Put Down the Battle Helmet, Pick Up a Hard Hat
Philip M. Dana
It has now been a year and half since I joined the construction industry as an entry-level field manager after serving our beloved country for 14 years. In my current employment as the director of construction development for Centex Homes, I now get the daily opportunity to look our nation’s finest in the eyes and tell them, “there is a wonderful career for you, and a fantastic life after the military!”
What are the necessary tools that separate the successful from the mediocre in corporate America? What is particularly important for success in residential construction? A strong work ethic, integrity, structure and organizational habits, a yearning for learning, a need for challenges, superior customer service skills and last but certainly not least, a terrific attitude that reflects a results-oriented mentality and the thrill of dealing with a diverse audience on a daily basis.
This list is not comprehensive, but after being in the business for more than a year, I can say that it reflects the most important characteristics of the talent the industry is looking for. And where do recruiters or hiring managers focus their efforts to find these characteristics? Personally, I believe military leadership is a good source for our growing manpower needs in the construction industry.
Centex Homes is a team builder, and as a team builder, it focuses on diversity in recruiting and hiring. As Eric Belsky writes in the July issue of Big Builder magazine, “As population and home buyers diversify, builders’ challenges include a more diverse management mix.” An ongoing shift in our industry from “construction professional” to “business professional” requires us to be innovative in how we approach our construction teams.
In the Las Vegas market, we generally build with a four-person construction team. The four positions are distinct and defined by experience and job responsibilities. The following is an outline of the job requirements:
- Lead Field Manager. This position commands a tremendous amount of responsibility and has overall accountability for the assigned community. Looking at a Navy ship's structure, chief petty officers are the "keel" of the ship. Lead field managers are the "keel" of our organization. This position requires two to three years of experience, regardless of background, and completion of all the requisite Centex Homes training and development programs. This position includes a tremendous amount of interaction with both internal and external customers, along with the primary duties of mentoring the construction team. A college degree is preferred.
- Front-End Field Manager. A "front-end" field manager is typically in charge of taking the unit "front dirt to drywall." This position is a person who can "build a house in his sleep" and has a tremendous amount of technical training and experience.
- Two Back-End Field Managers. A back-end field manager takes the unit from drywall to sign-off, interacting with numerous vendors and home owners throughout the process. Because of the size and complexity of our units, we usually have two back-end field managers on the team.
We do our best to match the above structure with diverse talent targets to take advantage of team dynamics. Take the lead field manager out of the equation since I stated, "regardless of background." The following targeted talent gets added to the lead's team:
- Junior Military Officer (JMO), or Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO). I prefer JMOs to have at least five years of active duty or NCOs to have at least 10 years active duty, which tells me that they have had more than three duty assignments of varied responsibilities involving management, leadership and accountability.
- New College Graduate, or Non-Industry Business Professional. Regardless of the degree, this person would bring a track record of academic performance, involvement in campus activities and a level of expertise in innovative technologies. This person would also bring an immediate desire to be part of a large-company culture and philosophies.
- Industry professional. This person will have been a framer, electrician, plumber, etc. for at least two years.
Our Las Vegas construction team has recently achieved this vision in about 60% of our teams, and there is a direct correlation to our key performance measures, which include a heavy emphasis on J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction scores. This vision is only one of many efforts to be a diverse team builder, and although the vision of an ultimate four-person construction team is not an official company policy, it is working extremely well in a fast-paced market in a company that facilitates growth without tenure while supporting personnel with comprehensive development plans.
By watching and studying our own division’s performance, I am reminded daily of just how much the tools for success in the military match up with the tools for success in the construction industry.
Our division started with only 5% of personnel with military experience a year ago, and as of last month we had reached 25%. This talent strategy is directly reflected in our division’s ability to focus on the key strategic elements of organizational productivity, reducing construction costs by holding subcontractors accountable, improving our customer satisfaction scores and continuing to build on Centex Homes’ culture of pride with performance.
We have recently received our corporate award of performance, the Centexcellence Award, and are on the cusp of breaking into the top five in market share in our area. With this superior team of talent, we will be able to grow into one of the largest and most productive construction teams in the country.
Philip M. Dana is director of construction development for the Las Vegas Division of Centex Homes and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 1998. To e-mail him, click here.
Dallas-based Centex Homes is one of the nation’s leading home builders, operating in more than 90 U.S. markets in 25 states. Its brands include Centex Homes, entry-level builder Fox & Jacobs Homes, on-your-lot builder Wayne Homes and resort/second home builder Centex Destination Properties. Centex Homes delivered 33,387 homes in the U.S. in the fiscal year ending March 31. The company is a subsidiary of Centex Corporation (NYSE: CTX), a Fortune 250 company.
Centex Corporation, founded in Dallas in 1950, is one of the nation’s premier companies in home building, financial services, home services and commercial contracting. Centex ranks No. 1 in its industry on FORTUNE magazine’s 2005 list of “America’s Most Admired Companies.”