Every pavement maintenance contractor desires to lead a growing company, one that meets client’s needs and delivers A+ results, profitable results. But with today’s marketplace focusing on excellence at every turn -- and at a cost that’s more competitive than ever -- contractors are facing new challenges as they realize the importance of who they have executing the work.
Just as leaders are not “born,” contractors not born coaches. While a contractor might have high energy and a charismatic presence, this alone doesn’t make a leader or coach. Contractors must fully grasp all that it means to be a leader who sets direction, pace, provides vision, and is able to coach the same. Herein lie some of the biggest challenges a contractor will face: leading and coaching new workers.
While I’ll be expanding on this topic in a three-hour workshop at the 2015 National Pavement Expo in Nashville, let me carve out one important ingredient every successful contractor should embrace. Embracing this single ingredient can redirect the entire organization to be better led, followed and prepared for success.
“Leading and coaching people is hard work.”
This was a comment I heard a few months ago from a frustrated contractor venting about his challenges with several of his employees. I not only agree with his statement, I would take it one more step and say,
“Leading and coaching people is hard work; that’s why so few do it!”
This might sound a bit harsh but I have found that if some of the best contractors in our industry -- and we have many -- were asked to identify their biggest challenges, leading and coaching would rank right up there. Okay, ensuring the right amount of capital for equipment upgrades and having pencils sharp for razor-edge estimating would also be among the top challenges, but nothing seems to keep more contractors up at night than worrying about their workers and how they are executing on the job.
So, let me briefly share a few insights now and then I’d invite you to attend “How to Be an Effective Leader and Coach” at NPE in Nashville for more “how-to” techniques and proven approaches.
#1 Realize that “it’s not about me anymore.” You’re leading; you’re not working to be the best buggy operator, lute man, roller operator or striper. If you are large enough to have employees perform the work, stop trying to prove to your workers that you are still the best in the company.
#2 Pour your knowledge and tips for better performance into your people. This sounds all too simple yet I still find many contractors struggling with investing in their workers’ knowledge and skill development. Sure, some workers might take what they’ve learned from you and start their own company or move to a competitor, but more workers will stay with you longer due to your investment into their career.
#3 Coach through overseeing without micromanaging. This admittedly can be the toughie to overcome. There’s always that fine line between when to step in and prevent a mistake from happening and when to allow a worker, or crew, to go ahead and screw something up. Remember, some of the best lessons you ever learned were the result of failure. As an owner, you hate to see mistakes made but your approach should be to debrief on mistakes, making sure that your workers realize how they made the mistake, what they can do to correct the mistake and how to prevent the same from happening again. That’s coaching!
#4 Realize that not everyone learns like you! Okay, now this one hurts. Many contractors are very quick learners. However, not every new worker will learn as quickly, nor are they as motivated to learn as you were. Successful leaders and coaches have learned to observe their workers perform, paying attention to their manner of learning and how fast the worker retains what has been instructed. Those same leaders have more success by adjusting their leadership and coaching effort to meet the capability levels of their workers.
This fourth point has always been a challenge for me personally. “Why can’t they see what I see?” has been repeated countless times in my head (and sometimes audibly). Yet, this doesn’t change the fact that people do not all learn and grow in the same manner or at the same pace. So…leaders and coaches must adapt to their workers or risk running off potentially good long-term employees.
Hey, there is no shame in admitting that we need to work on our leadership and coaching effort. The long-term profitability and consistency of our company is at stake!
Join me in Nashville and let’s learn more about leading and coaching!
Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm that specializes assisting construction companies. For more information on Brad's sessions at NPE 2015, January 28-31 in Nashville, visit www.nationalpavementexpo.com.