From One Tree, a Forest... Tips and Techniques

From One Tree, a Forest...

Tips and Techniques

Driven by our vision, “From one tree, a forest,” at PCL Construction we plant our leadership seeds one-at-a-time in the rich soil of our shared values. Our sun and rain are timely combinations of education, exposure, and experience. Our bright future is a thick and healthy forest, providing shelter and nutrients to a ‘forever’ cycle of growth.

How we arrived at this current stage of our journey was due, in large part, to the power of The Leadership Challenge®. But before that, our company began its impressive history as a humble, one-man start-up on the Canadian prairies in 1906. Today, we are the largest general contractor in Canada (7th in North America), owned and operated together by over 4,000 employees—a veritable forest of ownership.

Year-over-year growth, the transition from entrepreneurship to an employee-owned and run operation—up-and-down changes each brought its own challenges. But in the early 1990s, the company realized it was at a ‘tipping point’ of organizational development: the volume of work was increasing exponentially with rapid geographical expansion and an ever-growing number of employees to engage and lead. We knew we would have to get serious about deliberately strengthening our corporate culture.

General contractors (the good ones, at least) are basically in the business of bringing leadership to construction projects, unifying the dreams of the owner, the visionary designs of the architect, the codes of the engineers and the specific building skills of the trades. So in keeping with the leading role we have chosen to play in our industry, it became apparent that we needed to make leadership everyone’s business within our employee-owner ranks as well.
 
© 2011 PCL Construction

By the late 1990s, we had developed a solid leadership development program with The Leadership Challenge® at its core. And as our own education, exposure, and experience grew, our Human Resources Professional Development team realized that we had no business preaching Practices we did not ourselves model—thus, the team creation of our shared vision, “From One Tree, a Forest …” displayed as a healthy, growing tree.

This symbolism has proven memorable (simplicity helps) and connective across generations of employees, evoking pictures of a healthy place for us all to live. Now in its second decade of use, it is a highly-recognizable image of a key cultural component for PCL.
 
© 2011 PCL Construction

To further reinforce The Leadership Challenge language within our corporate culture, we also created a second view of our tree. Strong and deep roots in our corporate values, sturdy supportive trunk, five branches representing each of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®, the crown of which (Encourage the Heart) helps our tree’s roots, trunk, and branches grow thicker.

The positive, long-term impact of our tree on our diverse employees, operating remote projects in far-flung districts across North America, has encouraged us to extend the Practice of Inspire a Shared Vision to the personal level. Just as PCL, as an organization, needs to know where it is going and how to act on the journey there, so must all PCL employees have a personal destination/purpose/legacy in mind as they live their lives with us. 
 
Anyone participating in one of our leadership development programs or completing the LPI® 360 assessments part of their professional development plan, must create and nurture a personal vision. This is a practice we adopted from esteemed scholar and author Richard Boyatzis after hearing him present his important work on behavior change at the Global Institute for Leadership Development several years ago. In its simplest form, our personal visioning process provides the context in which a person takes in feedback, plans for a very specific future, and takes action steps to carry out that plan. It has been our general experience that leaders are very receptive to such feedback, that development plans are more behaviorally-specific, and that the motivation to follow through lasts longer. We have found that when people feel a sense of ownership for their future, personal accountability grows stronger. When they know the specific behavioral differences between who they are and who they want to be, the path forward is clearer and more compelling.

In our most comprehensive use of the personal visioning practice, over periods of many months, we guide each leader to take ever-deeper dives into their character drivers and how/when they were developed, into their short- and medium-term goals, into their desired legacy, and finally into their personal purpose: why they are here on the planet. We use storytelling (chapter 8 of Kouzes and Posner’s book, Encouraging the Heart is a huge help), improvisational theatre, impromptu speeches, and formal presentations. We encourage the use of word pictures and metaphor. Results can be quite remarkable: greater personal clarity of purpose means easier/quicker decision-making in challenging situations and greater confidence, calm and perseverance in working through those times, to say nothing of the impactful presence shown in more normal times.

Inspiring a personal vision may well be our greatest contribution to the PCL leader of today and tomorrow. Every leader is a tree in the PCL forest and has the responsibility to grow more trees. When each one of us has a vision for greatness, can you imagine the incredible forest we are developing? We can. And we have:
  • In the last 3 decades, over 700 PCL employees have been honored with an invitation to participate in our annual, intensive, residential leadership course. 
  • The well-respected PCL Leadership Academy now hosts three distinct development programs for high-potentials plus a blended personal leadership development program, called E3, accessible to all levels of employee…ensuring that leadership is everyone’s business!

  G. Peter Greene is the former Vice President of Leadership Development, PCL Constructors Inc. Now in retirement, he is a leadership development consultant to the PCL family of companies and can be reached at petergreene46@gmail.com. “I am a power source: it is my purpose to energize the leadership required for change.”
   
Mike J. Olsson is Vice President of Human Resources and Professional Development, PCL Constructors Inc. and can be reached at MJOlsson@pcl.com. “I am a mountain guide. It is my personal purpose to create opportunities to help others summit."

To learn more about how The Leadership Challenge is transforming PCL employees into leaders at every level, visit LeaderShare and share the story of your own journey!

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