Remove the barriers to commitment
Tim, operations manager for a major Northwest paving company, told Session 5 of Turbo’s Leadership Development Lab (LDL):
“In 1998 I was managing a project on I-405 near Bothell, Washington. The project was to widen several bridges and add a lane in both directions of the interstate for about three miles. The contract had numerous design issues and changes, and was soon way behind schedule. If things weren’t resolved, the project would take an entire additional year.
“After exhausting negotiations, we arrived at a plan with the agency to re-sequence the project in an attempt to get things back on track and finish the project on time. We would compress the schedule and have multiple things happening simultaneously rather than the linear fashion of the initial schedule. To begin this aggressive schedule, the current traffic alignment had to be repositioned to make a way to get the project going again. One key piece of work remained to accomplish this – constructing a minor segment of concrete barriers.
“The barrier work was to be constructed by a subcontractor who would position the concrete barrier with a slip-form paving machine. We had constructed the foundation, built access, tied the reinforcing steel, and made everything ready for this subcontractor. We had engaged them in the process and reached an agreement on their added costs and a schedule for them to perform their work that would open the way for getting the project back on track. We were all set to go.
“On the morning that the barrier subcontractor was to begin placing concrete, I met their superintendent on the jobsite. I vividly recall meeting him at the end of the off ramp. He drove up in his
rattle-trap purple Ford Ranger pickup. He told me they had a change in schedule and would not be starting that day. He told me he would have to get back to me on when they might be available. I was fuming mad. I reminded him how we had met with both the agency and his company, negotiated the changes and extra costs, and that his company owner had committed to performing the work necessary to help get the project back on track. No matter, he wasn’t going to have anyone working that day. I lost all control and sense of reason and proceeded to dress him up and down. I called him every name in the book. I saw black! While I was exploding and screaming at him, he just drove off.
“Needless to say, the project got done anyway. The lesson I learned from this experience is that losing my cool and yelling and screaming is rarely effective. After a brief conversation with his superiors, the situation was resolved, their work was completed, and the project moved forward.
“The action I call you to take is to not lose your cool when things become chaotic and people fail in their commitments. Remaining decisive and sticking to your principles is a much better approach. The benefit you will gain is you will remain in control of the situation and be more effective as a manager. You will demonstrate empowering leadership to your team who will emulate your style of control rather than letting emotions dictate their actions.”
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