January 2021

Adapting to Change Through Leadership

by Jim Emerick

The Covid-19 pandemic unleashed a new set of unforeseen obstacles in the business world. Business leaders were faced with disruption never experienced; logistically, mentally, physically, and economically all at once. Ultimately, the Leader’s response was the crucial denominator in this crisis. How quickly, yet measured the leader reacted and adapted to change was likely a defining moment in their leadership career. So, what does that look like?

I reached out to one of our past Leadership Excellence Partner award winners, Brandon Lark, President of Great Southwestern Construction (GSW) to check in and learn about what challenges he has faced during this difficult time. Brandon shared two stories of 2020 COVID-19 leadership, related to Knowledge-Sharing (closing the Knowing-Doing Gap), Accountability, and Core Values Alignment.

Knowledge Sharing and Accountability

The GSW Leadership Team is increasingly modeling best practices illustrated in General McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams, first discussed in 2015 during team coaching events. In response to myriad COVID-19 restrictions in 12-15 individual states GSW operates in, further complicated by often conflicting customer (e.g., local utilities) and dynamic local (city, county, etc.) policies, GSW launched weekly virtual meetings. What made these meetings different from those of the past was that they were open to the entire company to participate. Modelled after McChrystal’s daily Operations & Intelligence briefings in Iraq, Lark invited approximately 600 personnel — basically anyone set up with a company electronic username.

What happened?

In practice, a bit fewer than 200 attend weekly, ranging from administrative staff to front line project leaders. Initially, attendance focused on simply "catching up" or reacting to a turbulent external environment, especially since GSW teams are so geographically spread out. As the COVID-19 "wheels stopped spinning so fast," Brandon found they were not just reacting anymore, and a unique environment now existed.

Discussions based on core values, for example a non-COVID-19 security incident in the April/May time, emerged. Additionally, front-line observations, rather than second-hand reports became integral to the meetings by the May timeframe. Immediate accountability emerged as a by-product of these open sessions, as expectations of weekly team project issue reporting formed.

The meetings continue in 2021 — on Thursdays. This allows GSW three days to figure out "what the hell is going on" externally before the Wednesday 6:30am Executive Management Committee meetings — where the current environment may be processed. Committee members also incorporate any mother company (MYR Group) changes or knowledge to share, all before the Thursday virtual events. Rather than limiting issue disclosures within a single work site or internal memo, issues and conflicts are now immediately presented company-wide. As a result, management accountability occurs much faster and more comprehensively.

Core Value Alignment and Engagement

The second story is GSW’s selection of the integrated Timberland Project for the first Energize2Lead™ Alignment (E2LA) Workshop — which will be used for all new EP&C (Engineer, Procure and Construct) integrated project launches. EP&C is GSW’s promising, rapidly growing new business. The EP&C team view these unique workshops as a distinctive competitive advantage, where all stakeholders share how they manage energy at individual and functional team levels, declare project expectations, and commit to specific communication styles in advance of project issues or during times of increased team stress levels. We jointly prepared for the first workshop with the objective to be a unified team in the eyes of the client — as genuine partners.

What happened?

Travel restrictions, particularly at Entergy (The Woodlands, TX), prohibited an in-person E2LA launch, so we settled on a 22-person Virtual E2LA kickoff on July 20th, hosted by Entergy’s IT team on their internal company communications platform. Despite limitations of a virtual environment, a great deal of sharing took place. This led to a 51-page Timberland Project deliverable capturing project stakeholders, individual stakeholder needs, program team success definitions, Timberland Group Dynamics & Team Sheets as well as Functional Group Dynamics & Team Sheets. Signed copies of the Team of Teams books and E2L LEGO models were sent to all participants. GSW will continue the workshops in early 2021 with a Colorado Springs Utilities-based EP&C project.

Adaptability and flexibility are crucial leadership qualities. When exercised with transparency and good intentions, leaders can inspire their teams to continue onward towards their vision even in the face of adversity. Brandon showed this in his response to Covid-19 while still upholding his personal values of safety, commitment, courage, and family. Brandon invites you to connect with him via LinkedIn and has also provided his own Personal Leadership Philosophy to download.