Category Archives: Execution

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.

From Spider to Leader

From Spider to Leader
by
Grant Tate

Sampson runs a thriving small technology company. He decided to enter the business world five years ago after securing several important patents through his work in the engineering college of a large university. Because he was well-known in engineering as well as business circles, finding customers for his products was relatively easy and the company moved to profitability in only two years.

At the beginning, the company ran like another research project where the chief researcher, Sampson, made all the decisions. He was the spider at the center of the web. Now, after growing to twenty-five employees, Sampson is overwhelmed with people coming to him for direction, for decisions, for “what should I do now?” Sampson has become the elegant knothole of his business. His approach is restraining the company’s growth.

If you are like Sampson, the center of your company, what can you do?

Commit to change. This requires facing up to your inner motivations for being the center of the company’s action and decision making. Being the big guy (or gal) in the business can be an ego booster; leadership can be exhilarating to many people. But, if if you want your company to grow, you must develop a competent organization where you are not the center.

Set the overall direction and foundation for the organization. Make sure the desired future state of the business is stated, or painted, in terms that inspire everyone in the company. The foundation should also include a set of defining values to help guide everyone’s behavior.

Set goals with each individual, both short and long range. Short-range goals help define the pace and immediate results required, longer range goals set the direction. If Sampson has been setting the pace of the company by telling people what to do and guiding all activities, moving to a different mode of management will take time. The employees will have to learn how to take responsibility, understand their goals, limits and guidelines, and be coached in new ways of working. Sampson will have to move from director to coach, not an easy transition. Most employees will probably welcome the new responsibilities and freedom, but others may feel suddenly abandoned. The change in management methods will take teamwork and good communications.

Prepare a decision matrix. In any organization, certain decisions are reserved for the top dog, while many others can be delegated to employees or other managers. Sampson should prepare a list of the types of decisions required in the organization and designate who should make each decision, who should be informed of the decision and if he needs to approve certain delegated decisions. When a decision needs to be made, take the time to layout the decision process. Some decisions, of course, need to be made quickly. In that case, delay or delegation may be costly or have other negative consequences, but, for most decisions, timing can be planned. Defining the decision steps is a good way to coach subordinates and still provide management oversight of the ultimate decision or result.

Provide good feedback and encouragement to the staff. Be open with the staff about what you are trying to achieve by delegating more of your responsibilities. Ask for their help in reaching your goals. Describe the approach you plan to use. Then give them frequent feedback on the progress. Also, ask for their feedback as well to let you know how you are doing in your new role.

Following these steps can help you move to a growth mode of management…growth to the company, to you and to your staff members.
With these steps, you can become more of a leader rather than a spider at the center of the web.

What does the bridge ltd do really well?

We just completed a survey of customers. Out of a distribution list of sixty, forth five replied; an excellent response. Here are the answers to one of our questions:

What does the bridge do really well?

Communicate with participants
Group facilitation
Motivating, dissecting a problem and providing logical thinking to address the problem
Personalised advice as a trusted impartial individual from outside of the company
Facilitating Executive Team Development
Organizational Structure and future planning
Very good at sizing everyone up.
Personalized service
Address group dynamics
Listen to clients
Listening
Analysis of company or employee needs and custom designed solutions.
Over the years there’s always been honest open communications that lead to new understanding on complex issues
Strategic development, leadership, employee mgmt, time mgmt, process, team building, identifying organizational strengths and weaknesses
Leadership Training
Grant is a great listener and gives specific advice to the questions asked.
Guide our discussion. Provide insight from experiences with other companies.
Big picture thinking
Took kit
Handles confidential information well
Provide leadership that efficiently leads to identification of goals, impediments and solutions. Peer communications.
I was very pleased with the Personal Development services as well as the Process Improvement services.
Insightful observation and assessment of organization’s strengths and changes needed to succeed
Straight talk
Connect the dots from strategy to action
Personal assessments
Grant does everything really well!
Candid feedback
Cover all facets of a consultancy.
Understand people. Identifies and prioritizes opportunities for change. Assists in identifying and implementing impactful solutions.
Really good advice; led me to good resources
Grants interaction and questions with senior staff provided a safe place for all to speak openly and honestly regarding areas of concern. His facilitation was invaluable.
Bridge the gap between head and heart.
Help for understanding group dynamics
Strategic Advice

Many thanks to all who participated?

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.