Category Archives: Construction

Talent Supply Chain: Construction Superintendents

Superintendents are the “master sergeants” of the construction industry, the guys or gals at the front lines leading the construction of tall buildings, roads or other projects. They manage the work crews, coordinate the work of subcontractors, keep projects on schedule and within costs and insure a safe working environment. And, like the post office, they are there, every possible day, moving projects ahead.

Construction projects have a lot of moving parts, so superintendents, like football quarterbacks, need a keen sense of pattern recognition—the ability to coordinate people, machines, environmental conditions, and diverse organizations. A good superintendent is decisive, but not impulsive, has good empathy, is results oriented, is a pragmatic problem solver, and is a strong leader. And he/she must understand how to build things, how to put tops on bottoms in the right sequence. In other words, superintendents need to be strong leaders, know construction, and also be able to work well with subcontractors and owners of the buildings or roads being constructed.

Where do good superintendents come from? Although universities have developed good programs in Construction Management, many superintendents are graduates of the school of hard knocks; they have worked their way up from laborer, to foreman, to assistant superintendent to superintendent, a process that may have taken twenty years. Indeed, many construction executives think this is the only path. Construction Management university graduates may have the theory, but still lack the relevant on-the-ground experience. Is there a shortcut? Most people would say “No.”

Construction executives are now decrying the shortage of talent at all levels. (See http://www.virginiabusiness.com/news/article/getting-back-on-track.) Of the shortage, superintendents are among the most critical. To survive the great recession, many companies reduced staff, causing many of the laid-off workers to migrate to other career paths. Construction has long been a cyclical industry, but the last recession represented a particularly difficult cycle. Given this characteristic, how should construction companies think about superintendents, one of their most important skilled staff members?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Develop a long view of talent development. During growth times, develop a reserve fund to help retain critical skills during a downturn. (Oh, I know, profit margins are too thin even in good times to do this, but have you tried?)
  2. Develop a long term supply chain to build critical skills. That means working with high schools, vocational schools, community colleges and universities to encourage young people to go into construction and help them build the skills and knowledge required. Develop apprenticeships, internships, scholarships, and tuition assistance programs.
  3. Reach out to schools and community organizations to extol the merits of careers in construction. Let leaders know that construction can provide good careers to those with or without a college education. High schools are measured by the percentage of their graduates who go to college, and career counselors therefore, diminish opportunities outside of the college career track. Work with them to open their eyes to new opportunities.
  4. Develop internal programs to help employees develop their skills. Many companies in cyclical industries cut training in downturns and say they’re “too busy to train” in upturns. Training should be a counter-cyclical activity. Use downturns as a training opportunity.
  5. Work with key employees to develop an individual develop program, set goals, and execute the plan.
  6. Provide timely, honest feedback to employees.
  7. Keep tabs on what employees are thinking. Use internal Net Promoter Scores to measure engagement and feedback.
  8. Top executives and line executives should develop and implement the talent development strategy. Line executives should be accountable for the results, not HR.

The construction industry provides rewarding careers where a person can literally see the results of her/his work.

Macho Mornings

I’ve spent my whole life dodging early-morning meetings. Eight-o’clock classes were the order of the day in my first year of college. Who could concentrate at that time of the morning, much less learn chemistry or calculus?

My first job out of college was testing computers in a large manufacturing plant. Guess what? My department started work at 7:30 AM! There must be some natural law dictating that manufacturing has to start early. Many a morning I envied people in the product design department, the department that came in at nine and sipped coffee until ten.

It wasn’t so much the early start that bothered me; it was the attitude of my managers. Early starts were their red badge of courage. “Wake up, man, you’re in production.” We had “macho mornings.” It meant that we were tough.

After three years of macho mornings, the company transferred me to that enviable office job. We still started at a regular time–there was no such thing as flextime in those days. But at least we started at a decent hour. Or so I thought.

Then I found out that the macho morning types weren’t confined to the manufacturing department. Some managers insisted on scheduling staff meetings at 7:30 AM. Furthermore, they used them as tests. Anyone who arrived late would find the manager looking at his (yes, his) watch as if he was counting the seconds. Of course, the manager made sure that the first five minutes were the most important part of the agenda.

Over the years, I developed elaborate schemes to mask my daily rhythm. If there were tasks to do the next morning, I’d finish them the day before. When I managed a group, I’d designate early mornings as “manage-by-walking-around time.” My assistants learned to schedule critical decision-making or problem-solving meetings between ten and three o’clock, my most productive time, while late afternoon and early evening were devoted to loose ends and mop-ups. But corporate life demanded conformity with the company’s daily schedule. They wanted smooth performance throughout the day, day in and day out.

When I finally started my own company, I designed my workday to match my most productive times. I always worked long hours, but what a luxury to be able to schedule work to match my personal energy cycle!

All of us have daily cycles. How often do you hear a colleague say, “Tm a morning person” or “I’m a night owl”? Most people know their own general patterns but haven’t taken the time to observe their energy cycles hour-by-hour over a period of time. Try it for a week. Make a note in your agenda each hour to indicate your personal energy level. Rate it from 1 (sleepy) to 5 (energetic). Then look back over the week to check for a pattern.

What does that pattern tell you? Can you arrange your work so that you work on the most critical tasks during your peak energy period? Does it explain why you’re totally bored with meetings at three in the afternoon? Look at your daily activities and rate them according to the amount of energy required. Can you match the tasks to your daily cycle? Give it a try; you’ll probably be a lot more productive–plus, you’ll be less drained when you go home at night.

What’s the trouble with this scheme? Other people, of course. Most of us don’t completely control our own schedules. Other people call meetings. Bosses tell us when to complete jobs. You can’t tell a customer, “Wait until I’m more energetic–see me at eleven.” Outside influences prevail. Yet, a lot of your work is probably under your own control. See if you can find a way to balance it.

Macho mornings won’t go away We all have to work when needed, but the more we know ourselves, the better we can balance our working days. Just don’t call me before nine.

Developing a Talent Supply Chain: Construction Superintendents

Superintendents are the “master sergeants” of the construction industry, the guys or gals at the front lines leading the construction of tall buildings, roads or other projects. They manage the work crews, coordinate the work of subcontractors, keep projects on schedule and within costs and insure a safe working environment. And, like the post office, they are there, every possible day, moving projects ahead.

Construction projects have a lot of moving parts, so superintendents, like football quarterbacks, need a keen sense of pattern recognition—the ability to coordinate people, machines, environmental conditions, and diverse organizations. A good superintendent is decisive, but not impulsive, has good empathy, is results oriented, is a pragmatic problem solver, and is a strong leader. And he/she must understand how to build things, how to put tops on bottoms in the right sequence. In oth
er words, superintendents need to be strong leaders, know construction, and also be able to work well with subcontractors and owners of the buildings or roads being constructed.

Where do good superintendents come from? Although universities have developed good programs in Construction Management, many superintendents are graduates of the school of hard knocks; they have worked their way up from laborer, to foreman, to assistant superintendent to superintendent, a process that may have taken twenty years. Indeed, many construction executives think this is the only path. Construction Management university graduates may have the theory, but still lack the relevant on-the-ground experience. Is there a shortcut? Most people would say “No.”

Construction executives are now decrying t
he shortage of talent at all levels. (See http://www.virginiabusiness.com/news/article/getting-back-on-track.) Of the shortage, superintendents are among the most critical. To survive the great recession, many companies reduced staff, causing many of the laid-off workers to migrate to other career paths. Construction h
as long been a cyclical industry, but the last recession represented a particularly difficult cycle. Given this characteristic, how should construction companies think about superintendents, one of their most important skilled staff members?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Develop a long view of talent development. During growth times, develop a reserve fund to help retain critical skills during a downturn. (Oh, I know, profit margins are too thin even in good times to do this, but have you tried?)
  2. Develop a long term supply chain to build critical skills. That means working with high schools, vocational schools, community colleges and universities to encourage young people to go into construction an
    d help them build the skills and knowledge required. Develop apprenticeships, internships, scholarships, and tuition assistance programs.
  3. Outreach to schools and community organizations to extol the merits of careers in construction. Let leaders know that construction can provide good careers to those with or without a college education. High schools are measured by the percentage of their graduates who go to college, and career counselors therefore, diminish opportunities outside of the college career track. Work with them to open their eyes to new opportunities.
  4. Develop internal programs to help employees develop their skills. Many companies in cyclical industries cut training in downturns and say they’re “too busy to train” in upturns. Training should be a counter-cyclical activity. Use downturns as a training opportunity.
  5. Work with key employees to develop an individual develop program, set goals, and execute the plan.
  6. Provide timely, honest feedback to employees.
  7. Keep tabs on what employees are thinking. Use internal Net Promoter Scores to measure engagement and feedback.
  8. Top executives and line executives should develop and implement the talent development strategy. Line executives should be accountable for the results, not HR.

The construction industry provides rewarding careers where a person can literally see the results of her/his work.