The schools, healthcare clinics, labs, office buildings, housing projects and hundreds of other projects KA builds each present unique challenges that test the mettle of the construction management team. While they are building buildings, KA professionals are also building their leadership skills.
Continuous education is vital to success within the dynamic construction industry; and Kraus-Anderson University’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) is working to prepare KA talent for success in their growing roles. Mike Smoczyk, KA Director of Professional Development; and Al Gerhardt, KA Construction Company COO, recently provided insight into the program’s goals, accomplishments, and plans.
Q: What is the purpose of the Leadership Development Program?
SMOCZYK: We’ve established the LDP to provide leadership growth opportunities for high potential employees within the company and develop a pipeline of future leaders and contributors.
GERHARDT: The program has been a great opportunity for KA to improve the overall leadership skills of our employees and develop a pool of highly talented individuals, who we can consider for broader leadership opportunities in the future.
Q: How long has the LDP been in place?
SMOCZYK: Research and development took place in 2014, with the first cohort of eight project managers from five KA offices participating in 2015. We recently graduated our inaugural group of Chad Rempe, Chad Rettke, Rachael Oelke, Steve Trudeau, Mike Dosan, Anthony Leon, Peter Linsmeier and Jason Peterson.
Q: How are employees selected for the program?
SMOCZYK: For 2016, we developed an application process and had 29 dedicated employees complete the process. From that pool, we took on the difficult task of selecting only 10 for 2016. The good news is, we plan to offer this every year and all will have the opportunity apply in future years.
Q: Is the program limited to project managers?
SMOCZYK: Our inaugural group was all project managers. Going forward, we will have 10 in a cohort, from various employee groups. The 2016 cohort was recently announced and includes people of various levels of experience on the project management track, as well as individuals from accounting and the field.
Q: Talk about the format and the content of the program. What kind of time commitment is involved?
SMOCZYK: The format is a combination of group meetings and study, plus individual meetings and projects. We also met in person four times during the course of the year for intensive, topic-focused sessions that were each two days in duration.
The program focuses on developing skill and increasing knowledge in leadership competencies such as team building, coaching, communication, continuous improvement, decision making, delegating, driving for results, managing conflict, planning and organizing. Both group and individual activities are involved, including book study, leadership innovation projects, individual meetings with company leaders, presentations and evaluation. Our first year participants worked throughout the year to build a portfolio of work and learning that addresses the leadership competencies and standards. Individuals presented their portfolios and a suggestion for innovation at KA to senior leaders in December.
Q: What have been the highlights so far?
SMOCZYK: Just getting the group together for two full days of training has been good. However, everyone did a fantastic job of presenting and summarizing their professional growth experience during a final debriefing with company leadership. Hearing how they synthesized the concepts taught and applied them to their work, was very impressive.
GERHARDT: It was a treat for our senior leadership team to sit in with each of these individuals during their year-end presentations to gain a better understanding of their personal takeaways and recommendations for improving the program for next year’s candidates. Their innovation ideas provided a great opportunity for KA to improve our practices going forward.
Q: What have you learned in the process of rolling out the pilot program?
SMOCZYK: The participants are at various levels of management experience, but all have capacity to grow. Attendee evaluations have been very good thus far. We have actually followed the lean concept of “Plan, Do, Check, Act” that one of the participants suggested as an innovation idea. In 2016, we are moving to meeting more often in one day sessions to better accommodate demanding work schedules and will use a few different trainers and topics.
Q: What is some of the feedback on the program you’ve received from the participants?
SMOCZYK: We’ve gotten very positive feedback on the leadership skills and concepts presented through the program. For example:
“I have noticed that my relationships with my co-workers have improved, I understand them better, or understand myself better in terms of people out in the field or some of our clients, just everyday conversations have been easier, with some of the skills and tactics that they’ve been introducing to us with people skills, or social skills, how to read people and maybe what’s important to them. To me that’s been the biggest benefit,” said Rachael Oelke, project manager.
“I think the communication with other project managers in the program has been useful,” said Peter Linsmeier, project manager.
“The sharing of information on how we’ve tackled different tasks and working through the issues that we do on a day to day basis has been a great benefit to me as a project manager,” Linsmeier added.
GERHARDT: It was very impressive to see how each of these individuals have grown over the year, and how the LDP will help them and KA continue to live our core purpose of Building Enduring Relationship and Strong Communities and our Core Values of Integrity, Teamwork, Commitment , and Valuing People .
Q: Who are the 2016 Leadership Development Program participants?
SMOCZYK: Mike Becchetti, project manager; Jennifer Brundell, project assistant; Logan Carter, controller; Abigail Heimel, assistant project manager; Ryan Klick, project manager; Mark Kotten, senior project manager; Brandon Lawson, superintendent; Pat Mulcahey, project manager; Jason Rentmeester, project manager; Andy Towner, project manager.