The 5 key people challenges in property and construction (and the questions to ask yourself to stop them affecting your business)

Sue Willcock Food for Thought

As a result of working with contractors, developers and construction consultants, I can see broad ‘people development’ themes which emerge as a cause of decreased efficiency which, regardless of market conditions, hit the bottom line.
Not all of these will apply to every organisation, but the themes I’ve seen across different types of organisations within the sector see can be summarised into the key areas shown.  The ‘questions to ask’ section invites you to consider how your organisation fares.
Challenge 1:  A ‘missing tier’ of leadership and management capability.  
Many firms seem to have ‘stripped out’ mid-tier managers to cut costs, along with a corresponding number of delivery teams.   There is seems to be a large capability gap between senior managers and service deliverers which is storing up issues for the future.
Questions to ask yourself

  • What are the development plans in place for succession planning for new leaders and in particular, career growth for those looking to move up when the market is more active?
  • Is there a clear career ladder based on business need?  Has this been communicated?
  • Are those less senior being given opportunities to grow?
  • What can you do now to help those in less senior roles to develop – can they be coached, mentored and given challenging projects as part of a development plan?


Challenge 2: Retaining talent when the market is more buoyant. 
Staff turnover figures in the ‘good times’ hovered at 25% and above – it does not take much to work out why these have fallen significantly, with many organisations telling me that no-one has left from choice in the last six months.  Others report a drop to around 10%.  With this comes stability, of course, but also nervousness.  Pay and benefit cuts have been a necessary outcome of the downturn for many, but often it’s not what you do but how you do (or did) it that will be the deciding factor for many individuals when they have a choice as to whether they stay with your organisation or go.
Questions to ask yourself

  • How have you behaved through the downturn and in delivering any ‘hard messages’?
  • What emotional contract do you have with your people that will support you in the future – is it based on trust?
  • Can your people see a clear business vision and a place for them and their development within it?
  • Are you planning to reinstate any rewards and recognition plans at any point and has this been communicated?

Challenge 3: A ‘telling’ not ‘selling’ management style. 
I love the construction and property sector as it’s full of people who are down to earth, ‘get things done’ types.  Yet, alongside this, I often see a management approach which is based on a ‘parent-child’ style of management – someone gets told what to do and specifically how to do it and is checked on regularly to see if it’s done.  This may well be appropriate at times for some roles, but it does not support the development of talent, two-way conversations in which both parties add value, or high levels of motivation.
If you have this style at the top but expect risk taking and entrepreneurship further down your structure, my experience is that it will be hard to find and foster.
Questions to ask yourself

  • How many of your leaders have this style or elements of it?
  • Have they been introduced to the concepts of coaching and mentoring (e.g. T-GROW), only to default to type?
  • Do you know what ‘good looks like’ for your organisation in terms of role model leadership?
  • Has this been articulated clearly in terms of what is expected?

Challenge 4: Knowledge sharing 
Whilst I believe that intuitively many of us know that sharing our knowledge is “a good thing”, I think the sector still struggles with this.  I was recently at a post-project ‘lessons learnt’ workshop with a contractor only to hear some of the same issues being raised as when I trained as a QS twenty years ago.  There still seem to be barriers to sharing information within many organisations, which span from the ability to give constructive feedback, through to using technology to share knowledge.  I do not think for the most part that this is a ‘cultural issue’ around ‘knowledge being king’ and equaling power for the individual, as we have historically embraced transferring knowledge from one generation to another via apprenticeships, day release courses, trainee roles etc., but I do think we are falling behind other sectors in terms of embracing technology to share our collective knowledge.
Questions to ask yourself

  • Is your organisation constantly looking outwards to the market, with a view to using your collective knowledge to response to changes and areas of opportunity?
  • How do you use your collective knowledge to win bids?
  • Does everyone in your organisation know who your experts are so that you are presenting your best people to the market in any given circumstance?
  • How are people rewarded to for knowledge sharing?
  • Are learning processes built into project lifecycles and are these fed back to the collective organisation to benefit your clients?
  • Is there a culture of open feedback?

Challenge 5: Right people, right role.   
We, like many other sectors, have a history of promoting people to management positions based on their technical merit and knowledge (or worse, length of service!), not their capability to manage and lead.  Of course, many people can do both and we have plenty of examples of these in our sector.  However, I continue to meet people who love their job because of its technical challenge and their role as an expert, yet they have been given a role which requires 60% of their time to be taken up leading and managing and winning sales – roles which they are often not best suited for or in some cases that they enjoy.  Typical leadership traits (here taken from the work of Kouzes and Posner) are to ‘Model the Way’, ‘Inspire a Shared Vision’, ‘Challenge the Process’, ‘Enable Others to Act’ and ‘Encourage the Heart’.  Often these traits, whilst they can be developed to an extent, do not sit naturally or act as drivers for those who are instead motivated by being an expert, but have been shoe-horned into a leadership role.
Questions to ask yourself

  • How did your leaders end up as leaders and do they represent the ‘right person in the right role’ to take your business forward?
  • Do they role model the behaviour you want now and in the future?
  • Do you have a flexible enough structure to allow for technical experts to excel without the need to force them into a management position to allow them to receive recognition and reward?
  • Do you already have the talent you need in the business to meet the needs of the future or are strategic hires required?
  • Do you know what skills and competencies you need to meet future market demands and how have you planned to create them?

So, how did you fare?
Chaseville specialises in helping construction consultants and property professionals create business success through people.  If you’d like a chat about how we might help you, please contact Sue Miles, Director, on 07447 908828 to talk about the issues affecting your business.