Construction is an industry of tight timelines beset by on-site realities. What’s planned on paper rarely materializes at site, and foremen need to adapt quickly to maintain margins.
Change leadership is about the leader inspiring his or her team to sniff out waste and destroy it. As leader, you can’t be on every site at all times, and you have a million things to worry about. It can’t be your job to make sure enough lumber has been brought in or to see if a bathroom pod can be pre-fabbed at the shop. You need empowered crew leaders.
It’s a cultural shift, and it’s neither easy nor fast. You’ll need to articulate a vision that inspires, be visible on site, and divert your focus from managing logistics to coaching your team.
Inspire Before Bulldoze
Change Leaders need to articulate their vision clearly to themselves (don’t skip that part), and then to their team. But what about those who are comfortable just the way things are?
if you bulldoze them with your vision, it taints the process from the beginning. When you encounter the “but we’ve always done it this way” crowd (often referred to as the old guard), you need to erode the resistance with your vision. Here’s how:
Looking bigger picture, your construction firm is probably only one of many stakeholders on a large project, and it becomes more complicated when the “old guard” are other contractors.
Establish a culture of process improvement in your business first, and then (if you’re ambitious) you can begin to inspire other contractors that you commonly work with. It’s inspiring that some large projects are now entirely Lean, with contractors all working together towards a common goal that thrills the client and increases margin.
If you’re a quiet leader who likes to keep to yourself, that will need to change. Change Leadership is about building people, and that takes advanced communication skills. If you lack these, but want to become that leader, don’t be ashamed of reaching out to a professional coach or other mentor to help you.
Change Leadership begins with authentically asking your team for their ideas. But it goes on from there.
Ideas aren’t worth much without accountability-driven execution. You’ll be spending more of your time coaching and developing your team, but your other pressures aren’t taking a holiday.
Delegation is the natural evolution of empowerment. Invest in your team, build processes for them to execute their ideas, then learn to step back. Your stress level will decrease as your employees’ new responsibilities become routine, and their ideas become part of systemic change.
Process improvement will wilt without reflection and measurement. In construction, waste is often lurking systemically in your processes. Root it out. Don’t let failed jobs accumulate because you didn’t get rid of process problems.
Be transparent with your KPIs for delivery, cost, safety, etc. Do a post-mortem for every job with your team and see how they did. Don’t let that conversation devolve into a finger-pointing session; keep it about constructive feedback for the last job and proactive action items for the next.
Start the whiteboard during the job, so that foreman and workers alike can post ideas that occur to them in real time. Make it easy to give criticism, especially if a job goes south and all we want to do is forget about it. As Seth Godin says more eloquently than I, failure is our best and perhaps only teacher.
It’s amazing what an empowered, engaged team can do. When Lean principles are properly applied, team members step up to the plate in ways you might not expect. When everyone on the crew feels a sense of ownership, it becomes everyone’s job to push projects into better, faster, more efficient territory. You’ll feel the difference when you arrive at work every day—and that’s the kind of culture that lays a solid foundation to build upon.
“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”
— John Maxwell