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Essential Areas for Developing Construction Talent

By having a plan when it comes to workforce development, you can make an investment that equally benefits employers and employees.

Mike Clancy

When a company begins a new building, the first thing that everyone wants to see is the plan. What will 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.

However, we often fail to 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, but have little or no plan to guide them. We intellectually know we need great leaders yet spend little or no time investing in leadership development. 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.

Below 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. You should also consider developing a plan to build accountability around that development.

Management and Leadership Skills
We know that both management and leadership skills are important. But do you have a proactive approach to developing them in your staff? Many managers think that they don't need to develop these skills in their people; they just want someone to put work in place. Who needs leadership skills to install ductwork? But that is a short-sighted view of both management and leadership. 

Every employee needs management and leadership skills to anticipate problems and think like an owner. Even your newest employee needs to begin developing leadership 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. 

Communication Skills
It seems that these days we have both more communication, and more issues with communication, than ever before. 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. 

In addition, 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.

Client Relationships
The ability to maintain positive client relationships is critical to your 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 training them on installing a new system. Make sure to proactively include this in 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 competitiveness. I placed this last because many managers think it is the only issue. But productivity without the surrounding elements of management and leadership, communication and client relationships can create new problems. Nevertheless, skills that drive productivity 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 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 pr ocess for as long as someone works for you. These days, investment in your employees’ development is a strategy for 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, just like the projects they build.

Mike Clancy is a partner and strategy practice leader at FMI. Steena Chandler, a principal in leadership and organizational development at FMI, also contributed to this story.