All summer Texas was hot! Wildfires were burning everywhere. Never before in Texas fire fighting history have so many volunteers been engaged with protecting lives, homes, livestock, and crops. Observing tactics (in one case from the actual fire site) used by fire fighters to control and extinguish the fires I made the following notes:
1. There is a strategy in place to head off where the fire is going
2. There is some allowance to lose in the short term in order to gain in the long term
3. All equipment, tools, and materials are "staged" at different locations for multi-location fighting
4. All firefighters are briefed on strategy, placement, and tactics along with the sequential steps
5. There is a strategic "path" chosen that fire fighters will clear and establish as sort of a beachhead
Look familiar? It's hard not to see the similarities for clearing the path to success for any company in the construction industry. Let's take each of the five observations listed above and consider their similar use for your organization.
Develop and Activate a Strategy
It's hard to believe that it might take such an out-of-control financial wildfire (i.e. like that which we've experienced for more than three years), for any company not to have a strategy. The good news is that many companies have responded by developing a strategy to attack the changing market. This is the first step that should be taken: strategy developed, updated, adjusted, and tailored to address the issues and needs in your local market area.
There is no shame in putting a strategy in place and then making needed changes along the way. In fact, it's a sign of an engaged owner or senior leader who does make the needed adjustments in order to capitalize on their situation. What might have worked just three years ago might not work today. Be confident and make any necessary strategic changes in order to give the people of your organization the opportunity to be successful.
For business owners I recommend building your plan for three years into the future through establishing clear direction, end points - while at the same time recognizing that changes, perhaps even a host of them, might be needed along the way!
Sacrifice Early Success for Greater Wins Later
This is a very difficult principle to embrace. Why? Because most owners and senior leaders are incredibly competitive. Failure is not an option! Yet, most successful owners today will tell you that they lost a few "battles" in the early days but gained greater success later.
No construction contractor has the crystal ball with "20-20" vision about their future. Based on market trends, customer purchase decisions, and perhaps a healthy dose of "gut check" the owner must implement his strategy with confidence. He must be poised and prepared to adjust along the way when necessary.
This second point is an emotional issue for many owners. Your new incentive program to drum up more business might not work initially so you might need to adjust or tweak the effort. Swallow your pride and recognize that early failures simply allow you to scratch such efforts off your list before moving to another tactic.
Create a "1st Response Staging" mentality
Begin to look at organizing your equipment, tools, and vehicles in such a manner that will speed your company's response to everyday jobs and emergency calls. This will require you to reorganize your yard, tool cribs, material storage, etc.
Speed is the name of the game in construction. Organizing all of the "non-human" participants so that your people can move quickly, on the spot if needed, empowers your staff to work quickly, with more quality, and more profitably!
A minor point here is that the same mentality and staging effort should be in place when your folks hit the project site. An organized and well-maintained jobsite puts more productive time into your workers' day -- not to mention it makes your customer proud of having your efficient, smooth-operating crew on his property.
Brief your team on strategy, placement, and tactics including the sequential steps
This is often called the "pre-construction" effort or job-site pre-planning by many organizations. No matter the name used, the primary lesson learned here is the importance of communication.
Communication, before, during, and after a project is completed is paramount to the contractor. Likewise, the equipment dealer or material distributor should also include a regular dose of what the strategy for the day, week, or month is; what the needed steps are to make the strategy work; and, in what order the steps are to be completed.
Interestingly, even a less-than-perfect plan can work if there is an abundance of clear and timely communication. Often, the difficulty experienced in executing strategic plans comes down to unclear communication or lack of communication.
Should such strategies, placement, and tactics be documented? Yes! And, copies should be given to all essential decision makers. It is critical that all players are reading from the same script. There is no room for misunderstandings, especially when leaders might be at different locations and not easily accessible for minute-by-minute decisions.
Choose a strategic "path" that identifies important "success points" along the route
One critical planning effort that you should employ is to set out some success points along the strategic path chosen. You (and your team) need to know that progress is being made. Such success points confirm your plan, reinforce that the plan is working, and alerts you to instances where such points are not met so quick adjustments can be made.
This fifth item is very critical for most workers and leaders. Just as the fire fighter is re-energized when she sees the plan working so, too, will your workforce be re-energized when they see important plan points being realized.
A key secret here is to keep the success points shorter in distance from one to the next. Give your team more opportunities to cheer and feel accomplishment and watch the energy level, creativity, and commitment grow.
For many construction owners and leaders who feel like they are in the middle of an economic fire the fight is not hopeless. However, rather than just responding quickly without a plan, doesn't it make sense to step back, take in the surrounding factors, and then set down an approach that utilizes your people and resources? To develop an educated plan that sets out to address the "fire" appropriately by making a clear path to success?
Don't give up hope! Stay focused, revisit old strategic plans, update and adjust where needed, communicate clearly, and position your people and resources to be most effective.