U.S. Engineering’s (USE) Field Leadership Program is an investment in cultivating strong leaders within the organization. Developed in-house, it teaches leadership skills to foremen, general foremen and superintendents, improving on professionalism, customer relationships and efficiency. So far over 100 team members in U.S. Engineering Construction have gone through an iteration of the program, and more sessions are on the horizon in our Rocky Mountain and Midwest regions.
In this interview, Tony Italiano, Field Operations Manager, and Holly Ray, Talent & Development Specialist, share insight into why the program was created, how it’s structured and what has caused the greatest impact.
Why did we create the U.S. Engineering Field Leadership Program?
Tony: We created the Field Leadership Program to provide our leaders with the tools and knowledge needed to function efficiently and help reduce their levels of daily stress. We wanted to set our supervision apart from the competition, so we designed different levels to support our team members at various stages of their careers. We understand that we need to invest in our people. It’s part of the mentoring process and the most effective way to grow more well-prepared leaders.
How does it work?
Holly: The USE Field Leadership Program is made up of several classes over a multi-week period. It incorporates personality index (PI) concepts, technical information and strategies for improving leadership. Those who attend are grouped into cohorts, which helps build new connections within the company, introducing co-workers from different disciplines to one another.
The Field Leadership Program is also structured by role. The first series was targeted to foremen. The next was created for general foremen, and a new group of classes will be given to superintendents early next year. Each set of courses builds around the others. The instructional team looks at the same topics but uses a different perspective or lens depending on the audience. The goal is to shift mindsets, so leaders can grow in their positions.
What were some of the most impactful sessions?
Tony: Honestly, I feel each session is impactful. There may be some that have a greater effect on certain individuals based on their years of experience. Even though we break the classes up by supervision level, some had been in their role longer than others, so every team member’s takeaways could be different. This was best illustrated in the homework recaps attendees provided after each class. They all had their own perspective on what was most valuable.
Holly: I found the scheduling session really impactful. Participants were able to refine their skills and collaborate with one another. Because the program is organized into cohorts, attendees had an opportunity to learn from each other and form relationships. Facilitators and peers shared tips and tools.
Additionally, the session on professionalism was beneficial. There were lots of “aha” moments and self-reflection. Now, our team members are prepared to ask questions instead of holding a hard line. These soft skills are tools they can begin utilizing immediately in their day-to-day job.
How does the Field Leadership Program affect customers?
Holly: The Field Leadership Program benefits internal and external customers. When working with USE Metalworks, for example, attendees from USE Construction will learn Metalworks processes and how they can help make future projects go more smoothly. Building a collaborative relationship that is built on trust makes this working relationship go even more smoothly.
Regarding external clients, this program demonstrates that we are invested in developing current and future leaders. Providing our employees with these leaderships skills helps them strengthen relationships inside and outside their company.
Tony: We are trying to deliver the best possible product to our customers and clients by having more highly trained supervision. This is just one more way we try to set ourselves apart from our competition. It allows our teams to be consistent in their professionalism because they are all learning the same things through the program.
What are some benefits of the Field Leadership Program that you’ve seen first-hand?
Holly: One of the greatest benefits has been the relationships built across trades. Though they all work together to complete projects, team members from different trades were typically most focused on their specific aspect of a job. By taking these classes together, they fostered a foundation of trust with those in their trade, as well as those outside of it. We instantly saw people sharing ideas and taking notes. It was something we hoped would happen but weren’t sure it would. These connections will help them grow exponentially, not only in their personal development, but in their ability to understand a project comprehensively.
Tony: What our teams learn in the program helps them know how to better mentor and train others around them. This program isn’t just about one-way training. We want it to trickle down organically. In fact, we have senior supervisors helping teach the program. They learn alongside those they are training. Everyone is growing at all levels.
We have seen better documents come through the office, whether that is daily documentation or knowing exactly what to do when an incident happens on their jobsite. There also have been positive survey results about the trainings. Attitudes have improved, and team members are more willing to become better leaders.
What’s some feedback you’ve gotten from participants?
Holly: Past participants have appreciated the investment that USE is putting into their talent development. Now, they have skills that they take to the job site. Many want to see more training, specifically related to technology. Right now, we’re identifying new areas for which we can create programming. It’s sparked a curiosity and thirst for continuous improvement.
Tony: I will share a couple of the comments I received shortly after a few of the sessions. One team member said, “I really appreciated the conducting meetings portion of our training. The meeting plan bullet points helped me with the foreman’s meeting I have been conducting here at the jobsite, and the class helped me understand that sometimes less is better when replying to emails, such as the mock email used in the class.”
Another participant said, “I see now that having a detailed schedule is a professional way to build confidence with the general contractor, subcontractor and my team members. Scheduling assists with keeping tasks on track and manpower projections. Having every possible task on your schedule is the best reminder.”
The bottom line is that what they learned isn’t unseen. These are tangible skills that they use every day.
Why did we choose to do an internal program with HR instead of bringing in a third-party training group?
Holly: Using an external resource can be great for overarching leadership. However, you can’t recreate cultural understanding. By leveraging internal talent, attendees were able to communicate with subject matter experts in different sections of the company. When selecting instructors, we considered who could add value to each class. Across the board, there was consistency, because they all shared the USE culture. The message was received and heard in the same way no matter the session or subject.
Tony: We wanted to tailor this training based on how we do things at USE and utilize people who have been with this organization for many years. By incorporating the general and senior superintendents, we were able to access their expertise and understanding of the many different aspects of the trades. Having Holly and Jamie Paulsen, Instructional Designer, on the planning team allowed us to spread our wings and further develop the program. They both have a background in creating content and integrated new activities and components to further enrich the program.
Anything else our clients and colleagues should know about the Field Leadership Program?
Tony: There is a lot more to come. We are never going to stop making sure our team members have the training and knowledge to help them succeed and grow.
Holly Ray joined U.S. Engineering with more than 10 years of experience in design, onboarding, diversity and inclusion and leadership. She collaborates with team members to align their Learning & Development strategies with the organization’s driving goals and initiatives. Holly is committed to community, serving as Chair for the Missouri & Kansas Epilepsy annual Gala and a sustaining member of the Olathe Public Schools Foundation, Women’s Giving Circle. Holly holds a degree from University of Central Missouri in Tourism with an emphasis in event planning and marketing.
Tony Italiano joined U.S. Engineering in 1996 as an apprentice. He has taken on many roles throughout his career at USE, including field supervisor, safety coordinator and currently manpower coordination, local union communicator and JATC board member. Tony has a passion for helping build training for our future leaders.