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FMI Quarterly/December 2013/December 1, 2013

Cross-Generational Differences: Obstacles in Using Technology

Tech15_image (1)Time management is mission critical in design and construction processes from conception to completion. Technology is available to enable more effective time management but generational gaps have often negatively affected technology exploitation. Is it possible that the generational gaps themselves can be effectively bridged through technology?

The purpose of this article is to raise awareness and illustrate the impact of planning and technology to promote cross-generational approaches when trying to increase time-management and productivity efficiencies. Since the early 1960, productivity in almost all industries has increased while construction productivity has declined. Why and how is that possible? The A/E/C industry’s technologies supposedly have allowed us to design, procure and construct more quickly. One viewpoint is that the construction industry has been inundated with technologies intended to increase productivity; however, those technologies intent on increasing efficiencies have ultimately led to generational challenges and resistance that directly impair time management rather than improve it. The construction industry has become self-reliant upon haphazardly used technology to solve the problems faced while ignoring basic principles of planning and self-management.

Current lean profit margins and competitive pressures make it more important than ever to effectively manage time. Schedule constraints are becoming shorter while job complexities increase. Contractors that can effectively manage time will be more profitable in the short term and long term. Construction professionals of all generations and levels of organizational responsibility need to understand the basics of time management. Employees, colleagues, leaders and managers must also understand their organizational roles in addition to their project-specific responsibilities. In doing so, efficient time management practices can become comprehendible, actionable and shareable in a timely manner.

According to FMI research1 the five greatest challenges to improving productivity are:

  • Lack of planning skills at the field-management level
  • Lack of communication skills at the field-management level
  • Cultural resistance to change
  • Poor field-level communication between project management staff and field managers
  • Lack of technical training

Each of the five greatest challenges to productivity directly or indirectly relate to poor time management and perhaps insufficient planning skills and techniques. Weak time-management practices provide the breeding ground for reactive behaviors. Is your company always putting out fires? If so, it might need to address its time-management practices, both individually and organizationally. Exploring several of those challenges can help your business become more efficient and ultimately more productive, while using technology to plan and communicate across generational gaps within organizations.

CROSS-GENERATIONAL PLANNING

Field staff must understand the importance of proper planning and, more importantly, the importance of communicating the plan. All employees of construction companies exist to ensure that work is put in place. Think about that statement for a moment. With the exception of site-stored materials, the trigger that allows a construction company to bill for work is the action of putting work in place. All other efforts made are to support the completion of that work. The only way that field-level managers can drive work is by properly communicating their schedules, plans and needs to all levels of the organization. How plans are internally and externally communicated greatly affects job productivity and profitability.

Different generations communicate, plan and manage time differently. Older generations tend to be more comfortable in hierarchical structures and use rudimentary technologies to communicate, whereas younger generations rely upon shared information technology and other mediums to communicate. Field-level managers need to be able to plan and forecast weekly plans to their superiors. If you are planning for today, then you are too late. Project managers need to make plans for the week, month and year. Project executives need to make plans for the month and year. Technology is not a substitute for the knowledge needed to plan; however, it offers a mechanism to both plan and communicate efficiently if used properly.

According to Phillip Diab, PMP, CEO of Leadership Formation, “Not addressing intergenerational issues as a part of the early project planning and team-building processes can hurt productivity.”2Effective conveyance of knowledge and needs within the project hierarchy and across generations is essential to meeting project objectives especially during the planning phases. Such knowledge comes from practical experience, which needs conveying to future leaders by those more experienced. It is paramount that organizations set up formalized structures to transfer knowledge before it is too late. When creating planning best practices, consider the following items:

  • Short-term planning (daily/weekly)
  • Long-term planning (strategic)
  • Establishment of goals
  • Prioritization of tasks based on deadline and importance
  • Feedback
  • Cross-Generational engagement

CULTURAL RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

We have all heard the saying “you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.” That statement rings ever true in the construction industry today. How many times have you heard a superintendent, supervisor, tradesman or craftsman say, “I don’t need a computer,” “I don’t know how to turn a computer on” or “I don’t know how to use this phone”? With the increased reliance upon technology during the design, construction and operation of the built environment, the successful use and integration of technology is more important than ever. Seasoned professionals who have long kept their knowledge in their heads must now learn to convey that vast breadth of knowledge to future generations, and technology is a way to do so. In order to do so change in some form is inevitable. According to Laura Welch, “more than 40% of construction workers are baby boomers.”3 Within the next five to 10 years, a vast majority of the knowledge base will be leaving the workforce. This shift presents monumental challenges with respect to transferring knowledge, which is a key driver in planning and conveying resource requests and requirements that are necessary to time management and productivity improvement. In order to increase productivity, organizations should implement a cross-generational strategy that leverages technology and the project/organizational objectives.

Why do certain individuals object to change? Why do they reject new technologies and methodologies intended to improve efficiencies? Is it fear of failure? Is it due to excessive pride? Is it complacency? Whatever the reason, organizations must find ways to bridge generational gaps and start leveraging technologies to complement and support time-management efforts. Some common approaches to gaining technological acceptance are:

  • Training programs
  • Reverse mentoring programs
  • Organizational focus on technological importance

One of the best ways to engage and promote acceptance across generations is by developing and implementing a reverse mentoring program. Reverse mentoring is where a more seasoned, experienced or higher-ranking individual reaches out and seeks guidance from one who might not be perceived as being on an equal plane. Reverse mentoring programs should increase planning efficiencies and promote technological change from within, which will ultimately lead to increased productivity.

Reverse mentoring programs:

  • Enable the discovery and development of high-potential employees
  • Allow for increased cross-generational engagement
  • Promote inclusion
  • Promote knowledge sharing
  • Establish the foundation for a feedback-rich environment
  • Relieve technological stress

While individuals across all generations use varying forms of technology to manage time, plan and convey knowledge, the key is to squeeze and leverage the full technological capabilities available to increase efficiency and productivity. Leveraging technological capabilities is most effective once organizations have developed frameworks that enable planning and cross-generational collaboration allowing for change. Frameworks allow firms the opportunity to filter out technological noise, which does not support the organizational goals. Technology is constantly changing and improving. However, if firms are not controlling, using and leveraging their current technologies, they will not be able to maximize their time and improve productivity, because they will constantly seek new technologies while decreasing the effectiveness of their current technologies.

Reverse mentoring programs increase employee engagement and establish frameworks that enable senior-level employees to court and develop a mentor/mentee relationship with one or more of their subordinates. Typically, employees who fall within generations X or Y are more comfortable with technology and promote cross-generational sharing of technology. Reverse mentoring allows employees with seniority the chance to ask questions and learn from younger generations without fear, while also establishing a feedback-rich environment from which younger employees can learn and leverage into better time-management practices.

CONCLUSION

Now more than ever, A/E/C firms must be able to plan, share knowledge and use technology to improve productivity to better position in an ever-competitive construction landscape. A cross-generational approach is the first approach that you should look at when trying to increase time-management and productivity efficiencies.


Dustin Bass is a consultant with FMI Corporation. He can be reached at 303.398.7247 or via email at dbass@fminet.com.

1 FMI, Inc. (2009) Contractor Productivity Survey Results. Raleigh: FMI Corporation.
2 “Minding the Gap: Closing the Generation Divide in Project Management.” www.pmi.org. Project Management Institute, Inc., 31 Mar. 2013.
3 Welch, Laura (2010). The Aging Worker in the U.S. Construction Industry. Occupational Health and Safety. Retrieved from: http://ohsonline.com/articles/2010/03/01/the-aging-worker.aspx.

 

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