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Ethics and knowledge go hand-in-hand

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management,Profiles in Leadership

Two concerns keep Mike McNally up at night. As CEO of Skanska USA, a construction firm, he worries that one of the company’s 50,000 employees around the world might act unethically. Just one case of bribery or false reporting of minority participation on a client job can mushroom into a reputation-destroying event.

He also frets about the risk of accidents and injuries. While Skanska trains its crews to follow safety protocols, about 1,000 laborers in the construction industry die annually. Skanska’s employees miss less time due to accidents than the industry average, thanks to its focus on safety.

But leadership involves more than emphasizing safety. McNally empowers any employee on any job site to stop working if safety concerns arise. He cites situations when individuals who noticed a safety hazard spoke up and delayed the project until the perils were addressed.

“I always say if everybody in the pool is a lifeguard, nobody gets hurt,” he explains.  

Another challenge McNally faces is spreading know-how among his em­­ployees. They engage in highly specialized tasks, and the firm gains staffing flexibility when its crews cross-train each other.

That’s why his team set up a “knowledge network” where experts on specific construction and design topics meet quar­­terly to share their ideas and insights.

McNally, who believes that people often quit their jobs to escape a bad boss, says that Skanska’s “Great Boss” program reduces such turnover. The program surveys the workforce to identify great bosses—and the less great.

“Employees can vote their bosses off the island,” he jokes. “We want our bosses to grow their people. We try to help them develop their skills and when they develop the people under them, the bosses move up the ladder faster. It’s a wonderful motivator.”

— Adapted from “Soft Skills for Hard Hats,” J.P. Donlon.

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