Leadership is….

Leadership is as leadership does. We need to model and “be” the example of what we expect to see for those we have the privilege to lead or influence.

Want accountability? Be accountable

Want engagement? Be engaged

Want better communication? Communicate

Want more quality, schedule adherence, shipping on time, reliability, client sensitivity, (fill in the blank), then BE that thing. Model those qualities. Lack a skill or capability? Hire to it. Define clarity to that person and position; “I am not good at “X” so I need you to be that for me.” Either way, model integrity. Model reliability.

Then we may expect it, and we can drive to accountability from those around us.

Remember, we are all growing. We are all a work in progress. We are all a bit scarred and “cracked pots.” Truth and grace are good combinations.

We get what we work for.

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?

The Problem

The problem that we see, the thing that is visible to us, typically isn’t really the problem. What we see is the manifestation of a root cause issue; something underlying.

We say things like “we have a profit problem” or “we have a quality problem” when those aren’t the issues at all. These “problems” are simply how other root causes are being expressed.

The visible expression, what we think of as as the problem, is the “behavior.” But the root cause, the real problem, is internal; it’s rooted in our identity. This can be true organizationally or personally.

For instance, a quality problem may be linked to a lack of training. A profit problem may be linked to numerous root causes, or a broad issue like lack of organizational health.

It’s important to know the underlying issue or issues because otherwise we invest time and money solving the wrong thing; the external thing; the behavior.

It takes time, reflection, self-awareness, listening, and study to identify the underlying issues and get to work on them. But until we do, any progress is temporary and difficult. If the root isn’t fixed the problem wont go away. That’s why New Year’s resolutions typically don’t last. Real change requires a shift; a transformation; from the inside not outside.

We need to view things differently. People are great at seeing the outside when it’s what’s inside that defines the outcome.

“Out of the heart, the mouth speaks,” and other examples express this clearly.

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.

Start with Zero

When my partner and I created the business, we started on day one with zero; zero dollars, two computers, some software, two clients and two projects; one project for him and one for me. We had zero revenue but we had purchase orders. That’s what we worked with. We built systems, tools, applications, and engineered work products that brought value to clients.

Fast forward to now; 25 years later. I’m getting back to this approach; to recommitting to creating new things, new services, practices, and applications, from zero. I mean, being an entrepreneur and business builder, that’s how I started; I took an idea, made it a reality, and built something that never existed prior. That’s what happens in all new businesses in some way; something comes from nothing; from simply an idea.

So we start with zero. We start with our time, our tools, and our existing infrastructure, which is way deeper than it was 25 years ago, and we build. If you want money, you’re going to have to really give me a good reason. How about selling the service and idea to the client first and coming to me with a purchase order? That’s the ultimate litmus test; the ultimate positive ROI.

Starting with zero doesn’t mean we don’t need money. It doesn’t mean we don’t get funding at some point if there’s good reason. But it does provide better accountability around creating new things and it puts everyone in the organization on a level field.

Start with zero and validate from that point forward.

Resolutions and “The Middle”

The problem with resolutions is “the middle.” It’s “the middle” that causes the issues for most of us. The start, the beginning, is easy; January 1st, January 7th, Lap 1 of a 12 lap race, the start of a marathon, the 1st 12 scripted plays of the game, the beginning of the project, the start of the relationship. We can deal with the excitement of the start. Everyone feels good and is positive at the start. We’ve all got good intentions. In fact, the end isn’t too bad either. We can see the end, the finish line, day 364 of 365, week 51 or 52, lap 12 of 12; “I can do this” we say, I can see the finish line; the end; the goal; that is if we make it that far.

The problem with getting there is “the middle.” It’s February 9th that’s the issue, not January 1st. It’s lap 7 of 12, it’s mile 16 of the marathon, it’s 40% of the way through the project, day 137 of 365, Wednesday morning of the work week, the middle of the 3rd quarter. That’s when things are messy, with choices, fatigue, options, too many details; things aren’t going according to plan, we got hurt, our stomach is upset, it’s cold outside, the team is off course, the race is getting difficult, the project isn’t on schedule, and so on. That’s when fatigue sets in; project fatigue, game fatigue, relationship fatigue, physical, mental, emotional fatigue. It’s easy to get lost in the details. This is where many of us give up.

We lose sight of the start, forgetting where we came from, and of the finish; where we are going. We get lost somewhere between.

Overcoming this is mostly a mental exercise; a mindset. But we need some strategies to carry out to keep ourselves on course. Much of success or failure is a game of attrition. The last one standing wins. The one who endures. The resilient. So, how do we do it?

We need some milestones, mile-markers, benchmarks, records, to assess our progress and status; mental exercises and many self-created markers or metricsĀ  to measure against and to keep on a path toward completion or improvememt.

Some things that work for me are noted here. I use them regularly. Perhaps it may help you as well.


Treat each lap of the race, each day in the month or year, each detail in the project, as the 1st one of the next cycle. In other words, January 2nd is day 1 of the next 365 cycle, so is June 27th. But each days is closer to the end, the finish. The work is shorter every day, the finish line closer. The next mile is the 1st mile towards a shorter race to the finish line. Remember the start, keep the end in mind, but know that each step along the way is the 1st step toward a definite finish or improvement towards an ongoing goal.

Set Milestones or Course markers to measure progress. Measure backwards always, not forward. Measure against set criteria; miles completed, money saved, relationship equity built, positive outcomes experienced, budget spent vs budget remaining.

Enlist Support. Get counsel. It helps to have a coach, an encourager, a friend, a peer, someone to clap, to provide input, to provide perspective.

Know that some things have destinations, and some things just run in perpetuity. For the latter, we will never “arrive” fully (like continual improvement in a business.) We just have to measure progress and know where we stand in the process.

For things that have destinations, we can more easily monitor and keep the end in mind or in sight. Finishing a run, a race, a project, a course, a meeting, shipping a product and so on.

There are many ways to accomplish staying strong in the middle. Where the courses and milestones are not marked out for us, we have to set them, whether in our mind or physically. When we are leading a team, we have to use these things to help guide and keep everyone on course.

Happy New Year. New Day. New Hour. New Mindset. Next step. New reality. It’s up to me, to you, to us, to make that, to paint it, to write the story, to take it one day at a time.

How’s the resolution going?

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?

SWOT Analysis – Threat to Opportunity

Threats that are defined in our SWOT analysis can actually be opportunities in disguise. Recently in a SWOT analysis review with one of our branch offices, the leader was reviewing a legitimate threat that influences our office’s ability in that market to procure work with certain clients.  I immediately noted that the threat was actually a veiled value proposition, an opportunity. If we could sell the clients on what we know about that space in the supply chain, we would actually do the supplier causing the threat a favor, and make more value for our clients as well. It’s just a different pricing paradigm on the front end in order to achieve a better bottom line for them in the future. It’s a win, win, win if discerned and communicated correctly. Now comes the hard work of communicating the value and overcoming entry barriers; getting referrals; designing a pricing structure and a delivery method.

Some threats are hidde opportunities. Like a “no” in sales and “risk” in innovation. We need to go beyond the surface and figure out if these things are worth pursuing.

Have you dug below the surface?