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?

The Token

They reminded me after my doctor appointment that I needed a token (coin) to get out of the parking lot. “Thanks for reminding me,” I said.

In my car, I shifted to reverse to back up and head for the exit. But there was a car behind me, then another and another. I looked around and saw that two lines had formed for one exit. 

One exit had a maintenance truck in it working on the machine for lift the gate that allows the cars to get out of the parking lot. The other lane had a car sitting there, taking some time to deal with the one operable machine. The lines quickly formed and got longer and longer. I wasn’t going to get out any time soon. There was clearly a problem with the car trying to exit. It appeared that the gentleman in the vehicle was struggling to figure out how to use the machine. Everyone was just sitting, waiting, not moving. I thought to myself, if someone doesn’t do something we may be here all day. Perhaps that someone needed to be me. 

So I unbuckled, got out of my car , went to the maintenance guy and asked him if he knew what was happening with the car in the exit line. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said grufly (like don’t bother me dude.) So while everyone sat in their cars and watched, I approached the guy at the exit. I saw he had a credit card in his hand. I asked him, “What’s the problem? Can I help you with something?” 

“I’m trying to get out,” he says.

“You need a token,” I replied 

“I don’t know where mine went, I can’t find it, and I can’t back up,” he said.

Gazing around at the growing line, I said, “Here use mine. I’ll go get another one. You’ve got to get out and it’ll take some time for the line to get smaller anyway.”

“Thank you,” he said

“My pleasure.”

A few smiles and nods greeted me on the way back to my car to lock up and head back into the building. 

As I started my walk back to the building I heard a voice. “Sir! Do you need a token?” It was the maintenance guy. “I found a token on the ground here. No need to walk all the way back.” 

That gruff maintenance guy that seemed to be ignoring everything was actually watching. He somehow had found the coin the guy had dropped. I trotted over, thanked him and hustled straight back to my car. A smile came over my face. Problem solved. Cars moving. Done deal.

As I sat and reflected, it struck me how God sees even the little things. That He who sees a sparrow fall, can see a token as well, and works through others to bless acts of kindness beyond our expectation. When we pay it forward it always produces positive results whether we see it or not. 

Some other applications from this little encounter:

Someone has to initiate. All it took was me, one person, providing a solution to break the jam. What can we do today to provide a solution to someone or something?

“God finds” I call them. Little things and big things so easy to overlook. Positive focus. Unexpected blessings.

How can we pay it forward today? Break the log jam? Help someone? Find the value proposition and act on it?

Sometimes all it takes is one small token.

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.

Unbeatable

The Tirpitz was a WWII German warship that could not be sunk.

The Titanic was iceberg-proof

The 1980 Russian Olympic Hockey team was going to win the gold metal, no question.

Sears is too big to ever be taken down by an online retailer.

Wal-Mart will never pass K-mart

Be careful of these statements and perceived realities. There’s always something or someone to defy the odds, and to beat the unbeatable. Whether we’re David or Goliath, watch, look, and listen. The impossible may be closer to reality than we think.

Drawing the line 

One of the constituents on a project I’m working on recently established an extreme position in regards to a proposed solution; very extreme. Their position and proposed consequence has impact on a large, broad body of people, user groups, and businesses. The goal from the  owner was collaboration and shared solution. What they got from this particular group was the opposite.

The problem with an extreme position is that when we make a statement and proposed consequence, we’ve got to be willing and able  to back it up. “If you don’t do this, I’m going to do _________ (fill in the blank.)” 

Are you REALLY going to do that?

Sometimes a clear line needs to be drawn. Think and be mindful about where you draw it. You’ll have to back it up when someone challenges you on it.

Dissent

Allow dissenting voice in meetings, especially around strategic discussions and direction. If  dissent doesn’t define this idea clearly, call it “allowing opposing viewpoints.” Some will say “I’m playing the devil’s advocate for a moment.” Phrasing aside, I find it good to appoint someone to state the “cons”, to point out the roadblocks, to take the opposite view, to articulate the worst case scenario. I’m not always excited about the opposing view. In fact for many years I didn’t think it necessary to hear, nor did I advocate for it. It made me uncomfortable. It still does at times. This is good. It allows freedom for all to vent their perspective and be heard. Collaboration in decision making wins. I’ve made many mistakes alone or in isolated decisions. Again, collaboration wins. Dissent and opposing viewpoints are one key part of that process. All stakeholders must voice input. In the end, the leader makes the decision, but  it’s harder to make the wrong one when all the facts are on the table and we are fully informed.

Leadership thoughts

Leadership is many different things. Leadership is exhilarating and excruciating at the same time, because leadership is in the middle of the ebb and flow of life. 

One aspect of leadership that isn’t typically discussed is vulnerability. Leadership by its very nature is vulnerable. It’s exposed for everyone to see. The results are visible across a spectrum broader than the leader, good or bad.

Leaders may as well be honest with their struggles or at least with their results. They certainly aren’t hidden from anyone. In fact if shared in an appropriate manner, everyone will benefit. There’s a stronger connection, and shared responsibility.

Inclusive or Exclusive

So are you inclusive or exclusive?

Most of us like to think we’re inclusive. Our opinion, however, doesn’t really matter in this regard. What matters is the opinion of those who are on the other end of the experience with or around us.

Most of us are far less inclusive than we think, and that’s stating it kindly.

Do you know who’s responsible for being inclusive? Everyone. But it needs to be, as a minimum, the person who is, or is becoming, a leader. It’s easy to take the simple route by excluding people. It takes effort and intention to be invitational. Leadership is intentional. Leadership is inclusive.

We’ve all felt the pain of being excluded. When we take that experience and become inclusive with the folks that may not crack into our group, our perceived social structure, our meeting, or our inner circle, we are reversing the pattern.

When we share with other people for their benefit, information we’ve learned at work, that’s being inclusive. When we invite into any space a person that we don’t always understand, don’t know well, or that is different from us, we are being inclusive.

Are you and I being more inclusive or exclusive? Try going outside the comfort zone and extend an invitation. Broaden the circle. When circles get larger, they capture a broader area. Sometimes they overlap with other circles. The overlapping space can lead to something special. We might be surprised at what happens.