Leadership shakeup – is it enough to move construction forward?

In recent months there has been a lot of movement in the upper echelons of construction. While some executives were forced to move on due to a corporate reshuffle, other chose to resign and take up perceivably better opportunities. But is this really making an impact on construction? It’s all well and good to ‘trim the fat’ and get in ‘new blood’ but will the new leaders have a different approach and be able to drive positive change?

Disruption and change

The construction industry tends to focus on the longer term because of the nature of work. Projects take years to complete so this is understandable. But what 2018 has shown is that the vast majority of main contractors are ill equipped to handle industry events and disruptions that quite literally throw a spanner in the works.

The construction industry lacks agility and is slow to respond to change, which is probably why it gets hit hard by industry disruptions i.e. construction accidents, company closures, supply chain failures and major economic impacts such as Brexit.

The new challenge for construction leaders is to not only be able to manage the operations and financial side of the business effectively, but also to start implementing changes that will help futureproof the organization against disruptions and unforeseen change.

Getting out the starting blocks

The challenge is rarely a lack of ideas or strategies, its implementation that is harder to achieve. Strategies need to be supported by budgets, which means they need to have board approval. Trying to introduce new technologies or new strategies can be a hard sell. Board executive are more familiar with financial and business strategies, and less so with emerging technologies. Their considerations are always in terms of the return on investment, and in the short term this could be difficult to demonstrate.

But opposition doesn’t stop there. Further down in the organization, introducing change is not always welcome. When people are required to start to do things differently it requires effort, thought and learning, which they often aren’t inclined to do. So leaders find themselves having to rethink their teams and managers. Do they put in the effort to retrain them or do they hire new people to facilitate the changes needed? Either way if change is approached with a negative mindset from employees it can affect the morale and culture of the organization.

As much as leaders are trying to do something that will lead to positive change they find themselves battling the naysayers at every turn. This wears one down and sucks the energy out of ideas. It’s no wonder that successful implementation is so hard to achieve. Perhaps this is why in days gone by leaders resorted to an autocratic approach of “You’ll do as I say!” Yet the marketplace and workplace is changing and employees no longer respond or respect that style of leadership. So what could or should leaders do differently?

Listen, share and collaborate

More than anything leaders need to be finely tuned into everything that is happening around them, from economic and political factors affecting the industry – such as Brexit – to technologies creating advantages and efficiencies for construction. Plus there’s the task of nurturing talent within in the industry to ensure that their organization can attract the skills and expertise needed to support change.

But perhaps the biggest mindset shift is to one of collaboration. Working more closely with partners in the supply chain and earlier on in projects so that problems can be foreseen and planned for, rather than having to be dealt with during the construction process. Collaboration could be particularly relevant when it comes to introducing new technologies. Expertise could be combined from multiple industries to achieve specific project outcomes.

Rather than main contractors trying to be ‘Jack of all trades’, strategic collaboration can see different parties each focusing on their specific area of expertise, even between industry competitors, resulting in better project delivery.

Achieving effective collaboration requires strong leadership and people skills. Leaders need to be able to listen and learn as much as they are giving instruction, because they’ll not be the only leader in the room. They will be dealing with a lot of expertise at a senior level and getting the most out of each participant will require listening to what they have to say. Of course it could get challenging if there are opposing views, but the benefits of having collective expertise far outweigh this.

The new face of leadership is one that is personable, open to learning and collaboration, but still with enough vision to keep a finger on the pulse of industry happenings. Is that you? Are you one of the leaders of the future?