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Lessons from the Battlefield - Part 1: Empowered Execution

Zachary Scheel, Rhumbix CEOApril 29, 2020 • 4 min read

In 2003, General Stanley McChrystal took command of the United States’ Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an association of elite forces such as the Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Delta Force. His mission: to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI).

JSOC had technology, skills, and resources that were far superior to anything available to al-Qaida. Their outstanding troops and better organization gave them a clear, competitive advantage. And yet, by the summer of 2004, it was clear that while they were winning every individual firefight, they were still losing the war against al-Qaida.

As General McChrystal evaluated the situation, he came to realize that JSOC was using an outdated organizational structure that prized efficiency above all else in rapidly evolving, 21st-century conditions that instead favored adaptability.

Change the thinkers into doers and the doers into thinkers

For McChrystal to succeed in his mission, he needed to change the thinkers into doers and the doers into thinkers, so that everybody became both. Only then could General McChrystal get the information to everybody, and equip more of his troops to adapt quickly in rapidly changing situations. The result of this change in leadership and organizational structure helped win the fight against al-Qaida and laid the framework for a concept McChrystal named Empowered Execution.

The old organizational model for the Army is very similar to the way construction companies around the world operate today. The decision-makers are at the top of the hierarchy and the doers are at the bottom, taking orders from the thinkers. But this approach can’t work in a fast-changing world, one in which it’s important not just to get things right, but to get them right quickly enough to win.

Decoupling the traditional relationship between information and control

A key principle of the Empowered Execution model is decoupling the traditional relationship between information and control. It’s a concept that is also at the center of the Rhumbix platform. We believe a construction company’s greatest asset is its workers and that throughout the industry the craft workforce is underutilized.

Instead of sharing critical, time-sensitive information with foremen that could produce a better build, we keep it in spreadsheets at the home office. Instead of including the craft in creating solutions that improve productivity, we push information from the top-down, missing out on the collective wisdom of the field.

Companies that look at their workforce from the shoulders down are leaving tremendous value on the table.

Empowered execution on the jobsite

Our platform creates empowered execution on the jobsite by creating a feedback loop with the craft, leveraging what workers know in their heads in addition to what they can do with their hands. The Foreman Feedback feature of our PRO offering uses the data collected through the Rhumbix mobile app to show foremen how their team is progressing against cost codes on a daily basis. The result is decision-making power at the field level through the democratization of data.

But the data itself is not what matters most.

It’s how that data is used by leadership to motivate, unify and direct their team. In the hands of a skilled tradesman or woman, communication on daily progress becomes more than numbers; it becomes an invitation to participate in boosting productivity through collaborative problem-solving. Workers are empowered and morale improves because they feel like they are a part of the solution instead of the cause of the problem.

Since its release in January, our customers are already experiencing the power of Foreman Feedback in the field:

“Any contractor can buy materials, purchase tools and rent equipment. What separates any contractor from their competitors is the people. The more we can empower our people at all levels to work more efficiently the better we will be. I feel that Rhumbix helps to empower our field crews to have a greater understanding of how their time affects the bottom line and how to address it.” ~ Operations Director, ENR Top 10 MEP firm

Evaluate behaviors and organizational structures

In the construction industry, we too are facing into rapidly changing conditions that require adaptability to achieve the results we need to stay competitive. Having the right technology, skills and resources is going to be critical to our success in the future, but it’s not the whole picture. We must evaluate our behaviors and organizational structures and ask whether we are getting the results we want at every level of the organization. If we’re willing to do this with an open mind, I can guarantee we’re going to find massive opportunities for increased value and productivity.


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