Level Headed: A Must-Read for the Engineering and Construction Industry

Over the holidays, I read a great book that I highly recommend to anyone in or getting into management in the engineering and construction industry: “Level Headed” by J. Doug Pruitt and Richard Condit, subtitled “Inside the Walls of One of the Greatest Turnaround Stories of the 21st Century”. Pruitt was named President of Sundt Construction at a time when the company was in severe distress. Condit was his Chief Administrative Officer. The book documents the strategies, tactics and lessons learned as the authors and their management team rescued Sundt Construction from near bankruptcy to a $1B organization with a net worth of well over $100MM.

The story documents what went wrong, what they did to turn it around, and, certainly the most important pages for anyone to read – a summary of the lessons they learned in the process. Not surprisingly, much of the story is about people, sticking to business fundamentals, organizational and managerial discipline, and adapting to change. 

Two of the final three chapters in main section of the book are titled “The Only Constant is Change” and “Continuous Improvement”. These chapters discuss how they sustained the growth and success they worked so hard to achieve. “Lesson: The trouble we found ourselves in taught us that, as successful as we might be, we can never relax. We must always look at changes that need to be made, or we will fall back into trouble again. As soon as you think you are good enough and lose discipline, you’re heading right toward the abyss again.”

In reading through the book, I was reminded many times of Andy Grove’s motto when he was CEO of Intel - “Paranoia of Complacency”. 

A very useful aspect of the book is a series of questions at the end of each chapter that prompt the reader to reflect on their organization and assess where they are in the process. It is the challenge of every leadership team to continually perform these assessments as part of their Strategic Planning initiatives. 

The follow up task to these assessments and strategies is the hardest part - Implementing Change. Execution of Strategic Planning initiatives is one of the hardest challenges an organization can face, because it fundamentally represents change. Change, by its nature, takes people out of their comfort zones. It becomes a lot easier if there is sufficient cause, commitment and confidence for the change.

Austin initiated some strategies last year designed to establish a pathway to company-wide growth by promoting Continuous Improvement in our project teams. Ultimately, the strategies will improve the effectiveness and mastery of our processes and procedures, and the business disciplines of our people. It is one of my primary personal goals this year to ensure the successful implementation of these strategies.

I am excited about the prospects for our collective improvement in 2014 and beyond. I’ll keep you posted on our achievements as we go through the year.

“Success comes from your ability to manage change.”

J. Doug Pruitt

“The future of business…is going to require finding a balance between focusing on our 'day jobs,' the task at hand, while getting more and more people within the organization looking toward the next thing.”

 Richard Condit