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Skills Pay the Bills


Is Management Education Worth The Investment? If It Results In An Increase In The Efficient Management Of Plants, Projects And Employees, The Answer Is Yes.

By Dr. Joe McGuire, Dr. Lisa Breja and Billy Snead

This is the first in a two-part series on the importance of management education for construction-materials producers. – Ed.

Companies involved in the heavy highway construction industries are fortunate in that they generally seem to have hard working and dedicated employees. This provides them a pool of experienced employees from which they can select individuals to fill field, plant and other entry level management positions.

Many company owners or upper management personnel identify those employees they believe have the potential to become supervisors, lead persons, plant managers or project superintendents. Generally employees selected to fill these positions have an interest in the industries, exhibit leadership characteristics and possess a good work ethic.

Employees identified to fill future management positions are usually mentored for a period of time by current managers. During that time, they (future managers) learn how the operation works, how to perform maintenance and conduct repairs, and how to properly complete required paperwork. However, they are rarely provided with training or educational opportunities which focus on the skills needed to manage others.

In his online article Top 10 New Manager Mistakes, F. John Reh said “managing can be a little difficult at first.” He also said “a recent poll found that more than 50 percent of managers received NO training before starting the job.” Because they are not provided with opportunities to learn or develop management skills, new managers may experience some frustration when it comes to communicating with others, delegating tasks, disciplining difficult employees, resolving workplace conflicts and handling similar issues when at work.

While some newly appointed mangers have a natural ability to deal with the frustration and stress that develops from situations that arise in the work place, others do not and frequently request they be allowed to return to their previous job – or simply resign. When newly appointed managers resign, not only do companies lose what they believed to be a valuable employee, but they have the added cost of finding and developing replacements.

A company’s management selection process, which consists of simply identifying employees who they believe have management potential; providing them with an opportunity to develop by working with mentors; promoting them to management positions; and telling them to “go manage” without giving them the skills to do so, should be reconsidered.

Bill Lee in an online article titled, Techniques to Train New Managers, indicates that “businesses are notorious for throwing newly appointed managers to the wolves, many times failing to provide even the most basic management training.” Lee believes when this happens, “organizational productivity is certain to suffer.” Companies who follow this model will generally experience a higher turnover rate at the entry or field manager level than those who provide management development training for their personnel.

A company’s financial success is determined by how well it is managed. According to Barrie Gross at AllBunisness.com, “the ability to manage people well can have a huge financial impact on a company. Employee turnover rates, cost of talent retention, litigation experience and tenure are just some of the metrics you should look at to try to gauge the effectiveness of your management staff.

Most companies offer management training of some sort. But there is always room to enhance the programs so that managers feel better prepared to handle the day-to-day responsibilities in ways that minimize risk to the company while improving relationships in the workplace.”

Background
For the past few years the Oldcastle Materials Midwest Group (OMG Midwest) management has taken steps to raise its Iowa plants, products, operations, delivery systems and team to a higher level. The initiatives and programs implemented by them have dealt with identifying and placing quality individuals in management positions, on-time delivery of quality products, and increasing efficiency, sales and market share. They have accomplished these without jeopardizing employee safety or doing harm to the environment.

The management of OMG Midwest is proud of its efforts to educate its workforce at all levels. Their support of educational programs or other training opportunities distinguishes them as the leader in this area among OMG companies. The results of their efforts are seen in improved production and delivery, better plant appearance (housekeeping), improving safety record and high level of compliance with environmental rules/permits.

Improvements to the operations, while a source of satisfaction to the management team, were not at the level they would like. Building on the successes they had experienced, they made a decision to continue raising the bar and challenged employees to do the work needed to become a world-class operation.

In an effort to further define their long-term goals in this area, the management team met and discussed what being a world-class operation might look like, what it would take to accomplish it and what roadblocks might prevent them from getting to that level.

During subsequent meetings they identified the following to be the various “operations” at the plants, positions or departments within the ready mix division:

  • Plant Managers.
  • Customer Service.
  • Quality Control.
  • Sales Department.
  • Delivery Team (Drivers).

In addition, the team provided approximately 600 suggestions, ideas and thoughts on what they believed it would take to make these “world-class operations or departments,” and thereby assist the company in achieving its goal of becoming a world-class operation. These opinions were then placed into categories or lists, which were similar according to who might be responsible in ensuring a task is completed, characteristics of the individual doing the task and other points of similarity. When the data was broken out in this manner some common themes stood out:

World-Class Plant Managers
The management team described ideal plant managers at this level as team leaders who are committed, consistent and have a good attitude. These exhibit the ability to discipline, motivate or reward employees when needed; have a good knowledge of their jobs, plants, products, customers; and can ensure on-time delivery of products to jobsites. Ideal plant managers will work to make certain all company rules, policies, procedures and permits dealing with the operation, employee safety and environmental compliance are followed.

In addition, world-class plant managers will understand financial matters related to the operation, be aware of the importance of “housekeeping” and its relationship to community image, and have the ability to encourage team work or ownership from employees. Lastly, plant managers will have the communication and listening skills needed to establish good working relationships with upper management, co-workers and customers.

World-Class Customer Service
Attaining customer service at the “world-class” level will only be accomplished when those involved in that aspect of the operation take care of all customers’ needs; strive for accuracy in taking orders; ensure timely delivery of products to the job site; and by communicating changes, problems or issues with customers in a timely manner. As part of customer service, plant managers must be good listeners and have the ability to communicate clearly with employees and customers. They should strive for excellence in all areas, have a positive attitude and be creative when circumstances change.

World-Class Quality Control
Becoming world-class in Quality Control seemed to be straight forward. Those involved in quality control need to be honest, knowledgeable and strive for accuracy in mix designs and test results. They must document their work accurately and be proactive rather than reactive to ensure problems or issues with products are minimal. Being responsive to customers’ needs or requests is as vital to project success as is the need for quality control staff to communicate with them (customers) and plant or project personnel.

World-Class Sales Department
The management team indicated those involved in sales and marketing must, first and foremost, be professional, approachable, have a positive attitude and be responsive to customers’ requests. Secondly, they (sales staff) need to have a thorough knowledge of company products, customers, competitors, projects and future jobs. Having above average communication skills and the ability to deal with both internal and external customers are keys to moving sales to the next level.

World-Class Delivery Team (Drivers)
The company’s drivers and mixer trucks are two of the more visible components of OMG Midwest operations. To move the company up to a world-class level the management team agreed they must project a positive image in the communities in which they are located. This can be accomplished by coaching drivers to keep their trucks clean; by helping them keep a positive attitude; ensuring they exhibit a pleasant demeanor at job sites; and making certain they follow all environmental, safety and traffic rules. Ensuring company drivers understand the importance of the job they do and the value of customers are key elements of this process.

Also, drivers must understand the significance of communication when doing their job. Problems at the job site, issues with contractors or similar things need to be discussed with plant or project managers in a timely manner. Moving toward team development and ownership of jobs, projects, plant sites and programs will move truck drivers to the world-class level.

After reviewing the data, several common themes or issues were identified as problems or areas which needed to be addressed. These revolved around the need to develop management and communication skills, improve attitudes, understand financial aspects and increase knowledge about all “operations.”

In addition, team building, safety, housekeeping, community image and employee buy-in or ownership of projects and programs were pointed out as important elements to be improved upon if success is to be achieved. However, it was determined becoming a world-class operation was an attainable goal. They had in place motivated plant managers, drivers and other personnel who were up to the task.

In the past, plant and other managers received very little education or training in management skill development. As a result, there have been employee conflicts, production and delivery problems and a high turnover rate at the plant manager level. Providing managers, at all levels, with tools to help them perform their jobs in a more efficient and effective manner is key to mitigating these problems and moving to the next level.

The management team, after evaluating the current operations, identified several processes that they believed would move them down the path to creating a world-class organization. Among them was providing management skill development training to managers within the organization.

Participation
When adults participate in an educational experience it can sometimes produce anxiety because several years may have passed since they participated in a formal classroom experience. Therefore providing a program which is non-threatening but from which they will benefit is very important. In addition, attempts to provide all aspects of a management training program in one or two, full-day sessions are generally not successful.

Adults retain approximately 10 percent of what is provided in sessions where they are overloaded with new information. Educational sessions that provide for new learning to take place over several sessions experience a much higher percentage of retained learning.

Furthermore, research indicates that having a period of time between training sessions allows participants time to process the new information they learned and practice any new skills they may have developed. These also contribute to learning retention and program success. Keeping these things in mind, a Management Skill Development Program was designed for the management team.

Two options for presenting the program were evaluated: The first, comprised of 10 sessions, would be presented in four-hour sessions; the second, would be made up of five, eight-hour sessions. In an effort to minimize disruption at the plants and amount of travel required to reach the sites where the sessions were held, it was decided to present the program in five sessions beginning in March 2012 and ending in July 2012.

The Management Skill Development Program was designed to allow approximately 30 days between each of the following sessions:

  1. Building Trust, Credibilityand Influence, and Situational Leadership.
  2. Essential Skills for Managers and Improving Personal Effectiveness.
  3. Effective Teamwork and Coaching.
  4. Financials for Non-Financial Managers (Business Acumen).
  5. Leading Staff Through Change, Guiding Conflict Resolution and Dealing with Difficult People.

Building Trust, Credibility and Influence
Participants learned how to define trust, identify trust traps and develop trust techniques. They learned why trust is crucial to relationship development, the importance of being accepted as credible and its value for influencing others.

Situational Leadership
Managers learned about the differing leadership styles used to influence employees and teams toward goal achievement; they learned when to direct or when to delegate; and how to deal with employees who are growing and those who are regressing.

Essential Skills for Managers
Participants learned the communication skills and processes to have a “performance” dialogue. They learned to evaluate leadership behaviors, strengths and areas for development; they assessed their interaction skills and those which needed further development; and learned how to use the interaction process to achieve company goals and enhance working relationships.

Improving Personal Effectiveness
Managers learned how to be proactive, establish priorities and manage time. They also learned how to set and meet goals, conquer procrastination, handle interruptions, delegate tasks and keep themselves motivated.

Effective Teamwork
Participants learned the dynamics of working as a team; discovered the challenges a team may face; identified key elements of a team charter; learned critical team success factors and apply them to improve a team’s performance.

Coaching
Managers discovered how to coach employees to develop their job skills and learned how counseling will help employees remove barriers to performance. They learned when to coach or when to counsel and translate the principals of each into actions. Participants learned how to give effective feedback.

Finance for Non-Financial Managers
During this session participants were provided a basic awareness and common language regarding financial matters as well as definitions to key financial terminology and concepts. The manger’s role with regard to the facility’s financial health was defined and ways he or she can influence labor costs were identified. They were also given an overview of the Supply Management and Expense Management processes.

Leading Staff through Change
In this session, managers explored their role in helping others adapt to changes occurring within the organization and gained the knowledge and skills to effectively discuss change with others to increase their involvement and build commitment.

Coping with Difficult People
Managers learned how to identify behaviors of employees who are sometimes difficult to work with and look at processes to help those employees modify inappropriate or unacceptable behaviors. Constructive discipline as an option to termination was discussed.

Guiding Conflict Resolution
Participants identified their preferred conflict resolution mode; learned the stages of conflict, why leaders need to recognize them and learned how to respond to them appropriately. Four approaches to guide conflict resolution were taught as was the knowledge and skills to conduct effective conflict resolution discussions.

This educational program was provided to 60 Oldcastle Materials Group staff and plant managers at three Iowa Community Colleges: Iowa Valley Community College (Marshalltown), Southwest Community College (Creston) and Central Iowa Community College (Fort Dodge). It was expected that this Management Skill Development Program would provide them with skills to better perform their job. If they learned to manage their plants or projects in a more efficient and effective manner, it is expected employee turnover will be reduced, high-quality products and services will be provided to customers, and company profits will rise.

(The second part of this feature will focus on program evaluation and conclusions.)

For the past 30 years, Dr. Joe McGuire has worked in the construction-aggregate production industry dealing primarily with the planning/zoning process, environmental permitting, compliance issues and educational/training, while also participating in many aggregate mine-development and permit requests at the county level, which required involvement in the public hearing process.

Dr. Lisa Breja serves as Iowa Valley Community College District Institutional Researcher, where her duties include survey administration/oversight, report-writing, data analysis, accreditation and Federal/State reporting.

Billy Snead, CSP, is the EHS Director of Oldcastle Materials' Central West Division. He holds a BS in Occupational Safety & Health and has worked for the company for nine years.