Today’s construction leaders are facing greater uncertainty and more radical transformation than at any other point in our history. The world we live in has become increasingly complex and interconnected. The amount of information we are required to process is often overwhelming. Our attention continually is drawn to short-term firefighting, rather than longer-term strategic thinking. Competition is increasing, forcing us to rethink the way we do things and explore opportunities for competitive advantage. Furthermore, most experts anticipate an increasing labor shortage that will create a severe lack of skilled talent for many construction organizations.
There are myriad challenges facing the industry, and yet there are great opportunities available as well. Technology is transforming the way we do business, and new innovations will continue to bring exciting change to the industry. Firms that think more strategically will be able to capture opportunities lost on less sophisticated clients. Organizations that attract and develop talent better than their competitors will find ample opportunities to add the highest performers to their teams. To succeed in this challenging environment, companies will need to develop effective leaders throughout their organization, not just at the top. Great leadership will help organizations navigate through obstacles and achieve key goals and objectives.
Some of the most effective ways to build self-awareness, increase performance, develop leadership skills and improve effectiveness are through executive coaching and mentoring. Executive coaching is increasingly being used by top leaders to help improve their ability to lead. Mentoring is likewise an essential tool for leadership development. By partnering a more experienced, internal resource with a less experienced one, both reap benefits and will grow and develop as a result of that relationship.
Executive coaching is a one-on-one collaborative relationship between an external coach and a coachee that focuses on shifting a coachee’s knowledge and behavior. Because executive coaching is an individualized process, the specific benefits will somewhat depend on the goals set by the coachee. However, there are several benefits that all those who engage in executive coaching can expect. First, executive coaching helps increase self-awareness. Executive coaches provide an outside perspective — they have no personal agenda, other than to help the coachee develop and meet the agreed-upon goals. Executive coaches offer feedback, ask key questions and help the coachee take a closer look at his or her strengths and weaknesses. As leaders, we all have blind spots — areas we need to develop, but of which we are unaware. Executive coaching can help remove those blind spots and help leaders obtain a more well-rounded and accurate view of their current level of performance.
Executive coaching also helps with accountability. Many leaders in the construction industry struggle with this important leadership skill. Accountability can be a challenge due to busy schedules, tight deadlines and the constant pulling of attention to short-term firefighting. Leaders set goals for themselves in good faith, but the constant chaos of everyday work can prevent them from following through on objectives. Executive coaches can help with accountability. Working with the coachees, they will set specific goals with clear timelines. If the leader does not follow through, the executive coach will follow up by discussing obstacles that got in the way and help the individual focus the required attention to see the
goal through to completion.
Another common benefit of executive coaching is the insight that coaches can provide. The executive coach brings an outside perspective and offers an objective viewpoint that can be essential for leaders to hear. It is a common belief that the higher up you go in an organization, the less likely it is you will receive real, honest feedback. Executive coaches can provide alternative viewpoints and ask questions that many internal employees would be uncomfortable asking. Many coaches have expressed that this was one of the keys to their coaching experience. In recent years, executive coaching has become more and more accepted as an essential leadership development tool. Many leaders throughout the construction industry, especially at the senior executive level, have found coaching to be an effective means of developing themselves and their ability to lead others.
Although executive coaching is an effective external tool for leadership development, there are also ways to leverage the internal resources of your organization to develop better leaders. One of the best methods to achieve this is through mentoring. Mentoring is a relationship between an experienced person and someone less experienced for the purpose of giving advice and support. Many organizations today are moving toward more structured, formal mentoring programs. While informal mentoring is beneficial, formal mentoring programs provide the framework and process needed to maximize the potential of this relationship. In formal programs, less experienced employees are paired with more experienced employees for a specific duration (typically six months to a year). The mentoring relationship focuses on an investment by more senior employees in the development of less experienced workers. While the emphasis of this relationship is to develop the mentees, the mentors themselves greatly benefit as well.
To create an effective mentoring program, the selection of mentors is crucial. The best mentors will have the following characteristics:
- Vast knowledge of the organization
- Interest in developing others
- Alignment with organizational values
- Extensive experience
- Respect in the organization
- Willingness to devote the required amount of time to mentor
Organizations with less effective mentoring programs often make the mistake of assigning mentors without considering the above characteristics. Many companies that take this route wind up with unmotivated, confused mentors who are unable to develop their mentees effectively. This is one of the main reasons that mentoring programs fail. To avoid this common pitfall, organizations need to take care selecting the best mentors.
Similarly, not every junior employee makes a good mentee candidate. Some of the essential characteristics for mentees, who are high potentials, new employees or first-time supervisors, include:
- Desire to advance
- Strong work ethic
- Openness to learn
- Willingness to make changes and take advice
Mentees likewise need to be excited about the prospect of having a mentor in the organization. The goals of the mentoring program should be clear — mentors provide guidance and help mentees speed up their development. Mentors should not be assigned to “fix” or “save” an employee. In organizations that have gone this route, having a mentor is seen as a negative and an indicator to the rest of the organization that the employee is “broken.” The best mentoring programs are focused on high potentials or those new to the organization or role. Mentoring is about helping less experienced employees more quickly develop and achieve their full potential in the organization.
Successful mentoring conversations are structured around the individual development needs of the mentees. As such, most conversations will focus on cultural fit or strategic fit (or both). One of the biggest reasons why employees struggle is due to a misalignment on cultural issues. Mentoring can help employees more quickly learn how to operate and act in the unique culture of the organization. This is especially helpful for new employees, who see their own development quickened by having a mentor with whom to discuss the organization’s culture. This is why mentors must understand and embody their organizational culture, so they can impart their cultural knowledge to their mentees.
The second key conversation is around strategic fit, which is often focused on the day-to-day tasks that an individual is expected to perform. For example, does performance meet or exceed the required level for employees to be a strategic resource for the organization? Many mentees are performing at a high level, but they have not yet reached their peak level of performance. Pairing mentees with an experienced mentor can help speed up their development so they can more effectively fit into the overall strategy of the organization.
Throughout the construction industry, leaders are struggling with a multitude of challenges — increased competition, changing technologies, difficult clients and timelines, personnel issues and more. In such turbulent times, it is easy to put our heads down and focus only on the immediate issues in front of us. Great leaders, however, recognize that it is during the difficult times when it is most important to pull back from the daily tasks and think strategically about the organization. To prepare your company not just for today and tomorrow, but also for the long term, leadership development will be essential. There are many avenues to pursue for developing your leaders, such as training, consulting, attending conferences, reading, etc. Organizations also should consider executive coaching (having an external resource working one-on-one with key leaders) and mentoring (pairing up internal experienced employees with less experienced ones) as leader development tools. The organizations that invest the necessary time and resources in developing their people will reap the benefits of having a higher-performing, more aligned and fulfilled workforce. In such challenging times, strong talent can often be the difference between those companies that go out of business and those that endure.
Tim Tokarczyk is a consultant with FMI Corporation. He can be reached at 303.398.7222 or via email at email@example.com. Stefanie Putter is a research associate with FMI. She can be reached at 303.398.7260 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.