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Training: The Heartbeat of Organizational Transformation
February 25, 2016
If there is anything the month of February is better known for than hearts and red roses it is America’s most well-loved pastime – football. And here at Balfour Beatty Construction, the records and rivalries between the two teams that squared off in Super Bowl 50 got us thinking about the similarities between the gridiron and the building trades. In fact, when I think about winning football teams and high performing project teams, one common characteristic inevitably rises to the surface: training. Football players who hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy are always masters of the fundamentals, and likewise, construction professionals who deliver exceptional projects make a daily habit out of executing the details, whether it’s the magnitude of safety or the minutiae of submittals. For both crafts, it’s the work you put in off the field that makes all the difference.
It’s a belief I’ve championed throughout my entire construction career – 26 years and counting –all spent with Balfour Beatty. I am incredibly fortunate to have built my career with a single company, and I credit Balfour Beatty for providing me with projects of increasing difficulty that kept me hungry and diverse roles that ensured I had an opportunity to touch nearly every facet of our business. I’ve worked all over the Southeast and even in the Bahamas, building classrooms to courthouses, resorts to research facilities, and even the world-class BB&T Arena right here in South Florida where I work and raise my children. And through these experiences, I came to realize just how important training was to the health and success of an organization as well as the engagement and performance of that organization’s greatest asset: its people.
For far too long, the construction industry’s training program could have been called the “School of Hard Knocks.” And I should know – I’m a graduate! As I was coming up through the ranks, I noticed a real need to develop a curriculum for project engineers that would cultivate not only their technical acumen but also, and most importantly in my opinion, the leadership traits those same individuals will need when they are no longer managing RFIs but rather motivating subcontractors. They say law students learn everything in law school except how to practice law, and I’d venture that construction management programs are, in many ways, similar. Perhaps that’s because it takes years of experience to become a bona fide builder, capable of nimbly navigating the delicate interfaces between trades, masterfully communicating expectations, and mitigating issues using field logic as opposed to classroom knowledge. This certainly rings true in my own career. Even as I grew both in terms of title and responsibility, I continued to observe the rewards that are reaped when employees are provided access to ongoing learning resources. And on a personal level, I have realized I don’t just have a passion for building structures. I also have a deep passion for building people.
It’s this realization that led me, along with several of my colleagues, to launch an inaugural training program for our teammates in Florida in the mid 1990s. Although I’m certainly proud of the dreams I’ve helped countless clients realize, I take equal if not greater satisfaction in the knowledge that I have helped mentor Balfour Beatty’s next generation of builders. We have achieved this through the development of two courses designed specifically for project engineers: a 100-level centered on the sixteen divisions of work among other industry essentials, and a 200-level, which is geared towards exposing our project engineers to some of the technical issues that they will face as they move into an assistant project manager role, including owner contracts and subcontract agreements; financial management; change order management; bonds; insurance; and overall mitigation of risk. The course also includes behavioral-based training/strategies such as how to run a productive meeting, business writing skills, and how to manage the myriad of personalities that each employee will face on every project. Similar programs exist for both project managers and superintendents, both of which focus on the relational character traits that help our operations teammates consistently anticipate, communicate, and resolve issues that inevitably arise during construction.
I can’t over-stress the importance of incorporating the topic of communication in any training program. With a staggering number of moving parts, pieces, and people, our work necessitates the establishment of a clear chain of communication and command for the input and distribution of data. When I think about the most successful projects I have touched over the years, one trait stands out: stellar information management. Every member of the team knew what the right and left hand was doing so to speak, we knew the project’s hot button issues, and we all understood the story of the project as it was being built. No matter the size or scope of a construction project, where there is ambiguity, there is the potential for calamity.
I’d also like to argue that in today’s construction marketplace, where the stagnant become the irrelevant faster than mud can sink heavy machinery, training has become an indispensable investment. At Balfour Beatty, we have fully embraced the lean movement. As we continue to guide the shift towards a more optimized end-to-end construction process, we must strive to remain a learning organization to embrace the key principles and behaviors that position us for success. With the absolute bevy of new technologies available, we admittedly have to balance the initiatives we implement. But we can’t maximize value for our clients without continually providing our people with the tools they need to thrive. Training is the heartbeat of organizational transformation.
As builders, we’re taught to think first and foremost about our pipelines, but as we look towards the ways our industry will grow and change this year, I’d challenge each of you to remember that people are the lifeblood of this business. And just as the NFL teams who didn’t make it to the Super Bowl are likely already strategizing next season’s x’s and o’s, the start of a new year is the perfect time to remind ourselves that when it comes to executing the fundamentals in the world of bricks and mortar, practice does, indeed, make perfect.