When a company takes on the process of building a new building, the first thing that everyone wants to see is the plan. What does it look like? How will it start? What is the final goal? What will be the process? These are normal and appropriate questions if we want to see progress and eventually end up with a successful project.
For some reason, we do not take the same approach with our people. We hire them, put them to work, and perhaps give them the technical training that they will need. We expect them to grow, get better, develop…. yet as companies, we have little or no plan to help facilitate in our people what we do every day with our projects. Yet we find ourselves in an environment where 10,000 people are retiring every day in this country, and there are not enough people to replace them. We intellectually know the need for great leaders yet spend little or no time, much less financially invest, in the development of the leadership that we need. We complain that today’s youngest employees are not as prepared as “in the good old days,” but we don’t identify skill gaps and proactively create opportunities to deal with them.
To help you begin the process, here are four essential areas to consider in developing your construction talent. Beside the technical skills that are necessary to be productive and successful in your business, employees should be encouraged to build depth in all four of these areas, and a strategic plan should be established to build accountability around that development.
Management and Leadership Skills
We all know that both management and leadership skills are important. But do you have a strategic and planned-out approach to developing them in your staff? Many managers think that they don’t need to develop these skills in all their people. They just want someone to put work in place. Who needs leadership skills to lay pipe? But that is a short-sighted view of both management and leadership. FMI has identified nine critical managements skills that center around managing yourself, others and operations. We have also identified eight critical elements of Peak Leaders that should be considered in any long-term, comprehensive leadership plan.
Management and leadership skills are something that every employee should build in order to see problems way down the road, to identify and take action well, and to think like an owner. These skills help us guide our own actions, influence others, have vision and manage operations more effectively. Even your newest employee needs to begin developing these skills in his or her work. It is also important to remember that these skills take practice and won’t just come overnight, so plan ahead and start early. Waiting until you need a new manager or leader is far too late.
It seems that these days we have more issues with communication than ever. The biggest problems are the addiction to overcommunication as well as a growing lack of verbal communication skills. Why talk face-to-face when you can send a passive-aggressive email? For this reason and others, including practical communication skills training in your overall development plan is critical. Make sure it includes how to develop a better argument, how to present to clients, and how to control the distraction and problem of overcommunication. These are skills that can apply across every area of a person’s work and life, but how much time was spent in your high school and college training on these subjects? More importantly, how have your company and employees adapted to the changing landscape of communication that has happened in the last 10 years (the iPhone came out in 2007).
In addition, I think it is essential to train and plan out a communication strategy for your company. Teach people how to make communication strategies for their teams and projects. Implementing communication strategies internally and externally for your company at large is helpful in minimizing miscommunication and time spent checking emails, texts and messages. I believe much of the money lost on projects is actually communication losses, not technical skill issues.
A close tie to communication, client relationships are critical to our bottom line. Companies that don’t acknowledge the importance of repeat business and the impact of client conflict are missing the boat. Yet many employees have a hard time seeing things from the client’s perspective and knowing what is most important in the process of developing a lasting and loyal client relationship. Do your employees know how to resolve conflict with a client? Do they know how the client wants to interact? Do they fully understand the client’s real interests and not just fall into the trap that the client only cares about price and schedule?
Building relationships with clients is critical to the construction business. Training your people on how to interact and manage those relationships is as essential as making sure they know how to build their building. Make sure to strategically include this in the steps of developing your talent. It is not nearly as intuitive as many managers think it should be these days.
In the business of construction, doing things faster and better is key to maintaining margins and being competitive. I placed this last because many managers think it is the only issue. I can’t tell you how many discussions I have with managers who just want us to teach their teams how to be productive. But productivity without the surrounding elements of management and leadership, communication and client relationships can be problematic. Nevertheless, skills in being more productive are still critical. Little decisions that save time, keep people safe and improve the overall project can have a huge impact by the end of the project. Things get done quicker, there is less rework, and teams are more motivated. We all know owners won’t complain about being more productive.
One element that many field people do not realize is how they can personally impact their company’s bottom line. FMI’s productivity group will show you that saving 6 man-minutes per hour in the field can double the net earnings on a project. Training your field teams on how they might find those six minutes should be a part of your preparing them overall.
One Bonus Thought
One last thought to this issue of strategically planning and implementing a process for your staff development. Don’t expect this to be a one-and-done project. Talent development is an ongoing process for as long as someone works for you. These days, investment in your employees’ development is a key way of recruiting and retaining talent over the long haul. Plan something each year. Set clear performance and growth metrics that show a person’s personal development plan. Include an accountability plan and reward for meeting the goals that you set out. Great employees aren’t just made; they are crafted over time, like a work of art.