COVID19 RULES

Since we are going to be in this environment indefinitely, here’s some things we’ve learned along the way and some observations on managing a professional services business in this reality.

Lead with care First: Health and wellness for clients and staff is #1. It always has been, but even more so now. Care 1st.

Over-Communicate: This is almost always true, but again, more so now. We always THINK we are communicating enough, or appropriately, but that’s rarely the case. Take nothing for granted. Communicate often, and with clarity, by any means necessary.

Get the 1-1 level: Check in at the 1-1 level with everyone that reports to you. Set up new reporting and accountability structures to accommodate the need to be “agile and nimble” in making sure no one is lost in the fray each day.

Virtual meetings: Make generous use of virtual meetings. I prefer MS TEAMS for internal meetings, WebEx for external meetings. TEAMS is a big value for driving engagement.

Office Environment: Make a safe space of beauty somewhere; make it invitational. We did so with our porch and the ability to eat, greet, meet outside through summer and into autumn.

Financials: Share the state of the business with everyone. Make it relevant to their space and contribution

New Sales, Marketing Progress, Project acquisition: Bang the drum loudly. Celebrate wins with everyone in the organization or in our respective domains (depending on size of company)

That’s all for today. I could go on and on but these are at the top of my mind.

Share your observations, insights and feedback. The more we share successes, the better we all will be. There’s enough of the “pie” to go around for everyone.

Checking in

It’s been a while since I have blogged and checked in with everyone. I hope you all are well. Thank you readers and followers. I deeply appreciate the engagement. Below I will update you on what’s up.

  1. It’s been a busy time since COVID19 hit. Our company at Wheaton & Sprague Engineering went “100% remote” work, shuttering office locations, on April 7th and we were in that mode until mid-June. We now have about 30% of our staff in physical office locations, and it’s slowly increasing, with caution. It takes extra effort to manage to the necessary level of engagement and communication when people are scattered. We are adjusting.
  2. Speaking of COVID19; I believe we are in this until we aren’t. That may sound obvious, but if anyone is thinking “when this is over and I get back to normal……” you need to adjust your thinking. This is the reality now. It’s a time to figure it out and get stronger; to build more relevant infrastructure in your company; to pursue “best practices” in this environment. My best guess for the next transition with less or no COVID, which may be too optimistic, is September of 2021. Be in the moment, manage to the current reality personally and professionally. Stay engaged. Build your network
  3. More COVID19: We lead with “care 1st” in our mindset and resulting interactions with our clients and staff. This applies to personal life too. “How are you doing?” “I hope you are well.” “Is there anything else I can do to support or help you?” All are relevant lead-ins to conversations. Positive results are produced by healthy people in mind, body, soul, spirit. Results are the outcome. Lead with care
  4. I’ve seen a recent increase in relevant, legitimate, project opportunities. Tech and Medical markets are strong. Combine that with some college work and research facilities and that is a good market presently. There’s more but you can figure out some of those. On the other hand, some past projects were put on hold and will likely push out indefinitely or be cancelled. The longer we can sustain “the gap” and sell into the current reality, the better. Our backlog is steady (up actually) and estimated work is strong (up as well.) We just landed a great new project at LaGuardia Airport and are pursuing some other fantastic projects that are in motion.
  5. Key Relationships: Nurture and foster your key relationships. Build on what you have. Nurture key prospective client relationships as well, and seek referrals. People want to work with those they trust and know will be present in this time. Reduce doubt for people and clients

What else is up?

  1. I have been gardening. We started garden at a community garden and have been working to reclaim the plot and grow veggies and plants in raised beds. It’s a family affair. It’s a great way to refresh and take some measure of control over questionable supply chains, to build community, live in a sustainable manner
  2. I just started a PODCAST called “Creating Structure” Podcast. It’s in the business category and you can find it on BUZZSPROUT. We also are listed now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Podchaser, Podcast Addict, and Listen Notes. The next Podcast will be recorded Wednesday 8/19/2020 and will be edited and uploaded probably by 8/25/2020. You can find the first episode here https://www.buzzsprout.com/1236827/episodes/4965362
  3. Speaking of the next podcast: It will be relevant to the GLAZING, Subcontracting, Architecture, and Delegated Design-Engineering category. This podcast will feature a discussion between my Branch Operations leader and I at the request of Katy Devlin, for Glass Magazine and their “Outlook Tuesdays”. Stay tuned for future uploads and postings from us and NGA.
  4. The Patio: I turned our patio at Wheaton & Sprague from looking like a prison yard to a workable, desirable, space. It is amazing what a couple patio umbrellas, flowers, and tables can do. “If you build it they will come.” Make spaces INVITATIONAL.

Well, that’s all for today. I’ve got 13 drafts in the blog queue and much more to share. I hope you all are well. Remember, identity drives behavior as my personal and business coach taught me, and reminds me still. What we manifest on the “outside” is produced from what is on our “inside.” Focus on internal health of soul, mind, and spirit, and the physical manifestation will come on the outside. Healthy inside=healthy outside. Life is tough. Look up, lean into God, count each day as a blessing. I do that through the Lord Jesus Christ and provision of His spirit in and through me. I’m “just passing through” this reality, trying to spread blessings while do so, and while on the way to an eternal home without end. For now, I am striving to give thanks in all circumstances. Let’s inform those in our lives rather than letting them dictate to us.

Be Blessed

John

The Parking Garage Health Facility

The Cleveland Clinic turned a parking garage into a makeshift medical facility. It looks like a M.A.S.H. unit. This is a great example of “pivoting” (yes I know that’s a buzzword.) Let me back up and take you to the start.

A family member needed a Covid-19 test at the Clinic due to a required medical procedure. I was asked to drive them. The instructions said “go to the Walker parking garage lower level.” “What? Testing in a parking garage?” “This should be interesting,” I thought.

Fast forward to the parking garage. It was brilliant. It’s run with military precision. Specific cars allowed at specific times. Signage, work stations, medical professionals gowned and masked, directing traffic, helping guide, doing testing. No one got out of their car. It’s all done through an open car window. Fifteen minutes. In and out.

Why did this impress me? There’s multiple reasons. The Cleveland Clinic is BIG but they flexed. It was creative, it was clean, it was efficient and it was in a parking deck.

Here’s some of my impressions and takeaways:

1. Big business doesn’t have to be rigid.

2. I’ll bet the nurses didn’t learn traffic flow directing in school. We’ve got to be nimble and self educated in whatever we do.

3. The Clinic got creative and we can be creative in this environment as well.

4. The use of a parking deck; an ordinary, bland, concrete, parking deck. Brilliant. It’s out of the way, efficient for moving cars, isolated from the hospital.

5. Flexibility. People were working from the lower level garage. Its exterior air. There were propane heaters and chairs in strategic locations. It’s not the best space to work from. Professionals have to be flexible. One never knows what to expect next or how they can drive new value in new paradigms.

6. “Can do” attitude. The Clinic figured out a way to test quickly, safely, politely and with test results delivered between 8 hrs and 24 hrs.

Questions:

How nimble are we? How creative are we? How quickly can our business and minds pivot? Can we rally people to deliver around a cause; around a problem, and above and beyond? Are we willing to go there as leaders?

Excuses are easy. Solutions aren’t hard once we eliminate the excuse, we stop looking for others to show the way, and we take responsibility to act, lead, move.

Even parking decks can be a place associated with healing. What have you got that is being overlooked?

Remote Work

I have a spacious office at my business. It’s comfortable and has triple monitors for super-efficiency. I also have a dedicated office space at home. It’s small but quiet, and completely private. Despite these two office options, I still sometimes work remotely at a neutral location. I do this for 3 reasons.

1. To gain a new perspective on the work; mine and the company’s.

2. To not be interrupted by anyone, nor distracted by the familiarity of the surroundings.

3. To test my remote work systems like VPN, remote access, electronic signature service, and more.

No matter how well I know my company, and I know all the insides and outsides pretty well, it always offers a unique perspective to work remotely.

In the modern economy, the sharing economy, the economy of the microchip, I believe as business owners or managers we should choose to work remotely at times; to force the matter. Keeping things “well oiled” sets us up to function at our best when outside the office, on a plane, in another city, visiting clients, killing time at the airport before a flight, or starting a branch business in a new city.

Are you testing and working with your remote systems, tools, computer, smartphone? Can you run your business from your laptop, tablet, Android or iPhone if you need to? Can you sign legal documents electronically outside of office? Other? Share your experience here if you choose.

Marketing

Today I received a purchase order from a new client. I received a purchase order because one of my colleagues had quoted a project and provided a proposal that met this new client’s needs and expectations.

The reason we were able to write the proposal, was that I had built a relationship with a decision maker, a millennial professional, in this generational business .

The reason I was able to build a relationship, all by phone and email, was because I’d had some conversations about his business, his markets, and his emerging needs.

The reason I was able to have some conversations is that I had posted a relevant Blog article through Glass Magazine to my LinkedIn social media feed. This Blog article on Delegated Design and Experience vs Inexperience, struck a chord with him and he sent me a well-thought response about his pain points, needs, observations. It resonated with him. It spoke to almost his exact experience.

When he sent me the message I replied instantly; within the hour. I used my mobile phone, while working remotely in Florida, to respond in writing to him, and then to call him. We arranged further discussion by phone prior to a strategic board meeting he had. He wanted to communicate the prospects of working together to his board and the “why” behind it; the value proposition; the idea prompted by he Blog. I couldn’t have posted the Blog, without this particular venue and platform being provided by Glass Magazine.

This is an example of marketing today. In telling a story. In making a real connection with someone. In provided relevant content and value. In giving more than is received. The purchase order was just the manifestation, the end result, of the process. It was as a result of the trust, knowledge, and good will built during the process.

I wasn’t interested in “the sale.” I was interested in the relationship.

This is one face of marketing. It is an example of inbound marketing; content marketing. It’s not what I do, it’s part of who I am. It’s the same for you, if you will allow it.

Workflow and Development

There are two basic forms of “workflow” or “new practice” development:

  • That which we create (innovation and new category.) This needs to bring value to clients and they become part “creative partner” with us (from a “what if” and testing scenario).
  • That which our clients require (get competent and optimize)
    • They define
    • We build/design to spec
    • We execute
  • The Truth moving into the future
    • We all need in our businesses to develop one or both of these.
    • It needs to be done while being connected to the market; with the user/client

The details, the building, the success of the service or product, is up to the builders and operators

Project Psychology

There is much said and written about Project Management. Every project is to have (among other things) :

  1. A PMP: Project Management Plan
  2. A RMP: Risk Management Plan

What about a “CCP” and a “PPP”?

  1. CCP: Client Communication plan
  2. PPP: Project Psychology Plan

You see, each client and each project has unique needs, wants and desires, best identified in the Proposal stage of the project, but manifested throughout. This is true at “B2B” (business to business) level and “P2P” (person to person). You see, also, each project has a “mind” of it’s own; multiple constituents within the context of the project, differing goals and values, some within our sphere and some outside of it. So often projects become “triage mode” or “tyranny of the urgent” because we are focused on “checking the boxes” and not dealing with the essence, the mindsets, the commitments of others, the “psychology” of the project.

The more we align with client expectations, understand the dynamics of the project, the mindsets, the conflicting priorities, the more our “box checking” effort (within our process) is just a matter of consequence and documentation. Because “checking the box” within our processes doesn’t deal with “the why’s” within each project. It only memorializes activities.

How’s our understanding of project and people dynamics? This has influence over the quality of a project manager’s life and the quality of project produced.

Compressed construction 

I mean REALLY compressed. Rarely works.

There are many brilliantly crafted plans on paper that have no allowance for the unexpected, for supply chain issues, for unintended consequences, or poor execution by someone or some organization along the way. Plus the single biggest issue I’ve seen and experienced over and over again that leads to challenges from the outset, is simply delayed decision making, and delayed release of contracts.

Compressed construction requires concurrent, collaborative, (shared-reality) communication; cultural alignment, confidence in each other and in the enterprises involved, and it requires everyone to follow through on the decisions and tasks in their domain within the proper timelines. It can’t be done with the old “throwing it over the wall mentality.” Each decision and event is not “someone else’s problem.” It’s everyone’s problem. This teamwork is difficult to achieve and it requires commitment from all parties, and to be led by the GC or CM.

The thing that happens most often in compressed construction schedules is erosion of relationship, poor profitability, and a project that still takes the time “it needs” to take to get finished. This often results in an unhappy owner asking questions due to failed expectations vs. promised goals and deliverables.

I’ll offer some solutions and suggestions on a future blog.

Post Project Meetings – Defining Experience

Post project review meetings are arguably the most important project and team meetings in an organization (and a required SOP now at my company) since it defines lessons learned; what we did well, what we did not, how we can improve. It helps identify “the experience” of the team and the client. It’s ALL about the client’s “experience.” The team’s experience is equally important  (client experience is only as good as the team experience and service to each other)

There’s many hotels, restaurants, auto dealers, contractors, engineering firms, professional services corps, ALL TOUTING the SAME THING.

Which one’s do you like to frequent and write checks to? Those with whom you have a positive experience or a negative experience ? Positive experience (gratitude, smiles, fair price, great value, delivering on what has been promised) means repeat business and growth.

Post project reviews are necessary for company and professional advancement.

All progress starts by telling the truth. These meetings are great truth revealers and tellers. We learn and grow through doing, celebrating wins, and fixing problems.

Fast and Cheap?

This was my response to client today (after several emails) requesting us to give our best price for a quick turn and schedule critical project:

I want to be very clear. Best price and immediate start/quick turn do not go together. Quick turn with quality, and fair price for the situation go together. It’s not “fast and cheap”. It’s fast and commensurate with service.

I don’t like to work like my hair is on fire. That happens enough in this biz every day

We will look at what we can do, how or where it can plug in, how quickly we can get it done for you and your team, and let you know. We always like to provide
value, timeliness, and a reasonable approach with the work to our clients
.”

Their response?

“Amen. Good words. You’ll see an RFP soon”

Be clear. Be true. Be candid. Be respectful. Provide value. People appreciate clarity and it makes it easier to improve our ROI on proposals and sales.