Leading the Project, Leading the Change

By Robins & Morton Superintendent, Jeff Jones


Children's HospitalCulture.

It’s a loaded word with powerful long-term results, but it can be tough to create an actionable roadmap from Point A to the pinnacle of cultural excellence. Despite its abstractions, sometimes you get lucky and reach that elusive achievement of cultural harmony, but is it replicable?

These are all questions that managers – no matter the industry – battle every day. A recent study conducted by Leadership IQ revealed that 32% of a worker’s desire to stay or leave an organization is a result of feeling, or not feeling, trust toward their boss. An even more staggering statistic, only 20% of people surveyed strongly trusted top management of their organization; 36% moderately trusted their top management; the remaining 44% ranged from not trusting to strongly distrusting their top management.

As trust remains a strong contributor to culture, this tells us that we – as project management – have to strive to earn that trust from our team members to build culture. At the Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital, Navicent Health, project in Macon, Georgia, we believed that responsibility started at the owner, architect and contractor (OAC) level.

By placing an expectation on our leadership team to create an environment of real trust, implement a process for continuous improvement and promote whole team collaboration, we created a replicable structure to foster both the tangible and intangible elements of strong project culture.


Create an environment of real trust

Trust is a messy word, but real trust is messier.

It means letting people see your bad days, where you may have slipped and where you aren’t perfect. But it also means showing your humanity, sharing in honest relationships with others, gaining and earning respect.
Creating an environment of real trust has to start at the OAC level early in the project with the understanding that each team member shares in all of the successes, failures and setbacks together. This establishes accountability. It’s not my project – it’s our project. Let’s get this done together.

This also helps to provide a platform for honesty. When the attitude is that we are working together toward a common goal, I know as a member of this team that blame isn’t productive when there’s a mistake or a hurdle. Bypassing the blame game and instead finding the most cost-effective or schedule-effective solution to keep the project running smoothly is the best use of time.

As the OAC team coalesces around this ideology, it permeates into the management of the onsite team, and even further into the craft. When you create trust at the highest level of project management, it allows you to be more open, transparent and honest in the management of all onsite personnel.

In practice, to maintain this spirit throughout the lifespan of the project at the Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital, we held frequent teambuilding activities, engaged with the community through volunteering, and stayed connected to our purpose by visiting with hospital patients and giving back to hospital programs, benefiting the patients for whom we were building.


Implement a process for continuous improvement

Construction Worker Planning WorkAlthough the attribution of the quote, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” may still be under debate, the truth in its words isn’t. The need for constant measurement and evaluation to determine what is and isn’t working is crucial to the establishment and maintenance of culture. It’s a significant part of accountability. In truth, I cannot say that I am providing value to you as a service provider or a manager if I don’t even know how I am performing.

However, a secondary hurdle to that position is that there’s so much to measure, it can be difficult to decide what to measure and how exactly to manage those measurements without a focused approach. On a macro-scale, it’s important to decide as an OAC team what’s important to the success of your project. This is usually determined through the establishment of Conditions of Satisfaction or similar framework. From there, the type of measurements can be more easily determined.

With that, it’s important to implement an overall process for obtaining and reporting those measurements to ensure they’re regularly captured and engage in a Plan, Do, Study, Adjust (PDSA) Cycle. By ensuring each measurement cycles through PDSA, the process can be properly evaluated and improved at each interval.

In addition to creating this process, team members need to be willing to speak up when they see an inefficiency in the process. Healthy conflict is an integral piece to achieving peak efficiency and cultural balance.
At Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital, our team was able to address many of these production-related measurements within our established meeting structure. It created opportunities for various teams – sometimes unexpected combinations of team members – to come together for innovative solutions to challenges.

Promote whole team collaboration

construction workers reviewing plansSilos – whether intentional or unintentional – among team members can be the most significant communication killer when trying to create and maintain shared goals throughout a project. When there are limits to the amount of information provided to certain team members, or a willingness to only collaborate within certain parameters, tensions inevitably arise.

Breaking down barriers to promote whole team collaboration builds communication to help solve problems and further the shared goals established at the project’s onset. If tensions arise from unintentional siloed conversations or a limited understanding of subject matter, encourage active listening. Help each other understand any question at hand to move the project forward.

We worked to accomplish this at Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital through onboarding each person who came onsite – from the OAC team to every craft professional. We also worked to establish efficient communication channels to eliminate redundant conversations, co-located our offices and had a big room onsite for co-working space. All of these things contributed to a better flow of information.



The OAC culture was foundational to creating a positive jobsite culture. Because of this, Robins & Morton was able to effectively implement Lean management tools, driving budget, schedule and safety metrics with the OAC team and the trade contractors.

Since the hospital has been complete, Navicent Health Project Manager Missi Upshaw reported an overall improved physician recruitment rate and improved patient satisfaction. Additionally, she stated that the new emergency department has seen a 40% increase in patient visits, with the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) also seeing an 18% increase, and the imaging center seeing an 8% patient increase, proving that more locals are turning to the Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital for care.

Ultimately, without focus on culture and engagement, we can’t continue to build better. It is our responsibility to look honestly at our culture and get an outside assessment or engage resources to help ensure we reflect the kind of leadership that inspires trust in our onsite personnel, changing the statistical narrative dominating business today.


This article is based on a presentation given by Jones, Navicent Health Project Manager Missi Upshaw, HKS Contract Manager Robert Christopher-Strayhorn and Robins & Morton Operations Manager Eric Groat at Lean Construction Institute’s 21st Annual Lean Congress.