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A year for the people at construction sites

Sound of sites in 2021 – A year for the people

Author: Tuomas Hakulinen
Published: 5.1.2021

In 2020, the construction industry developed faster than the leap after inventing the wheel, or at least that’s what it feels like. And in 2021 it seems to accelerate to the power of 2! Digitalization and technology have taken massive leaps forward, but I claim we next need to develop the algorithm, that is, the people. For us humans, it seems to be more and more common to flounder in the flow of development, or at worst, be lost in pitfalls. But what if we took a leap of faith and put these people behind the wheel to drive the development?

Yet how do we do that? If there was a ready-made solution, it would’ve been already done. But there is this one existing theory, and I figured I’d see how it could support developing us builders. Let’s see how it works out.

”Asking for help or admitting your own limits have really not been the way to go in our industry.”

As always, I base my thesis and my thoughts on scientific theories. Back in 1943, a very good friend of mine, Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) turned his thoughts into this theory of hierarchy of needs as follows.

Maslow suggested that human needs could be put into five levels. The levels are in order of importance.

  1. Basic needs. These include things such as breathing, food, water, and sleep.
  2. Safety needs. This includes things such as feeling physically safe in your environment.
  3. Social belonging. People need to feel love, and they need to feel that they belong in society.
  4. Self-esteem. To have esteem, you need to be confident in yourself. Also, you feel like others think that you are important.
  5. Self-actualization. This level is about a person having the opportunity to use their talent, and a chance to go where those talents might lead.
  6. Transcendence. Giving oneself to something beyond oneself—for example, in altruism or spirituality. This was a later addition to his ideas.

Let’s see if this hierarchy could be used in developing us builders.

Basic needs. Looking at lunch place customers near a worksite, the portion of orange and yellow clothing reveals that the basic needs have more or less been taken care of… ok seriously speaking – it’s easy to see around construction sites how much has been done to improve safety and, let’s say, the mentioned breathing during the past years. I call that a check for the basic survival in our hierarchy of needs.

Safety needs. I’m not going to go into physical safety here. Instead, I see safety here as a safe feeling to do your job, to try things out, to develop, to fail. Trying out something new or testing different ways of doing things mustn’t mean potential loss of personal income or a fear of losing your status. At our workplaces of today, there’s so much more we can do to improve the feeling of safety. We can put more effort into creating an environment that allows failure, and through that, also enables success.

Social belonging. I tend to bring up working together, and this blog is no exception . Like takt time. It’s been stated many times that it can only be done together, by making use of all know-how and resources. We can create these communities and the industry developers can be a part of them, not external ”office folks” who give out odd jobs. When a team really functions as a team, the individual pressure or fear of failure fades. This brings me to a quote – a scientific one, of course – the definition of composite in technical and mechanical terminology: ”A mixture of two materials, one of which makes the other stronger.” Could this work for people, as well? And the need to feel love? A tough one, but at least we go above and beyond for the love of the game…

Self-esteem. My experience is that the construction industry comes with this culture of coping. A site is a unit that takes care of the job that it’s been given, or falls, with the responsible site manager up front, in full action. Asking for help or admitting your own limits have really not been the way to go in our industry. It’s even been seen as a sign of weakness or failure. But people are social animals who shape their self-image based on the feedback from those around us. With this in mind, let’s appreciate everyone who tries their best. That appreciation is bound to circle back.

Self-actualization. Remembering that this is a hierarchy we’re going though now, we see how far down in it we are at this point. A lot of things that are self-evident in situations like when parenting our kids, are alien to the jobsite environment. Most of us see the importance of fulfilling these needs in a family setting, but at a construction site we may have not even realized we could ask for these things, because they are so rare there. Sometimes in small businesses, jobsite crews or a teamed up site manager group you see a spirit where everyone is given a true chance of success and growth. But how to make a recipe to widespread it?

”At least we go above and beyond for the love of the game…”

So does Maslow´s hierachy of needs suit us builders? I’d say relatively well. But what made Maslow later add that sixth need of transcendence, giving oneself to something beyond oneself? Before 1943 I believe there weren’t too many examples where even the first five would’ve been realized, and the world wars most likely didn’t add to safety, self-esteem or love, either. Or can it be that the hero stories from the terrors of war affected this?

For us in today’s world, great examples of going beyond might in sports or the like. All countries know the pleasure of winning over your neighboring land. In contruction, we have one great example of overcoming yourself with the pipe renovation in two weeks.

What if we try out, hierarchy level at a time, enabling this in our daily work? It can’t be done by just going digital, or by valuing data. It can’t be done with just automating things. What it is done with, instead, is a well-functioning process where everyone knows their part, supported and guided by suitable tools. It’s enabled by safe environment for developing and personal growth, something that us site managers can strongly affect. It’s done by us people.

It’s done by you.

About the Author

Customer Success Specialist at Fira Smart, Tuomas Hakulinen brings his expertise to his words from the sites. Tuomas has work experience of over 10 years from construction sites in site management, where he drove forward operational development from within the site. On his last pipe renovation sites, Tuomas took part in developing the schedule management system Fira Sitedrive, and eventually moved on to continue this work full time in the Fira Smart team. However, a huge part of his work time is still spent on jobsites – nowadays in the role of training and consultation to help sites deploy digital solutions.

Contact Tuomas – he may very well pay you a visit, as well!

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