How to Teach Construction Employees to Make Decisions on Their Own


I’m continuing to discover many construction leaders struggle with how to get employees to make decisions. Initially, I thought they were really asking, “How do I get my workers to make the RIGHT decision.” After a little follow-up I discovered, “No, I just can’t get them to MAKE a decision.”

While those of you reading this article may very well relate to some of the tips or techniques shared I really am positioning this material to be used as a training or development tool. So, here we go!

1. Inform employees that decision making IS NOT an option
You might think that employees inherently know that they are expected to make decisions, but I have found many contractors who might disagree with this assessment. Make it part of your new employee orientation, remind your workers at crew or company-wide meetings and share again at employee performance reviews the need for them to make decisions. Hearing this same message more than once might be needed to help each employee to finally “connect the dots” as it relates to making a decision.

2. Define what decisions can be made by level of authority
In fairness to any employee, most simply want to know what they can and cannot do. This is fair, and you need to comply with this need. Therefore, review each level of work you have in your organization and consider what decisions can be made at each level. Document the types of decisions in three categories.

70% decisions that employees make on their own/without permission
20% decisions that employees should ask for input, advice or coaching…BUT they must still make the decision
10% decisions that employees must “kick upstairs”; they do not have the authority to make the decision

This really isn’t that difficult to do. For example, consider an example for each category.

“70%’er” — Need to replace work gloves, report a damaged tool, share a safety concern
“20%’er” — Struggling with proper work approach to task, needing input on dealing with customer or another contractor on jobsite
“10%’er” — Need to purchase piece of equipment or tool, responding to a demand made by a customer who shows up on the jobsite

If you will develop several examples that are realistic for your company and the worker’s level of authority, you will give each worker a more clear understanding of what they can and should decide.

3. Teach your workers how to make decisions
If this tip sounds too elementary just consider from where many of our younger workforce is coming. Many contractors are finding that younger workers have had limited training or nurturing on how to make decisions…much less good decisions. This isn’t intended to be negative, but it is a reality for many contractors. So if you have a worker who just isn’t making decisions, consider the fact that she might not have had any formal training on how to go about making a decision. So, consider a few simple training points on this effort:

See the big picture for the situation she is facing. What’s really the issue or need?
Assess the positives and negatives of the situation.
Assess the impact made on others depending on what decision is made.
What is the right thing to do? The safe thing to do? The best quality thing to do?
Narrow the decision to the two best options.
If one decision isn’t crystal clear, go with your best hunch!

You will still have some employees who are timid about making any decision — but don’t give up. Keep educating them on the six points above, they’ll get there in time.

4. Teach your workers “Return on Decision Made” (RODM)
Return on Decision Made (RODM) is important to teach your workers. Contractors recognize that every decision made has some consequence, or “return.” A return could be financial, but it might also be some level of customer satisfaction, doing something only one time versus having to repeat an effort, etc. Part of assisting your workers to make decisions is to help them see the benefit when they do make a good decision, so don’t be shy about giving them the return on their efforts.

5. Trust… then trust again
There is the emotional side to moving your employees to make decisions. Not every decision that your workers will make will be the right decision. This is where you must hold on to your shorts and, while wanting to correct the results, not display any negativity to the employee. Trusting our employees, especially as they are just beginning to grow and develop, can be very challenging and frustrating. This requires that we continue to assist our employees to be knowledgeable about making good decisions, but we must control our tendency to pull back from employees when they have decided poorly.

As contractors, we can all recall those decisions that our employees may have made that we sure wish we could have back. But the same could be true for you and me. Therefore, if we’re really serious about moving our employees to be more engaged in work, to be more active in making needed decisions, decisions that we might not be there to make ourselves, then we’ll need to be confident and convinced that moving them to make decisions IS the right thing for us to do.

Commit today to moving your people to making decisions. Be patient, be firm and be supportive, and watch your workers begin to demonstrate what they can really do to help grow your company.

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