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You Can't Change an Industry by Offering Advice Meant for Only a Select Few

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

Change is difficult in any industry. How often have you heard the phrase “Why we should we do that? We have always done it this way.” This phrase seems to be the ultimate roadblock to change, often uttered by seasoned professionals who will be quick to point out that they have probably been doing this longer than you. So, what’s the best response?

The best place to start is by showing them that change is needed. In my industry, construction, this is especially important because the industry is full of people who have been doing things the same way for decades, and many honestly believe things are just fine. You must be armed with information that gets them to stop and agree, at least for a minute, that there is room for change, and that the change is needed.

Sometimes that’s not as easy as it sounds.

In my industry, I can point to countless reports about productivity in construction from very reputable sources such as McKinsey and Company, or the Wall Street Journal, that clearly identify the need for change in the industry. I have done this many times, in front of groups of peers that are seasoned construction management professionals, collectively running billions of dollars of work, and I have still been met with skepticism and disagreement. Be prepared for the next roadblock, which is “I don’t think they know what they are talking about.” In my industry this is often followed by phrases like “we are going as fast as we can” or “we haven’t gone past a required completion date on a project in years.”

You need to be prepared for this next roadblock by being armed with the information needed to educate them on the validity of the statements you are presenting. In my example, that comes down to defining the “productivity” being discussed in these critical reports. It’s not point speed, it’s throughput. In construction, solving the “productivity imperative” discussed in these lengthy reports isn’t about doing tasks faster, it's about shortening the time it takes from an idea forming, and the delivery of that finished structure. It's about making improvements in many different areas of the process from design, to build, to delivery. Productivity isn’t about meeting a schedule. It’s about finding the most efficient path to completion and hand off so that the facility (road, bridge, building, park, home, critical infrastructure) can be used for its intended purpose as soon as possible.

Only once they agree with you on the need, can you begin to educate them on the steps to get there. You could be presenting the most profound bits of wisdom ever thought up, but if the audience doesn’t believe there is a need for that wisdom, it will fall on deaf ears.

Once they do agree, you must proceed by offering information and advice that applies to them, to the entire group. Information that the collective group can act on, as opposed to advice for a select few. Because, if the advice is only meant for a select few, then you are wasting the group’s time. If only a select few can make the changes needed, then it stands to reason that the rest of the group can go on doing what they are already doing. If your intent really is to educate only a select few, you need to understand that you are simply arming that select few to go out and face the same challenges towards effecting change.

If the advice is only meant for a select few, then you are wasting the group’s time.

If you really want to effect change in an industry, it’s important to address the industry. It's important to educate and give advice that applies to everyone, to the industry as a whole. This means providing information that is relatable, understandable, and actionable. Only then can you begin to effect real change on a grand scale.


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