Risk From 30,000 Feet

Harry Schmidt manages risks in his daily life the same way he would flying fighter aircraft during his career in the United States military. It’s all about coordination, execution, and making decisions at Mach 1 speed. After completing his career in the military, Harry transitioned into the healthcare industry where he eventually became CEO of an Illinois hospital. Nine years later he made another leap into construction and now serves as the Director, Business Strategies for O’Shea Builders. For Harry, risk management has been a continuous through-line in all phases of his career and has helped him make sound decisions in any role he takes on.

Moving Organizations Forward

One of the biggest challenges Harry has faced is understanding the complexity of an organization and how to move it in response to a need for services. In many industries, particularly healthcare, speed and expectation management are two critical motivators. Customers are savvy, and their needs are often specific. “It’s the now generation,” Harry says. “People want services in a Burger King fashion, they want it their way.” This is often difficult for large operations to tailor services while gaining momentum and scale to profitably accommodate those demands.

Harry believes the key to overcoming this gridlock is to be a humble leader and understand that you don’t have all the answers. The whole picture is often so complex individuals cannot assimilate all the nuances on their own. Leaders who are directive are not always successful. Managers should surround themselves with the best minds in their fields, those who are good decision makers and creative in developmental solutions. He recommends turning yourself into a facilitative leader where everyone has the chance to contribute to the solution.

Translating Skills to Every Industry

In making the shift from the military, to healthcare, to construction, Harry has relied on skills he developed along the way to carry him through. Most importantly, the risk management expertise he learned when flying fighter jets off aircraft carriers. Being a pilot is risky in itself but flying requires understanding risk and reward at once. He takes those same concepts, whether in daily risk management or during a crisis, to make business decisions.

In general contracting, there is lots of risk. This includes the contract work itself, hazards on the job site, and equipment risks. “It’s the interface of man and machine and Mother Nature, and there’s a lot of unpredictability to manage and go through,” Harry says. Every project carries risk. It’s important to help the entire team through the planning, training, and processes in order to be successful.

The Influence of Technology on Leadership

Harry has experience with a wealth of different tools to enhance operations and keep up with the breakneck speed of life and business. However, the rate at which information is produced can become a burden on business leaders. Harry puts it this way, “Our ability to produce information continues to grow exponentially – similar to Moore’s Law and transistors on microchips. Now you have to sift through a lot more noise to try to find the signal. That is the most difficult challenge facing any executive or leader.” He describes this rapid inundation of data as “information burn.”

So, how can leaders address this without getting overwhelmed? Automation offers people a break from the data dumps, freeing their time to focus on dialogue, debate, and decision making. This provides an excellent opportunity for new solutions and innovation. It’s also important to ensure digital systems are talking to each other. Tools that aren’t streamlined create busywork for everyone and don’t add value. Harry cites his computer science background as what gives him perspective. “I love computers. I think they’re magical. But we haven’t done a good job with them. We have become a slave to the computer, rather than making the computer a slave to us.”

In light of current events with the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on all businesses, Harry believes it has made every company aware of their vulnerabilities. Most organizations have contingency planning in their decision tree, but we are now dabbling in a gray space. From a business standpoint, many leaders feel that they are in a between stage, not in an emergency yet not operating normally. He recommends taking this time to, first, decide what to do right now for your people and business and develop a few options regarding what the recovery phase could look like. That way, everyone will know what to do to respond in kind as we move toward a new normal.

To learn more about Harry and O’Shea Builders, visit his LinkedIn page.

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