You don’t win big without sacrificing your best talent for the interest of the client.
Throughout my career, people have told me, “When your company mobilizes leadership from the top of your organizational hierarchy to win a job, it seems to have an incredible batting average.” Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to this comment, considering it’s been conveyed both inside and outside my company. Perhaps the reason I have given it so much thought is because it consistently rings true. Throughout my career, we have watched ourselves and competitors win and lose mega-jobs and have learned from the experiences.
We have found that when a company really wants to focus on winning a large project, it is forced to make difficult leadership decisions. It requires a company culture that believes the client’s largest project is equally as important as the enterprise management. The most common prerequisite of winning a mega-job is re-assigning senior talent (often Level 1 or group/division presidents) to lead a project for up to several years.
Of course, when a company does this, the enterprise leadership is disrupted with the need to replace that executive while they are gone; however, very few firms have the courage and culture to do this. Companies rationalize that the leader is irreplaceable (which, in my opinion, is not true) and that removing them from their position would be too disruptive to the organization. Rarely does an executive volunteer, leaving it up to the company to make the decision. But in my experience, when a company truly wants to win a large project, it will find a way to provide the client with one of their most senior executives for the entire duration of the project. The fact is, successfully completing a large project takes the same or greater managerial skills as the internal business.
So why does devoting a senior executive to a project prove to be so effective in the clients’ eyes? Simply, it reduces the client’s risk of failure. Further, having a company’s president-level executive assigned provides assurance and signifies how important the job is to the company. Finally, if a president-level manager is in charge, the client is ensured a solid team and resources for the entire project.
As easy as this is to advocate, few companies do it. It is difficult, but overcoming these challenges are what set competitors apart—it almost has to be in a firm’s criteria for upward ascension. Even though a company might receive hesitation from an executive, it is in the company’s (and client’s) best interest to place the most qualified leader in charge of a project. Overall, it is up to the CEO to set a standard within the company in order for this type of reassignment to be effective.
In the event of an executive reassignment, a company faces several major hurdles. First, it must convince the proposed executive that they should risk their stable position for a temporary assignment. Typically, this responsibility can only fall on the shoulders of the CEO to “sell” the candidate. Second, the company will need to replace the executive with an interim. The biggest problem with assigning a temporary replacement is that their skills are not typically proven for the role. Third, the company will have to deal with the return of the executive. Oftentimes, the replacement feels forced to leave the company due to unwillingness to move back to their previous position. Without resolving these crucial issues, the company is at risk of “under-competing.”
Companies that are great at winning large jobs have developed a culture where rotating between internal operations management and project assignments don’t equate to loss of prestige or career potential. This willingness to trust the company is an important element of a successful company culture. In my experience, our company won every job when we were able to allocate top executive leadership talent.
Without mega-jobs, most firms stay flat and do not transition to the next level—it is a critical component to the success of a company. It requires that the company is willing to cut off its right hand to win. It needs to be engrained in company culture that large project leadership efforts are rewarded just as much as operational leadership. Furthermore, it is imperative for leaders to be honored after project completion to illustrate this virtue. When these ideals are in alignment, the chances of winning are extremely high. It is not a single mega-job pursuit—it is a company culture of priorities and expectations that favors corporate growth and reputation.
© 2015 Robert Uhler and THE UHLER GROUP. All rights reserved.