When it comes to failure, it’s certainly easier to look outside of the business than to simply look in the mirror. Frankly, it’s easier — and possibly more fun — to blame others. Consider how viewers collectively scream at the TV and play armchair quarterback during the big game. Aren’t you always better at solving other people’s problems than owning up to your own mistakes? When leaders sit back and coach from the cheap seats, they never have to own the results achieved or the corrective actions and accountability needed to improve them.
Of course, construction leaders are not immune to this chiding and criticism. Running a successful business when times are good is a lot like being part of a winning sports franchise — when the winning stops, the pundits come out in droves to provide unwanted or unhelpful coaching and critique.
As a leader, how realistic are you in your self-appraisal? Do you tend to own up to mistakes or offer up weak excuses? In fairness, every business faces a long list of problems spurred from external stimuli. These challenges, along with increased competition, can certainly make it easy to claim, “The sun was in my eyes.”
Unfortunately, those excuses often become an easy-out response, when the more beneficial choice is to sift through the root problems of business strategy and ultimately make change.
1. The Virus
The COVID-19 pandemic caused plenty of harm and destruction to people’s lives and businesses. However, more than a few construction organizations that have steadily underperformed for the last 3 to 4 years now credit their crises to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic turmoil it caused last year.
But leaders shouldn’t blame the virus for their inability to run a business successfully. In all seriousness, many firms had to pivot, adjust and readjust over the last 16 months due to the ongoing problems caused by the virus. If a firm exclusively built office buildings, there was undoubtedly a downturn in revenue and backlog. But virus or no virus, there are rarely times when a business doesn’t have some sort of catastrophe looming on the horizon. Being prepared is part of running a business.
Whatever the future holds — famine, war, cyberattacks or another pandemic — it is incumbent upon the organization’s leaders to preserve the firm and adjust their strategy accordingly when disasters or complications arise.
2. The Weather
Mother Nature is the ultimate equalizer. Rain, snow, hurricanes and sharknadoes provide an unsettling set of variables that are almost impossible to predict on bid day. Or are they? Sure, no one’s crystal ball can say for certain what July in Florida will look like, but it’s shortsighted to anticipate 100% productivity and efficiency in a month that measures rainfall in feet or heat in the number of shirt changes per day. Watch the forecasts well in advance and make plans for inclement weather whenever possible.
Certainly, there are unseasonable weather patterns throughout the world that we will never be able to predict with certainty. But how is it that two identical firms in the same geography can be impacted by the same weather trends, but one underperforms and the other has a record year? It’s nice to be optimistic about a season but it’s better to have contingencies and alternate scenarios planned out in case that optimism turns out be unfounded.
3. The People
High school seniors have rated construction low on the list of desirable careers for nearly 30 years. While the majority of the people in the industry believe this to be an amazing and rewarding career, there is an external perception that construction is not the optimal career choice.
However, we can all collectively moan about the labor woes, or we could actually do something differently to combat the problem. It is unlikely that construction will ever penetrate the top five most-wanted careers, but it is also unacceptable to simply blame underperformance on a lack of talent. What is your firm doing strategically to change this perception among the younger generations? What is your firm doing to make itself attractive to all groups of people in the job market instead of pulling again and again from the same old standard source of labor? Focus on finding a solution to this problem instead of letting it doom your business.
4. The Incentives
In the hunt for an outstanding new hire, when all else fails, you might ask your friends and family if they know someone. To incentivize the search, you might decide to offer a small bonus or bounty to employees who bring in the best candidate, especially if your goal is to simply clone some of your existing superstar staffers.
When there’s no influx of new applicants, you say, “We offered an internal referral bonus, and no one took us up on it.” Sure, it’s easy to blame the bonus plan, but is it possible that some of the internal talent doesn’t want their friends and family to be as miserable as they are?
What other factors may have resulted in the program failing? Do your employees know about the offer? There may be some ulterior motives here that serve as a deterrent. Take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself why the firm is failing to recruit star talent. Is it a sourcing issue, or is it you?
It is not easy to make yourself vulnerable. No one likes to think they are the cause of the problem — it’s even less likely that a business leader wakes each morning to ask, “How can I screw up my organization this quarter?” However, it is imperative for all business leaders to confront the brutal facts about their organization and own the root causes of its problems. No one has to fall on the sword because it rained, or because a new superspreader virus is running rampant throughout the country. Instead, be sure to focus on keeping excuses out of your organization and solving the real problems holding back your success.