A young man came to us right out of business school, as a summer intern in our real estate department. He was terrific on numbers and analyses of information in regard to just about everything to which he was assigned. Whenever I needed information, I would call the top man in his department and he would arrive with the information and with this young man, who, he said, had assisted in the preparation. After a few such conferences, it became obvious to me who had prepared and analyzed the information—the young man—and so I began calling him directly, sometimes waiting until the lunch hour to do so in order not to appear to be circumventing his boss. It also became clear that his boss was holding down this talent, and I took steps to free him. Later, as he rose quickly in the company, I had to do so a second time, so that he could continue to take on responsibilities commensurate with his talent and experience.
Employees can grow in expertise and confidence only if they are given the opportunity to meet a series of ever-greater challenges. Construction and real estate provide many chances to incrementally step up the level of challenge on successive jobs. One year, you’ll be in charge of a $1 million piece of the business; the next year, on another job, we will be able to make you responsible for a bigger task on a project that has a higher price tag. If you perform well—meet the expecta-tions—we can then reward you with more salary and promotions, and opportunities to continue to increase the level of your tasks.
I’m big on assigning specific responsibilities to executives and on having them do the same to their subordinates. I want them to give individuals control over certain sectors of a job, to make them individually responsible for that part of the project. I believe that employees at whatever level will do their jobs better when they have specific objectives that they can and must accomplish. They need very much to have the possibility of “owning” a particular segment of the work, because taking ownership is always important to an individual’s growth and competence. I have always looked for and found methods of sharing the rewards, whether that takes the form of giving the responsible individual a portion of the savings on a construction project or a “piece of the action” in a real estate venture.
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Having sold my company’s services to clients for more than fifty years, I feel that I know a lot about salesmanship, and I respect what a salesman does. But when I’m looking for advice, I don’t want someone selling me, I want an expert advising me based on his or her experience, training, and general savvy. Experts are more productive and, I’ve found, easier to work with than salesmen.
The important thing is to recognize the difference between a salesman and an expert, since salespeople generally try to come on as though they are experts. They may have some expertise, but their basic posture—and sometimes their only talent—is selling something to you.
As Construction Managers we aim to provide to our clients a professional service based on expertise. I have always contended, to my colleagues and to our clients, that once we have made our agreement with the client we are no longer selling anything, and whatever recommendations we make are made as though we were providing the service to ourselves and would be reaping the benefit of the results. I often liken our service as Construction Managers to that of recognized professionals such as a doctor, lawyer, or CPA. Our clients must want us on their job because we are very good and very professional at what we do, not because our fees are higher or lower than some other firm’s. It has always been a matter of pride to me for our firm to be selected to provide a service not because of a negotiated fee but rather because of our recognized track record of experience, expertise, and successfully completed projects.