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Construction Services Initiatives in Response to BFES Survey Results

February, 2012, by the CS Labor Management Council



Build the Team

Since fall 2010, the emphasis has been on accountability – especially at the senior management level. Responses to the 2010 Business & Finance Employee Satisfaction Survey and follow-up discussions led the Construction Services’ Labor Management Council (LMC) to identify inconsistencies in expectations of employees as a key cause of dissatisfaction.

The LMC’s work to more clearly define performance expectations began with a “Build the Team” meeting of trades people and managers in early 2011. Participants in the meeting agreed that “Be the best possible ambassador for CS” is an expectation that applies to employees at all levels of our organization. The April 2011 All-Staff meeting marked the kickoff of the Accountability Initiative. Everyone attending had a chance to review drafts of what it means to be an ambassador for CS for each job category: director and senior managers, senior supervisors and others managing projects, project assistants, and administrative support staff. These expectations were published in In The News, May 2, 2011 and intended as guides for holding one’s self and others accountable.

Meanwhile, in early 2011, the LMC laid out its concerns about performance expectations at the senior management level to CS’s director in a series of three meetings and proposed that CS begin an Accountability Initiative. The issues raised in those meetings included:

  • Need to address well-known and long-standing performance problems
  • Tendency to deal with issues by creating blanket rules for the group rather than holding individuals accountable
  • Project organization and scheduling - unbalanced workloads, competition for staff rather than cooperation, ignoring the direct and indirect costs of a narrow focus on “getting the job done,” and high overhead costs in the Hospital service area
  • Variations in how the Construction Engineering Managers perform their role

In June 2011, referencing concerns it heard from CS staff, the LMC reviewed and suggested additions to a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) document that CS senior managers were preparing for a July working session with CS customers and other stakeholders. A summary of the meeting which was designed as an opportunity to think together about how CS can align itself to better serve its individual customers and the University as a whole appeared in the July 25 edition of In The News. Using input from this meeting the director and senior managers are working to address the challenges identified by stakeholders, including:

  • Institutional alignment needed. What’s an efficient model given the capacities of the customers, design services and construction?
  • Maintaining consistency in services to various customers
  • Working within constraints on management that result from how the University operates
  • Perceptions of CS that don’t match the reality

In August 2011, the LMC conducted four separate half-hour interviews with CS’s Construction Engineering Managers. Through those meetings, the LMC identified these areas which it discussed with the director in November:

Positive practices/attitudes that seem to be consistent across all 4 CE Managers

  • They see themselves as the point person between customers, project managers and trades people. They have a liaison function which requires effective communication.
    • 3 of the 4 viewed making site visits to large projects as important to the flow of communication
  • They emphasized the importance of good communication skills
  • All stated that accountability starts with holding one’s self accountable
  • They see the AiM system as something that will help foster consistency across CE Managers
  • They believe that all CE Managers should have a basic knowledge of the construction process and know when to tap sources of expertise on codes

Areas for improvement in how the CE Managers operate

  • Skill in / use of methods of communication which are sometimes driven by personal preference rather than the needs of the customers and CS
  • Front-end planning
  • Consistency in service delivery to end users
  • Balance in the assignments of CE managers – wide variation in the number of buildings, geographic spread, size of projects and number of facilities managers to interact with
  • Attitudes and practices around accountability and discipline beyond holding one’s self accountable
  • Attention to / tracking of projects’ financials
  • Scheduling process and tracking schedules
  • Responsibility for the overall good of Construction Services instead of focusing almost exclusively on the success of individual teams.
  • Succession planning

In addition to the above, in November 2011 the LMC provided suggestions for improving tool management, and met with Material Expeditors to discuss what they see as the strengths and challenges of the current material expediting process, and to exchange ideas for improving the process based on what LMC members have heard in the field.

In January 2012, the LMC wrote a memo to the director expressing employees’ concerns related to the senior managers’ plans to hire for several regular management positions in the near future. The director responded with specifics about the plan and an explanation of the rationale for additional hires. The director also shared this information at the February 2012 All-Staff meeting.

In its efforts to improve communication, the LMC has asked the director to include in All-Staff meetings reports on the financial status of the University and Plant Operations as well as Construction Services, progress on aligning CS to better serve its customers and the University as a whole, changes within Plant Operations with an impact on CS, and improvements to processes and systems in CS that are designed to enable more efficient and effective project management.

Immediately before the 2012 B&F Employee Satisfaction survey, big questions about CS that the LMC was hearing in the field were: Where are we headed? What’s the plan? Are we being phased out? What should we be doing that can positively affect our future?

Content modified: July, 2012

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