Lessons From Living Through Rapid Growth
When I started with Howell Construction in 2014, the market was bouncing back from the recession. That year, the company did $39 million in revenue and we were considered a “small” construction company by industry standards. Since then, we have increased in both revenue and staff by a factor of 3. Now, 5 years later, I’ve found myself reflecting on what it’s like to live through the rapid expansion of a company in such a short amount of time and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Lesson #1: Give Up the Ego
As a smaller firm, many people held multiple responsibilities that weren’t always directly a part of their job description. It was much more of an “all hands on deck” mentality for virtually every company function. Now that we’ve grown, we’ve hired people to perform specific tasks to increase our efficiency and through that process people have had to let go of responsibilities they once held. My advice:
- Don’t Become Too Attached to Specific Tasks — It will only drag you and your teammates down due to inefficiencies and work overload.
- Be a Team Player — Help people at all levels in order for the team to be successful and give up territorial habits as they relate to your job. Nobody likes a lone wolf.
- Remember, Change is Hard — For both new and seasoned employees, change is hard. If everyone on the team can reflect on this when conflict arises, you’ll be able to push towards the common goal of finding productive solutions.
Lesson #2: There Will Be Bumps in the Road
When I first started with the company, I felt like Howell was on top of the world. We were winning projects, had raving fans, and I never heard of project issues. However, as companies grow and take on more projects, it is only natural for process deviation to occur. When our first significant project issue arose, I took it personally as it was such a new concept for me. Since then, I’ve come to learn it’s how you learn from failure that allows the company to become better as a whole. My advice:
- Always Reflect on Lessons Learned — Getting the entire team in the room for a critical conversation is the only way to truly gather all the information necessary for improvement. After gathering the project successes and failures, determine what actions need to be taken. This could be process creation, process improvement, training, etc. Don’t let this meeting happen too long after the project has ended, as details will get lost and the facts will become blurry.
- Close the Loop with Clients — By informing clients of your action plan to improve, you not only re-establish any trust lost, but also earn their respect by showing them you have taken their feedback to heart.
- Keep Morale with your Internal Team — Having a few issues in a row can really rock a team’s morale. By being transparent with information, celebrating successes, and reminding them of the ultimate goal, you can avoid losing morale.
Lesson #3: Culture Will Change
As hard as every company tries to avoid it, it is inevitable that culture will change. However, this isn’t always a bad thing! Adding new personalities, backgrounds, and experience to your team gives any company the opportunity to enhance their culture. At Howell, we found a few things that helped our culture evolve as we grew and added new teammates:
- Plan Events to Mix-up Departments/Groups — We are creatures of habit. In order to make new staff feel welcome, you have to mix up the “established groups” within the office. Try new seating arrangements, vary meeting locations, or include someone new to your lunch plans.
- Recognize Achievements of Both New and Seasoned Employees — People enjoy feeling like their hard work is appreciated. By recognizing employees based on their accomplishments (rather than just tenure), you’ll break down barriers for your staff and show them that going the extra mile does not go unnoticed.
- Take Time to Understand Your Staff — Sometimes we forget to continue learning about the people we work with. If you can take the time to not only learn about your new staff, but also check in with seasoned personnel, it will provide a much more comprehensive picture of your staff as a whole and what they need as individuals in order for the company to succeed.
Looking back on the last 5 years it amazes me what we have accomplished. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it has been worth it. Seeing our average project size dramatically increase, the project type diversify and the individual growth of employees has been an incredible experience both personally and professionally. Taking these lessons into the future, I am confident that Howell will continue to thrive and I am incredibly excited to see what the future holds.
About the Author
Business Development Manager