A Gentle Blast From the Past

Nov. 30, 2016

A year from when I turned the editorial reins over to Arturo, he asked if I’d like to do a guest blog sometime knowing full well that I pined for the chance to return, however shortly, to my favorite editorial stomping ground. So after due consideration of the many topics I might pursue, I decided to return to the magazine’s roots, where in my first Editor’s Comments 18 years ago I directed my remarks to what Grading & Excavation Contractor had to offer.

Grading & Excavation Contractor is not about dirt, how to dig it, or what kind of iron you should have to do it with,” I said in conclusion. “You know that stuff already (even if you don’t, a magazine isn’t going to help much). The fare we bring to the table has to do with productivity, good decisions, staying out of the clutches of the regulators, and building more soundness into your business with every yard of dirt you touch.”

The keys, as I saw them then, were rooted in a company’s culture:

Human Resource Management. It begins with how you feel and express your expectations for performance and safety…not only in what you say, but how you act. It’s hard not to look at both in terms of spreadsheet data, but these give an imperfect—sometimes misleading—picture of the qualities they’re supposed to represent. We rate safety in terms of accidents because they can be measured. Yet, while it is true that you can’t make a direct count of things that don’t happen, the absence of accidents is what your safety program is all about. The same holds true with performance achievements. More important than the quantifiable aspects are the intangible results your efforts have on the relationship between you and your workers. It’s not just the training you provide or the rules you lay down, but their impact on the underlying culture of your organization that is the most important bottom line.

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Regulations. As with safety, it is hard to judge your performance in regulatory matters without reference to violations and their cost in terms of fines and make-goods. Yet here, as in safety or performance, the real measure lies in doing things the right way, rather than just meeting the proscribed requirements. While it may be tempting to say to yourself that where monetary Brownie Points aren’t at stake, “good enough” should be sufficient, you know that anything short of excellence—even in areas peripheral to the job at hand—will come home to roost somewhere down the line.

Technology. For years, construction—particularly in the dirt-moving arena—was resistant to technology…but no more. The field has seen more change in the past decade than in all the years following World War II, a fact that is most apparent in the equipment that is being delivered today. But stunning as these changes have been, the real advances have come in (and as a result of) computerization. Think back to when you bit the bullet and took your first tentative steps into the computer age…and compare that vision to where you are today. You may not like all the changes that have occurred as a result of that decision, but your knowledge of and control over the factors that affect your business are light-years removed from what they used to be.

Vision. Your ability to access, digest, and apply pertinent information is the remainder of the equation to which that voice in the beginning referred. It is what military people call Intelligence, and it is built on your energy and dedication in exposing yourself to the knowledge and vision of others, beginning with the experience of your professional advisors, peers, and the people whose livelihood are in your hands. I’d like you to consider Grading & Excavation Contractor as a conduit to all those categories but the final analysis; it is your desire to succeed that gets you the winning ticket.

I’m pleased to note that nothing in the magazine’s vision has changed as we plunge toward a particularly interesting year when it appears that, after decades of neglect, heightened attention will be paid to infrastructure…the basic framework on which our nation’s fortunes and future depend. So allow me to suggest that, along with checking on the readiness of all your equipment, now’s a good time to review the status of your company’s culture, making sure it’s more than ready to meet the challenge.