Capital Project Transformation is a Human Resources Problem, Too

Discover how established construction career paths are undermining your efforts to adopt Advanced Work Packaging and Predictability Thinking™

Every October we celebrate Careers in Construction Month (CICM), a nationwide awareness-raising campaign designed to engage and inspire the next generation of construction professionals. This is an important initiative, as capital construction companies across North America continue to struggle to attract and retain labor. This year, in honor of Careers in Construction Month, I’d like to take the opportunity to explore how established construction career paths could undermine our best efforts to initiate critically important business transformations, including the transition to Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) and Predictability Thinking™.

Capital Projects is a People Business

You need a high-caliber team to deliver a capital project on-time and on-budget. This has always been true, but it is more essential now than ever before. Our industry is in a state of near-constant change, and some organizations have hundreds of new initiatives underway at any given time. From integration and diversification to digital transformation and AWP, all of these changes introduce complexity and risk.

We have written a lot here about change management in recent years, with a particular focus on how to overcome resistance to change. In the years since we published our first article on this important topic, experience has taught me that there is another enormous impediment to transformational change in capital projects: rigid, outdated career paths that act as a powerful disincentive to change.

How Rigid, Outdated Career Paths Undermine Change

Consider the following scenario. An ambitious, medium-sized capital project organization decides to take the leap and transition to a construction-driven approach by adopting Advanced Work Packaging. The leadership begins the hunt for an AWP Champion: a new leader who will dedicate time and skill to supporting the transition to AWP. This is an absolutely essential role, because the AWP Champion not only helps team members adapt to new roles and new requirements, they function as a resource for information, practical assistance, and motivation. Essentially, the AWP Champion is responsible for fostering a spirit of collaboration and getting the entire team on board with AWP. 

Rigid, outdated career paths act as a powerful disincentive to change.

On the face of it, the AWP Champion role is a plum job that should attract the best and brightest in your organization. It is challenging, multifaceted work that puts the champion in a position to drive tangible results for the company, immediately and well into the future. The champion builds relationships from management and even the C-suite to the field, and develops a powerful understanding of company operations. It’s a natural stepping stone to leadership.

Why Your Best People Won’t Step Up to the Challenge

The trouble is that in most organizations, it’s a lateral move — or even a step backwards — and a very risky one at that. For example, consider an engineer who takes on the AWP Champion role. The decision takes the engineer off of an established career path for two, three or even four years — long enough to change the trajectory of their entire career.

While their engineering colleagues continue to rack up career accomplishments along a predictable path, the new Champion invests time and energy in mastering a vast array of new skills and knowledge yet receives no career incentives and loses clarity on their career path considering that role. Plus, they take on the enormous challenge of transitioning an organization to AWP — no small feat! From the perspective of the employee, this is a lot of work, a huge amount of responsibility and a tremendous career risk, all for a temporary role that does not come with any assurance of a position in leadership — or even a path to leadership — once complete.

Is it any wonder we don’t get volunteers? This is a reflection of a much larger issue: the gap between project delivery roles and standard career categories.

It’s Time to Redefine Capital Construction Career Paths

It seems to me that the solution to this problem is really straightforward: rethink the rigid, outdated career roles and paths in your human resources strategy and establish new ones that better reflect how capital project organizations need to operate today. Then, communicate those changes to your employees.

With some incentive and assurance, your most ambitious and agile people will step up to the challenge and work with you to transform your organization into a highly competitive, construction-driven organization using cutting-edge strategies like AWP and Predictability Thinking™ to deliver on-time and on-budget.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to reform the roles and paths in your organization, contact Concord today!

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