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Three Military Techniques to Drive Construction Inclusion and Productivity


By Zachary Scheel, Construction Executive

Many people in the construction industry are military veterans. Many industries, including construction, are taking notice of the obvious (and not so obvious) benefits of hiring veterans.

The perception of the military’s structure is a hierarchical operational model in which those at the top of the pyramid gather information, make decisions and filter those decisions down to workers with expectation that the “orders” will be carried out.

But times are changing in the military and business, and the changes serve as a good model for construction companies. Military leaders are beginning to understand that hierarchical operational models do not enable the flexibility required for their teams respond to rapidly changing conditions. What’s more, they don’t instill a shared sense of ownership.

The response has been a shift to focusing on adaptability rather than efficiency as a key indicator of a successful organizational model. An example of this change is when General Stanley McChrystal took over the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in 2003 with the task of defeating al-Qaida in Iraq. JSOC had technology, skills and resources that were far superior to anything available to al-Qaida, and while they were winning every individual firefight, they were still losing the war.

General McChrystal realized that if the pyramid was turned upside down. If those previously at the bottom, which he dubbed “doers,” were more actively involved and exposed to more information, the decisions of the “thinkers” would be better informed. The additional benefit would be a greater sense of inclusion or ownership over a shared mission, as well as increased morale.

McChrystal identified three main principles that became key to the success of JSOC in the region. While they were originally developed for the battlefield, they also provide a template for construction companies looking to increase team productivity and encourage a greater sense of ownership over project outcomes.


While virtually every organization would agree that their greatest asset is their people, the way leadership and decision-making is structured doesn’t always reflect this. Critical, time-sensitive information is kept behind closed doors and most decisions flow from the top-down, overlooking the collective wisdom of an organization.

Empowered execution turns this top-down approach on its head by giving those most exposed to the changing conditions of an organization the responsibility and authority to make key decisions. On a construction site, the individuals most exposed to the changing conditions are the foremen and workers at the jobsite. However, they’re often the ones waiting around for decisions to be made by project managers who may only occasionally visit the work site. The result is often a lot of down time.

What if, instead, foremen were equipped with the information to make informed decisions without having to communicate up the chain of command? How might this change impact crew productivity? This is the crux of empowered execution.


Creating the conditions for empowered execution to thrive requires examining what information is shared at what level. This is where technology comes into play.

As construction companies digitize, they’re learning that one of the best ways to harness the collective wisdom of an organization is by creating a way for relevant, timely data to be shared between the field and the home office. The right technology helps ensure the perspectives of those tasked with doing the work are included in the decision-making process. It also sends a message of inclusion that is missing on many construction projects today.

Bringing those with different job responsibilities under the same roof, each with access to the same information, means consensus is reached faster, and specific tasks can be prioritized according to overall project objectives.


Common purpose is a short, concise statement that describes the desired end state of a particular mission. The parallel in the business world is a mission statement. But unlike in business, the common purpose component requires a mission statement,  which is usually three or four bullets points outlining specific responsibilities toward making the mission a success, from each decision maker down the chain of command.

When employees take ownership of their work to the point where they can articulate in their own words how they,  in their unique roles, work to accomplish an objective, the dynamic of a construction crew can be transformed.

The pace of change and competitive nature of construction projects today requires nimble, adaptable teams that can respond to rapidly changing conditions. Having the right technology, skills and resources is critical, but it’s not the whole picture.

Companies must evaluate their behaviors and organizational structures and ask whether they are getting the results we want at every level of the organization. Those to take the time to do so will be rewarded with massive opportunities for increased value and productivity.

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