Knowing how to delegate is critical for any construction superintendent. In this week’s blog, Lean expert and author Keyan Zandy explains 5 levels of delegation on the jobsite.
I have learned a great deal from the many construction superintendents I’ve worked with over the years. Early in my profession, I earned one superintendent’s respect by beating him to the trailer every morning and having the coffee pot hot. Another’s by locking up the jobsite every evening. And there was the one whose trust I slowly gained, and it all started with my asking if I could walk with him during his early morning rounds. He obliged—but only if I didn’t talk. (And if I ran the safety meeting. And did his daily reports. And took the progress photos.) Over time, he warmed up to me and taught me many things as we walked the job’s progress. But when I reflect on the wisdom these builders imparted to me, I learned the most from those who understood the best way to delegate.
How to Delegate
Delegation is a tricky thing in our business because the stakes are high. A dear superintendent I work with has a saying: It takes just one “Oh, crap!” to wipe away ten “Attaboys!”—meaning, one mistake can erase many days of a job well done. Because of this, it can be difficult for field leaders to give up their control. However, as projects grow, so do the number of responsibilities. The only way to scale is to share these responsibilities across the project team. If you are a field leader looking to empower the people underneath you—and not have to worry about the jobsite going to hell if you take a day off—here is a 5-level delegation plan that can help you to set expectations:
Level 1: Do this.
Level 1 is clear-cut. You are asking someone on the team to do exactly what you want. You’ve done the research, you’ve chosen from the options, and now you want the person to follow through per your instructions. This is the lowest level of delegation. Ideally, it is accompanied by a conversation about WHY you made the choices you did, so at least there is a learning opportunity.
Example: “Call Sunbelt Rentals and get us a 125 PSI compressor. We need it for two weeks.”
Level 2: Research and report.
A Level 2 delegation means the delegate should (1.) research the topic, (2.) gather the pertinent information, and (3.) report back what they discovered so that you can make the decision and tell them what you want them to do. This is still a form of lower-level delegation; however, you now allow the person to gather all the information, which can be a learning experience for them and free up time for you. As with Level 1, be sure to discuss WHY you made the decision you did, to provide a learning opportunity.
Example: “We need to order fencing for the jobsite. Do a linear foot take-off of the logistics plan and call these three fencing rental companies. Request a quote for a 6-foot-tall fence with two gates. Bring me the bids when you get them.”
Level 3: Research and recommend.
Level 3 builds off Level 2 in that you ask the person to (1.) research the topic, (2.) gather the pertinent information. The difference is that you are now asking them to make a recommendation, which adds another layer of learning for them and will continue to free up your time. In Level 3, you will still ultimately decide; however, teaching a direct report HOW to decide is vital. Some use a pros and cons list, and some of us who are on our Lean journey use Choosing by Advantages—but whatever your system, the goal is to ensure that the delegate makes a sound decision.
Example: “We need to put down flooring protection on level two. Look into the options—Ram board or Poly; the cost for us installing it instead of our flooring trade partner, etc.—and tell me what you recommend.”
Level 4: Decide and inform.
In Level 4, you ask the person to research something, outline the options, and then decide. Once the decision is made and carried out, they are still to keep you in the loop. In Level 4, you trust them completely; however, you don’t want to be surprised by not being in the loop.
Example: “Walk the inspection with the safety inspector. Document any deficiencies, follow up with the trade partners to get safety items corrected, and only copy me on correspondence to the safety inspector when all issues have been addressed.”
Level 5: Own it.
In Level 5, your delegate wholly owns the task. You trust them completely to take it and to make whatever decision they think is best. In a Level 5 delegation, there is no need for the person to report back. You trust that they have it handled, and they know they’ll have your support if needed.
Example: “You own the dumpsters on this project. Do your homework, get us the best price per pull, and then make sure they are emptied as required.”
As you think about the people you give direction to on the jobsite, also think about what you communicate, and how you’re doing it. Are you making all the decisions? Are you allowing others to think for themselves? Are your expectations clear? Give the 5 Levels a shot and see if it helps. Use the terminology of the 5 Levels so that there is a common understanding. The more your teams are empowered to make decisions and be accountable, the more you can scale and have time to focus on higher-level things that will lead the project to success.
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