The construction industry isn’t often a laboratory for organizational change or state-of-the-art management practices. It’s about as unapologetically old school as it gets. Yet one firm, DPR Construction, has imploded the mold—and in the process has built itself into one of the most successful and innovative firms in the industry. Most strikingly, it’s a company that operates without a traditional CEO and without traditional job titles.
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Elizabeth Williams (Colorado State University) suggests some key “Takeaways” on this story:
DPR Construction is lauded in this article for its innovation in corporate structure, leadership, and culture. Indeed as one learns about DPR, it becomes clear that they have found a mix that works for them and truly sets them apart in the construction industry. What sticks out in this article for me though is the idea of balance. A quick glance over the subheadings may leave one confused as several of them seem to be in opposition to one another (i.e., collaboration vs competition; continuous change vs. consistency). I couldn’t help but think of the theme of the Eisenberg , Goodall, & Trethewey textbook, Organizational Communication—Balancing Creativity and Constraint and how the theme of balancing dialectics runs throughout that text. It seems as if DPR would be the perfect case study for the text as it is in these dialectics that I find the most important takeaways:
1. Collaboration and competition can coexist. DPR was founded on a “democratic approach” recognizing that everyone should be encouraged to speak up. However, at the same time the organization has adopted a competitive model in which they “keep score on lot of things.” It appears that DPR has found a way to encourage individuals to work as a team but also to be held accountable for individual and group performance. This is a delicate balance in which the organization must cultivate trust among team members while also empowering individuals. The key here seems to be that the competition that exists is on what DPR deems “critical success factors”—those things that make a difference in the organization and are measurable.
2. Change is good but only for certain things. One of the core values of DPR is continual change. Yet the organization “prizes permanence in its mission and values.” Change in this organization is deliberate—as is stability. Having a strong, unwavering mission and set of values allows an organization to assess how it will make changes in other areas and how it will work to be innovative without jeopardizing that which is at its core.
3. Leadership is not positional. Finally, DPR underscores the notion that leadership is not positional but rather emerges. DPR has a management team but works hard to allow all voices to be heard. In other words, they allow leadership to emerge and empower their employees to not only speak up but to embrace opportunities to lead. Indeed, it seems that this joint ownership and accountability model seems to be serving DPR well and may be a useful model in other organizations.