Once upon a time, there was a construction company that did great work. The employees delivered their projects on time without change orders, and they completed them without harming people or the environment. All their happy clients gave them more and more work, which the company gladly accepted, believing that surely the fairy tale would continue. But then the company discovered that this rapid growth had spread them so thin that their production, safety and environmental quality had faded away. This moved them from best to worst in the eyes of their clients, and the company almost went bankrupt due to injuries, lawsuits and loss of contracts. The end.
Not all stories have a happy ending. And many of you well know that the current project-load reality in the utility construction industry certainly isn’t a fairy tale. However, there still can be a positive outcome for your company – even in extreme growth cycles – if you and your leaders master the skills of operational assessment and communication.
Earlier this year I ran Supreme Industries’ numbers and found that our work hours were up 56 percent over the same period last year (January-May). I was shocked – not because of the rapid growth, but because I didn’t receive any warning signals from our safety scoreboard. Don’t get me wrong, I knew things were busy, but other than the fact that I was ordering a lot more health, safety and environmental (HSE) supplies than last year, I didn’t see the magnitude of our growth in my daily life. But why didn’t I?
Flashback three years: I’m sitting with Nate Boucher, Supreme Industries’ vice president of civil and drilling, and Gavin Boucher, vice president of clearing and operations, and Nate says, “Jesse, our field leadership wants more professional development. We’ve done ‘StrengthsFinder 2.0’ and ‘Emotional Intelligence,’ but what’s next? We believe our divisions are going to be growing for the foreseeable future. Gavin and I are taking care of equipment and infrastructure planning, but we want you to prepare our field leaders professionally for what’s coming.” After that conversation, I took some time to outline what we needed to do in terms of future professional development.
Getting back to the present day, I believe the conversation I had with Nate and Gavin three years ago plus the actions we took after the conversation was over are the reasons why I didn’t notice a rapid growth cycle on our safety scoreboard earlier this year.