On-the-job training (OJT) has many merits. It is the most effective means of learning a trade and making the transition from apprentice to journeyman. But OJT should not be the only means of training for management teams. On the contrary, OJT alone can often reinforce poor habits that have developed over time in project leads and organizations. Too often as business leaders, we assume that our project leads have, or have "picked up" acceptable management traits by watching and observing the successes and failures of others. This may be true in some cases, but it does not discount the need for clear-cut and well-communicated processes along with management training.
We work in an industry that is heavily dependent on both leadership and management. Compressed construction schedules, numerous subcontractors to organize, employees to motivate, quality to ensure, payrolls to process, design changes---the list could go on. This process is difficult to manage in a perfectly controlled warehouse environment where practices such as Kaizen and Just in Time were developed---but we are often forced to muster our troops against uncooperative Mother Nature as well as work around client needs and schedules. Each of these issues confirms that planning and management are important aspects in our industry---as important as good trades skills.
The intangibles of leadership are nearly impossible to teach---some have them, many don't. While we'd all like to be under the charge of charismatic leadership, it's uncommon. However, the basic fundamentals of business and management are not too difficult to coach. Developing standardized systems with clear-cut goals that can be quantified and providing training for your leadership teams will bring a large return on investment. Assuming that a carpenter will pick up excellent management habits by working at a jobsite before he or she becomes a lead carpenter or a project manager is wishful thinking, and it places an unnecessary burden on him or her to succeed in a position for which they are not trained properly.
The goals of management include the need to develop sales, accounting, estimating and construction processes and systems---along with tools to verify that they are being used and are working properly. Teach scheduling and job costing and the importance of both. Management is not a skill brought on by years spent coping crown moulding, hanging doors or framing roofs. Excellence in these trades does not automatically equate to management or supervisory expertise, either. Management is a skill that must be taught effectively in order to get the best out of employees both for the company and for themselves.
Take time to develop a fundamental training program---a "best practices" guide, so to speak, for project leads. Stress and re-stress basic business fundamentals (communicating, documenting, planning, forecasting, etc.) Do not assume that everyone grasps the "big picture" of your company's operations and sees how they and their actions each day fit into the overall project and company plan. Explain budgeting, forecasting and accounting and how you have developed the market cost per hour for your staff. Explain how different job sizes may require a different gross profit margin in order to meet profit goals. Demonstrate how cash flow is so important. Most of all, let's not assume that a master carpenter is a master of project management or has been given the opportunity to learn these skills. Keeping this information from them won't help your leads succeed. On the contrary, this is essentially dropping them off in the wilderness without a map and assuming that prior experience will get them home safely, soundly, timely, profitably---and ready and able to do it all again tomorrow under different circumstances.
Preparation and education are the most powerful tools that we have available to us. Let's not be timid in using these tools both on ourselves and on our project leads. It is not condescending to offer or receive management wisdom learned from years of experience or to assume that our carpenters haven't been taught business fundamentals. However, it can be devastating to leads and organizations to assume the "school of hard knocks" will teach them alone. When we place a skilled tradesman in a position for which we have not adequately prepared them, their disenchantment can ultimately lead to two losses---that of the tradesman and that of a potential project lead. None of us can afford this scenario.