By Rob Koci
Every construction company needs systems because they allow ownership to step away from the day to day functions of the company to concentrate on running the business. They also allow them to stay in touch with operations by providing the infrastructure capable of supplying information on a regular basis in the form of a scorecard or weekly report that becomes the basis of good decision making.
It all sounds good, but the process of installing systems has an impact on staff all its own that needs to be taken in to account. From staff’s point of view, systems can say a couple of things: On the positive side, they can say, “We are going to provide you a set of boundaries within which you will have more freedom to act and make decisions. Your roll will be clearer, you will be able to act more decisively, and good behaviour will be rewarded.”
That’s a great message to deliver to your people. It’s motivating, inspiring and effective in growing a healthy company culture.
But here is another message that installing systems might be sending: “We are going to set limits on what you do, expose your shortcomings, add to your workload, mechanize your approbations and change the focus of the company from getting things done to serving an impersonal, heartless, mindless machine.”
Why would one message be sent and not the other? The difference is loyalty. Where it exists, loyalty to the company’s vision and purpose becomes the catalyst for cooperation and buy-in for the systems being introduced. Its presence within the staff also becomes a check and balance that will flag aspects of a system that are counter-productive to the purpose and mission of the company. Loyal staff will warn you when the system is doing more harm than good.
I know one company (not in construction) is installing an enterprise system across all its operations. It has been three years in the making, and in those three years sales have been not just slowing, but dropping. Is correlation indicating causation? I think so. Efforts to lead by example and instill in staff a sense of purpose, loyalty and community have been weak, while the imposition of the system has been rather forceful and intrusive. In particular, the system is pulling sales staff away from their core function of bringing money into the business in favour of making data entries to satisfy the needs of the system designed to inform (and not incidentally, protect) leadership.
A company with loyalty as a key driver of its culture would have quickly realized from feedback that falling sales were clearly a symptom of the system’s installation. Hopefully, it would be agile enough to fix the problem by keeping it core values in mind, listening to its people, and leading by example. As it is, this company is finding cynicism growing, commitment to its goals eroding and most importantly, sales continuing to fall.
But how to build loyalty? And when do you know you have enough to start installing systems? Loyalty is built on the foundation of communication and human interaction. People need to be heard and people need a vision that is bigger than the challenges they will face in their jobs. The job of leadership is to meet both those needs.
As to when you know you have enough, watch the interactions up and down the hierarchy within the organization. Is it healthy? Are the conversations based on facts, not feelings? Are they focused on the mission of the company? If so, it’s time to install systems.