Whether facing tight market conditions or unbridled growth, perennially successful senior leadership teams fix their eyes on a few critical things:
- Clarity of direction, aligned with well-defined executable strategy
- Their people: filling the need gap through persistent recruitment and talent development
- Company culture and its impact on accelerating company performance
- Giving consistent reasons to believe: offering “grown-up” realities of the business while inspiring to engage deeply and not wander
With FMI’s more than 60 years of supporting the E&C industry in the U.S. and over 20 years in Canada, we can safely say there is something special about those construction firms where the executive body of the firm, regardless of firm size, focuses on the shaping of enduring performance as much, if not more, than on managing the daily checks and balances of operations and finances.
TOO MUCH POC, NOT ENOUGH SAM
When we study the behaviors of U.S. and Canadian construction firm senior leader/executive teams, energy mostly goes to the “here and now” Planning, Organizing and Coordinating of their business’s daily project work demands. John Kotter, professor at Harvard and author of numerous books on leadership, including his seminal work, “Leading Change,” calls these points of focus the P-O-Cs of business. And while he and we agree that the “devil is always in the details,” we hear from those who work in construction across multiple organizations that an unmet hunger exists for their senior leaders to offer and reinforce a vision for the company, that people truly matter in making that vision and strategy come alive, and that aligning resources and the right behaviors to drive consistent performance are never-ending priorities.
In short, more S-A-M and a little less P-O-C. That is, more Setting and clarifying direction, Aligning resources and culture to bring the vision and direction alive, and heartfelt Motivation and inspiration from the top. By no means does this suggest that the P-O-Cs don’t matter (yes, management matters). It just means your people are indirectly asking their executives to focus more “on the business” and less “in the business.” The use of SAM is a core principle introduced in the Canadian Leadership Institute hosted by the Edmonton Construction Association and the Center for Strategic Leadership at FMI, which is held annually each summer in Kananaskis, Alberta.
CHANGING EXECUTIVE FOCUS
According to the Global Institutional Investor Survey completed in 2009 by Ernst and Young, executive teams have a 1.9 times greater likelihood of above-average-median performance when they are aligned and working together toward a common vision. Focusing on enduring success matters, but the question is, how do we make this happen when our senior leader teams are fixated on the operational “here and now.” This year, the Canadian Construction Conference in Banff helped Canadian leaders bring a greater focus to this need where they introduced the new CCA five-year strategic plan – “A Roadmap for Change” which lays out strategic priorities and areas of focus around Unite, Lead and Evolve.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Listen to your people (and customers). High levels of consistent engagement are at the core of high performance. Understand how your people are feeling through things like engagement surveys or “town halls.” Once this information’s in hand, it’s hard to ignore it and begins to drive honest conversations at the top on what we must start and stop doing to create deeper engagement.
- Empower and delegate. The No. 1 reason given for a lack of attention to company direction and strategy is “no time.” To create the critical time to invest in building enduring success, senior leaders need to master the art and science of delegation and empowerment, allowing direct reports to own more of the daily affairs of the business. Without this, there will never be sufficient time to lead as executives.
- Redefine executive team purpose. Creating clarity on why the executive team exists establishes priorities and helps identify where tasks can be handled elsewhere. Peak-performing executive teams make it clear that they exist to ensure the “enduring success of the business.”
- Reset the KPIs. If your key performance indicators (KPIs) measure only lagging indicators of success (YTD revenues, Net Income, etc.), consider rebalancing your measures with leading and lagging indicators of success (customer satisfaction scores, top-talent attrition rates, pipeline of growth in key market sectors, etc.). The timeless mantra still holds true – what matters gets measured. Executives get after the leading indicators first.
- Execute today with the Future in mind. When conditions and demands warrant operational or managerial focus, executive teams consistently ask, “How can we respond today without mortgaging the company’s future?” Simple questions that drive this thinking will almost immediately change the way in which you make decisions.
- Put people at the center. Construction is the ultimate team sport. Who we put on the ice matters more than the best-laid processes or procurement systems. If you start with your clients and people in the middle of all you think and do, you can’t help but become more strategic.
- Invest in leadership development. FMI believes everyone has the potential to lead, but potential varies dramatically from person to person. To optimize this potential, executives invest in leadership development for themselves and their key current and future leaders. We’ve seen incredible transformation of leadership behaviors when managers have received proven leadership training and been given the opportunity to immediately apply these principles in their daily work.
- Place laser focus on the one thing that matters most…
THE ONE THING…
Senior leaders are the company role models. Whether we like it or not, when we sign up as senior leaders, we jump into a fishbowl where people watch our every move to determine what’s important, what’s a priority, and how we do things around here. Trust, more than anything else, drives enduring performance. And if we, as the executive leadership team, are to serve as role models of trustworthiness, it’s critical to understand what creates it (and breaks it) and how to model it.
Trust comes from the consistent delivery of three things:
- Demonstrated care and support for others
- Authenticity – words and actions match
If all three are on display 24/7 by all members of the senior leadership team, the message is clear on how the company is expected to behave and perform. And what’s amazing, when a norm of companywide trust is in place, things happen faster and more efficiently, leading to consistently higher outcomes. The Covey Institute found that those companies viewed as high in trust internally and externally delivered 286% more value to their shareholders over time than those viewed as low in trust. Trust is the one thing executives focus on, because nothing creates a more profound impact on enduring performance than creating and reinforcing genuine trustworthiness.
ENDURING SUCCESS IS THE EXECUTIVE’S EQUATION TO SOLVE
Success is a funny thing. Experiencing it on occasion is possible when our focus is dedicated to executing flawlessly in the here and now. But experiencing enduring success is an altogether challenging and elusive goal, where only a handful of firms achieve this regularly, regardless of market conditions. The difference is where and how their executive/senior leadership teams spend their time and developmental energy. It is important to clarify and then communicate where the company is going and how each person plays an important role in company success. By doing this, everything and everyone align to bring the vision to life and prevent trust from falling below exceptional levels.