From Player to Coach: The Hidden Pitfalls of Promotions in Construction

In the world of sports, there are often stories of players who achieved greatness on the field or court but struggled when they stepped into a coaching or managerial role. Two prime examples from the NBA and MLB might surprise you, but they perfectly illustrate the gap between what a player does and what a coach or manager does.

The first was a two-time NBA champion with the New York Knicks and a crucial part of their 1970 and 1973 championship teams. The second, a legend in his own right, considered one of the greatest hitters in MLB history, with a stunning 19 All-Star appearances, two American League MVP awards, and a career batting average of .344.

Just because someone excels in one role doesn’t mean they will succeed in another. Both excelled as players, only one thrived in his new role. The same holds true in the construction industry, for example there’s a massive gap between the responsibilities of a project manager and a project executive.

Understanding the Project Executive Role:

A project executive, unlike a project manager who focuses on building one or a few projects profitably, is responsible for running a business within a business. Their key responsibilities include:

  • Understanding the department’s financial health
  • Overseeing project managers and tracking financial goals
  • Developing a business plan for market share growth
  • Addressing project issues, such as customer satisfaction and quality
  • Participating in business development and networking
  • Involving themselves in the department’s hiring process

Having a Frank Conversation:

Before making any promotion decisions, it’s essential to have an open and honest conversation with the project manager who is eager to advance in their career. During this discussion, make sure they understand the significant gap between the project manager and project executive roles. Explain the differences in responsibilities and the skill sets required for success in each position. Encourage them to self-assess their readiness for the new role and ask if they are willing to take on the challenges that come with it. This conversation can provide valuable insights into their mindset and help both of you determine whether the promotion is the right move.

Who are the two sports legends mentioned earlier? The highly successful player from the NBA is none other than Phil Jackson, who went on to win an astounding 11 championships as a coach (six with the Chicago Bulls and five with the Los Angeles Lakers). The MLB legend who struggled as a manager is Ted Williams, whose managerial career with the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers from 1969 to 1972 was mediocre, with the team never finishing higher than fourth place in their division.

Evaluating the Potential for Promotion:

If you’re a construction company owner considering promoting a project manager to project executive, it’s crucial to evaluate their ability to handle the new responsibilities. Here’s a three-step approach to help you make an informed decision:

  1. Create a list of the new tasks the project manager will be doing if promoted to project executive.
  2. Prioritize that list in order of importance to you and the company
  3. Analyze the project manager’s current ability to perform each specific task, using a confidence ratio of 0-100%. For example, if you’re confident they can do it, assign an 80% rating; if they have no clue, assign a 10% rating.

Avoiding the Common Mistake:

The key to success in a construction company lies in placing the right person in the right seat. As a construction company owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your employees are well-suited for their roles and can excel in their positions. Implementing this three-step approach, and having frank conversations with your people who are eager to get promoted can help you avoid a mistake that most businesses make at least once: promoting a talented performer to a higher position where they ultimately fail.

The contrasting stories of Phil Jackson and Ted Williams demonstrate that excelling in one role doesn’t guarantee success in another. Assessing an individual’s abilities and potential before promoting them is essential to ensure they can thrive in their new role and contribute to the overall success of your organization. By following a systematic approach and fostering open communication with your employees, you can make informed decisions that lead to long-term growth and prosperity for your construction business.

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