaching that a light came on exposing me to the right way to manage.

To digress, I loved to play basketball and as a young man I learned about the importance helping individuals improve for the betterment of team. My coach was a great mentor and he absolutely knew about providing positive reinforcement. Coach knew that he could make me a better player and was relentless in his efforts to teach me the “drop step” move. If you’re unfamiliar with the jargon, it is probably the most important offensive move a center/post player needs to learn to be good at the position. (If you want to know more, look it up and learn the “drop step” at betterbasketballcoaching.com.)

Over and over he would say, “You’re getting better, keep practicing”.  Now, I was not the best to ever play the game, however, I was the most coachable. I finally mastered the “drop step” just in time to help the team to a winning season. That’s providing positive reinforcement.

My early years in the workforce with the Use Valu Task Force. International Harvester Engineering - March, 1966

Hamilton Marines Basketball, 1958 - Coach Smolinske and that's me on the far right.


Action No. 2: Ask what questions, problems and concerns people have and ask how you can help

I believe this is one of the most unselfish things you can do in your life. The payback is many times greater than your invested time. A case in point was the example I cited in my last post, where I expressed my love for basketball. I not only wanted to be a better player, but the best player on the team. My coach asked me how he could help me achieve my goal, which opened the door for him to teach me the “drop step” and to be named the MVP and Most Coachable. The latter is most cherished. I still have the trophy.

My first management opportunity was a baptism by fire. Let me set the scene. I had just joined a small company that manufactured HVAC products for truck, bus, agricultural and construction equipment applications. I was employed as a field sales engineer and traveled around, calling on OEMs and distributors. I had been there a year when the company tragically lost it’s chief engineer in a boating accident. Under this unfortunate circumstance, I was made chief engineer with a staff of 10 people reporting to me.

By this time, many of my personal habits and ways of working had become ingrained. It was here that I learned the importance of employee engagement, getting input before making decisions and asking people what questions, concerns and problems they had and asking how I could help.

You see, although I knew a lot about basic engineering, I knew little about the design, test and development of HVAC products for these types of applications. So it was important to engage and communicate with the entire team to accomplish the objective. As a result of using this management action, the employees overwhelmed me with their support. It’s true that "two heads are better than one."

If you’re not already, why not start using this 2nd management action? Ask what questions, problems and concerns people have and ask how you can help.


Action No. 3: Treat people with respect

Fast forward to yet another management experience that involved living and working abroad. The location was London, England, and the time was the early 1980s. A U.S. company had decided to form a joint venture with an East European entity.

The mission was to set up a trading company to sell and service the East European partners’ construction equipment products (track-type tractors and front-end loaders) produced under license from a leading U.S. construction equipment company. The charter required the company to employ mostly East Europeans and local British nationals with a few Americans, Australians, Iranians, etc. You get the picture.

Imagine this—East European nationals under communist control working side-by-side with a diversified group of employees in London. This is an example of finding the right people who can put differences aside for the greater cause. Those of us who knew how to work with the local government and get around town gave the East Europeans a great gift: respect.

In addition, the local U.K. nationals gave of themselves and treated the East European employee’s with respect, which provided a relatively smooth transition from everyday life in Eastern Europe to newfound surroundings in London. The joint venture's success was a result of this collegial environment. What started out to be the U.S. company defensive strategy to control the licensee’s sales territory turned out to be to be a great offensive strategy. Everyone benefited!

As my parents taught me, "mind your manners and treat your elders (and others) with respect!"


Action No. 4: Ask for input prior to decision making

It was the 90’s and another period of learning how to be a manager for me. It was my first opportunity to lead a medium-size company as president and CEO. The company specialized in exploration, mining and continuous production of industrial minerals. It was a company with three processing facilities, multiple mining locations and distribution throughout North America.

While this is not unique, it did present some interesting management challenges related to mining methods, process control, continuous improvement and international growth opportunities.

Many of the employees were well-trained and highly competent. In fact, I was only the second president of this company, which was founded in 1945. My challenge was to take advantage of the high-growth opportunity related to export markets and move the company to the next phase of business.

This necessitated greater employee engagement. So, an executive management team was formed for strategic thinking about the future direction of the company.

Asking for input on how best to use our resources and what new resources would be necessary to arm the mission, resulted in making a decision to undertake a Total Quality Management Initiative. This became the cornerstone for changing the way employees worked.

We also developed and adopted the Six Management Actions, which changed the culture from “It’s okay as it is” to “How can we do it better”. It took a couple of years of regular training, several process improvement teams and frequent and timely reporting (feedback) on results before the Six Management Actions became a normal way of working.

The company expanded into global markets, doubled and tripled in size and today is still one of the world’s top suppliers of specialty industrial minerals. 


Action No. 5: Provide information and feedback in a timely manner

Asking for input before making the decision to undertake the Total Quality Management initiative proved to be rewarding for the industrial minerals company. TQM and the Six Management Actions became the cornerstone for changing the way employees worked.

But it took some time before implementing the Six Management Actions became a normal way of working. Why? The employees took ownership by having a greater understanding of the business.

To ensure that we could sustain this way of working, a President’s Club was established to acknowledge, recognize and award employees for their contribution. At the annual President’s Club meeting an employee was voted, by his or her peer, to win the prestigious top prize for making the greatest contribution to our success. Basic, but it works! 


Action No. 6: Don’t over- or under-manage

Now managing a group of highly skilled professionals that are self-motivated and self-starters presents another opportunity to use the Six Management Actions. Look at each employee and ask: Does this type of employee need managing?

What management style is best suited for them? Consider this: In the main, professionals do not need to be told how to do their job. They need only to be an integral part of setting the goals, specific objectives and given the tools necessary to perform.

Support them with regular feedback. Make sure the organization and peers know of their performance and contribution to the business strategy. Here is a case where it’s easy to under-and over-manage. Regular positive reinforcement with constructive critique is vital to bolstering their self-esteem.

Now that I have taken you on a personal journey of my management experiences, I hope this has given you a helpful self-examination of your own management style. The Six Management Actions are nothing more than reminders of things you probably already do on a daily basis. If not, try them and see if they help you become an even better manager and leader.