Flying solo

Companies should support staff members with standardized procedures so initiative can be taken in each ‘mission’

Ron Frederiksen
RSV Construction Services

As a young Air Force pilot, I was taught the value of standardization in all tasks. During World War II, the Army Air Corps lost nearly as many pilots to training as combat. The lesson they learned was to standardize all procedures, so that normal operations were routine and predictable.

For example, in the early years, every airplane’s cockpit layout was different. In an emergency situation, the last thing a pilot needed was to be frantically scanning the instrument panel looking for information in order to handle the emergency. With confusion comes overload and an accident becomes a real possibility.

As I have grown my company over the past 25 years, I have spent an incredible amount of energy and money in an attempt to ensure that every person in my company uses the same procedures and processes. In the construction industry, you often hear, "Contractor X is a pretty good company, but they have some good project managers, and they have some bad ones."

This same luck-of-the-draw outcome is not limited to the construction industry. It also occurs within the public sector, with those people who are charged with issuing building permits. Too often, permit reviews seem like "Let’s make a deal" rather than a standardized set of rules and procedures.

This creates incredible anxiety among business owners and it causes them to hesitate before making substantial investments in new or expanded facilities. They are concerned that large companies can easily accomplish their goals, but that the local business owner will be ignored – or worse.

The ingredient that makes standardization and predictability possible is plain old-fashioned leadership beginning with the person running the organization. In my company, we have established procedures on how we communicate externally, with our customers, our vendors, our business partners and the public sector.

Once a project is brought into the company, our project management teams follow the same procedures from the very first client meeting through construction and final occupancy. This translates into standardized billing procedures, invoicing, payment procedures and financial management.

It is human nature for people to think that they have a "better way." We must always be vigilant and insist that employees master their tasks in the approved, standardized method. Only then can they truly determine if their new idea is really better.

Don’t think for a minute that I am advocating micro-management. A perfect business model is that of a pilot. The management – in this metaphor, Air Force Command – provides the pilot with an aircraft that is standardized in every way, from procurement to routine maintenance. Once the pilot starts the engines, he is in command and is totally responsible for the outcome of the mission. The commanders have no ability to see what the pilot sees or to make spilt second decisions. The standardization and training make it possible for the pilot to accomplish all routine procedures with minimal effort, thereby reserving his energy and focus for extraordinary circumstances.

In the same way, my staff and field crews strive to accomplish the routine tasks without struggle or confusion. This keeps their minds clear to see what is ahead, to guide projects around problems, to communicate clearly and calmly and to ensure that no matter what comes up, they have the energy and focus to handle the unforeseen issues.

Like the Air Force, I have seen first hand the benefits of standardization and training. Although it is an endless job that never will be accomplished totally, customer satisfaction and repeat business makes the extreme effort worthwhile and sets a company apart from all others.

Ron Frederiksen is president of RSV Construction Services Inc., a Vancouver commercial and industrial design-build and remodeling firm. He can be reached at 360-693-8830.

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