David Rettig is always looking for educational opportunities—both for himself and his team. His motto is “better code faster,” a saying he derived from the project management triangle, the three sides of which are fast, good, and cheap. To get higher-quality code more efficiently, Rettig, director of IT at Nucor Building Group, must invest in quality training programs.
Nucor shares Rettig’s dedication to training team members, but the organization’s focus is mainly on soft skills, such as communication, public speaking, and teamwork. Since joining the company in July 2016, Rettig has increased technical training for his IT employees. In addition to creating a systems architect position whose job is to increase technical depth and breadth, he looks for opportunities to leverage his relationships with other organizations. For example, Rettig arranged a meeting between three of his IT operations team members and members from a team at CISCO, where he is on an advisory board. “It was a no-cost training opportunity,” Rettig says. “It took a phone call and a favor.”
Early wins such as these have built enthusiasm among Rettig’s team members and proven the value of technical training opportunities for those who make relevant decisions. “If we can show Nucor leadership that investing in technical training delivers value, they will continue that investment,” Rettig explains.
Passing the Test
When deciding whether to pursue a training opportunity, David Rettig considers three points: bandwidth, alignment, and result. First, he asks if he has the time and energy for the training. Next, he asks if the training contributes to his career vision. And finally, he asks if the training has a measurable result. If the answer to any question is no, he opts out. He’s always searching for new educational opportunities, but he doesn’t settle. As he tells his team members: “You are responsible for your career. If you don’t care about your professional development, no one else will either.”
Rettig also invests in his own education. After receiving an MBA, he returned to school and completed a master’s degree in management and leadership. “An MBA provided the language of business, but it didn’t really equip me to be an effective leader,” Rettig explains. With his second degree, Rettig advanced his understanding of successful leadership and differentiated himself from other MBAs. He is also now applying to a doctoral program in business administration. Although this degree might not affect his career immediately, Rettig believes that it will change people’s impression of him. “You only get one opportunity to make a first impression,” he says. “When someone introduces you as Dr. Rettig, it changes the nature of that initial impression.” Plus, he says with a laugh, he can have his kids call him Dr. Dad.
Rettig says he started in IT as a button-pusher, a term he uses affectionately. His transition from a geek to a leader, as he says, took place one day fifteen years ago, when he saw a need for a new e-mail server at the company where he worked. He approached the company president and explained the issue, its impact on the business, and a way to solve it, but the president refused his budget request. Rettig left the office astonished that he couldn’t make this critical investment. On his way out, he ran into another senior team member, who asked what was wrong. After Rettig explained the issue again, that team member went to see the president himself—and he returned with the budget to fix the issue. In this moment, Rettig saw that his team member knew something he didn’t, and he asked him to be his mentor.
This approach has paid off: Rettig’s early mentoring relationship led to his first major leadership role as an IT director at a manufacturer in Indiana. Mentorship, itself, is an educational opportunity, and as with all training, Rettig says he places the responsibility of learning on the student. “It’s not up to a mentor to find someone to mentor,” he says. “The mentee needs to want to be mentored.” Rettig has followed his own advice, approaching leaders throughout his career and saying, “Hey, can you teach me what you do?”
Although Rettig embraces technical training, he advises leaders to focus on people-related skills. “You can have some amazing vision for technology, but if you don’t have the hearts and minds of your employees, where they will bust their asses to implement what you hope to do, you just shouldn’t be in leadership,” he says. “If no one’s following you, you’re not a leader.”
“You can have some amazing vision for technology, but if you don’t have the hearts and minds of your employees, where they will bust their asses to implement what you hope to do, you just shouldn’t be in leadership. If no one’s following you, you’re not a leader.”
Rettig advises team leaders to find win-win opportunities. “Try to identify things that the team is interested in that align with strategic objectives for your organization,” he says. The key to this method, according to Rettig, is identifying team members’ interests. For example, a team member’s desire to pursue Ruby on Rails development might open an opportunity to move desktop applications to web-based applications. “If you never had that conversation, you’d have never know that a teammate was interested in web development,” Rettig says.
The change might be slow, but these investments have paid off for Rettig’s career. “Career growth is a long game, like chess,” he says. “You have to be thinking three or four moves ahead. The player planning the furthest ahead is likely to win.”