I didn’t used to like HR departments that much because I thought they were more about bureaucracy than actual human resource development. I also balked at the idea that humans are a “resource”, like minerals or tidal power. Humans are humans.

Then I had a great conversation with a woman who was until recently an HR director at a large UK construction company. Having worked in the industry for 45 years, I gained huge respect for what people like her are trying to do, including introducing coaching management styles.

Chewed up and spat out

She saw her role as finding and keeping the best talent in the industry and creating a culture where people could thrive, but she faced big challenges. One was society’s negative view of construction being full of “hairy-arsed builders”, which meant talented young people rarely aspired to join it.

Another was the culture that young people encountered when they entered the industry. It’s full of hugely talented and technically brilliant people, but most of them have had little or no training in people skills. Add to that the adversarial nature of the business, which is characterised by long subcontracted chains along which disputes flare up regularly.

As if all that were not enough, there is the habit of contractors to cave in completely to the demands of clients. (By clients I mean the organisations commissioning the new hospital, office building or bridge.) Contractors regularly under-bid to get the work, then demand that their people reel in the moon to deliver on the unrealistic promises made, and to somehow make a profit from it.

“It’s always profit over everything,” she said. “I’m frustrated we don’t prioritise wellbeing and engagement as much as profit. I think we’d have the same if not more profit if we made better decisions about the type of work we took on. We should be more choosy, rather than killing project teams. We need to be more confident about what’s good business and what isn’t.”

I was blown away. Despite my reservations about HR, this HR director had exactly the same view of construction’s biggest failing: the way it chews up and spits out people.

Do as you’re told’

We’d been talking about the course I’ve developed to teach young professionals how to incorporate coaching techniques into their management style. It’s called Coach for Results, and it’s designed to provide an alternative to the command-and-control style that is the default setting in construction and many other industries.

Command-and-control relies on giving orders and monitoring compliance. It assumes the manager knows everything and everyone else must do as they’re told.

With a coaching style, the manager acknowledges the talent and intelligence in those they manage, and encourages them to think for themselves about how to fulfil their accountabilities and get the desired results. It’s less prescriptive and more supportive, and is shown to increase engagement, excitement and enjoyment in teams.

Great for recruitment’

My new HR director friend agreed this is what construction needs.

“People are already under massive pressure in construction,” she said. “This will relieve pressure on younger managers who feel they have to have all the answers, when really the answers are already there in the team. If you’ve got the skills to collaborate with and engage the team, it relieves that pressure and you make better decisions because you’ve got more context, diversity of thought and perspective.”

When I asked what was at stake for HR directors, she said: “That nothing changes. Same s**t, different day. We never change the way people are led and managed. Young people lacking the freedom and autonomy to own their challenge and grow, stuck in parent-child dynamic.”

And what did HR directors stand to gain from the spread of a coaching management culture?

“Creative thinking,” she said. “People having the opportunity to come up with their own solutions, to feel part of something, engaged. People going the extra mile, leading to better outcomes and happy clients. Also, telling their friends how much they’re enjoying work, which is great for recruitment!”

The image above is Rebecca taking a quiet and satisfied moment. She managed somehow to put 50 of her organisation young professionals on a course called Coach for Results. She believed in it though had to persuade hard to get the Board to go for it. She had skin in the game, her reputation. It’s worked most completed the course and they are now shining lights in the business and they are talking to their friends about how good it’s here. The Board are delighted and Rebecca’s stock has shot up. So, she’s taking a quiet moment to savour it. For the first time in ages she feels like she has made a difference.

Leadership Team Coach Dave Stitt works with construction industry executives and project teams enabling them to deliver remarkable results in a remarkable way.

Dave is the creator of  Coach for Results, an accessible online course teaching the basics of a coaching management style so managers can grow confidence, capability and enthusiasm in the people around them.

Read more blogs from Dave: Going round in circles: Coaching and the co-created pattern