Do You Project Manage People?

by Suzanne Breistol

My husband John, President of a Real Estate Development firm, with a foundation in construction management, was coaching our talent acquisition team with me recently. We were discussing the different characteristics that make an estimator successful versus someone more suited for project management.

He said “Project managers are all day long extinguishing fires.  They need to be able to determine which fires can cause the most damage, put them out, leave others burning until they can get to them, while prioritizing the risk of new fires popping up all around them.

While he was sharing this, it became obvious to me why so many leaders in our industry are good at managing projects and not so good at managing people.  Project managers are trained to work through everything, quickly.  People managers have to be able to slow down and work with everyone.

A project manager drives a race boat and everyone on the team does their part to help him finish and win the race.  A people manager (ie: Director, VP, CEO, COO, President, CFO etc.), are leading a rowing team and need to make sure everyone is rowing in the same direction, at the same speed, improving performance over time with less training and guidance.

I always love it when an executive calls me and says “Well they said they (Human Resources, Business Development, Estimating, Accounting, Project Management) did________, but they don’t do ___________.   They probably do, probably did and most likely still can.  They just can’t meet your expectations if they don’t have mind reading capabilities!

Let’s take one role for example: Human Resources(HR). HR has both a compliance side and an employee relations component.  Within those two components, the executive which the HR manager reports to needs to clearly tell them what they are responsible for.  If you as the executive want this person to implement and enforce a hiring protocol, then you must tell them that this is an expectation of their job at your company, work with them to establish that protocol, implement the protocol within the company and back them with maintaining that protocol when others want to go around it.  This doesn’t mean you do their job for them by writing the procedures, training others on the procedures and enforcing the procedures.  It means you make sure the protocol is realistic, you buy-in to the procedures set, and you follow the protocol and hold others accountable to do the same. You are responsible for hiring the right person to establish these protocols and setting the time frames for policies to be written, approved, implemented and updated.

Sounds complicated?  Perhaps more painful than complicated, as it slows us down.  It takes some of your consistent time and engagement in the part of business that doesn’t necessarily excite you most.  Suggested steps:

  1. Hire or promote someone into the role that has the experience you are seeking to do the job.  The HR Checklist is a good place to start. When interviewing, don’t ask if they have written a hiring policy.  Ask them to walk you through the steps of establishing, implementing and enforcing a hiring policy.  Find out where they did this previously, and ask for a reference from that source to call and confirm.  When calling the reference, ask if they were responsible for establishing, implementing and enforcing a hiring policy.  You can even ask how effective the policy was etc.
  2. Make yourself available to this person for a minimum of one hour a week, with an agenda prepared by them, to cover any of their questions.
  3. Set a clear deadline for establishing and implementing policy.
  4. Support the effort by holding others accountable to following the policy.  Set a minimum of an annual review of effectiveness of the policy, and keep an open mind to changes if the policy needs tweaking.
  5. Repeat with other HR matters such as the employee manual, incentive program, safety and risk management etc.

We offer an eight week program called The Zone that is designed to help executive teams in construction learn to communicate and work more efficiently.  It is focused on creating the habit and forming discipline to work on the business instead of always in the business of projects. If you would like more information give us a call at 305-361-0094.

If you are like me, you prefer to be the race boat driver over the row boat coach.  Speaking from experience there are less breakdowns on the race course and more funding to enter other races when I, as the leader (President and CEO), spend time coaching the rowing captains (Leaders in HR, Accounting, Field Ops…).  Have you considered a coach to help you learn to coach others?

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