“The first thing about COMANCO is Safety. We won’t do it if it is not safe. When you take care of your people, the quality and level of service will fall in line. This is the COMANCO Way.”James Kile, COMANCO Project Engineer
What if we created an environment where our people felt safe, where their job had purpose and defined expectations, and where there was freedom to contribute to improvement when anyone saw a need? After all, happy people are productive people, and we need productivity in the field.
COMANCO, a national environmental and civil construction company, prioritizes their people’s safety and education as the most important part of their business model. Continuous learning, celebrating employee achievements and milestones, career development, and building strong communication on-and‐off the job site are efforts grounded in making sure COMANCO employees are proud of their work and get home safely at the end of the day.
Project Engineer, James Kile, was heading to a job site to check on hurricane evacuation preparations when I called to ask how he manages COMANCO’s training in the field. His role with the company is to communicate between field level and senior management to address issues and enhance processes. Understanding how the office operates and experiencing the field’s daily needs provides a unique perspective to strengthen communication throughout the organization. He pulled his truck to the side of the road to speak safely and walked me through what it takes to successfully train in the field.
“From day one, safety is the utmost important core value for the company,” says James. “We teach everyone in the field to record observations and near misses and to share them in their meetings. We mitigate the risk down to the lowest level. Everyone signs the HCSS meetings to confirm they understood the concerns of the day and are on the same page.”
Putting safety first sets the tone for the day, and lets everyone know you care about them above all else. “You start the meeting explaining the tasks for the day and how we are going to perform them,” says James. “You ask questions to get them talking: What will you do to work safely today? What hazards did you run into yesterday that you didn’t think about until after you got home? Then you review the Job Hazard Analysis and perform inspections, safety audits, and workplace examinations before any work begins.”
At the end of the day, the crew gathers for a close-out meeting to confirm everyone is accounted for. “We sign out and record if there were any injuries or accidents. We complete near‐miss forms and document it while it is fresh. Even the slightest soreness from moving sandbags should be documented,” says James. “By asking our people to sign their names, we’re heightening their awareness. By making safety the priority at the beginning and the end of each day, as new employees join, they will see the other crew members doing it right, and they won’t want to be the only one doing it wrong.”
In the field, James continually finds opportunities to encourage growth and teamwork. “We create mentorship programs, and challenge the less experienced crew members by pairing them with more experienced workers,” says James. “We make work fun, and treat each other with respect. If your crew has an idea for doing something better than it has been done for the past 30 years, we encourage their innovation and support their ideas. Have them show you how we can do it better.”
“Gamify their productivity for the day by displaying the results in the trailer side‐by‐side of the top-performing crews,” James says. “If others are struggling, observe what they are doing and how you can help them improve their production. The problem could be they are holding the extrusion welding machine the wrong way or welding inefficiently. Let them do it their way, show them how you would do it, and let them compare which way is more efficient, so they can believe that change needs to happen.”
“When you train in the field, you get more face-to-face interaction,” says James. “If your operator in the field says something is broken, let the supervisor inspect it with them, have them look at it with their own eyes, and put the ownership back on the supervisor to report what they see. When your operators see their supervisor takes the time to listen to them, they will come back to them. When they see the form being submitted, that will build trust between the operator and the supervisor.”
There are many tools in the HCSS system that will allow communication between the shop, the scheduler, and HeavyJob. You can use these tools to submit the maintenance request through HCSS Field easily and follow up on repairs. This may seem like a simple act of ownership, but it adds up. Encouraging your people to care for the equipment, manage their time efficiently, and allowing them to see that their concerns receive follow through and attention from management empowers them to do more.
The Field Is Important to the Business
“COMANCO Project Engineers plan two weeks in advance,” says James. “The Production Planner allows them to pay attention to waste and excess material as well as the need to adjust labor to allow time for the material to arrive.” For this reason, it is important to communicate to your foremen and supervisors why the information they provide on their timecards and diaries is critical to the business operating well. Understanding their contribution to the organization will drive them to excel where you need them to, and with the collective help of every employee, the company can improve.
If someone forgets to include cost code notes, share with them that the Engineer uses those notes to know if you had the right equipment and the right people on the job. Explain how the Estimating department uses those notes to determine why one project did well versus why another did not. Give meaning to the task you ask them to do, and they will assign more importance to complete it well. If they make a mistake, send the timecard back and ask them to correct it, rather than correcting it for them. This hearkens back to the idea of ownership thinking.
“When your people feel valued and understand why they are doing things the way you ask them to, they will help you find ways to stay competitive,” says James.
Change 1% at a time, but with a plan
In construction, there is a path that follows “the way things have always been done.” Many companies have long historical roots that have guided their successes all these years. Moving forward, what might have worked in the past does not necessarily guarantee success in the future, and recognizing that pattern (up or down) is the first step. Change can be hard when it requires altering what you are used to, or what seems to be working. With small, deliberate, and consistent effort, change is possible with a plan – even at incremental 1% growth. Here are a few small steps that I learned from James that might also help you begin adding change.
Start small. COMANCO needs every foreman to send in a diary every day. Using Note Indexes to guide the foreman’s entry and make the diary searchable for reporting. Train with questions such as: How many people worked today? Was there rain? What did you do today? What problems did you face, and how can we make it better? What do you have lined up for tomorrow if that doesn’t happen? Show them how to use the speech to text on their device so they can fill out forms quicker by simply speaking.
Include weather. If you are always recording the weather, you can look back at the history of the job and see how the weather affected performance.
Take lots of Photos. The more pictures you include with your diary, the more information you provide to the rest of the company. Visual evidence allows others to see what you see and stand by you when there are questions of liability.
Always check your work. COMANCO has several layers of approval before the timecard makes it to accounting. The supervisor is over the job, the Project Engineer monitors the job, and the Project Manager manages several jobs at a time. Every time card must pass their test before they can be paid. If the time card is missing information, do not be afraid to reject the card, with a clear reason to the supervisor. Allow them to make the correction so that they can avoid the mistake in the future. Reviews and checks may seem time-consuming, but if you make decisions from reports, remember that reports are only as good as the information being collected in the field.
Safety comes first. Take time to discuss what you will do to be safe today. With every meeting, set a goal to increase two-way communication and be intentional about your plan for the day. Remember: there is always enough time for safety.
We are here to help
If you need any help getting on track with your HeavyJob training, we update HCSS Academy and the Support Help Articles regularly. Always call our support if something is taking you longer than a few minutes to answer on your own. You can find us by phone, email, or chat. Leave a comment to let us know what you do to help train better in the field. We’d love to hear from you. If you’re looking for a learning experience to jump-start your success journey, we are hosting an HCSS Learning Summit from March 8-12 with trainers and industry experts on how to get more use from your HCSS products.