Category Archives: Leadership

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.

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?

How to blast through reading material

What! PhD students can’t read? I was shocked to find how many of my online PhD students couldn’t deal with the reading load in my capstone course. They’d been through years of school. How did they get here?

In our information-rich world, processing print or on-screen material is essential to our productivity, success and, yes, pleasure. Developing good reading skills are essential. I’m not a reading specialist but, over the years, this six-stop procedure helped my students and works well for most people. Give it a try with material you really need to understand.

1. Scan—What is this material all about? What stands out? Is this material worth my time?

2. Read the material or listen to tapes—read for content, but push yourself to move rapidly.

3. Read again, but this time, highlight the most important points and paragraphs. Make notes in the margins.

4. Read the sections you highlighted, forming a pattern of linkages in your mind.

5. Scan again—How does it all feel? What is the essence of the material?

6. Explain the material to someone else.

We’re inundated with information every day. Developing the ability to pick, choose and process is a critical skill.