4. Challenges Managing People in Construction
Word Count – 2070
In 1937, social scientists Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick (Papers on the Science of Administration) describe seven “major activities and duties of any higher authority or organisation”. Since then, the acronym POSDCORB has been used to describe the 7 functions of managers:
This essentially refers to the various steps or stages involved in a typical administrative process. POSDCORB stands for:
POSDCORB generally fits into the Classical Management movement, being classified as an element of scientific management. Gulick’s POSDCORB principles were instrumental in highlighting the theory of span of control, or limits on the number of people one manager could supervise, as well as unity of command to the fields of management and public administration.
For Luther Gulick, the central problem of administration was determining how to achieve the coordination and control necessary to accomplish organisational objectives.
His solution was to establish a strong chief executive to counter the divisive aspects of increasing specialisation and division of labour.
Gulick and Urwick built their ideas on the earlier 14 Principles of Management by Henri Fayol in his book General and Industrial Management (1918). Fayol defined theory as “a collection of principles, rules, methods, and procedures tried and checked by general experience” (Fayol 1918)
Fayols 14 Principles
Fayol’s influence on Gulick is evident in the 5 elements of management discussed in his book. Fayol clearly believed personal effort and team dynamics were part of an “ideal” organisation.
Fayol’s five principle roles (Plan, Organise, Command, Co-ordinate, and Control) of management are still actively practiced today.
The idea of giving authority with responsibility is also widely commented on and is well practiced, though his principles of “unity of command” and “unity of direction” are not adhered to in the structure of choice in many of today’s companies.
There are several important management theories which basically classified are as follows:
The Scientific Management School such as the works of Frederick W. Taylor and Lillian Gilbreth’s motion study,
The Classical Organisational Theory School such as the works of Henri Fayol’s views on administration, and Max Weber’s idealised bureaucracy,
The Behavioural School with the work of Elton Mayo and his associates.
Management is the process of designing and maintaining an environment in which individuals, working together in groups, efficiently accomplish selected aims (Koontz and Weihrich 1990, p. 4).
Theories provide an understanding of what we encounter. A theory provides criteria for what is relevant. Theories enable us to communicate effectively and develop more and more complex relationships with other people. Theories make it possible to keep learning about our professions with continuous development.
Since the late 1800’s management theories and scientific approaches have been produced by a number of people such as Henri Fayol, Fredrick Taylor, Elton Mayo, Henry Gantt and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. These people introduced the classical and scientific approaches and over the years developed these principles through their working careers. These styles have changed, merged and stayed the same depending of the person implementing their ideas and the type of company they work for.
The traditional classical approach started around the beginning of the 19th century and mainly focused on efficiency together with bureaucratic, scientific and administrative styles of management. The bureaucratic style of management tends to rely heavily on a structure of guidelines such as rules and procedures. While the scientific approach to management mainly focuses on “the best way to do a job” and the administrative style really emphasises the flow of information in the operation of the organisation.
Later towards the end of the 20th century the empowerment style was developed and as a result helped give the employee a sense of responsibility. This was done by offloading some of managements work onto the shop floor and turn gave the employee a sense achievement and direction at work.
Douglas McGregor (1906-1964): Who is best known for his formulation of two sets of assumptions- Theory X and Theory Y. McGregor argued that managers should shift their traditional views of man and work (which he termed Theory X) to a new humane views of man and work (which he termed Theory Y).
According to McGregor, A theory X attitudes man was lazy and work was bad were both pessimistic and counterproductive. Theory X assumes that people have little ambition, dislike work, want to avoid responsibility, and need to be closely supervised to work effectively.
Theory Y, proposed that man wanted to work and work was good. Theory Y offers a positive view, assuming that people can exercise self-discipline, accept responsibility and consider work to be as natural as rest and play. McGregor believed that Theory Y encompassed the true nature of workers and should guide management practice.
Fig 1. Douglas McGregor Theory X and Y.
Scientific management –
This type of management was introduced by Frederick Taylor and focuses on the worker and machine relationship and as a result of this approach helps increase productivity by increasing the efficiency of the production processes and as a result of his research, Ford Motor Co. embraced this style of management. This type is also designed so that each member of staff has a specified, well controlled task that can be performed as instructed.
Time and motion –
Frank and Lillian Gilbreth developed this method by focusing on identifying the individual motions of a task. These motions were combined to form both the methods of each operation and the time it took to carry out each task. They believed it was possible to design and time the method of each task in advance, rather than relying upon observation of trial and error.
Administrative Management –
Henry Gantt developed the Gantt chart, which is used for scheduling overlapping tasks over a period of time. Gantt charts have since become a common technique for representing the phases and activities of a working project and break down the structure so they can be understood by all.
Gantt’s management approach focused on motivational schemes and as such emphasised heavily on rewarding staff for good work as opposed to disciplining them over poor work. He also looked at the quality of management skills in building effective industrial organisations.
Abraham Maslow developed the human relations and behaviour theory in the 1950/60s by distinguishing between what motivates people to do certain activities. His theory suggested that people had to satisfy one level of need before moving onto the next and this in turn resulted in what ultimately motivates people / staff. This is shown in the pyramid illustration as shown below.
Fig 2 . Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
This style of management is a modern theory and was developed in the early 90’s and basically gives the employee a sense of power at work. This is carried out by the employee being authorised by their superior to carry out certain duties without the need to seek approval from above. This type gives the employee a sense of responsibility and achievement while helping to reduce the workload of their boss and in turn cuts down the amount of work the manager has to do as they have delegated certain responsibilities.
As highlighted in numerous government and academic reports (Latham, 1994; Egan, 1998, Fairclough, 2002), the construction industry is a sector of the economy which faces many challenges, especially in terms of performance.
There are many challenges facing a construction manager. Many challenges are a result of construction operations, while others are a result of indirect activities. A number of challenges are not construction related issues but must be addressed and managed by the construction manager. These issues include workforce/labour considerations, safety, time, and the changing nature of construction work.
The construction industry in general is a labour intensive industry and the role of construction manager is to manage people in a strategic and tactical way. One way of managing people would be a classical theory on human behaviour / relations such as Elton Mayo’s on motivation, as a group working dynamics will always have an impact on the projects performance.
The term group working dynamics refers to the attitudes, energy and interaction of its group’s members and leaders. The groups working dynamics will always be dependent on the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the project depending on the coordinated efforts of staff working together as a team.
Human resource is the most valuable asset in construction industry. Human resource practices are generally concerned with gaining value through increased skills, productivity, contribution, and cost consciousness and productivity are the important factors affecting the overall success of any construction project.
Human resource management is the process of finding out what people want from their work, what an organization wants from its employees, and then matching these two sets of needs.
Construction projects depend on the knowledge and skills of planning and executing the work. The quality of this most important resource: people, which is what differentiates one team or company from another. Having talented management on board to guide and direct a project is paramount. Having the right balance of skilled and unskilled workers to perform the work is a basic necessity. Finding and recruiting sufficient numbers of skilled, talented people is becoming increasing difficult. There are many reasons this is a problem. One of which is construction is generally viewed as being one of the least desirable industries in which to work. By nature construction is dangerous, dirty, hard work. Other industries out there offer preferred work environments that are cleaner, safer, and generally more desirable. Consequently, there is a severe shortage of talented people willing to work in construction.
In order to maximise long term performance, it is important to provide the training necessary to enlighten your workforce.
Leadership must be developed among the workforce to aid in effectively coordinating work activities by providing communication links between management and labour. This provides the opportunity for upward mobility and gives motivated people the chance to advance professionally. Empowerment leads to high levels of commitment, enthusiasm, self-motivation, productivity, and innovation. Benefits of this include feelings of appreciation, belonging, and heightened self-worth.
Empowerment enables employees to make decisions for which they are accountable and responsible.
Empowerment of workforce is one of the keys to improving construction performance.
The management theories that have been discussed, important as they are, have to be translated in practice by construction managers, For practicality, all construction managers must develop three sets of skills, namely; conceptual, technical, and human ( Fleet and Perterson 1994, p. 25). A good construction manager should also be able to see members of the organisation as human beings who have needs and psychological feelings and emotions.
The development of management theory involves the development of concepts, principles, and techniques. There are many theories about management, and each one ad to our knowledge of what managers should do. Each one has its own characteristics and advantages as well as limitations. The operational, or management process combines each and systematically integrates them.
The styles of management best suited to construction are a blend of all described above whilst trying to motivate staff using both the autocratic and democratic approaches because of the need to be one type of boss with one employee and another with somebody else. This is extremely prevalent when dealing with health and safety where and autocratic authoritative style is a prerequisite to the success of reducing the risk of accidents on site. Therefore a manager who makes definitive attempts to translate theory into practice is more likely to increase productivity than a manager who chooses to use the trial and error method of management.
Egan, J (1998) Rethinking construction: report of the construction task force on the scope for improving the quality and efficiency of UK construction, DETR, London.
Fairclough, J., (2002), Rethinking construction innovation and research: A review of government R&D policies and practices, Department of Trade and Industry, London
Fayol, H. (1949). General and Industrial Management. (C. Storrs, Trans.). London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, LTD. (Original work published 1918)
Fryer, B. (2004) The Practice of Construction Management, 4th Ed, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Gulick, L. H. (1936). Notes on the Theory of Organization. L. Gulick & L. Urwick (Eds.), Papers on the Science of Administration.
Koontz Harold and Weihrich Heinz (1990) Essentials of Management, Fifth Edition, McGraw-Hill.
Latham, M., (1994), Constructing the team, HMSO, London
Oxley, R. And Poskitt, J. (2007) Management Techniques Applied to the Construction Industry, 5th Ed, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Winch, G.M. (2008). Managing Construction Projects, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Figure 1 taken from – Beta Codex Network (2008) The Way People Are [Online] available from http://www.betacodex.org/de/node/508 [Accessed February 2014]
Figure 2 taken from – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs [Online] available from [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs [Accessed February 2014]
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