After the stresses of a two-year pandemic, it’s no surprise that teachers are expected to leave the profession in record numbers this summer. But less attention has been paid to the departures of senior district leaders . . . and the potential impact that those transitions may have on facility planning and construction.
As of this writing, close to a dozen superintendents in North Texas alone have submitted their resignations. And that’s not a trend limited to one region or state, according to Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association (AASA).
“The numbers that are just walking out the door, the numbers that are retiring early, and the numbers that are being fired because of the controversies that exist around the country,” says Domenech. “The turnaround is significant.”
Many outgoing superintendents have cited not just the exhaustion of COVID-era leadership, but also increasing politicization and polarization around issues of curriculum and equity. For many, enough is enough, especially as most districts face even more budgetary belt-tightening.
Stephanie Knight, dean of the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University, told The Texas Tribune that this mass exodus is unprecedented.
“The most detrimental part of it is that the superintendents are dealing with extreme polarization around almost any decision that they make,” she said. “It would be a mistake to say that they’re running away from the job or the situation. They may be running toward a job that would enable them to have the impact that they don’t feel they could have right now as superintendent.”
The Trickle-Down Effect
The departures at the top also set in motion an unexpected game of staffing musical chairs across multiple districts. Job vacancies create opportunities for leaders to move into positions of greater responsibility, or sometimes to follow departing bosses to new districts.
If those departures include key personnel in your finance, operations, or facilities departments, you may find yourself facing unexpected challenges in planning new construction or completing current projects on time and on budget. No matter how well planned, transitions are inherently chaotic, especially if a replacement hasn’t yet been hired. In the interim, job duties are often inherited by someone who likely doesn’t possess the same level of experience or expertise, and who is already juggling other responsibilities.
As a result, the chances for miscommunication skyrocket, as does the likelihood that critical project information is lost. Research shows that poor data and communication problems account for almost 50% of all rework on a construction project. When continuity of leadership is disrupted, that number is likely significantly higher.
The odds of the project team becoming siloed also increases, as stakeholders lose visibility on other aspects of the project and become micro-focused on their own tasks. That can lead to decisions being made using incomplete or inaccurate data, or subcontractors working from outdated documents.
Even under “normal” circumstances, fewer than 25% of capital construction projects are completed by the original deadlines, and 70% significantly exceed their budget. When project leadership undergoes a sudden unplanned transition, those odds become even worse for owners.
Bridging the Transition Gap
Mitigating the pain of losing key personnel mid-project requires a synergy between reliable processes and solid tools. Take the initiative and call a team member with all key stakeholders to re-affirm commitments and outline any changes to previously established procedures. Follow up to ensure that everyone is abiding by those rules and living up to their obligations. And consider leveraging the power of an owner-focused construction management software platform to track performance and improve efficiency.
With that in mind, here are a few specific strategies for helping mitigate the risk of losing key team members:
Centralize information. Statistics show that around 35% of the data created during a construction project is lost by closeout. That likelihood only increases if data is dispersed across multiple laptops or USB drives, especially if their owners unexpectedly resign mid-project. Ensuring that you have a dedicated and secure cloud-based repository for all your project data ensures data continuity regardless of team turnover.
Ditch the spreadsheets. Trying to manage a construction project’s budget with Excel is asking for trouble. One errant keystroke can completely compromise even the most purposeful data-driven decision making process. And if you lose the person who created the web of formulas for a particular sheet, good luck untangling the numbers. Better to use a dedicated accounting module included in most construction management software — it’ll give you accurate, real-time data.
Maintain visibility. Without visibility, there can be no accountability. As the ultimate owner of the construction project, the district needs total transparency into the actions of architects, engineers, contractors, and consultants. At any point during a project, you should be able to quickly see the current status of the budget, schedule, and any outstanding actions. If you don’t have that, you could pay a steep price — literally.
Establish clear lines of communication. Stakeholders operating in isolation is potentially deadly for a project. Explicitly identifying who should review and approve various actions is an important safeguard, as is a mechanism for ensuring that everyone is apprised of key changes. A reliable document control system is essential for ensuring that everyone is working from the most current set of plans and schedules.
The best way to “departure-proof” your projects is to be proactive about implementing best-practice systems and tools. Owner-focused construction management software can be a cost-effective insurance policy for mitigating all kinds of risks, including the risk of unexpected leadership transitions. To learn more about how Owner Insite’s collaborative, cloud-based platform can potentially save you months of lost time and hundreds of thousands or more in budget overruns, contact us for a demo.