Eric: Hey, this is Eric Anderson and I had a discussion with an area manager with a construction company this week and we were talking about what his real job is, and what provoked the conversation was the challenge that he feels as he's making the shift from being a project manager to being an area manager, leading people as opposed to building projects, and that's the topic that I cover in today's short podcast.
This is a video that I actually shot right after our conversation, posted it on social media, but I thought it would be beneficial to share with the podcast audience, so keep that in mind, as you're listening to this episode that this is a video that I shot. It's short, but it's to the point and I think you'll find it very useful, so check it out. It's all about, again, how you, as a senior leader, make the shift from building projects to leading teams. I appreciate you listening. Feel free to share it with other people that you think would benefit from the topic. [00:50.2]
This is Eric Anderton, and you're listening to “Construction Genius”, a leadership masterclass. Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. If you're a construction leader, you know all about the perspiration, and this show is all about the one percent inspiration that you can add to your hard work to help you to improve your leadership.
Welcome to Construction Genius. This is Eric Anderton. Today, I'm going to do something a little unusual. I was going back through my website and I came across an article that I wrote in October 2018 about how to structure one-to-one meetings to improve communication and project performance. I'm going to go through that article here today, and I’ll be sort of half-reading and then commenting on the article as I read it, and I think you'll find this very helpful.
I know one of the areas that a lot of leaders struggle in is having consistent meetings with their team, both as a group and also in a one-on-one environment. In my mind, those one-on-one meetings are tremendously helpful in terms of building relationships and dealing with issues, so let's dive right in. [02:07.5]
A profitable construction company is built on the foundation of superior skill and excellent communication. Your skill levels can be tremendously high, but communication is essential to effectively deploy that skill in the field and throughout the business. The best construction companies are the ones that have a clear and consistent means of communicating information, surfacing and handling day-to-day problems, and identifying and exploiting opportunities.
Just take a quick moment here and ask yourself how effective your company-wide communication is. If there's a lack of execution in the field or misunderstandings between your company and your clients, suppliers or subcontractors, that's probably a communication issue that needs to be improved. [02:57.0]
Communication improves by spending time together. If you see issues in the organization, the temptation might be to call a company-wide meeting, to deal with the communication challenges, but instead of going macro and big picture like that, I'd like to encourage you to try going micro.
Grab a piece of paper. Write down the names of all the people who report directly to you, and then schedule in a time to meet with each one of them one-to -one, in the next two weeks. By the way, if you have more than six to eight people reporting directly to you and you need to reorganize your company, you have too many people reporting to you. If you dread one-on-one conversations, that may be because you have poor relationships with your direct reports, and that's exactly why you need to schedule these meetings.
In his leadership classic High Output Management, Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, discusses the importance of one-to-one meetings, and his insights or the basis of the points that I'm going to be making here, as we go through this episode. [04:01.7]
By the way, as a side note, there aren't a ton of books that I recommend to executives, but the two that I will recommend are High Output Management by Andy Grove, and then The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. Both of them are small short books. They get right to the point. They're extremely practical. They're very helpful and you should read both of those books.
First let's take a look at why you should have one-to-one meetings. What if you could invest six hours of your time and then get 480-plus hours of impact? Deep one-to-one meetings are an excellent way to leverage yourself and that's one of the reasons people don't like having meetings, because they think it's a, quote-unquote, “waste of time.” But I'd like to say that as a leader, your job is to have meetings with your people. That's just your job, and if you're going to do it well, you must master how to run those meetings. If you're going to do it well, you must master how to run those meetings. [05:02.7]
Deep one-to-one meetings are an excellent way to leverage yourself. If you spend one hour every two weeks with each of your, let's say, six direct reports, your investment of six hours can impact 480 hours-plus of their work. You figure if they're working 40 hours a week, and I know they're probably working more, that's 240 hours a week. In a two-week period, that's 480 hours.
Again, that one-to-one meeting, that one hour that you spend, that six hours of total time every two weeks, can really help you to leverage your influence over all of your direct reports in a tremendous way, because, you see, as you get out of the field, out of the day-to-day battle, so to speak, you can lose some of your feel for the state of the business.
One-on-one meetings are important because your direct reports can actually teach you about current market conditions, the state of your crews in the field, the nature of the relationship that your company has with suppliers and other contractors and owners. [06:03.0]
You can also use the time to teach them to ingrain corporate culture by explaining to the person what you would do in a particular situation or what you've done in the past. During that one-to-one, you can share all of your experience working in the field or with the customers, dealing with problems. It's a great mentoring opportunity, because you don't want to promote and hope.
Many construction companies struggle when they promote people from the field to the office or from a labor role to a supervisory role, and make sure you're meeting with people who are new to their roles as frequently as necessary so that you can say that you've done everything in your power to help them to succeed in their new position.
Okay, hopefully, you are getting the picture of why you should have these one-to-one meetings. Just remember the idea of leverage. Leverage yourself throughout your organization through these times.
The next thing we want to take a look at here is all about how to structure that meeting. We're going to look at timeframe, location, and then agenda. [07:02.2]
You should set aside a minimum of one hour for each one-to-one meeting. This is long enough to get into tough issues, hear someone out, and let the real issue come to the surface.
As far as the location is concerned, make it on their turf. It's their meeting and you want them to feel as comfortable as possible. When meeting with a superintendent, go out to the job site and take a little time to walk it with them as part of the meeting. This will give you a sense of how the job is running. Pick the most important job that they're working on at the moment that they're responsible for and get out there with them. Get your boots muddy, nothing wrong with that. Again, this will give you a sense of how the job is running. It'll give you context to the issues that come up.
If you are in your direct reports office, you'll get a great idea of how easily they can access information to answer any of the questions you have. You'll see if they're efficient and organized. You can learn a lot about a person by sitting in their office.
Allow the people to set the agenda, the people that you're meeting with. They email you an outline prior to the meeting so that you can print it out and bring it with you. If they're struggling to come up with items for the agenda, it means that they're either hiding something or missing stuff that's happening in their area of responsibility. If they're a busy project manager or project executive or superintendent, or even a project engineer, they should be able to come up with a list of three to five agenda items. [08:18.5]
Then have the agenda of the meeting with you and then commit to taking written notes. Let me tell you why taking written notes is so important. When I was in college, I learned a simple technique for getting A’s in classes and it was this. I would sit in the lecture and I would take notes as a lecturer spoke, and then when I was studying for the test, I would write out those notes twice and that would help me to lock in the information, remember it, and then I'd go into the class and into the test and get an A.
Now, I'm not saying you need to write out your notes after you've taken them, but the point of the story is that by writing notes as you are meeting with someone, it helps you to focus. You don't want to be thinking about your next meeting. You don't want to be thinking about the issue that you dealt with prior to the meeting. You don't want to be spacing out. You want to be completely focused, and so take notes. That will help you to do that. As you're taking notes, not only will that help you to focus, but it communicates to them that you are taking the meeting seriously. [09:13.7]
By the way, make sure you and your direct report commit to uninterrupted time. If you can't sit for an hour with your key people and discuss your company without being interrupted, you've got real issues.
Construction is a tactile business and a people business. People design and build structures and personal interaction is constant. Therefore face-to-face meetings are best. Next best is a Zoom meeting. At least you can see their face and notice some nonverbal cues. Last is phone, and if you have to meet by phone, discipline yourself to be in a place where there is no computer so you can't be distracted by email or the internet. In all situations, have the agenda in front of you and a pen, and make notes.
Now that we've covered why you should have one-to-one meetings and how you can structure them, let's look at the last part: how to conduct the meetings. [10:00.0]
Start with the numbers. You probably discuss critical numbers in the areas of bid, build and bill, in the weekly group meeting you have with your direct reports. By the way, if you're not having a weekly group meeting with your direct reports, now is the time to get that started. The one-on-one meeting provides you a great opportunity to take a deeper dive into those numbers. You can review an important estimate or give feedback on perhaps a more effective scheduling process for a job or even volunteer to make an accounts-receivable call, if appropriate.
After reviewing the numbers, move onto the people. The first person to start with is them. Here are some questions to ask.
“What's the biggest challenge you're facing at the moment?”
“Are you satisfied with your performance?”
“How happy are you with your career path in the company?”
“What are your main frustrations?”
“What is the one thing I can do to help you improve your performance?”
You notice that most of these questions are open-ended, and I always encourage you in these types of meetings to craft open-ended questions that don't require a yes or no answer. [11:00.0]
After you've finished asking about them, then ask about their direct reports, if they have people reporting to them. Some questions could be:
“Is someone having struggles in their personal life that are affecting their job performance?” We all know that this happens in our businesses.
“Who needs training?”
“Who is improving?”
“Who is regressing?”
“Who are you grooming to take your place?”
This is a question you can ask about, let's say, a new hire, someone who is 90 days in: “Knowing what you know now, would you still hire that person?”
These are some questions that you can ask them about the people who report to you.
It's essential that the get-work, build-work, and get-paid divisions of your company are working together. Make sure you check in with each of your direct reports on the state of their relationships with your other direct reports. If you're the president of the company, your COO should be getting along with your CFO and your head of business development. Okay? If there's issues in communication between the field and the office, the supers and the PMs aren't getting along, or the foreman and the PEs are butting heads, you need to surface those through the one-to-one meetings. [12:05.3]
Look for patterns of behavior that are unacceptable. Look for people who are the right person, but they're in the wrong position, or they're good at their job, but they're not fit in terms of the culture of your organization. The one-to-one meeting again is a great opportunity for you to surface issues.
At this point, there may be challenges that you know about that they haven't brought up yet. Make sure that you do. Be specific and ask them how they plan on handling the situation. They get first pass at the state of what they're responsible for, but you get the last word, in the sense that, if they don't bring up an issue, you are going to bring it up.
So, peel the onion. Keep asking questions and actively listening. Like onions, people and problems have many layers to them. In a discussion, as you ask the questions and you or your direct reports begin to feel uncomfortable, that is actually often a sign that you're getting closer to the truth. Ask one more question. Never walk away from any meeting saying, “I should have asked them that question I was thinking about.” [13:07.3]
Here are some good questions to get deeper.
“How do you mean?”
“Tell me more.”
“How would you handle that next time?”
Make sure you don't go zooming by stop signs in your conversations with people. If they say something that gets your attention that gives you a little ping in your gut, so to speak, stop. Just ask the question. Maybe you're off base here, but maybe you're right on target. Don't allow your intuition or, let me put it this way, don't ignore your intuition.
Let's say there's a specific situation that you're coaching someone through, and they've gone through an experience and you want them to reflect on how they did, executing in that particular experience. Here's a little framework to help you with that, a little question sequence that you can ask.
Number one, “Tell me about the experience.” Let's say there was a PM and he had an issue with an owner. Ask the PM, “Tell me about the experience in terms of the discussion.” Listen carefully to anything that came up with the PM when they were having that chat with the owner. [14:10.6]
“What didn't work?”
“If you could go back in time and get a do over, what would you do differently?”
“What's the one thing you'll do next time to get a better outcome?”
Again, these are questions that you can ask when you're doing a retrospect or a Monday-morning quarterbacking over a particular issue. “Tell me about the experience.” “What worked?” “What didn't work” “If you could go back in time and get a do over, what would you do differently?” Excuse me, “What's the one thing you'll do next time to get a better outcome?”
At the end of the meeting, make sure you and your direct report agree about any action items following the meeting, and remind your direct report to include a report of that action in your next one-to-one meeting. In other words, if you and your direct report agree to a particular action, make sure you follow up in the next meeting on that action. [14:57.8]
So, please don't make the excuse of being too busy. If you think you don't have time for these conversations, then you need to reevaluate your schedule. Done right, these one-on-one meetings will help you save time and increase your leverage throughout your organization.
If you're not conducting regular one-to-one meetings, start with a meeting every other week. As you move forward, determine the ongoing frequency that is required with regards to your direct reports’ responsibilities. For example, if your senior estimator is working on a bid that is critical to your company's future, then you might want to meet with them one-on-one on a weekly basis up until bid day so that you can provide them any necessary input and support.
Again, in my opinion, at a minimum, you should be meeting with your direct reports every other week. You may want to meet with them weekly. In my opinion, I think it's a mistake to extend that out any further. Again, we're just talking about an hour here.
In summary, here are a number of action items to help you get started.
Outline all of your direct reports.
If you have more than eight, consider reorganizing. [15:59.8]
Schedule a 60-minute meeting with them within the next two weeks.
Commit to holding that meeting regularly at a minimum of every other week for the next 60 days.
Have them prepare an agenda that includes critical numbers, a report on their people, and their biggest challenges.
Prepare your questions.
Print out the agenda.
Commit to uninterrupted time.
Then, lastly, listen 80% of the time.
That concludes today's episode on how to run an effective one-on-one meeting. I will link to the blog post in the show notes.
Once again, if you are a leader in a construction company, your job isn't so much to build projects anymore. It is to build teams of people. If you're going to do that effectively, you must get good at communicating with them, at learning about their challenges, at helping them through their difficulties, at growing them as leaders. This is your job. It is your job to meet with people. [16:58.6]
My hope is that this short episode will help to inspire you to be more consistent with your one-to-one meetings, and then help you with how to structure those one-to-one meetings.
My name is Eric Anderson. Thanks again for listening to Construction Genius today. As always, please give us a rating or a review, wherever you get your podcasts. Share this episode with other people. Feel free to check out the blog post and share that blog post with other people as well. It's a very short and to-the-point article.
I’ll just make one other comment here. If you are the leader of a construction company and you know that your team needs some help, as far as developing themselves as leaders, why don't you reach out to me on my website?
I’ve been working with construction companies since 2004, helping the leaders make the shift from building projects to building people, and I work with the right contractors in a role as an executive coach with their high performers who are looking to take their leadership game to the next level. If you have folks who are doing well, but you know could do better and they need a little bit of outside help, perhaps there could be a fit with you and I working together. [18:09.0]
Reach out to me on my website. ConstructionGenius.com/contact. There will be a link in the show notes so that you can click on that link and go out to my website. Happy to discuss very briefly, for about 10 minutes or so, what I do with companies and figure out if or how I can help you. I'm not a fit for everyone, that's for sure, but for the right contractors with the right issues, I can be of tremendous help to you.
Again, thank you for listening to Construction Genius today, and I’ll catch you on the next episode.
Hey, this is Eric. Just before you bounce, this whole episode of Construction Genius was inspired by a conversation I had with one of my executive coaching clients. I work one-on-one with senior leaders in construction companies from the C-suite all the way down to senior project managers. If you have area managers, senior executives who are struggling with that shift from building projects to building teams of people, why don't you reach out to me on my website? [19:05.2]
If you're a president or CEO-owner of a construction company, these are the types of people that I talk with in my executive coaching engagements. My website is ConstructionGenius.com, and you can go [slash] contact. You can fill in your details. I'll get back to you within 24 hours and we can have a short discussion about if or how I can help you.
Again, this is just for the presidents or CEOs of construction companies. That's who I engage with first, and then we can discuss the people who report to you in your organization and see if there's anything I can do to be a sounding board, a help in terms of them upgrading their leadership game.
Thanks again for listening to the podcast today and I appreciate you engaging with Construction Genius. [19:46.5]
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