Examining the importance of solid development and succession planning to the construction industry.
Talent development and succession planning are critical to the future growth of all construction companies. i+iconUSA saw that need and two years ago began focusing on building upon the talented workforce already on its teams. FdG Associates, a private equity firm, is the major investor in i+iconUSA, which is a conglomerate of heavy civil construction companies. Two of these, Joseph B. Fay Company and i+iconSOUTHEAST (formerly Waterfront Marine Construction, Inc.), were previously family-owned businesses. The third subsidiary, i+iconENERGY, was an organic effort. The greater sophistication associated with equity firm ownership, along with a decreasing labor pool, caused formalized talent development to become a more critical issue for the entire i+iconUSA family of companies.
The efforts were led by Ann Michalski, director of program development and implementation, who has a 20-year background in providing talent development for construction-related companies, as well as Les Snyder, CEO and president of i+iconUSA, a visionary leader and a third-generation construction professional. Snyder indicated that “Developing talent at all levels is what ultimately makes i+iconUSA a high-performing company. And as confirmed by our core values, makes us the preference for both employees and business partners. i+iconUSA identifies, invests in and nurtures potential while rewarding entrepreneurship. I truly believe that talent must be developed to increase employee participation and engagement in the expanding growth of our company.” Michalski added, “We know that our talent development initiatives will differentiate us and support our strategic objective of retaining and attracting top talent.”
In order to accomplish their strategic objectives, Snyder and Michalski realized they would need to enhance the skills and effectiveness of their management team at all levels. Specifically, they recognized a gap in employee development in middle management, where the ranks needed to accomplish short-term goals as well as plan for succession as senior management retires over the next several years. “We now have a heavy focus on employee development,” says Ryan Surrena, senior project manager, “and we recognize our need to transfer knowledge and experience throughout the organization.”
Knowing that they could not overcome this shortage overnight, Snyder and Michaelski created a five-year development plan that would steadily upgrade the skills and capabilities of people across the entire firm. They chose to begin with their critical middle management group at Fay and then extend the process throughout the field operations team, eventually engaging project managers, superintendents, general superintendents and project engineers across all i+iconUSA companies. They included functional managers as well in order to create a cohesive culture and enhance performance across the company.
To address the obvious talent gaps, i+iconUSA committed itself to providing training to enhance the leadership, management and business skills of its middle managers. At the heart of its efforts was the creation of a pool of capable managers who will ultimately lead the business and drive sustainable and profitable growth across the companies. It also gave these emerging leaders additional responsibilities that would stretch them beyond their current roles.
Although the participants were all well-established and had demonstrated their capabilities through their successful careers in managing various projects and functions, each would be required to take on new responsibilities and expand his or her skills to include a broader understanding of the complexities of managing a construction company.
Senior leaders willingly provided support throughout the process and contributed to the curriculum, launched and participated in training sessions, and refined their skills as mentors and coaches to the program participants. All took a real interest in the careers of the participants and formed natural bonds.
Several members of the first leadership development program have now developed the confidence to tackle real-world problems and implemented changes that have improved overall company performance. “I get a lot of support and can speak directly with our leadership team to get what we need,” says Tyson Hicks, project director. “The LDP (Leadership Development Program) could not have come at a better time and has redefined me as a person and a leader.”
Leading a Global Business
Effective project management requires short-term attention to detail and the ability to react quickly when anticipating and solving problems in the field. By contrast, leading a business demands a global view of enterprisewide risk and a longer time horizon to plan for the strategic direction of the business. Rather than just shifting labor, equipment and materials to meet daily or weekly schedule needs, company leaders must analyze external market factors against midterm and longer-term demand to project organizational resources across future business cycles. Clint Filges, operations director, describes how “Global financial understanding — or why we bid what we bid and how to choose jobs — is the area I need to continue to refine. Being assigned to a task force to work on business plans is another way that I can improve my skills.”
The i+iconUSA and Fay leadership teams worked with the Talent Development Group at FMI Corporation to develop a draft curriculum designed to build skills in these three major areas:
- Business acumen
Our joint team a phased developmental structure that included these components:
- Individual and team assessment and interviews
- Curriculum design
- Customized development
- Program delivery
- Team project development
- Reinforcement and implementation
- Feedback and improvement
After compiling the feedback for each LDP member, we jointly designed a curriculum to address a broad range of skills, including:
- Management and leadership
- Financial management and cash flow
- Presentation skills
- Client relations and business development
- Strategic thinking and problem-solving
- Negotiating skills and conflict resolution
- Ethics and integrity
- Feedback and team motivation
- Emotional Intelligence
- Risk management
- FMI Construction ProfitAbility©
The resulting curriculum was then translated into a series of seven, two-day training modules, scheduled every 60-90 days over a period of about one year. Each session included basic skills development and was customized to incorporate Fay’s specific processes and procedures to facilitate the transition from the classroom to apply these new skills while addressing practical challenges when they got back on the job.
Mike Trettel, business development director, describes the benefits to his evolving career: “As we began the LDP process, I had just started in the role of business development, so learning the new role along with the new skills has been a great opportunity. Improving both hard-edged and soft skills has helped me as I work with our executive team. I’m learning to lead without being in charge by effectively leading resources that don’t report to me directly.”
After the classroom training, the participants were asked to take on a group assignment to identify real-world opportunities for organizational process improvements. This self-managed team identified a need to challenge how projects were managed on a day-to-day basis across the company. Utilizing their new skills of collaboration and team problem-solving, the group identified inefficiencies and internal obstacles and thus developed new processes to manage projects more effectively and efficiently across Fay. Brian Carr, project director, described his own experience: “I have gained new opportunities to implement the company business plan and drive our strategy for more work with private sector clients. The challenge for me personally is to learn to lead as well as to manage depending on a particular situation.”
Phase Two: Expanding the Culture
After the initial group of participants had been implementing its new skills for about a year and building a solid foundation of success in the process, the company expanded the process and trained a much larger group to extend the commitment to future growth further into the organization.
We gathered the alumni of phase one and members of senior leadership together to solicit input for designing a modified curriculum for this next larger group. This group includes about 40 superintendents, general superintendents, foremen, project managers, project engineers, safety coordinators and IT and finance personnel from all i+iconUSA companies. Divided into two groups of 20 each, and using input from the alumni group, the team prioritized course materials to create a series of six, one-day modules. Each module would be delivered for the two groups on two consecutive days every 30-60 days, with a break during the busy summer construction months.
This series would also include FMI’s two-day Construction Profitability business simulation for each group to facilitate the practical application of the skills and make the transition from the classroom to field implementation. This process was also accelerated by the hands-on participation of the alumni group, which sat in on the classroom sessions and offered insights into how the skills can be applied in the field. Alumni also provided guidance as each module was developed to make sure that a consistent message was being communicated to this broad group of program participants.
In addition, feedback is collected through a customized online survey immediately after the delivery of each training module. This feedback is analyzed to make changes to future modules to accommodate participants’ needs. The learnings from each module are also reinforced through a series of tailored one-page reminders that are sent to all participants between sessions to create a link from the classroom to the real world of field operations.
Outcomes and Benefits
Besides the inherent benefits of training for a broad group of people across the organization, there are intangible benefits to bringing people together across various companies and locations. Some of the participants don’t encounter each other during their normal workflow, so this platform results in a more cohesive and collaborative culture as well as a vehicle for sharing best practices across the various operating divisions. Although they deliver different kinds of contracted services, there is the common thread of heavy civil construction. This helps to create a synergy for problem-solving and leveraging operational excellence.
This facilitated interaction has created a pipeline to support future growth in both geographic and targeted market sectors. Ryan Surrena describes his relocation from Maryland to Pittsburgh as the biggest opportunity: “Through my involvement in the leadership development program, I was able to see past the actual construction of the projects and start to see the big picture and how the company is truly evolving. Relocating back to the Pittsburgh area was not only ideal for my family, but also provided me the opportunity to use the skills that I learned to lead and manage much larger projects.”
It will take a while for i+iconUSA to reap the long-term benefits of its investment, but individuals like Hicks are already seeing a difference.
“We have always treated employees well, but over the past few years, the company has become more attractive and more people desire to join us based on the perception in the market of how well people are treated and the time and effort placed on employee development and growth,” he says. This culture will help i+iconUSA achieve its objectives of becoming a best-of-class employer of the future.
Ken Wilson is a director for FMI Corporation. He can be reached at 919.785.9238 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.