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Influencing subcontract labour on site

2 min read: One of the issues our clients in construction commonly face is figuring out how best to influence the labour of subcontractors across their sites. The organisational structure often assumes the main contractor's supervisor will be the primary influencer for the workforce. But we often fail to take into account the hidden influencers within the subcontractors own organisation, based off site and often with great impact on day to day behaviour of the worker. In one such example a project was having multiple issues with subcontractors not working in the way that they required. This was leading to increased at risk working and a number of near misses and incidents. The usual reviews and actions had taken place, stand downs, briefing, dragging the subcontractor management team in, asking for individuals to be removed from the job and still the problem persisted. When the site management team mapped out the consequence chain to look at who was influencing behaviour, it became clear that offsite leaders within the parent companies had a key role to play. Rather than try and push the changes required on to the workforce via the site supervision, they decided they needed to create pull and engage leaders within the parent companies. Here’s what they did to engage the subcontractors leadership team:

  • Sampled baseline performance for a range of critical safety behaviours so they could base discussions on fact rather than opinion.

  • Arranged a meeting with the subcontractor to share the data based on fact rather than opinion, set new expectations, ask them for their help.

  • Agree to report back and share feedback with the subcontractors leadership team initially on a weekly basis.

  • At a local site level they engaged the supervisors and engineers in sampling % at risk versus reduced risk behaviours.

  • The local site teams provided weekly feedback on what was going well, what needed improvement with the site based subcontractors.

With a few weeks new behaviours started to emerge: the subcontract managers were more involved at a site level; the supervisors and engineers on site started talking more about what was going well rather than just feeding back on exceptions; as the site based subcontract supervisors became more engaged they started to come back with suggestions for improvement and relationships improved all round. The overall impact was a much more supportive working environment and a significant reduction in at risk working.

What was most exciting about this intervention was that the project leadership team, despite being under immense pressure to deliver, were prepared to make the space to try something new. It's possible to make significant improvements to many of the issues we encounter in organisations, but you have to be prepared to make the space to do something differently.

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