Managing Construction by ‘Helping Each Other be Great’
Based in Kalamazoo, Michigan but operating far and wide, CSM Group is celebrating its 35th successful year in the construction management business. Qualified for specialty management of clinically-safe construction environments from health care to the food and beverage business, the leadership team still says this is no time to be resting on their laurels.
With headquarters in Kalamazoo, offices in Grand Rapids, MI, and Memphis, TN, and licenses to work in 26 states and in Canada, CSM Group is still trying harder. “Every year we calibrate our delivery model because ‘being good enough’ is just not our goal. We want to be as efficient and optimized as possible so that we are providing the best service for our clients,” Jim Feltch, President & CEO, says.
We spoke with Feltch; Kristin Kremer, Vice President of Human Resources; and Katrina Reed, Creative Services Manager, in a wide-ranging interview in which they discussed one of CSM Group’s current project, a $60-million cancer care center for Bronson Healthcare Group in downtown Kalamazoo, company culture and community involvement, and the importance of pre-planning in construction.
Planning for success
The pre-construction planning phase is what Feltch calls “a proactive alignment for project success. What this means is that our pre-construction department does all of the estimating, all of the site logistics, and all of the proactive safety plans. When we do those three things, we have basically created a cost-time-quality success ratio that is a differentiator for CSM Group,” he says.
“By proactively planning those three items we can start the project with as minimal interruption or disruption as possible, so we have an all-encompassing construction delivery model that is pretty unique to our company,” says Feltch. “Creating a large pre-construction department saves considerable capital in resources in the actual building phase, because we want to be responsible for our clients’ best interests. By doing so we minimize the disruption and the balance between construction and client expectation,” he says.
“Design and engineering are always partnered at CSM Group,” Feltch says, explaining the company’s offering of a collaborative engineering and architectural perspective. “We believe our job is best served by bringing the [architect’s and owner’s] vision to life and not necessarily on the creative side, so we spend a lot of time partnering and collaborating with all of the project stakeholders, including the managers.”
This close partnership continues throughout the construction process, using sophisticated technology, for example, drones – which supply aerial imagery. As Katrina Reed explained: “The drone has the ability to livestream, so if I am onsite with the drone, I can livestream to our project team, who can log in from their trailer and see what I see on my screen. Anytime we take photos, we share them with the client. Some clients can stop by the job site on a regular basis, but for clients who are national, it’s a little thing we can do for them. By sharing those aerial shots, they feel part of the process.”
Since 1983, CSM Group has been providing construction management services for Bronson Healthcare Group, including a 28-acre campus in downtown Kalamazoo, as well as hospitals in South Haven, Battle Creek, and Paw Paw in Michigan.
One project – the largest – that CSM Group executed for Bronson Healthcare Group was the construction, between 1998 and 2000, of the new Bronson Methodist Hospital: the flagship, full-service, five-story, 750,000-square-foot building that incorporated a four-story healing-space atrium, filled with plants and natural light. Years later, it continues to set the standard for exemplary health care design, receiving the American Health Care Architect’s Legacy Project Award in 2017.
“That project was a pivotal point in our relationship,” says Feltch, “and our relationship with Bronson Healthcare Group has been growing ever since. We’ve been involved with every acquisition and as they’ve grown, we’ve been able to grow with them and support them in all of their renovations and clinically-built specialty offerings.
From complex to clinical
“Our main claim to fame is our ability to manage the complexity of the project and not just the project itself. What I mean by that is that the major percentage of our work in health care is in occupied space. That means we take priority in building around patient need and not just around the project schedule, because it has to coincide with an infection-controlled environment and that is critical to the success of patient recovery as well as project completion. So critical is it that CSM Group has built its educational platform for our internal training around occupied space, and clinically stable or clinically-built environments.”
Each of the health care leaders in the company and every employee who works on health care projects has been certified through the American Society for Health Care Engineering and recognized by the American Hospital Association.
“This means we put professionals and certified project managers on every health care project, so we are industry specific. But we also certify all our project managers in other certification specialties too and provide education and training that makes them the best in the industry.”
Helping health care
Through its work with Bronson, CSM Group has been able to lend its considerable expertise to constructing clinically safe environments for other sectors, including the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries. “And we take that on the road with us,” he says, referring to the large potato processing facility currently under construction in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
Back in Kalamazoo this past May, the ground was broken on CSM Group’s newest project for Bronson Healthcare Group. It will be a $60 million, five-story, 85,000-square-foot state-of-the-art designated cancer care center which will offer oncology, infusion and hematology services, and will be integrated with the larger campus.
“Pre-construction work started eight months before breaking ground,” Feltch says. “Proactive planning is where our success is defined because it sets the project – and all the stakeholders – up for success. Now [mid-June] we’re doing the foundations and are about 60-percent complete with augered cast-in-place piles, and we’re preparing for vertical construction which will start by the end of the summer.”
Keeping the culture
This is Kristin Kremer’s first year in the position of vice president of human resources, having previously worked as director of HR. “But now I am part of the leadership team at CSM Group and in charge of culture. I think that is a big differentiator in our company, because not a lot of HR people ever get a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions for a company. I think my appointment goes to show how much CSM Group invests in its people – in its culture – and how much it means.”
Recruitment of top-quality professionals and their retention is key to any successful business, and especially critical in the construction industry, which has been facing labor shortages in the past two decades. “But from a recruitment standpoint, we’ve grown quite a bit because we have a recruiter in house who is always actively recruiting and who does a phenomenal job for us,” Kremer says.
The company also receives referrals from happy employees. With an eye to the future, the company visits local high schools to energize students, and participates annually in MiCareerQuest Southwest to interest more people in building-trade careers.
“Our retention rate is over 90 percent, so it’s very good, and that speaks a lot about our culture. Once people come here, they want to stay, and if they do leave, they want to come back. Our culture is collaborative and ‘Helping each other be great’ is our tagline. It is very much teamwork and we gravitate toward fast-running, high-achieving individuals. Once they come on board, we have great success.”
To ensure that new recruits will be a good fit, the HR department works with several behavioral assessment tools to determine how individuals will work in the natural and work environments. “We use those tools from a communications standpoint more than anything because we want our employees to understand themselves. It’s about self-awareness and how you understand styles of behavior that might not be your own and how you communicate with those styles. This helps our team be equipped to understand communication styles and get through communication barriers and also understand their own strengths. We believe utilizing those top strengths results in engaged employees.”
Passion for the work
“What creates a breakthrough in individual employees,” she continues, “is when you give them the freedom to pursue their dreams; to ‘amplify their passion.’ You have to let go and trust your employees are going to give it their best and this is where you see truly engaged employees.”
Adds Katrina Reed: “One of the things we pride ourselves on is giving back to the community in which we work. Nine months ago, we established an in-house philanthropic committee, made up of both office and field staff with varying backgrounds, and we look at areas where our employees are located and at volunteer opportunities there. Our leadership team supports letting employees take off a couple of blocks during the day and volunteer at a food bank or visit with children in pediatrics at Bronson Methodist Hospital. We’re committed to giving back to the community. Our clients put their trust in us to build these buildings and we think the least we can do is volunteer our time and efforts to give back to them.”
On a personal note, we asked our three interviewees what they like about working at CSM Group. Feltch, who’s been there for 14 years, says “I think that what matters to me most is that CSM Group allows us to be creative and grow as much as we are willing to stretch ourselves.”
Investing in people
Kremer, who’s been with the company for 12 years, says “what I love most is the way they trust and invest in their employees. I have been fortunate enough to be in a number of roles because I decided to grow myself. I believe we develop as individuals to the extent we want to grow ourselves. I also find that the people here have a passion to come to work and I truly love the people I work with. They are like a second family to me, so work is fun to come to every day.”
For her part, Katrina Reed says, “I’ve been here six years and what I enjoy most is that no two days are ever the same. I like to think outside the box, try new things, and think of better ways.”
She goes on to talk about the company’s life-work balance approach. “I have worked at companies where they expect you to be in the office every day for eight hours and be on call all the time, but here, family comes first. If there’s a concern or you need to make an outside appointment, you can do it. They want you to bring yourself to work mentally and physically refreshed and you can’t ask for anything better.”