Why empowering construction professionals is more productive than enforcement
Quality, collaboration and professionalism are current themes for the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). This tale about my personal experience leading a company-wide programme illustrates all three.
It’s the second week in June 2000. I’m in an exec team meeting and I’m next on the agenda. I’ve been running this transformation programme for six months, I’ve been to plenty of these board meetings and I’m feeling confident.
The new CEO turns to me and asks: “Dave, how’s Right First Time going?” I get two words out: “I think…” But the CEO cuts in: “Dave, I don’t want your opinion, I want the facts. Find out by the end of the month and let me know.”
He then turned to the execs and said: “Whatever Dave needs, sort it. This is important.”
Waiting for my flight home, I had plenty of time to think about the implications of his demand. A robust audit of 105 construction projects, data collected, analysed, factualised, summarised and reported in 19 days.
By the time I got home, I had worked out what I was going to do and then spent the weekend working out how.
Turn up with the facts
By the middle of the following week, I had most of the company’s contracts and operations managers in a conference room and was explaining the CEO’s demand and what needed to happen.
I had just started to explain how we were going to do it and one of the guys said rather abruptly: “Dave, why don’t you leave us for a couple of hours while we work that out.” (That is the sanitised version!)
Stunned rabbit in the headlights and almost speechless, I agreed and left the room.
When they called me back in, I soon realised three things: they had created a brilliant plan; mine would never have worked; very few of my plans had ever worked.
Later that month, I presented the facts to the CEO. He asked some questions, made some suggestions and said: “Well done, come with facts next time.”
My big lessons: set the objective, allow experienced people to work it out, and let them get on with it. And whenever meeting the CEO, turn up with the facts.
Eight months later, the overall programme was deemed a success, won industry awards and the CEO invited me to join the exec board.
Three months after that, I left to do what I have been doing since, though that’s a story for another day.
A career-defining lesson
It was an honour to lead the programme, though my starting stance was to use my energy and determination to drive it through the company.
My encounters with the CEO, and then the contracts and operations managers, fortunately changed my approach.
Being invited to leave the room and allow them to work it out was a career-defining lesson for me – empowerment is far more productive than enforcement. It’s also increasingly the way of the modern construction professional.
Dave Stitt FCIOB is a chartered civil engineer and professional certified coach at DSA Building Performance.