Build Me Up with Mike Smoczyk
Kraus-Anderson’s Monthly Innovator’s Blog
By Tom Emison, Strategy and Innovation Advocate, KA
In March, we introduced you to our first blog in our series on innovation – or ingenuity as we call it here at KA. In May, we hit on pre-construction ingenuity. In June, we discussed inclusion and diversity in the US construction and real estate industry, and within KA. As always, this blog is about relevant topics to you in the Built Marketplace, a huge part of our US economy. It’s about keeping it real, straight talk. It’s about inspiring you with actual examples of innovation at work in our industry. We are here to build you up!
Meet Mike Smoczyk
I remember it like yesterday. But it was 10 years ago (+ or -). I was sitting in Al Gerhardt’s office (President of KA Construction). He was telling my about the launch of Kraus-Anderson University. He told me KA was hiring an educator to lead and build this virtual internal corporate university. When I asked about the strategy that was driving this decision, Al said, “its people. Our best opportunity for true market differentiation is with our people, our most important asset.” He added, “I want you to meet Mike, you’re going to like him.”
He was right. And now, a few years (and gray hairs) later, I work alongside Mike Smoczyk (pronounced “Smudge-ick”). Mike is a teacher at heart. What I mean is he views everything in his life – as a professional in KA, as a father, you name it (even ice fishing) – through the lens of education. Mike and I share two opinions about the US construction industry. First, we both feel the best true source of market differentiation is in your people. If you are reading this, that is our core message in this blog. Want market differentiation? Want better clients? Want more repeat work under better terms and conditions? Want lower employee attrition? Want more joy in your construction and real estate career? Then focus on your people and their learning, or professional development. Second, Mike and I know leadership development is not only about market differentiation. It is a prerogative; an obligation. If a company is a market leader, and has been successful, that company owes it to the industry to develop tomorrow’s leaders. It is an investment not just for a successful company, but also for the industry at large.
I sat down with Mike and asked him to tell me more about this industry-wide learning mandate and how we approach this at KA. Tune in to our podcast later this month to hear it straight from Mike.
Tom: Mike, let’s start with Kraus-Anderson University. What is it? What is the curricula? Who are the faculty? Who are the students?
Mike: KAU is not a physical place and not a thing. Kraus-Anderson University is a learning and growth mindset that exists within Kraus-Anderson Companies. People inherently want to do a great job and they want to feel supported. KAU helps build up our employees, so they are better prepared to work with our partners to deliver fantastic projects and client experiences. Just like the today’s construction industry, our curriculum is constantly evolving to meet the needs of our clients.
Tom: You spoke of building up personnel. Who comes to mind right now in KA as a great product of your university?
Mike: Rachael Oelke, Project Manager, specializing in healthcare projects. Rachael has been a part of KAU from the start. Initially studying sustainable construction practices and then helping to teach courses to teammates studying for LEED Accreditation. She was also in the inaugural KAU Leadership Development cohort.
Tom: Many companies focus on this same strategy, actually. KA is not alone. What construction or real estate company do you admire for their approach to the same strategy?
Mike: Gilbane Construction is a company I became familiar with from my research back when I first started at KA. They seemed to have a nice mix of technical and leadership offerings, which is exactly what we were doing at KA at that time. Interestingly, they are a large, privately-owned firm, with a family atmosphere that has been in business for well over 100 years. Sound familiar?
Tom: Your university reaches outside KA, right? You coach and teach others from other companies? Why?
Mike: Everybody in every endeavor, be it public, private, for-profit, non-profit, you name it, is inundated by an ever increasing mountain of information, trends, tactics, procedures and knowledge. This being the case, many people naturally value learning and are looking for high quality training programs that can better equip them to handle information and succeed at their jobs. At KAU, we strive to understand what our clients and architecture, engineering and subcontractor partners want and need for training and we seek to provide it. KAU is a licensed provider of AIA credits. In the past four years, we have had hundreds of architects, earn thousands of AIA learning units from our programs.
Tom: Working adults learn differently. True? False? Elaborate.
Mike: There are numerous versions of adult learning theory. People vary as to how much they like to engage in learning. However, most adults prefer learning that:
- Is directly related to their work and something they can put to use.
- Affords them the opportunity to share their experiences and be a part of the learning.
- Is voluntary and not forced upon them.
Our KAU classes strive to respect these notions by working directly with KA and outside subject matter experts (SMEs) that are actively engaged in the industry. As new technologies, processes and systems are emerging, we work with experts to build and deliver courses based on lessons learned and best practices.
Tom: Finally, Mike, what is the biggest cultural hurdle you have overcome within KA that has helped KA leaders to take this investment seriously? Do they advise you, or do you advise them? Do you have a Board?
Mike: I think our leadership has taken employee growth and development very seriously for a long time and that attitude is what led to the creation of KAU. Even during the economic downturn, leadership understood that the industry would come back and when it did, we needed a highly skilled team to thrive and grow as a company. I work with the KAU Board of Directors, a team of six company leaders that meets on a bi-monthly basis to review progress and provide input into future training initiatives. We have a curriculum advisory committee with employees in various company roles, levels and locations to provide guidance, which two years ago morphed into our LinkedIn Learning Leaders team. Finally, we have a diverse team that works throughout the year to plan and deliver our annual all-company KAU Seminar each October.
Note: a special thanks to Mike for taking time out of his busy week for this interview. More from Mike soon on our KA Innovation Podcast Build Me Up!
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Tom Emison, Strategy and Innovation Advocate, KAView Comments