How to Organize a New Construction Leader's First 90 Days

New construction leaders need to be eased into their role in a planned and organized fashion. Pinnacle Development Group's Brad Humphrey outlines steps that will assure a successful transition for new leaders.

Every professional coach will tell you that getting off to a good start will encourage and enhance his or her team’s chances of winning the game. Every great golfer will tell you that hitting for par or better on the first few holes can relax him and make him play with more confidence. Even professional airline pilots recognize the importance of getting off to a great start while speeding down a runway for take off.

It's just as critical for the individual moving into a new construction leadership role to get off to a great start. Whether the individual is moving to become a foreman, superintendent, project manager, lead estimator, even president, getting off to a great start will embolden both the individual’s confidence and demonstrate the “right decision” made by senior leaders.

The first 90 days of any leader’s life allows for both a settling in to the new position and getting acquainted with those he or she will be leading. Too often construction companies have hired a new leader or promoted from within and just handed the reins to the leader, leaving him to figure things out. This wastes time and energy and, most important, makes a smooth and profitable transition unlikely. So let’s take a brief look at what the first 90 Days should entail.

Days 1-7: Meet, Greet, Vision & Direction

This first week should certainly include a full and thorough orientation to the company, and the new leader should meet all the players above, below, and at the peer level — if possible, something more than a quick handshake or an acknowledged nod of the head. Breakfast, lunch and after-work drinks can all go a long way to getting the new leader feeling comfortable with his new role and the culture expectations. It is also critical that the new leader gains the real vision and direction of the company. Even if the new leader is old to the company it’s a great idea to reacquaint him to the path the owner or senior leader of the company wants to be heading!

Days 8-30: Review, Meet, Listen, & Take-Notes!

The new leader should formally and informally set out to review the efforts of the previous leader, looking for the good that was done and taking note of any unsuccessful efforts. The time spent here should be primarily focused on asking questions and listening, looking to formulate the leader's own mind on what he has gotten himself into. The leader should always have access to a pen and pad of paper to take notes, reviewing them at the end of each evening to again assess what they are hearing. The new leader should also write his own questions about what he is hearing or not hearing and prepare to share these questions with senior leaders for clarification.

Days 31-60: Project Understanding, Key "Thoroughbreds” Check-up, Needs & Expectations

After 30 days in the new role the leader should be comfortable with the basics of the company.  This next period of time should be spent pinning down key people; I call them the “thoroughbreds.” These are the top people who have the right attitude about what is needed and expected. The leader should seek these individuals out and get a better handle on projects, areas needing improvement, priorities of needs, and the expectations from the workers for their new leader. It is during this time that a new leader first begins to really develop a rough draft of what he is going to do or what changes might need to be made.

Days 61-82: Identify Your “A” Team, Prioritize Improvement Efforts, Needs, Set KPI’s

This time period should really begin to bring the new leader’s thoughts together and to begin setting out a plan. The leader must determine who his “A-Team” will be. Now, this might not mean changing the roles of current employees — but it could. Putting the plan together will include prioritizing those efforts that must be addressed now, differently, and who will be involved with impacting those items. Finally, the new leader should develop his own new KPIs, that is, the Key Performance Indicators. This allows the team to identify and see what the performance objectives or goals are that will now be addressed. Some of the KPIs may be similar to what existed. In such cases the new leader should give credit to others, including the past leader, for having set the targets.

Days 83-90: Present Observations with Senior Leader, Vision & Action Plan

This final week of the 90 days will require the new leader to make a full presentation on what he has observed and the new direction in which he intends to lead. Any questions that the new leader has not already asked should be asked now. The new leader should provide the senior leader with the intended direction that they will follow. It is also important that the new leader listen for differences or other ideas from the senior leader to further refine his thinking and plan of attack.

Now, many construction owners might think this first 90 days is a bit over the top for, say, a new crew foreman. Yet, while the 90 days might be able to be compressed a bit for a foreman, the same path of discussion, understanding, and planning should still be executed. Think about the many foremen who have begun a new role only to find it incredibly difficult for the first few months. 

No matter whether a new foreman or new president, there is no excuse — and increasingly a loss of productivity — if there is no attempt to make the leader the best that he can be sooner…rather than later! Start today to give your new leaders a better send-off in their first 90 days! With our aging workforce still aging you will undoubtedly have many opportunities over the next three to five years!