My most recent post looked at leadership and project delivery in design and construction companies – and noted a stark discrepancy between how companies portray themselves and real internal capacity.
The gap between a company’s green marketing and it's true capability is also increasingly evident in company infrastructure and partnerships – the internal foundation upon which projects are built, and the external relationships that are essential for success.
Infrastructure includes support services, tools and resources used on projects, internal design standards, and human resources. As important as leadership is – support is equally critical. A company’s ability to provide appropriate professional development, access to key tools and resources, consistent design standards and quality control processes make the difference between institutionalized capability and “one-off” projects.
Leadership and infrastructure are actually linked in an important way. A company that has clearly assigned roles and structure for accountability can ensure that there are people managing all aspects of sustainability - from maintaining appropriate resources and systems to continuous learning. Whether this is led by a designated “Director of Sustainability” or a matrix Green Team (with authority), the critical issue is that they are engaging all aspects of management, operations and project delivery.
When asked, staff at all levels within a company held widely ranging observations about available resources and support.
33% of respondents say they always have the tools and resources they need to implement sustainable design on projects, with the rest of responses scattered between "Never" and "Sometimes." This represents 67% of the time that project performance may be compromised due to a lack of resources.
17.5% say that internal (green) design and specification standards are used consistently, across all projects. The dominant response, 30%, say that green design and spec standards are used "Sometimes" on projects. This indicates that sustainable design best practices are not part of the core philosophy of the company.
Only 21% say that there are processes instituted in-house for continuous (project based) learning and mentoring. This means that most firms are not leveraging the successes they do have to raise the overall level of knowledge in their companies.
13% claim that HR consistently supports green practice (i.e. expectations about green design priorities articulated clearly in employee handbook, integrated into performance reviews and orientation for new employees, and evident in professional development). If company leadership extols the virtues of sustainable design, but those values are not present in documented expectations, performance reviews, etc then the disconnect speaks louder than the platitudes.
A meager 9% of respondents say that there are clear protocols for incorporating sustainability into project management including meeting agendas, formal communications, workplans and other PM tools. The dominant response was 35%, who say that consistent protocols for green project management are "Seldom" incorporated. Yet without consistent expectations about communication, managing performance criteria or deliverables, project managers are not able to achieve the consistency that owners seek.
Partnering speaks to the significant relationships between your company and the outsidevendors (right word?) that you work with to execute a project. Ultimate success is directly related to the ability of a group of people to perform effectively as a team. This is drastically emphasized in the context of green building, where clear performance targets are articulated and accountability is measured. Too often, architects will complain about MEP engineers but do little to address their issues. The same is true in reverse. Direct, intentional focus on improving the team relationships has direct bearing on the success of the project in all aspects (financial, schedule, performance – worth saying that).
Only 16% of respondents said that their contracts and relationships with partners successfully support sustainable design objectives. The majority say that this is one aspect of professional practice that is usually a barrier to success. Considering that “high performance” (green) design is dependent on a “high performance” team, the commonplace lack of a strong team structure and motivation is troubling.
On a related note, only 24% of respondents said that their responses to RFPs consistently include appropriate relationships and process to support sustainable design objectives.
9.7% said that every project employs a management tool that gives all team members a clearly articulated map for collaborative decision making, identifying roles, responsibilities and deliverables for major performance milestones.
It is hard enough to get one’s own “house in order.” It is even more complex to look beyond to the next sphere of influence - our partners, who are critical to success. Contractual relationships are already laden with risk, budgets are tight and, especially in the current economic climate, people don’t want to "rock the boat." However, the most successful teams are those in which people have had a chance to evolve and transform their relationships together, over time, to their mutual benefit.
High performance teams, solid support systems, strong leadership and a proven track record on projects – these are all ingredients for success. If you are interested to see where you rank, have your company take the survey and measure yourself the way that your clients will measure you – with the SPI Certification criteria. This will also help you see where your gaps are, and how you can build a road to success.
Barbra Batshalom is the Founder and Executive Director of the Sustainable Performance Institute. Contact her at email@example.com.