Tellepsen Builders Helps Employees Get Ahead With Smartsheet
Tellepsen Builders employees wanted to move up the ladder in the organization, but the company needed to standardize its skills and promotion criteria. Smartsheet offered a way to keep employees engaged and upwardly mobile.
"Smartsheet has made conversations easier. It’s a lot more clear to people what they need to work on and has opened up those lines of communication."
Director of Professional Development
Tellepsen Builders is a family-owned business that’s been operating in Houston for more than 100 years, focusing on projects that make a difference in people’s lives, such as corporate headquarters, hospitals, and schools. Construction Project Management is one of the company’s largest teams, as well as one of the most vital. Project managers work at construction sites organizing the full range of onsite operations.
Kendall Pouland, director of professional development, had worked her way up through the project management ranks. Spending 10 years working at building sites in a hard hat taught her that a PM’s work is complex, and that clear feedback is essential to mastering the job.
While Tellepsen PMs knew how to construct a building, the company hadn’t designed a clear structure for employee career growth and promotion. The ambitious group of PMs was eager to make an impact in their career as in their community, and assistant PMs wanted to advance to the senior ranks as quickly as possible. Pouland found that skills and promotion criteria were not standardized, causing confusion about who was ready for promotion and what training was required to get there.
Pouland needed a better way to manage the skills training and advancement process for a growing team of ambitious project managers, so she worked with the team to identify 66 project management skills across five major categories, with six proficiency levels building from a new assistant to experienced senior status.
Finding the Right Tool
To convey the skills and levels, Pouland chose Smartsheet. She created a competency matrix and grid detailing the 396 skill levels, organized in individual sheets for each project manager.
“I build it with everything marked with an 'incomplete' status, and if you want to move forward in our organization, you own this, and you now have the ability and the information that you need to get all the way through,” Pouland says. “If you need help on any of the skills, it’s our responsibility to provide you with the knowledge — mine or your boss's or another PM's — but you are in charge of your destiny.”
Color Coding Provides Feedback
Color coding helps PMs identify which skills they’ve mastered and which still require work. When a PM marks a skill as completed, the sheet alerts a manager via email, who can approve it or give specific feedback on what still needs to be learned. Managers can access and update their team members’ competency matrix sheets on mobile devices and send feedback from the construction site, any meeting room, or at home rather than waiting for an in-office day.
“Mobile usability was important to us,” Pouland says. “It made it simple for the approvers to do their job. They’re really busy, not sitting at a computer all day and maybe not even that technical, so being able to approve from a phone with a couple of clicks is beneficial.”
As a PM completes the necessary skills, the cells in the sheet shift from red to yellow to green. The greener the competency matrix, the readier the PM is for promotion. If the sheet isn’t turning green quickly enough, the reasons are easier to identify.
“For the manager, sometimes it’s a feeling — ‘I just don’t feel like he’s ready to be promoted,’ but it’s hard to pinpoint why,” Pouland says. “This was the perfect place for the manager to say, ‘You need to develop this communication skill’ or ‘You need to improve at tracking and following up with tasks.'”
HR Processes Simplified
Not only does the competency matrix make individual advancement easier, it makes annual performance reviews more efficient. Because PMs and their managers communicate throughout the year, the review process brings no surprises and can be completed with a brief questionnaire. In the first year after adopting the Smartsheet competency matrix, the project management team completed its performance reviews in a week, while other teams were taking closer to a month.
Pouland is working to roll out the competency matrix structure to other teams, one job category at a time, so that everyone at the company can get clearer direction for managing their careers.
“We’re full of a bunch of Type-A personalities,” says Pouland. “This solution has made the difficult conversations easier because we’d already had a committee that sat down and wrote down exactly what you need to be good at. It’s definitely helped people to focus on where they need to start moving forward.”