I recently had a brief exchange with an existing client organisation that speaks volumes about how a great number of businesses are managed today – the need for improvement is driven by crisis. Instead of being intentional about pursuing excellence, improvement has become a synonym for recovery. More and more the manager’s job has become the never-ending search for the next hole in the cost report that needs to be filled or the next deviation from “the plan” that needs to be corrected.
Over the last three decades, the safety of the construction environment has improved dramatically. Yet, construction sites are still one of the most dangerous workplaces the world over. As a result, today’s safety management efforts are focused on ensuring that no amount of harm is considered acceptable on a construction site. This commitment to the “zero harm” standard is now regularly included on company logos, plastered across work site and is a mantra that has become a part of standard industry speak.
However, all of this focus on zero harm, and the approach that it entails, begs a few questions that very few people are asking:
- Are we actually making construction a safer place to work?
- Are safety statistics and field reporting becoming a more or less reliable source of information to improve the wellbeing of our people?
- Does it drive the behaviours and actions from our people that we intended?
- Are we bringing safety and our work methods closer together or are we driving them further apart?
- Are we making conversations about safer ways of doing work easier and more open, or are we creating a language of political correctness?
Having been involved in strategic planning over my corporate career, I thought it pretty standard that the purpose of strategy development was to come up with a “strategic plan”. A document that dutifully incorporated a vision and mission, that laid out the numerical aspirations for revenue growth or gross margin, that identified the sources of new revenue or margins improvements and then, once beautifully edited and designed, made its way onto the managing director’s shelf…never to be seen again.
It certainly wasn’t lost on those of us on the management team that creating a plan for attaining an uncertain future in an uncertain environment was “challenging” and required a leap of faith in our ability to foresee the future. Nonetheless, it was the thing that management teams did to provide good governance and strong leadership, so we conformed to this traditional thinking. We lifted the bar by presenting this carefully crafted plan to our senior leadership in a clear and polished manner to show them that their management team had its hands firmly on the reins – we could see the future and it was clearly in our strategic sights. What we didn’t do was make a difference…
A couple of years ago I was asked to participate in a business improvement initiative by one of my contractor clients. The initiative was intended to create better process and structure around their project management systems with a particular focus on project controls. After an initial kick-off meeting which included the executive sponsor, the improvement team met several more times before the momentum faded and the initiative eventually died.
A number of things struck me about this experience. Read more
We tend to think of leadership as something that the head of a group or team provides to those under their charge – direction, inspiration, motivation, vision, and decisive decision-making – a package of skills that managers need to possess if they are to lead people. These traditional leadership activities are what I refer to as “transactional leadership”. Transactional leadership qualities are absolutely necessary and have their time and place but their impact is relatively short-lived and can create a level of dependency on the leader. When a tough decision is required, it is shunted to the project manager; when direction is required, the team look for it to be given rather than forging it for themselves; when inspiration is needed, the team waits for it to come rather than creating it. Read more
Do you have a project that’s in trouble? Does it seem to get worse despite your best efforts to fix it? Having worked on many distressed projects, I’ve come to realise that projects that become troubled tend to get worse because of the very actions and mindset that we put in place to correct the course. Read more