Extra, extra, Leadership Toolbox full of milestones this month, read all about it!

Greetings loyal leaders, Capt. Fletch here again with a very exciting edition of the Leadership Toolbox. Last month, we examined the importance of giving members of our team opportunities and the joy that can come from it. This month, I would like to touch on the importance of setting and celebrating milestones.

I experienced several big milestones over the past month. My baseball team finished in 4th place in the state playoffs — a major improvement over last place in our league last year. (We only made it to the fourth playoff round last year. Next, I completed my master’s degree. Last, but certainly not least, the Vegas Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup Finals and went to game one — something most people never get to do! All right, so the last one may be a stretch as far as milestones, but I had to put a plug in for my team.

Why are milestones important? Construction management experience tells us that we need milestones to break our schedules into manageable pieces or phases. However, from a leadership perspective, milestones serve a different purpose. So often, the journey from the outset of a project to its completion can seem daunting. Imagine a marathon runner, as cliché as it sounds. When training for a marathon, runners do not go out and run 26.2 miles every day. They run different lengths and build toward the final distance before they ever take the actual journey in the race. Each new longest distance is a cause for celebration; the athlete has gone farther than ever before — perhaps farther than they believed they could.

Teams are no different. Every construction team I ever led in RED HORSE always felt overwhelmed at the outset of a project. Think of all the many variables in a construction project: logistics, equipment, materials, work force and living accommodations (depending on the project), to name a few. Then, look at the schedule and the improbable array of tasks required for substantial completion. The scale of it all reinforces the importance of milestones.

For simplicity, let’s consider an airfield paving job. Say you have a 180-day project duration. This gives our team 6 months to do all the tasks associated with building a basic asphalt airstrip. The basic milestones for this project include demolition of existing asphalt, site grading and ground preparation, a first asphalt layer, a second asphalt layer, striping, and a lighting system. Looking at the project this way, we see a less daunting journey. The team has six objectives to complete, versus 150-200 lines in a critical path method schedule. In a similar airfield replacement project I led, we actually celebrated the completion of each milestone on-site. I would buy a special meal or give them an extra day off, whatever I could do in the middle of nowhere to show them I considered it a big deal.

I found completing my master’s degree very similar. When I began the program, I at first focused on all the chapters I had to read and assignments I had to complete. As I worked through my first class during the Covid-19 pandemic, I wondered if I would ever finish. Truthfully, I sometimes doubted I would. However, I completed that first class and earned an A. I began to look at the curriculum differently. It was 13 classes long, and each class became a milestone, a step that once completed was worthy of celebrating. With each class, I earned another A and felt motivated to continue. As I reflect on the last 3 years, I see and appreciate the difficulty of balancing life and school (and doing it with excellence and a 4.0 GPA). Celebrating milestones along the way helped.

As leaders, we set milestones. We understand the scope of our projects and how best to divide them into manageable pieces for our teams to accomplish.

How are milestones relevant to leaders? As leaders, we set milestones. We understand the scope of our projects and how best to divide them into manageable pieces for our teams to accomplish. Moreover, because the construction process can be lengthy, milestones can serve to keep teams engaged. So often, teams can get lost in the construction process — or a sports season, whatever the journey may be. Milestones serve as anchor points to keep a team grounded and focused on the overall goal.

In sports playoffs, each win brings the team a step closer to the overall goal: the championship. However, do not to allow a game won or milestone passed to breed overconfidence. One game won is not a job done. It is worthy of joy and positive reflection, but not the final desired outcome. Leaders must balance the team in healthy celebration of a milestone but remain focused on the end goal. Failure to maintain this balance can result in failure to reach the desired outcome for the team.

As you look at your own teams and projects, ask yourself, do I celebrate small victories with my team? If the answer is no, perhaps adding milestones may boost morale and elevate your team’s performance.

Until next time, Capt. Fletch over and out.