Promote with a Plan in Place
Written by Marilee Brewer
July 18, 2022
Promoting one of your people to field supervisor or foreman is exciting. They've put in the work, they've excelled at their role, and you're confident they'll be a good leader.
So why do you often find these newly promoted leaders floundering a few months in?
It's often because you promoted them without a plan in place.
There wasn't an established structure to say, "Okay, here are your objectives in the first 30, 60, and 90 days. This is what you need to learn." And there was no handbook they could consult to learn what changed in their role and what their new responsibilities are.
In this article, we'll show you a three-step plan for helping people thrive after a promotion—and a tool you can use to train your newly promoted leaders for success.
Step 1: Start with the basics
Let's say you're promoting Tom. Tom started working in your industry as a summer laborer when he was 16 years old. He learned quickly, worked hard, and tried a few different roles before he became an equipment operator.
Tom has worked as an operator for the last 10 years, and he's one of your best. He knows what to do to get his machine to perform at peak productivity day in, day out.
But that doesn't mean Tom knows the daily duties of a foreman. Nor does it mean Tom knows how to communicate with project managers, vendors, subcontractors, or his subordinates.
Pro tip: Just because somebody was good at what they did before doesn't mean they'll automatically know what to do in their new role.
Here's how you can help them adjust.
Speak the same language
There are an overwhelming number of industry terms in construction, mining, and other Dirt World sectors . . . and not everyone agrees on what means what.
For instance, your newly promoted foreman might not know all the lingo they need to talk about project plans.
It's important to clarify terms so everyone at your company uses the same language. It's also important for newly promoted leaders to feel comfortable asking questions. So let them know you expect questions—and that they're not a failure if they have to ask.
Clarify the responsibilities of the role
Foremen and field supervisors have very different roles than field crew members. So you want to make sure new leaders know what their new responsibilities are.
You'll need to answer their basic questions like,
- What tasks will I have to do now that I didn't have to do before?
- When and how do you expect me to complete those tasks?
- Who will I report to?
- Who can I ask for help?
Arming new leaders with this information will set them up for success by setting clear expectations and giving them a way to get help when they need it.
Another way to clarify duties is to follow the military’s example and train, train, train.
Only this training isn't an army-crawl through an acre of mud. It’s teaching details like industry and company standards and daily job duties that tend to get overlooked.
As Army General Martin Dempsey said, “It is, after all, the seemingly small disciplines and commitment to high standards that make us who we are and bind us together as a force.”1
Pro tip: A field leader's role comes with many responsibilities, but some are higher priority than others. Teach your new leaders how to prioritize objectives.
Make safety second nature
Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.”2
Every good leader bears the responsibility of keeping their team safe. And that holds especially true in the Dirt World, where hazards can come in the form of a124-ton D11.
Construction workers are more likely to die on the job than anyone in any other industry in the U.S. In 2020, construction-related deaths accounted for 21% of American workplace fatalities. Another 165,300 workers were injured or disabled on the job.3
Two years later, 29 miners died in work-related accidents, down from 37 mining deaths in 2021.4
Newer field supervisors may not immediately understand the scope of their safety responsibilities or how to model and enforce safety for their crew. So you must teach them about the types of jobsite safety hazards and how to prevent safety incidents from occurring.
Step 2: Prepare them to lead others
Some people are natural leaders who just need a little help to sharpen their skills. But most of us have to learn how to lead others well.
Let's walk through a few of the basic skills your newly promoted leaders will need to manage their crews well, plus some helpful resources they can use to learn more.
There's an old saying that, "To be unclear is to be unkind."
New leaders may struggle to communicate clearly because they're still learning the ropes. It's common see them hem and haw a few times before they finally spit out what they need to say. It's also common to see them go the opposite direction and start barking out orders like a drill sergeant.
So one of the first steps to developing good leaders is teaching them how to communicate plans effectively to the crew. You want to teach them to speak clearly and concisely.
You'll also want to teach new leaders how to handle difficult conversations—like talking to a person who's showing up late every day or letting someone go.
- Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
- Communication Is Key with Jason Schroeder
Most people who get promoted to leadership have spent time in the field. They have tons of technical knowledge. But they may not know how to teach others.
They may find fall into bad patterns, like yelling at rookies who "don't get it" or not answering questions thoroughly because "everybody knows that." (Really, your foreman is super experienced and has forgotten that once upon a time, they didn't know either.)
So consider how your foremen should share knowledge. How do you want them to run toolbox talks? What topics should they cover? How much time should they spend training new hires?
Then let new leaders know what you expect of them, and support them as they learn how to teach others.
Pro tip: Teach leaders to tell their crews why they're doing things a certain way. When crew members know that, they'll be more cooperative. They may even suggest ways to help the project meet its goal better and faster than planned.
Knowing their crew's needs
Newly promoted field leaders are used to being on a crew. They're used to asking their foreman, "Hey boss, where's this piece of equipment?" or "Did you get this for me?"
And the boss says, "Yep, it's right here." Or, "No, I'm sorry. It's going to be another day and here's why."
Now the shoe's on the other foot. Your newly promoted foreman is responsible for making sure their crew has what they need to do the job. That can be challenging at first.
Anyone who is in the habit of taking ownership knows not to make excuses, even when it comes to things they didn’t know about in the first place. But too many surprises can throw new leaders off and leave even the most optimistic starter with a bad taste in their mouth.
You'll have to help your newer foremen learn what the crew needs and how long it typically takes to get those things.
- How to Lead a Crew with Jason Schroeder
- How to Create Stability with Jason Schroeder
Remember our buddy Tom? Tom's spent over a decade working in the trenches. As a new foreman, Tom struggles to stay in his lane.
He knows he's supposed to spend his time reading plans, communicating with subcontractors, and making sure his crews have what they need . . . but it's just so easy to hop in the excavator and do the work himself.
He thinks he's helping his crew, but really, Tom is stretching himself too thin. When somebody has a question or the project manager needs to talk to him, he's too busy laboring to handle it. Tom needs to learn how to delegate tasks to his crew—and so do your new leaders.
- Laws of Combat: Decentralized Command with Jocko Willink
- How to Delegate to Your Team with Wally Adamchik
Step 3: Make a development plan
After a promotion, it's great to tell that person, "You made it! Good job!" But if that's where you stop, they—and you—are in for a world of hurt.
New leaders have to grow into their role, and they can't do that alone. (At least, they can't do it very well alone.) So work with them to make a plan for their development as a field leader.
Now, this isn't just, "Here are your 90-day objectives. Good luck."
This is, "Where do you want to be in five years? What are your strengths we can build on? What are your weaknesses we can help you overcome? What support do you need from me?"
The development plan should show the big picture of your new leader's long-term career trajectory. And it should include short-term plans that can—and will—change.
Maybe starting out they're most concerned about teaching others. Then three months later they come to you and say, "I love teaching one-on-one. I'm really good at it. But man, I'm having trouble communicating plans to the whole crew. Can you help me work on that?"
Or maybe they don't see the problem. Maybe you go to them and say, "Hey man, I've noticed that when you're frustrated, you get short-tempered with your crew. How can I help you work on that?"
That support will go a long way.
A training tool for new leaders
Let's face it: most leadership training for the trades is sorely lacking. That's why we created BuildWitt Training. This easy-to-use software is chockful of useful, real-world lessons that will help you build up better leaders.
Your newly promoted field leaders will get access to learning plans like:
- Leadership. They'll learn skills like communication, delegation, taking ownership, and more from experts including Jocko Willink and Wally Adamchik.
- Field Supervisor: An Introduction and Field Supervisor: Level 2. These learning plans introduces new leaders to the job tasks they'll need to do and helps them learn how to manage projects and people.
- Toolbox Talks (coming soon). Help new leaders create practical toolbox talks that engage crews and keep them safe. Each lesson comes with a downloadable PDF that leaders can take to the jobsite to help them make a memorable toolbox talk.
- An Introduction to Management. What do managers do? How do they hire and onboard new crew members? How should they give feedback to their crew? What do they document—and how do they do it? This learning plan answers all these questions and more.
Each learning plan includes modern, engaging video lessons. And they're super short. Most lessons are five minutes or less, so your new leaders can watch a quick training video whenever they need one.
Jay Collup, Director of Field Development, says, “When you promote an employee from the field to supervision, there isn’t a clear path on what changes in their role. This can lead to costly mistakes or people issues due to not understanding how to handle personnel. These courses will definitely help in this area.”
Check out the BuildWitt Training course catalog to learn more about what courses are available for your newly promoted leaders and the rest of your crew!
Written by Marilee Brewer
July 18, 2022
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Meet the Expert
Marilee Brewer's philosophy on heavy civil construction is that everything—even the Bingham Canyon Mine and the Willis Tower—starts with ideas put into words. An avid writer and researcher, Marilee brings inspiration, storytelling, and human candor to Dirt World information. Her writing focuses on providing content that enhances user experience, improves engagement, and ultimately increases revenue. A trained Linguist and social media storyteller, ask her for story and social media writing tips.