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?

Playing Not To Lose vs Playing to Win

As we start the year of 2019, I’m curious as to our disposition around this idea of “playing not to lose” vs “playing to win.”

I see both types of people, teams, corporations.

What’s the difference?

If we play not to lose, we are taking a defensive posture. In this posture we can’t actually win, unless it’s by accident (even that’s a stretch.) This is not a good strategy. We often feel comfortable in the “play not to lose” mindset, but it is a false comfort. It’s a “slow death” for a business, a team, a city, a culture, a relationship. This is the space where we don’t take any risks, or keep them really tightly measured. It feels comfortable in that we think it’s designed to not fail. But actually this is planned failure over the long haul. We think that if we do everything we can to not lose, then we will not have to worry about the risk of failure. It doesn’t work that way. If we play not to lose, we’ve already failed at the beginning. It’s just not yet apparent to the participant.

Playing to win involves risks. We MIGHT lose but we might win as well. In fact, we play as if we EXPECT to win. There’s a vulnerability in that space for the person stating their intention, whether to themselves or to those around them. But playing to win is the option that gives us the real opportunity to win. Sure, we may may go down in flames, but I say “better to have tried and to have lost than to have never tried at all.”

Leadership has to create a winning mindset and model it. Leadership is even more vulnerable in that space than others, since it also influences all other people and downstream results that are involved. It’s open to criticism of the onlookers, and to those on the team as well.

I’d rather play to win. To be dynamic. To take risks, to go for it, win or lose, pass or fail. Resilience is the quality I seek; to dust off after the loss or failure and to give it another go; to plug away; to be relentless. Sometimes we may have to call the game or change course at times. That’s okay as well. It happens with forward motion.

Playing to win is active, it’s participatory, dynamic and takes risks. Playing not to lose is on its heels, it’s static, it watches and is risk averse.

The manifestation of either position is rooted in mindset, which is a deep well. It’s subtle to the player, obvious to the viewer and onlooker.

Which disposition are you? What outcomes do you seek?

“Zero-Based” Meetings

You’ve heard of “Zero-Based Budgeting”? You start the year with ZERO in each line item of the budget and build from bottom up. Everything is evaluated from a fresh perspective and nothing is taken for granted in the new fiscal year.

How about we do the same for meetings? I’m just thinking from a “zero based meeting assessment” point of view; meaning everything about meetings, the meeting purpose, scope, duration, participants and value assessment is on the table for re-evaluation year to year or quarter to quarter. We need to ask ourselves if a particular meeting or set of meetings are still worthwhile or not, to see if we are still achieving the intended purpose and corresponding results, or not.

Let’s re-assess our goals and needs for all meetings and start fresh.

Our “Why”

It truly is always about “The Why”…the essential reason, the purpose, that clarifies our “what” our “context.” (Thanks Simon Sinek)

For instance, when my partner and I built our most recent office space, we wanted to support a new expression of our vision, one that would also permit us to grow, to showcase our brand, to attract and retain talent, to host clients within, and to be happy to work from every day. We also wanted some flexibility of space and options. We wanted to express a more refined version of our trade-marked brand of “Creating Structure.” We wanted to facilitate more collaboration, more inclusiveness, more connection. We wanted the building to functionally express our “why” within its surroundings and architecture. We defined a budget and we got what we envisioned. The same is true with our company’s branch offices. We want them to be the best expression of our values, for the context within their geography.

Everything we do as people comes from the internal expression of who we are, why we think we exist, and from where our identity is defined. What we do (the behavior) is driven from who we are (our identity.) And everything we do should be with thought; it should point to our purpose and mission. It should express our brand in tangible ways. In fact, it does whether we know it or not.

Why not make it intentional and meaningful? Why not do all that we can to support our “why” in everything we do?

Selling “Experience” – The Gas Stations

There are two service stations in my town. Both are within blocks of each other. Both charge within pennies per gallon of each other for gas. Both are national-level name brands.

One always has receipt paper at the pump. The other doesn’t. One always has full window-cleaning fluid troughs at each pump. In fact, at the one, the fluid smells like Wintergreen. The other rarely has enough fluid, if at all. It smells like regular cleaning fluid.

One has an ample stock of snacks and beverages inside and a clean smell. The other is always under-stocked and has an awful odor like a bad hospital smell inside.

One has nice canopies at the pump stations, well intact, with clean lines. The other always seems to have some maintenance issues going on at the pump stations.

One has uniformed attendants inside that typically respond with a polite greeting. The other has people with no uniforms, and generally a dis-interested person behind the counter.

The price is almost the same at the one or at the other; sometimes even the exact same price. But even if not, it’s worth the extra thirty to fifty cents per fill-up, to use the one.

At which one would you purchase your gas and snacks?

In a commodity business, “the one” has learned at how to differentiate. The other doesn’t care. It is always possible to differentiate within our existing revenue stream and context; to deliver value with some thought and care for the customer’s experience.

How about your business? How about mine? What experience do we want to create? What experience are we delivering?

 

 

 

 

 

PRICE IS IRRELEVANT

If the first question a client or prospective client asks about is related to price, then we know that their values are centered around cost. Most attempts to sell them otherwise will not typically work. To this purchaser, value is based on low price, and the product or service is viewed as a commodity. If the client-buyer is interested in what we’ve got, and we aren’t the low price, they may ask us to justify ourselves. I got this question last week “Why are you double the other price? Can you explain why your price is so high?” (This is a downward spiral by the way. Don’t answer the question to try to validate.)

I provided a polite and professional response, but didn’t answer the question exactly. I indicated what value was being provided and how the fee compared to other service-company fees in our category. My response asked the opposite question back, “Why is their price half of ours. What are they so cheap? We are both looking at the same project, right?” Then I explained what was being provided and nothing more.

I didn’t hear back from that client yet. And there’s a good chance that I won’t. They will likely purchase the other provider’s services. Because what this client was really SAYING, not asking, was “Hey, you’re too expensive. I can get the same thing for 40% less.”

So why do I say that price is irrelevant? Because we buy based on our values. Price is the consequence, the manifestation. It’s not the issue. Price or cost-based buying says “any of these firms will do, just get me low price.” The problem with this is that the buyer is assuming that they are getting the identical service from any of the choices presented to them.

It’s never really about price. It’s about the buying mindset and values.

Cost-based buyers want low price. Cost leads the conversation.

Value-based buyers want what they perceive to be the best investment and value for the cost of the purchase. Value and investment leads the conversation, price falls out, sometimes negotiated, sometimes as stated.

Identity, connection, or brand-based buyers, want to identify with a particular person, enterprise, brand or genre. Being connected to the associated values leads the conversation. Price is what it is; “If you want to be connected with us, the fees associated with that are as defined.”

Price is important, but price is really irrelevant. People already know about what they are willing to pay based on their mindset.

What kind of buyer are we seeking to attract?

What values are we seeking to communicate?

How is that portrayed in our brand?

Are we delivering?

Whatever we choose, we need to stick to it and dive deep. Pick a lane and stay in it. We can’t be all things to all people.

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.

What to Say

Prior to our December staff meeting I wrote this to key colleagues helping me to prepare for the meeting. Sometimes we need to just put it out there. The feedback I got was so meaningful and led to a great meeting and connectivity.

“You know me, normally I have much to say. But I’ve been so deep into the dirt and operations, and I am so fatigued mentally, that I am struggling to even have or organize a message. It’s not often we can all meet in staff meeting, so it’s critical that any message is clear and delivered well. So I need to lean on RS, DP, GR, and you for insight and input. If I could say what I want to say, I am not sure if I would say:

1. Thank you. Thanks to everyone on staff and all our colleagues. Companies are only as good and as happy as their people. Thank you all for everything you do day to day to care.

2. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Enjoy your family. We are not our work, it’s just what we do and how we try to bring value to the world.

3. Have Debra to tell everyone what we’ve distributed in 401k match this year to help people in the FUTURE to have an income stream after they retire, and to update on any benefits.

4. Let everyone know we have 6 people in NC and they just celebrated year 6 anniversary.

5. That we need their inputs and engagement in all of their realms to make the company better and to improve service to clients.

6. That I value and care about each person

7. That 2018 can be our best year ever

8. That transparency and vulnerability is some of the magic in bringing strength and connection to relationships

I don’t know what to say. Maybe all of the above or maybe none. You all tell me and we will all come together prior.”

This dialogue opened the door for such good inputs, and a really good meeting. I love our people. We are all in the same boat. We all have to row together.

What’s your message?

Hats

When we started our company in 1994 my partner and I were the employees, technicians, marketers, officers, and owners. We both wore all of the sales, marketing, administration, and operational “hats.” At one time I was a project engineer, engineer of record, marketing VP, building envelope engineering VP, and President. If we liken roles and job description to hats, I wore five different hats depending on the day or hour of the week.  I actually did this for quite some time. It’s necessary for most of us in business start-up, boot-strap, entrepreneurial mode. I can be exciting and fun for a short time, but the problem is that it’s unsustainable for the long-term. It works well only if we want to kill ourselves and go to an early grave, or as a minimum, become disenchanted with owning a business and not make it. The goal for all of us as business owners should be to wear only one hat, the one that fits the best according to our most unique ability, to shed the extra hats, and hire others to wear them.

Educated and trained as an engineer, in the early days, I was a classic micro-manager and control freak. This works well when everything is dependent on  me alone. However, I recognized quickly that we needed to write job descriptions, build and organizational chart, and structure the company so that others could wear the additional hats we had to take on and off daily. I remember writing job descriptions (defining hats) on planes, at my kid’s piano lessons, and during the work day between urgent project work. Slowly, each role and realm began to take shape.

As the business has grown to five offices, two divisions, and many times the initial number of employees, I’ve worked myself slowly out of wearing all but one or two hats, mostly. I wear one primary hat as the leader and President of the organization, and then put on specific operational, developmental or sales hats depending on a project need, a unique ability I can apply in a specific realm or issue, or to support my colleagues. I say emphatically that if you are a business owner and are growing a business, it a disservice to yourself and your colleagues to not work yourself out of multiple roles and to find other hat wearers as quickly as possible. Our role is to be the owner, leader, facilitator, supporter. People are counting on us. You and I have a primary unique ability or two that we do really well. So do others working for us. They wear many hats better than we do. Our businesses will benefit the most by applying our unique ability, while also letting others do what they do best around us. If we do anything less, we are eroding the future stability and sustainability of our organization. We’ve got to build strategically all the time while working on the urgent matters of the day and still moving forward. Otherwise things stay status quo and can remain that way for a long time. This is not of any value in building and growing a business.

Often times what we experience in a business and life is due to our own lack of awareness of these issues. The more I’ve learned and the more I’ve grown and gotten inputs, the more the business has improved. While it may be a big challenge as a small business owner to have a 100% sustainable business without our presence 100% of the time other than for financing, leading, and providing strategic direction, that should be the goal. The people who work for us, our staff, our colleagues, all the clients, constituents and collaborators that are attached to and support the business, will all benefit.

Do yourself a favor and build in this manner. Give colleagues, and all those in your charge, the confidence that we are charting a course to allow for long-term growth with as little necessary input as possible from us as an owners. The less an owner has to be involved in day-to-day decisions, the more valuable the business. The more and owner can stay out while having their staff executing the sales and operations of the business, the more valuable the business to the staff, the world, and future acquirers. It may look good on the outside that we are involved all the time and working mega-hours, but in the end it’s counter-productive. Visualize yourself not in the business and reverse-engineer it. Figure out how to put others in the right positions and build something of value. Build the business. Build up the people. Share hats. Give away hats. See how good others look in them. The picture will look much better and the future will be much brighter.