What I’ve been Up To

My business partner and I have been very busy for the last 9 to 12 months on quite a few fronts at www.wheatonsprague.com and affiliates, so here’s an update on some of what’s going on.

EOS

We’ve implemented a new operating system known as The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS.) It’s built on a Visionary – Integrator (V/I) relationship with a Leadership team. The “visionary” (Me-“CEO” for us) is the “big idea” person, big relationships, innovation, brand, growth. The “rainmaker.” The Integrator (President and COO for us, Richard Sprague) manages the business, P & L, oversees the leadership team. The “gatekeeper.” It’s built on LMA (lead, manage, account), clarity, Level 10 Leadership meetings, and evaluating placing people in positions under the acronym “GWC” (get it, want it, capacity for it.) There’s no hiding in EOS. It’s all visible, connected, and results driven. People report scorecard values that are developed by the leadership team to asess the health of the business, the department, the project, etc. Meetings are substantive and get traction. I’ve cut my internal business meeting time by 3x to about 6 hours per week.

What has it led to?

We defined as a leadership team our Core Purpose, Core Niche, Core Focus, Core Values. It was hard work, but very gratifying and unifying. The core values, collaboration, integrity, client-conscious, communication, capable, are not aspirational. They are real. They are “who we are” as people and as an organization. This clarifies hiring, staff retention, annual reviews, client types, and more. Our Core Purpose (our “why”) is to Enable Facades that Inspire. Our core niche is engineering, design, science, and consulting for building facades. We also defined our ideal client demographic and psychographic. All of this was done as a leadership team with an implementer. It’s not a “panacea.” The work has to be done. The topics dealt with have to be relevant to the need. But EOS provides a format for a path to sustainable, self managed, growing business not dependent on ownership alone or a charismatic leader playing “hero ball.” We’ve tried different forms or operating systems and EOS is our choice long term. Nothing else has made as much sense as EOS.

What about Creating Structure?

So, I have this registered service mark and brand named “Creating Structure” which is no longer part of our core purpose statement. We still own the brand name. My Podcast still bears the name, and will stay as such. Creating Structure dates back to the start of the company, when our primary purpose was viewed more as structural engineers and designers doing facades, building structures, forensics in a broader manner. But it was time for a change. The new core purpose “Enabling Facades that Inspire” will take us a long way on our journey. At heart, this is who we are- curtain wall, facade, enclosure, architectural component engineers, designers, consultants, scientists. BUT with owning the brand name Creating Structure it gives me and us options as we consider other forms and divisions of the business (stay tuned!)

Welcome New Staff

We’ve been rebuilding our engineering department and I couldn’t be more pleased than to have Mark Enos, PE (December 2021) and Nestor Perez, PE (February 2022) back at Wheaton Sprague. Both men are insightful, pragmatic, solution oriented engineers, that align with our core values, purpose, and niche. They are a great complement to Jeff Cook, PE as our core group of PE’s. Our foundation is strong, and with our other engineers, present, and future, we can build a deeply rooted group that can deliver solutions to clients.

Our Operators

Michael Kohler is our Director of Building Envelope Engineering Operations. Mike leads, manages, and accounts for our delegated design, drawing, BIM, engineering, system design, thermal analysis, area of the business delivering work products to glazing subcontractors, exterior wall subcontractors and architectural metal fabricators.

Paul Griese, is our Director or Building Envelope Consulting Operations. Paul leads, manages and accounts for all consulting activities which includes a variety of design, analysis, investigation, QA, QC, field and shop observations, testing and forensic support and more.

John Wheaton, yours truly, is the Director of Marketing. This position has always been a primary focus for me and will always be linked to the visionary and external role for me whether I do the marketing work directly or through a person, team or outside resource. I also still do a lot of engineering work, support, PE review and stamp, advisement, coaching, and participation in the engineering work. I get to also now communicate with everyone in the business more as “good cop” since I have no direct reports outside of the marketing function. When “in the business” I get to help, support, coach, lead, and interact with our people. The staff in our operating divisions work for the directors. Yes, as an owner of a small privately held business I can make any call I choose if I see a problem, but it is only done with and through my partner and the leadership team.

Richard Sprague, my business partner at WSE and affilates, is President and COO. Richard “runs the business.” All the operators in all the business report to Richard. He is a fine steward, a clear thinker, and a focused gate-keeper. He makes the decisions in the business on what gets done and what does not. Richard leads the EOS L10 meetings for the leadership team. In my work “in the business” I work for him

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more of my focus and perspectives in market dynamics, trends, the Creating Structure Podcast, thoughts on results vs performance mindset, what I’m listening to, the power of LinkedIn and more

Imagine- Achievement vs Effort

A VISION for those in Professional Services:

The standard form of pricing professional services work among architecture and engineering firms still mostly involves some form of “gross up” cost estimating based on predicted labor investment at a defined labor rate. Even when setting fees on a “top down” basis or “cost of construction,” there’s still a “bottom up” exercise in regards to budgeting labor. Almost all firms “monetize” their time in some way by also filling out time sheets. The hours are loaded into the accounting system by project, by phase, by labor code.

Re-imagining

Let’s just imagine for a moment instead, a professional services business based only on results and value. There’s no time-sheet in the traditional sense. The business is not selling their time for a labor rate, but is focused solely on outcomes.

What is the issue? The time-sheet, recording time by increment, by labor code, by job number, on an hourly basis, is focused through the lens of effort– a justification model, “People like us focus on monetizing our time, documenting that effort, billing for it, while we hope to get the right results on the project.”

The opposite is a business focused through the lens of results- an achievement model, People like us produce results like these for fees like this.

Imagine:

  • Everyone is paid a salary – no hourly workers at any level.
  • There’s no discussion about “billable time,” only expected outcomes within time frames.
  • The focus is entirely on an achievement and income model:
    • “People like us produce results driven by value, scheduled completion dates, project milestones and deliverables that are billed at pre-determined values.”
  • The expected work week is to “complete the targeted work”- no exceptions. Work status is either “done or not done,” or “on-track or off-track.”
  • Jobs are billed based on percentage basis according to the fee and progress against the deliverable, not the time accrued.
  • There’s no accounting for time, but only revenue, only outcomes. We determine the percentage complete based on the results achieved vs the results planned. We set the fee based on the value to the market, region, project type, client.

What about Time and Materials ( T & M hourly) work, you ask? Perhaps there needs to be an exception for certain activities, but then why not charge more for T & M work than for fixed fee work. (We can’t achieve the margin a fixed fee can allow when we bill T & M.)

Alternatively, we simply stop working entirely on the effort-based model of billing for time. No T & M, ever. We work for clients that value the fixed fee model. For those clients that aren’t willing to pay a fixed fee we take the position of, “People like us produce the type of value where we believe a fixed fee is the only reasonable approach.”

Imagine this business, where everything is results, outcome, achievement driven rather than time-effort driven. Imagine piloting a project or a group that tests this approach.

Imagine quoting projects from the top down only, “We think a project like this should cost this much”. Our thinking is centered on the mindset of, ”Our business costs this much to run per year so we need to sell X-times that cost in executable backlog to be completed within this time frame”

Imagine.

Strategies and Scripts – Client Relationship Repair

I’ve found through experience, different tones and patterns of communication that get better response than others. This is important in communicating with clients, whether in prospecting, retention, or restoration of the client relationship. In this post I focus on an example of how to communicate to clients when there’s been a fracture in the relationship; when we didn’t deliver what we promised. For example, when we fail to manage to expectation, we miss a deadline, quality suffered, our delivery wasn’t the same as outlined, our communication was poor, etc.

This form of communication and the initiation of attempting to address the issues, opening the door to listening, seeking restoration, is not intuitive. Most hide behind the failure, make excuses, or blame the client. This type of effort must be learned through caring and through practice. I’ve got all sorts of examples of various forms of writing emails or letters. I’ll provide one here for readers to use as an example, but remember to put in your own words. It has to be sincere. Cutting and pasting is not the intention. The intention is to communicate tones. I will explain why as well.

Here’s an example of one where our client just wasn’t satisfied with a tough project we did together. Before I provide the example here’s another important item. We must give the proper amount of time for things to settle before we come back to it. Pushing, badgering, and trying to reach the client too soon afterwards, will minimize or negate the very thing we are trying to do to rebuild and restore. It also can be very insincere and give the message that it’s all about us wanting to feel good rather than really providing value and care to the client.

Here’s an example (the names are random.)

Hi John

I hope all is well. I am not sure if you want to hear from me or not but I thought I’d give it a try. I saw the cool LinkedIn post from your team on the project we worked on together. We were proud to work with you and your team. I know it wasn’t all the experience you expected. The job looks great. Congratulations on a beautiful project.

If you’d like to reconnect I’d be happy to do so, whether just personally or also professionally. If there’s anything I or we can do to repair the relationship with you and your colleagues at your business, I’d be happy to lean in to that process. If there’s too much energy required for you to do that and you don’t have any interest, I understand.

It’s a great industry we work in. I am glad to have been a little part of the work you did and the time we had together.

Either way, thanks for the post on the project and thanks for giving us a shot together in 2019.

This message got an instantaneous response from the client, receiving a response within 5 minutes (less actually.) His response was “Thanks for touching base. No hard feelings here. It was a difficult job.” This was the first part of the email response. He also indicated that he appreciated and respected me reaching out. He mentioned that things were better when I was involved in the work, but that I can’t be involved in everything. He mentioned that collaboration suffered (one of our core values.) He didn’t say he would work with us again, but he didn’t say no. He left the door open.

Why the response? Probably a number of reasons. I faced the reality of the situation and didn’t ignore the experience. I knew they weren’t happy. It’s easy to hide or not have the courage to be transparent and humble about it. I sent an email with no expectation, didn’t excuse, dismiss or blame. I made it clear that if he didn’t respond it was okay, and that I would understand. I sent the message 18 months or more after the last interaction. Remember, we can seek to reconcile but we can’t force it in any relationship. All we can do is make the first step, be humble, and seek to understand. That way we can have no regrets, or at least fewer regrets. Reconciliation takes two parties, two people, not one.

One other thing to know. They say it takes ten-times as much work to secure a prospective client than to retain one. I’ll bet it takes ten-times more than that to rebuild if trust is broken or fractured.

I’ve won and lost clients. I’ve made all the mistakes. The longer I work at my craft, the more careful I become about delivering the value expected. But the struggle doesn’t go away. We’ve got to be vigilant and to care. Why would we not seek to at least acknowledge the problem? How important is a relationship? Very important. It’s all about the relationships, and Integrity is everything.

Back at it

This is a continuation of my last blog, “What’s On My Mind.” It’s so hard sometimes to organize thoughts, so I just start to write. As I write, I go back and edit, then keep writing, then edit, and so on. Actually it’s always hard to organize thoughts for me because I have so much content going on in my head, in my brain, so many thoughts, observations, and “stuff.” I’ve got ADD brain which primarily manifests itself for me in two ways. One way is the ability to hyper-focus for extended periods of time, at depth, on a specific item, or work product, to completion. The other way is to start a bunch of things and not finish them. This is the most classic. I’ve learned over the years how to recognize it, discipline myself, and when to roll with it or not. I also have learned that they call it “the entrepreneurial brain” since the majority of entrepreneurs have the condition. (At least that what I am reading and hearing now.) I’ll talk more about this in the future as to how I manage it with exercise, nutrition, hydration, mindset practices, prayer, and more.

The way to make the idea of “start a lot of things but not finish them” actually be a positive thing is to have a staff of people that can run with them, manage them, do them, etc. My mind thinks in overlapping concentric or non-concentric circles. Everything is a layer or a domain that overlaps and connects to other items. Linear is not my thing, and it doesn’t need to be. It’s okay. There’s times when thinking linearly is necessary, but I have to force myself to think in that manner or have others hold me accountable to do so. I am finding that the best way to make this work in our company, and to not drive people crazy, is to have an integrator person, or persons, to filter things through; to cull the ideas; because EVERY idea sometimes feels right, but it’s not. And if it is, it might not yet be organized or clear enough to implement. How does it align with strategy? Can we afford it? Can we execute to that with our people? Are we ready? These are appropriate, and sometime frustrating, questions, but they are the right questions to ask. (I get bored easily.)

So today my partner and I, and our team of leaders and managers, meet for the first time for starting the implementation of “E.O.S.” the “Entrepreneurial Operating System.” This was introduced to me by my personal coach, Dr. Chuck Misja, earlier this year. Through reading the book “Rocket Fuel” and taking some tests, then further vetting the ideas, my partner and I made the decision to jump into it. Today and tomorrow are E.O.S. focus days. Vision- Traction organizing. Clearer strategy definition. Group work. I’m excited about it. Our people are excited about it. It will be hard, but it will be good. David Howard, the “biz-tech sherpa” and a trusted business consultant working with us, is leading us through the exercise and facilitating.

So, I was going to talk about our 3-D printer. That’s right. I had every intent, as I started to talk about organizing my thoughts, that the topic for today would be innovation, our 3-D printer, the “why” behind it, and some bullet points I believe you should think about as you consider tools, innovation, value-add, and market awareness. But now there’s no time for more posting. That will have to be another blog. I did manage to cover my mention of EOS from the last blog, I just didn’t expect to do it in this way. Such is the ADD brain. Like I said, I am learning to just write. The writing takes me where I need to go. It must be the right topic for today. Perhaps this will identify with one or more readers, and that will make it all even more worthwhile. If not, it was worthwhile to me. That’s one reason why I write. It’s cathartic. It’s worthwhile to me. It helps manage my over-active brain.

Be well. See ya next time

Covid19 Dynamics- Business & People

41% of employees considering leaving?

I received this article and link from PSMJ recently in their executive forum thread.

“A recent Microsoft study found that 61% of business leaders say they are thriving while 60+% of staff-level employees say they are struggling.  What is even more striking is that 41% of those surveyed say they are mulling leaving their jobs.”  You can find an article with more detail on the survey here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-22/bosses-are-clueless-that-workers-are-miserable-and-looking-to-leave

My commentary; this is a deep issue. So much of it involves the need for more “self awareness” for everyone. The physical, mental and emotional whiplash effect from transitioning, or trying to transition, out of COVID19 lockdown, in whatever form, is real. Working remotely stifles the full impact of social connectivity, culture, the more predictable and interactive environment of office life. Working remotely for specific reasons or for short sprints, is a great option. Staying remote indefinitely is not.

 

This is a deep well and I can’t do it justice in a short blog. But many people are tired. Many bosses are tired. Many think “they are ok” but they are not. My first question to everyone now is “how are you doing?” “Is there anything I can do for you to help?” Liberal use of calls from managers and ownership to staff via video chat really helps.

The number one predictor of long life in the top ten indicators is social connectivity and engagement. Think about it.

 

There’s turnover happening and it will continue to happen as people evaluate their life and options. We have been working to mitigate the side effects and rebuild connection and culture at my company but it’s all dynamic and an emerging picture for all of us.

I would love to hear from others on this topic. If you have story to share, please comment.

How are you doing?

The Flagship Office- The Office for the Now

Back in early December of 2020, one of my outside board of advisory members asked me this question, “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” My immediate answer was brilliant, “I don’t know.” Subsequently the board members, my partner, and I, engaged in a discussion about the pro’s and con’s of having a substantial office space that was equipped for doubling the size of our staff, assuming everyone was in the office. “What do you think the odds are that everyone will return to the office?” “Do you envision a reality where 100% of staff will be operating together 100% of the time, with no offsite remote work?” “How do we justify the overhead costs with empty space?” “What’s the value?” Many of us are asking these same questions.

I recently participated in a PSMJ (Professional Services Management Journal) webinar about current compensation strategies and the future of human resources (HR) in A/E firms (Architecture and Engineering.) Multiple surveys were taken from the 300+ participants during the 1-hour session. All were dealing with the questions of remote work, partial remote work, in-office, out-of-office, and so on. Interestingly, while multiple hybrid work models were the largest percentage of the sampling, a follow up analysis showed that only 5% of people wanted to remain remote and work at home 100% of the time. If you had gotten answers to the same question one year ago in February of 2020, prior to everyone actually doing remote work, you would have gotten a much higher percentage.

The debate is real. The questions are substantive. We’ve seen big companies choose to not occupy new headquarters buildings, to cancel new leases, and to stay in current spaces. We’ve seen some say “we’re going to be 100% remote now forever.” We’ve seen some still going ahead with buildings equipped to house all or part of their staff. But the reality is, everything has changed. What was once the norm is now disrupted. It was going this way, but the COVID19 pandemic reality accelerated the process; it created the cause-effect response available in a connected, internet-based, digital world. Response to the remote-based work environment, hybrid models, or 100% in-office, are going to vary by industry, company, and position. All I know is that it’s going to be different.

Once again, the question: “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” I’ve been thinking about this continually, monitoring our experience, getting input from others on an Executive forum thread with PSMJ, listening to staff, to podcasts, gathering information, talking to clients, related businesses, and more. I’ve been watching the realities hitting retail in the pandemic and digital environment as well. We all know that the future, and the “now”, of “brick and mortar” retail is quite different. Smart retailer’s have gone digital, while also showcasing some of their work and products in specific stores. Outlier stores have been closed, inventory in the remaining stores reduced, and more invested in online and warehoused inventory. So what about the future of the “office?” What about the future of it in the context of professional services? How about more specifically in A/E? Here’s how I envision it.

Think “flagship store.” The future of “the professional service office” is a multi-dimensional experience for all who enter, all who are affiliated with the company, including staff, clients, vendors, affiliates, referrers, advocates, collaborators, students, recruits, and more. Just as smart retailers have put in place digital infrastructure while creating a physical retail location that is experiential, showcasing products, services, and supporting their brand, such is the future of the professional services office. What does this multi-dimensional office look like? What is the envisioned experience? What is it? What is it not? It will depend on the location, industry, work type, and so much more.

It is no longer simply a place to go work for 8 hours a day and go home. It is no longer a static space to just do work and collaborate with clients and staff. It’s a “watering hole” a “community well” a “gathering place” for the industry, domain, practice segments. It is a representation of brand through physical placement of things representing the work, through digital experiences accessible in multiple areas throughout the facility, where clients can access and reference the showcased services, engage electronically, or personally. The 3-D printer is continually printing samples of products and goods supported by the service. Spaces are nimble and flexible for collaborative teams. Spaces are hybridized. Glass is more prevalent in creating separation and visibility at the same time. People can talk to a representative like they do at a bank. Services can be ordered and procured on the spot if desired. Clients, supporters, and other people connected to the company can come and use common spaces as a “third space” to use wireless, collaborate, take a coffee break. Staff members work productively whether from home or from office based on the need, the work typology, and tasks at hand. Projects are displayed physically, and electronically. The space is a shared work space, brand support, resting space, and more. It is a media center as well. The podcast (if you have one) is produced from a studio in the office such as the one I produce called “The Creating Structure Podcast.” When not accessible, staff, clients, and constituents can have a virtual experience.

Everything we do, including the facilities in which we work, are an opportunity to support and express brand; to express innovation, attract, retain, support and care. The facility, in my reality, has always been required to communicate as much as possible about who we are in the physical expression of the space.

I’m looking forward to creating more of a “flagship” office experience. That’s what we are going to do. That’s how we will use the space. Now let’s see how much we can make it a reality.

Why Wait?

It’s Monday. The start of the business week. It’s a good time to get moving on “that thing.”

You know “that thing.” The one that keeps nagging at you; the one you’ve been postponing.

What’s the issue?

That thought you keep waking up with when the mind is clear.

That recurring issue that keeps presenting itself

The boundary that needs to be set

The pattern that needs to re-start

The complexity that needs to be simplified

The “why” that needs to be clarified

The “what” that needs better definition

The “who” that we need to connect with

What’s the risk if it gets started? What’s the risk if it stays the same?

Think “game-changer” activities. Prioritize biggest leverage items first.

Why not stop delaying, stop fearing, stop putting up barriers?

Entropy always tends to pull us in the direction of not acting. Resist it.

One thing, today. Why not?

Go get after it.

Disruption and Change

Love Disrupts Hate

Light disrupts darkness
Truth disrupts lies
Peace disrupts violence
Unity disrupts separation
Inclusion disrupts exclusion
Integration disrupts Segregation
Justice disrupts injustice
Resurrection disrupts death

These disruptions are not met with ease and appreciation by the systems and people that create them (systems and attitudes governed by power, fear, division, etc.)

Change doesn’t happen by fighting the symptoms of the problem in the same manner as they are manifested. Change happens by disrupting it in the opposite manner.

A fire isn’t stopped by adding fuel. Arguments stop not when the last person has their say or outlasts the other, but when one of the persons chooses to seek understanding, listen, or create a boundary. If we want to change something and bring about a different consequence, we’ve got to do the opposite of “the thing.” Shouting loudly when others are shouting only works when we have the loudest voice. Try whispering instead.

Change happens first on the individual level. We can model bringing positive change in our homes, families, businesses, workplaces, and broader circle of relationships. We don’t have to wait for others to do it. We own our responses and attitudes. When this is connected together in common cause with others, it can bring significant change in communities. Darkness can’t stand against light. Light drives out darkness. The brighter the light, The less the darkness. The more lights strung together, the bigger the impact.


Jesus, the God-Human, who bodily resurrected from the grave embodies all those qualities of change and more. I’m not talking about the versions of Jesus that are manipulated in the wrong way for personal gain. I’m talking about the real, authentic, middle eastern, Jewish carpenter, Jesus, the Son of God who is the way, truth and life. Light in the darkness. Healing in pain. Resurrection instead of death. Love instead of hate. Disruptive to a world set in it’s ways. A still soft voice. May those of us who are Christians, show it by our love.

Authenticity

“Authenticity is the new apologetic.” I heard this quote from James Thomas Talbot, one of the brothers and pastors at our church, Citizen’s Akron. But this isn’t about church. This is about the quote; about the statement; about the truth portrayed in it. I’ve been seeing this and stewing on it for some time. I’m watching the reality of it unfold more and more.

“Apologetic” is about one’s ability to defend, justify, appropriately argue a belief, belief system, theory or religious doctrine; systematic argumentation and discourse.

But people are tired of words. I’m tired of words (as I type words). Actions and realities are the best defense. People and groups can sniff out a lie quickly these days. So many words, so little fruit. So many words, so many incongruencies.

Authenticity, the visible reality of the manifestations and consequences around our life, this is the new apologetic. Our life, the fruit of the life, what we do, how we act, these are the defenses. “Show me don’t tell me.” It’s not easy to argue against a life well lived, or against specific results surrounding our life. It isn’t about what we say, it’s about what we do.

Our actions, which flow from our identity, should support our words which support our thoughts. What’s visible on the outside of our life is a result of our choices, behaviors, thoughts. Rather than speaking and expecting people to believe us, we should be doing.

We may as well choose authenticity. We aren’t fooling anyone forever if we are saying one thing and doing another. The person that is typically most deceived in that way is ourselves, but that’s another topic for another day.

Authenticity is the new apologetic. In business, in spirituality, in life, in relationships. Thanks James.

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th, November, 2020, was one of the best days of the year at our company. It was an increasingly positive end to one of the best weeks of the year as well. We had six specific outcomes that manifested themselves in one day after many months of ongoing work, engagement and investment (time, energy, etc.) Those six outcomes included three new hires, one client-initiated interaction around additional monies due to extended project costs, and two contract extensions.

I don’t ever think about Friday the 13th and the superstition around that date. In fact, I didn’t even remember it was “Friday the 13th” when I went to the office. It just was a Friday in November. I brought the best Friday version of myself to that particular day, along with the best Friday version of our people. I engaged in the work, responded to clients, and took care of the business of the day.

Positive, thoughtful, caring, innovative, connected, collaborative, actions and stewardship over an extended period of time, day after day, week after week, month after month, eventually produce in-kind; in like manner. When we are on a really good path as well, assessing what’s working by monitoring results and running with it further, these actions can produce multiplied, positively-leveraged outcomes.

Superstition about a numbered day, or a specific number, like “13” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not showing up due to a doubt or worry is just a self-created setback. It helps to bring about the very outcome one may fear.

Keep standing, keep showing up. Trust in the provision of God as truth is acted upon and deployed in actionable behavior and energy.