Navigating a Changed Landscape

A general contractor, William A. Hazel Inc. needed to reinvent itself and improve its leadership style.

Navigating a plan: Danny Funderburk (left) and Rick Hurwitt (right) continue developing their leadership style.

Transitioning leadership. Understanding generational differences within the workforce. Training a new team of leaders. Persevering despite a struggling economy.

Facing even one of these challenges can make it difficult for a company and its employees to thrive. When more than one of them arises – or all of them do – even the strongest organization can get overwhelmed.

That was where general contractor William A. Hazel Inc.(opens in a new tab) found itself: trying to tackle internal and external shifts that threatened the company’s long-term outlook. The firm’s leaders contacted The BB&T Leadership Institute for help.

William A. Hazel Inc., located in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., has about 700 employees and specializes in site development – getting large tracts of land ready for new commercial or residential development.

Founded in 1964, the company built a reputation as a great employer that treated its employees like family.

If one of its workers got hurt, company founder William Hazel would send someone over to the worker’s house to cut the grass or take care of other chores while the worker was recovering. As a result, the company attracted employees who would drive as long as two hours to get to work. 

A new era arrives

Building day-to-day leaders: Teams on job sites participated in leadership training, not just teams in the headquarters office.

William Hazel stepped down as CEO in 2008. The new generation of company leaders, which included his son David Hazel, approached the business a little differently. Where William had led with somewhat of a top-down approach, David wanted to empower employees.

“We were concerned there was not as much original thought, creativity and problem-solving as there could be,” said Rick Hurwitt, the chief financial officer at William A. Hazel Inc.

“They wanted a workforce that was accountable and willing to make decisions,” added Ramonda Kyser, a BB&T Leadership Institute senior consultant who worked with the company.

But beyond empowering workers to be more involved in decision-making, company leaders also needed to address several other business concerns.

“They had an aging workforce – some of the people in management positions in the field had been there for 30 or 40 years. They hadn’t been thinking about developing the next generation,” Kyser said. Additionally, there were some conflicts between managers and workers that stemmed from generational gaps separating them.

Not only were David Hazel and Hurwitt seeking to change the organizational culture and plan a talent strategy (see "Why You Need a Proactive Talent Management Strategy") that trained the next generation of managers, but market conditions had shifted when the leadership transition first took place. The economy had delved into a recession. Suddenly, commercial and residential development was at a standstill, and the company was laying off employees. Even by 2015, with the economy having turned around, Hazel and Hurwitt knew they had work to do in order to get the organizational culture where they wanted it to be. That’s where The BB&T Leadership Institute stepped in to help.

Custom solutions but with a common message

Talking it over: Rick Hurwitt (left) and Danny Funderburk (right) are optimistic about the future for the company.

To address the construction company’s needs, The Leadership Institute mapped out a three-pronged approach:

  1. Five members of the management team participated in The BB&T Leadership Institute’s Mastering Leadership Dynamics™ program in North Carolina.
  2. Kyser traveled to William A. Hazel Inc.’s Chantilly, Virginia, headquarters to lead a three-day Leadership Dynamics in Practice program for about 100 supervisors, broken into groups of about 20 at a time.
  3. About 100 team leaders attended a two-day program, High Performance Leadership.

While each program was customized to its audience, managing conflict was a message common to each of the programs. For executives and managers, that meant considering different leadership styles depending on what each situation called for.

“One leadership style won’t serve you in all situations,” Kyser noted. “There are times when you need to change it up. For someone who’s a collaborator, that may be a great leadership style to have 95 percent of the time, but when an action needs to happen you may need to moderate your style and take a different approach.”

In Mastering Leadership Dynamics and Leadership Dynamics in Practice, executives and supervisors received a 360-degree evaluation, where they got feedback from those they work with and manage, to help them identify their strengths and areas they could improve.

“What we do at The BB&T Leadership Institute is not a typical executive leadership development program. We don’t tell you, ‘Do these five steps and you’ll be a great leader,’” Kyser explained. “It has to be customized because, at the end of the week, you need your own action plan on what you need to change so that you can be successful.”

Leadership development programs tailored to distinct audiences

Heavy duty: The company’s fleet of equipment adds efficiency on the job site, but leadership skills are what truly lifts team performance at William A. Hazel Inc. 

For each of the three audiences – executives, managers and team leaders – Kyser made the programming more tactical.

In the section on how to manage yourself in conflict, Kyser focused on getting team leaders to understand when they were triggered into frustration or anger and how they could communicate and manage through conflict. Often, this included finding a common language that could bridge the generational divide.

In working with the managers and team leaders, Kyser covered not just managing those below them, but also learning how to manage laterally. For example, the blasting team had no authority over the dirt crew, and vice versa, but both teams needed each other to coordinate a project’s progress successfully.

“A big part of what we do at The Leadership Institute is making sure what we’re presenting is digestible and understandable for the audience,” Kyser noted. “We use examples that are real-life and practical, not necessarily theoretical. As facilitators, we really need to know our clients.”

Since the three-pronged program’s completion in 2017, William A. Hazel Inc. has taken some of its learnings and instituted them into employee onboarding. Hurwitt said interactions between employees have improved and dialogue is better.

“We’re trying to get employees to understand that not everybody’s going to be the same when they come in the door,” he said. “And it’s helping with retention.”

Added President David Hazel, “People are a resource, and it’s a limited resource these days.”

By Matt Harrington and Mark Tosczak
Photography by Craig Cameron Olsen

What Can We Do for You?

To find more information on programs from The BB&T Leadership Institute delivered by experts such as Ramonda Kyser, visit the Leadership Programs section of our website.

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