The Business of Surveying

September 3, 2002
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Part 4: Staying focused.

We all have observed competitive sporting events. While we support our favorite driver, player or team, we are focused on the event in front of us. What we are watching is probably the greatest example of being focused while multitasking. The athletes we watch prepare for each specific event with the intention of performing to the best of their abilities to come out on top. That is what surveyors do every day.

Before each project or portion of a project, we as managers, crew chiefs or crew members prepare for the tasks in front of us. We, too, prepare for a sort of competition. We compete within ourselves to perform better each time. Many of us feel we must execute to perfection because we don’t get many second chances in this business.

A Manager’s Role

As managers, we act as surveyors as well as motivators, educators, psychologists, administrators, parents and disciplinarians. The surveyor part should be first and foremost. We juggle the other hats. What hat to wear and how to wear it is sometimes difficult to determine.

When managing employees, it may help to wear the psychologist hat first. Try to evaluate each individual’s personality to determine what teams will work most effectively. Next, put on the educator hat to determine their real knowledge levels. Evaluate their actual performance and then determine who can lead, who will follow and who will lead or follow responsibly. The responsible ones are hard to find. As surveyors, we have to isolate the responsible employees and involve them in our business systems. These will be the people who will watch your liability. We all have seen personnel with a high level of surveying knowledge perform poor work because they did not care about it. We have also seen responsible personnel with limited knowledge question the experienced personnel and their performance and eventually convince the experienced person to do the work again or inform the manager of the substandard work. Teamwork is what makes surveyors successful.

When a crew works as a team, a system of checks and balances develops. Regardless of the level of surveying knowledge, the team concept takes over in the form of mutual respect. Once this respect is formed, knowledge and experience is shared, often leading to increased knowledge. This is the perfect scenario for any manager. We all know that this event is rare. When it happens, grab it and don’t let go.

Motivating Employees

When it comes to surveyors and surveying personnel, we are typecast in society as transient and flighty or stubborn and difficult. The latter persona keeps our clients and our personnel out of trouble; the former sometimes gets us into trouble. It always seems that when our backs are against the wall, a crew chief appears to save the day. They may save that day, but there are many future dilemmas that most likely will result from a “no care” attitude.

I have found that in any business, longevity is key to a good employee. With surveying, longevity is rare. That is why you must be cautious with your workload. If you have the right amount of work and the right types of projects, your employees will stay involved and provide you with good efforts for a long time. If you get work with high risk and a fast pace, your employees will burn out and may leave. As managers, we need to create a favorable environment to keep our employees involved in our system.

When it comes to surveying education, the College of Experience has a 100 percent graduation rate. There is resurgence by several major colleges in the development of a surveying curriculum.

The concept of applying modern methods of instruction to historical theories can provide a veteran surveyor with a method to relay the intent of those theories to younger employees. The instructors have to communicate to a younger audience. Watching how they do it helps to convey the knowledge to a younger staff. In fact, employees who have seen the boss back in school have been motivated to return themselves. My goal is to get as many employees as I can educated and licensed in the surveying field. I am a strong believer in the need for a license in professional practice, whether it is in surveying, engineering, GIS or mapping. These professions have an effect on public safety and well-being, and therefore need to be regulated.

Educating Clients

Our role as educator does not stop with our employees. It is our responsibility to educate our clients as to what we do. I am not saying to educate them so they can replace us, but to let them feel we know what we are doing and allow them to feel good about how we are doing it. When you visit a doctor, you feel more comfortable when he or she has a good bedside manner. Surveyors need that as well. Our “bedside manner” is one thing we need to continue to improve upon. Part of our role as surveyors is to help our clients build confidence in what we do. One of the best ways to do this is through education.

We should review clients’ projects with them, maybe walk their lot and let them tell us what they expect from us. In turn, we should explain what they will get and put that in writing so both parties agree. I have found that providing clients with articles and research material on projects similar to theirs gives them a sense of ownership. They then feel that they are not the only people with the need for these types of projects. Some may see this as an inconvenience, but we are sales people and we can’t sell what is not understood.

A person’s focus is affected by various influences. We can’t lose focus of our goals. Being the leader makes it even more difficult. The people around you depend on your focus. If you lose that focus, the feeling will trickle down through the ranks, eventually affecting employee morale and performance.

Today’s surveyor has more responsibility on his shoulders than ever before. The information age is designed with the modern surveyor in mind. All of the information gathered needs to be referenced with some level of accuracy. That job description has surveyor written all over it. Our involvement with the development of databases and facility management will be crucial to the long-term success of surveyors in the information age. Technology advancements are making it easier for the layperson to perform “low grade” surveys. It is up to the licensed professionals to band together to assure that “low grade” does not become the standard. We need to demonstrate by our patience and professionalism that we belong in the driver’s seat of the changing industry.

This is the fourth and final part of the series on The Business of Surveying.

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