Pass the Torch: Cultivating Talent from Within

by Caity McCarthy, Marketing Coordinator

In life we encounter people who leave a lasting impression on us in one way or another. Whether that be a teacher, friend, public figure or coworker, people can inspire and motivate us to become better versions of ourselves.

In the ever-changing construction industry and with a wide variety of projects popping up across the Pacific Northwest, there are endless lessons to be learned from those who have been in the industry for some time. The approach to success for every project, every client and every technique may vary depending on a multitude of variables, and the first-hand knowledge of an experienced employee can be invaluable to someone looking take their skillset to the next level.

Since its inception in 2016, Lewis’ Pass the Torch mentorship program provides a year-long professional partnership between two willing individuals: a senior-level mentor and an eager-to-learn mentee. While a few guidelines encourage setting regular check ins and goal milestones, the two can mold their mentorship into whatever will support mentee success.

Methods of a Mentor
One of Lewis’ more experienced mentors is Superintendent John Short, who has an extensive resume completing tenant improvements and healthcare projects. With nearly a decade of mentoring under his belt, John knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a good mentor. He’s provided guidance to seven different up and coming superintendents through the Pass the Torch program, but as someone many workers in the field look up to, the number of people he’s informally mentored over the years is almost too many to count.

Although every partnership is unique, John believes there are a few basic qualities that every great mentor has, starting with an approachable personality. He wants his mentees to feel comfortable enough to flag him down with a question at any time; solving a problem on the jobsite, developing a construction schedule or public speaking tips for an upcoming OAC meeting, John is all ears. The result is open, honest feedback and candid conversations that are essential in creating a solid foundation of trust between the pair.

“In the field, we deal with lots of different scenarios, so we always have a lot to talk about,” he says. “Everyone is different, their needs are different. I’m always establishing where they’re at in their goals and what they need to be successful.”

Establishing goals on paper is one thing, but for John the foundation of a successful mentorship is best formed by putting his knowledge into action through real-life examples in the field. He knows that if his mentee is working on the same jobsite with him, all eyes will be on how he operates and handles different situations.

“It’s great when someone is working on your project, ‘cause they can see that what you’ve been teaching actually works,” he says. “They realize what you’ve been saying can actually help them achieve their goals.”

Partnering for Success
One person who has watched John in action on the jobsite is his former mentee and fellow Superintendent David Torres, whose career has been primarily focused on healthcare projects. In the beginning of their mentorship, David remembers feeling a bit intimidated by John’s years of experience. He recognized John as one of the greats and was more than pleased to have the opportunity to learn from him.

At the time, David was a General Foreman with the determination to work his way up to Assistant Superintendent. He and John, or “Shorty” as David often calls him, set up a series of goals for the year and quickly got to work developing an action plan to reach them. John’s no-nonsense personality mixed with his genuine investment in David’s career growth resulted in a mentorship experience David describes as life transforming.

“When we got into the work, I recognized him as someone who sees me, hears me and was able to give good direction,” David says. “He had a high level of empathy and consideration for where I was actually at in my career. His coaching reminded me of my dad, which I appreciated and needed.”

Each month, John and David met to work through different elements of field management, preconstruction and the proposal interview process. Working on the same jobsites, they spent a lot of their time putting discussions into action. By the time their mentorship came to an end, David reached his goal of becoming an Assistant Superintendent.

But with his drive and determination, David’s next goal was to become a Superintendent. He knew he had John in his corner supporting him with whatever he might need to get there.

“I feel confident that he’s not only going to make himself available to me, but he genuinely wants to make sure that I realize my goals,” David says. “There’s no one else I’m turning to first in terms of my career.”

The Ripple Effect
An important reminder John passed on to David was the importance of helping the next person in line. Reflecting on how John had supported him in reaching his own goals, David learned to recognize those he could help with his own experiences and pass on the favor.

“You ask yourself what was so valuable about the people that supported me?” David says. “It made me take a closer look at myself and see what it really means to give back to someone else’s career objectives. I feel really fortunate to be in a position to do that.”

John’s mentoring philosophy comes from a similar vein, and he often thinks about ways his own mentors left a meaningful impact on his career, even after they no longer worked together. This level of mentorship, whether formal or informal, can produce a ripple effect, passing on the wealth of knowledge from one person to the next.

“It’s cool to see the folks you’ve mentored become mentors to others who are coming along in their careers,” John says. “It’s been a very rewarding process, one that I never expected, to see them all succeed.”

Bridging the Gap: Marketing and Operations
When it comes to gaining new project opportunities, Lewis’ marketing department and operations teams work together in a unique way. The two must work hand-in-hand in pursuit of future work: marketing to promote Lewis’ qualifications and support the development of a win strategy while the operations teams bring their “boots on the ground” experience and real-world perspective of how to execute the work successfully.

At first glance, this may seem like an easy piece of the puzzle, however marketing and operations are constantly faced with lessons to be learned from one another in the industry. Marketing Manager Brittany Woltering and Senior Project Manager Matt Baker teamed up through Pass the Torch in order to do just that. Working in separate departments with largely differing skills and backgrounds, there can be a natural disconnect that requires consistent work to bridge the gap between two varying roles within the company together.

“In marketing, my job largely requires me to work from my desk,” mentee Brittany says. “I’m often trying to tell [the project team’s] story and I knew I needed to get out into the field. It’s important to talk to the field side and build relationships with them.”

A big part of Brittany’s role revolves around proposal development, which requires an in-depth understanding of the construction process. Over the course of the year, Matt and Brittany met up to tackle Brittany’s goals whenever they found time in their schedules. In the office, they got to know each other mixing casual conversations in with more structured topics like construction methods and contractual agreements with subcontractors.

While these in-office meet ups were beneficial to Brittany’s overall learning, Matt knew the importance of getting her out into the field and seeing in-progress projects first-hand. He set up various jobsite tours to show Brittany in-progress projects and have a chance to ask questions and engage with the field teams.

“I think it’s especially good for everyone to cross train,” Matt says. “There is value in doing a jobsite tour and being able to point to something directly in the field and explain the steps to get there.”

Through having a better understanding of the construction process and project phases, Brittany not only improved her marketing skills but also learned how to better communicate with operations teams within the company.

“Just seeing the challenges that the field and operations staff go through, you get what the other person has to deal with and how their workflow is,” Brittany says. “You learn the right way to phrase things, how to be motivating without feeling like you’re nagging. That helped me with my view of my role and my job.”

Throughout their mentorship, Brittany’s industry education remained the focus, although Matt says he’s learned a thing or two about marketing and communication. Working with someone with a completely different job function gave him the opportunity to feel better connected to marketing’s roles within the company as well as hone his skills as a manager.

“Overall, I think I became more well-rounded; [mentoring] gave me a different perspective from a completely different role,” Matt says. “It gave me a better perspective for how to communicate internally and how to motivate people.”

Perhaps even more important than the professional development has been the personal connection Brittany and Matt have built with one another.

“You get to connect on a personal level, not just strictly business,” Brittany says. “I like working that way with people. It’s about connecting and building those relationships that bleed into the other parts of your work.”