How to Build High Performing People and Projects in Construction
The construction industry is rapidly changing. There is a major focus on technology and a significant focus on more collaborative project delivery and construction methods. The industry is replete with Construction Manager (CM) at risk, design-build, design-assist, integrated project delivery (IPD), lean and integrated lean project delivery. This is a good thing for the industry, and yet, we don’t seem to be getting much traction with these collaborative approaches.
I began to ponder this recently while on vacation. Why are we progressing at a glacial pace on these innovative ways of working? I believe it is because, as technical people, we focus on the processes, not the people. And when an IPD project goes off the rails, we tend to say to ourselves, “Well, that didn’t work,” But what is the main reason that such a collaborative delivery process fails? It’s usually because of the people dimension. We focus on technology, which is awesome, but if the people side isn’t in place, technology enables you to hate people faster with more anonymity. And then we tend to blame the technology. It’s the people that matter the most. Always.
Why Relationships Matter in Construction
Think about the best project you’ve ever done. What were the relationships like? My guess is they were pretty good. Now, think of the worst project you’ve ever done. What were the relationships like? My guess is not so great. No one has ever said to me, “It was an amazing project despite the fact that everyone hated each other’s guts and fought like cats and dogs.” It just doesn’t happen that way. And now there is pretty substantial research from LCI, Penn State, and CII noting that team dynamics and relationships are leading indicators of project success. When the relationships and trust and communication are in place, every metric on a project is better.
We can dig into a process like nobody’s business and teach it to others. But this people stuff is hard to get your arms around. In our estimation, you have to build the people before you build the project. How do you do that? Why don’t we focus on the people? It’s likely because we just don’t know how.
Take a look at the typical emotional profile for over 200 construction managers:
Note the relatively high assertiveness, self-actualization (we love what we do), independence, problem-solving, impulse control and stress tolerance and the relatively low emotional self-awareness, emotional expression, empathy, interpersonal relationships, flexibility and happiness. What this indicates are a group of people who have alpha tendencies (high assertiveness and independence), who don’t listen well (low empathy), don’t communicate well (low emotional expression) and are rigid in their approaches (low flexibility). This is a recipe for collaboration disaster.
There is something dire going on here. Construction has the second highest suicide rate of any industry sector according to a CDC study in 2012. This profile compounds that issue. With low self-awareness along with low emotional expression and a lack of connection with others, coupled with a hyper-masculine work culture where being vulnerable and asking for help is taboo, the folks in the construction industry are dying from suicide at rates that are far too high.
How do we address these vital issues not only for the well-being of the people in our industry but the success of our projects? We must begin with each project stakeholder’s emotional intelligence. When you begin with everyone learning their emotional profile, you begin the process of creating trust and communication. When people know their behavioral tendencies based on their emotional profile, they are better able to handle conflicts and resolve issues with a win-win attitude.
High Performing People = High Performing Teams
We throw people together on highly stressful projects with millions of dollars at stake and spend little time preparing our people to effectively execute these projects and even less time providing them with the tools they need to maintain high levels of performance. The project stakeholders tend to not address stress issues, eat crappy food, don’t get enough sleep, don’t exercise and don’t pay attention to their levels of mental, physical and emotional performance. Many are overweight and stressed out to the point of developing stress-related, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure and heart disease. The way to begin any project is to focus on their emotional intelligence and the physical peak performance and wellness of every project stakeholder. We must spend our time focusing on emotional competencies, stress management, nutrition, exercise and sleep.
In order to create high performing teams, you must create high performing people. What if we did a retreat prior to each project where all project stakeholders met in an amazing location, built great relationships, learned about their emotional profiles and physical needs and learned practical information to create a team that is functioning at a very high level? What if everyone learned about proper nutrition, stress management techniques, how to get a good night’s sleep without drugs and how to create and maintain peak levels of performance?
The next step is for everyone to create their own personal, professional, emotional and physical development plans. Then, everyone would agree on the project goals and values and metrics. From there, we would track all of these metrics for people and project throughout the entire construction process from inception to demolition.
And forget about the one or two-day partnering sessions. They are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. We must have ongoing evaluations, check-ins, measurements and coaching to maintain this level of performance throughout construction. Every project should consider having a project coach to help every individual reach their goals and help to attain every project metric as well. They could also be there to help resolve conflicts and keep the project on track.
Finally, there should be ongoing learning and evaluations throughout the project. There would be different areas of focus during each phase of the project depending on what is needed at the time. In the beginning, perhaps some sessions on team building, time management and communication. As the project progresses, perhaps conflict resolution, innovation and relationships. Sessions on stress management and the emotional side of safety could also be valuable to high performing projects. Every session would reinforce what every individual is doing, what the team is doing and what the project is trying to attain.
Build People, Then Build Projects
The next time you are considering a project, think about the human side and build the people first. Give them the tools they need and the ongoing reinforcement, resources and learning to continually improve every aspect of themselves and the project.