If you think of work, and life in general, as the ultimate team-based role-playing game, the way to get to the top becomes clear: be one of the most valuable players (MVP). Not only is this a far more entertaining and engaging way to approach your life and employment, it puts you well ahead of all the other players (who don’t even realise they’re playing).
Like any good game, there are many ways to win and, no matter how many times you fail, or how many mistakes you make, there’s always a way to pull yourself out and keep moving forward. But, if you’re looking for the quickest way to the top, with all the hints and tricks to sidestep the biggest pitfalls, construction executive, Coty Fournier has written the ultimate guide:
For years, Coty complained to friends about the book she wished she’d had to help her navigate the tougher parts of her career. When struck with the blunt advice “well, why don’t you stop talking about it and just write it,” Coty laughed, got her act together and added book creation to her already packed schedule.
Her book, ‘Inside Commercial Construction’s MVPs’ has a perfect 5-star rating on Amazon with a host of detailed reviews from thankful construction workers and managers. She says it’s her way of giving back to the industry she loves; so other people can have the advice she wished she’d had, all condensed into one easy resource.
“I already had a pretty fast track career. But, had I been able to read a book like this when I was younger, I would have been even more successful even faster.”
Why get into construction management?
Even as a teenager, Coty was practical. When deciding what to study at university, she went for construction management because it promised good money and, with very few women in the field, the opportunity to stand out.
It’s tempting for women to see working in a male-dominant field as a disadvantage, but Coty’s philosophy is, anything that makes you different can be spun to your advantage. With the right attitude, something as simple as being a southpaw boxer in an orthodox world, or a female in a male environment can give you an edge on the competition. But the key factor, according to Coty, isn’t your point of difference, it’s your attitude.
“You need to be knowledgeable and talented at the construction management process, but more than anything you need a very strong, assertive personality. Not afraid to self-promote. Really, it is a big disadvantage to be a woman in the industry. There’s no way to sugar coat that. But not as much of a disadvantage as being shy.”
Do you need to be passionate about your career choice?
While Coty’s pragmatic nature meant she didn’t enter construction based on a pre-existing passion for the industry, she did develop one over time.
“Growing up in the construction industry in South Florida was wonderfully diverse, full of people from all over the world. One of the great things about the industry is you just get to meet all kinds of people, all kinds of different education levels, all kinds of different experience levels.”
Listening to Coty speak about the industry she grew up in, it’s clear she cares about it deeply. But most of her passion is people-based.
“The trade people that actually build the buildings are incredibly inspirational in my opinion. How hard they physically work and how dangerous it is. Which is another thing most people don’t realise. I’ve got a huge appreciation for just how physically hard it is to make a building happen; how many moving pieces and parts there are, and how many different kinds of people it takes to make it work.”
With so much of her drive and inspiration coming from people, it was a natural step for Coty to construct this book, which she couples with public speaking, to spread the word on how others can enjoy the success and fulfilment she has been able to derive from the industry. In the same spirit with which she wrote the book, Coty was more than happy to share with us a super-condensed summary of her most important advice.
What everyone working in construction should know
Coty’s biggest aim is to shake you out of your routine and the ruts created by all those who’ve trudged through the construction industry before you. It’s easy to just jump in and go with the flow of the system and, while cruising with the flow of things can be useful, it’s rarely the way to surge ahead.
“I’m trying to shake people away from the typical ways of thinking about things.”
The following key points are aimed at giving you an out from some longstanding construction industry ruts, allowing you to see the potential for innovation, change and positive growth.
Don’t fall for the project manager myth
Coty saw this as the biggest potential pitfall for those in construction management:
“thinking or assuming that if they become successful project managers, which is a very common career path, this will somehow ensure they will rise to the executive management level quickly. And then that they will do well when they get there.”
Project management experience does not necessarily equate to success at the executive management level; nor to owning a company yourself. Coty watched many colleagues invest years and even decades into this mistaken thinking and so was able to dodge the proverbial bullet herself.
To clarify, if project management is your ultimate goal then, by all means, you should go for it. But if you’re shooting for executive management, you’re better off straying from the over-trodden path.
“To become a highly respected project manager in any sizeable construction company, you’ll have to earn your way to the opportunity and then prove yourself to stay there. On average, you’re looking at anywhere from ten to twenty years to make that happen and really own the title.”
If the role is not your ultimate goal, that’s too many decades to spend on a single step in the ladder. Particularly considering project management doesn’t necessarily give you the qualities you need to succeed in executive management. And, once established as a project manager, your company will bank on your reputation and established relationships; meaning it’s not worth their while to move you from that position. So those with executive management, or other ambitions, often find themselves crammed up against a glass ceiling.
To avoid this dilemma, Coty recommends people engage in:
“a variety of entry-level and mid-level positions, alternating back and forth from the field to the main office, exposing you to as many different activities and skill sets as possible.”
The power of a creative mind in construction
If you accept the left vs right brain dichotomy—whereby left-brain dominant types are logical and analytical and right-brainers are creative and emotional—it stands to reason construction and executive management would attract (and be suited to) the analytical, technically-minded, left brain people.
Here too, Coty’s view bucks the traditional way of thinking. While left-brain qualities—like logic, linear thinking, scheduling and the ability to see the details while also keeping a big picture in mind—are definitely useful for the industry, Coty explains:
“Those people don’t do as well at the executive management level, or even at the client relations level, or anything that is at the top of an organisation. From what I have seen, it’s the people that have the right brain skills who make better leaders of the company. You might’ve come into the industry because you are a strong left brain thinker, and that will help you to build buildings, no doubt about it, but you better become equally good thinking with your right brain in order to excel managing other people and running the company.”
Use your critical thinking constructively (don’t be a slave to it)
Those in construction management are trained to look critically at everything they come across in the line of duty; whether it’s construction specifications, building plans, contracts or change orders. You need to have a hypercritical setting in your mind, capable of finding even the sneakiest of errors.
Coty calls this hyper-critic, ‘Pistol Pete’ because he likes to blow holes in anything new anyone says. She explains, while he is supremely useful, he can also work against you if you don’t keep him under control.
“We’re trained to be critical of anything that doesn’t fit the norm because that’s what errors do; they fail to fit the norm. But that’s also what brilliant new ideas do.”
According to Coty, those who are able to successfully climb the ranks in construction management are the ones who know when to listen to that voice and when to push it aside.
“They know when to quiet their Pistol Pete and allow themselves to look at something with fresh eyes, or a new consideration. Or allow themselves to learn or be inspired by something different and resist that natural behaviour.”
Forget conventions and be the invisible “I” in team
This advice you need to be careful with; because Coty isn’t talking about a selfish kind of I that only thinks of itself and its own advancement. The concept is, if you focus on your own growth and development and ensure you excel, then you will naturally be positively contributing to your team.
“If everyone’s individual performance went up, the whole team would certainly benefit.”
Coty’s advice here is along the lines of the Japanese concept of ‘Kaizen’, or continual improvement, (the philosophy on which Machines4U is based). The theory goes, if every individual is always improving, training, learning, doing what it takes to be more and contribute more every day, the company will naturally lift with all of that steady personal development.
We have most certainly seen this concept work in the Machines4U office. The only thing to keep in mind is that your personal development must be aligned with the company’s goals. It’s no use becoming proficient in Spanish, for example, if the company needs an executive manager in their Frankfurt branch.
The other big thing to keep in mind with teamwork is, the more you help your team and share your knowledge, the more room you make for yourself to advance.
“When the MVPs see their colleagues needing help with something, they share what they know, and they remain forever mindful to train their potential replacements in order to free themselves up for promotion when the timing is right.”
If you remember nothing else…
Coty accredits her fast and phenomenal success in construction management to differentiating herself and refusing to think about things in the traditional ways. Through this attitude, you can not only boost your own career but bring much-needed freshness and innovation to your company and the industry as a whole.
“I’m trying to provoke people to think about the industry differently, and think about the way you behave in it differently. Because in order to get something different you have to do something different. This book is really about encouraging you to take a long hard look at everything that’s happening around you, and question all of it—even the good stuff—so you can formulate your own theories about how the industry actually works, and then boldly re-imagine how it could work.”