Outlier

“For out on the edge of darkness, there rides the peace train.” Cat Stevens

That’s where the peace train rides; out on the edge of darkness. If it rode in the middle of light, the place where peace already resides, there would be no need for it. It gathers people from the edges and expands those boundaries. The peace train is an outlier to unrest and darkness.

Doctors ride into the midst of sickness, on the edges of disease. They do the most good when they are in those places of deep need, saving lives, doing surgical repairs, handing emergency room issues. Doctors are outliers to sickness.

Broken things, or things needing to be built, need architects, engineers and contractors. That train rides on the edge of development, expansion, rehabilitation. The deeper the need, the more value that is provided. Engineers and builders are outliers to disorder and decaying infrastructure.

“It’s is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not called the righteous but sin sick people to repentance.” Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t just ride on the edge of a fallen world, he entered right into the middle of it; he engaged as the God-man and flipped the value system on it’s head. Jesus was an outlier. In this case it went so far as to let the religious order think they had won the day by putting him to death, when they actually accomplished His purpose to offer salvation to the world. Resurrection doesn’t happen without death. A seed doesn’t grow unless planted in the ground.

The broader the gap, the bigger the need, the greater the outlier impact. The deeper the outlier is engaged in the mess, the more impact, disruption, and sometimes hatred from status quo.

Where’s the edges to our outlier space? What’s our outlier gap? Where are we spending our time and energy to make impact?

Happy Saturday

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

More on Marketing

This week I secured a negotiated project with a client. I visited the client about 4 or 5 years ago. I hadn’t secured a project before this week. I know their CEO, Director of Marketing, VP of Operations, Engineering Manager, a couple of Project Executives, and project managers. But nothing happened prior. Sometimes these things take time.

Over the 4 or 5 years I have been an admirer of their growth and I have kept in touch with them. They are reasonably well represented on social media, so my company social media person and I advocate for them and support a lot of their values. One of them is their “Women in Construction” advocacy and staffing.

They like us, we like them. We both create visibility and awareness. There’s been a lot of talk, contact at conferences, and just some good mutual respect. But no work. No project. No actual transactional business relationship. But that’s okay.

Then it all changed. And it changed quickly. You see a project manager from another client that we worked with joined their organization last year. When the project executive on her project needed an engineering parter, and someone that could collaborate through the process, she said “what about Wheaton Sprague and John Wheaton?”

Then came the RFP, then the phone call, context, urgency, clarity of values, and timing. The proposal was written. Follow up happended from them immediately, and a deal was cut, a proposal signed and a Purchase order received.

You see, the relatiohship is paramount. The relationship is to be nutured always, regardless of where it leads transactionally or at a given moment. The relationship has meaning OUTSIDE of a sale. The SALE is just the final expression of value, trust, and relationship; a promissary note that describes what they will pay us when we deliver on our scope and promises.

Don’t ever lead with a sale. It’s disengenuous. Lead with relationship and with sincerity, not manipulation. Everyone knows you are in business to make money. But that’s the end of the process, not the start.

I’m grateful to now be working with them.

Sometimes these things take time.

Shifting

Interesting how things change. Just six weeks ago the values in the world economy were things like lean manufacturing, just in time delivery, low inventory, large single source supply chains, high profit, international travel, high connectivity.

That doesn’t play well during a pandemic- an unseen enemy that disrupts without any real warning. It just more fully exposes the vulnerabilities that existed and still exist. The world, each nation, each locality, weren’t prepared fully. We don’t like to plan for the “what if’s.” The values have been shifted 180 degrees almost overnight.

Now it would appear that the values are things like margin, appropriate inventory, local micro-economies, multiple supply chain sources, balance, less international connectivity (or perhaps more thoughtful connectivity).

I think many people may just be hunkered down “waiting for things to get back to normal.” You’ll be waiting a long time. The truth is, there is no “normal.” It’s the anticipation of the future being the same that we describe as “normal.” But the future is abstract. Normal is now; the present.

How then shall we respond, construct, and move forward? We need to inform and work within our reality; connect the dots; new dots; new ways.

The Escalator

I couldn’t get to the trade show floor until 10:00 am. That meant 15 or 20 minutes to kill. I looked around at the options and said to myself, “Why not stand at the bottom of the escalator? There’s no better place to see and meet people.”

In the sea of people there were two gentlemen standing near me with name tags that noted their business location; Nantucket, MA. I had just returned from a business trip to Boston the week prior, and then spent 4 days on Cape Cod. It wasn’t Nantucket, but it’s close enough. I started a conversation.

We talked about their work on the island, about the culture, what kind of support they needed, and how they managed logistics. They asked what I did. We shared business cards. I invited them to contact me anytime and they did the same. Then we both went on our way.

That was about 5 or 6 weeks ago. One of the guys, Lee, called me today. “Hi John, I don’t know if you remember me or not….” “Of course, I said. We met at the bottom of the escalator!” “Yep. That’s me.”

He said he needed some engineering support and asked about our availability at Wheaton Sprague. He asked what the next steps were. He said he’d email me the info. I said I’d assess it and get him a proposal. He said, great.

How do we “kill time” while waiting? Usually with our head in a phone or waiting in the wings. That particular day I chose to engage at the bottom of the escalator; to be where people were congregating. Who would have guessed? We never know when an interaction will lead to more. But most business is relational, whether B2B or B2C. How’s your engagement going?

Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Island

Names have been changed for anonymity in this blog

Anne and Dave live in the middle of the island. He’s a contractor and handyman. Anne cleans houses. They lived in Panama for a bit and then came back to the states. The island suits them well. They invited our little group for a spontaneous visit while we were driving golf carts down dirt roads past their home one day. Of course we stopped. That’s what one does on the island.

Julius owns a business, but prefers to live on the island so that’s what he does. He’s got a management team to run his company, so his work on the island hosting people is a labor of love. He’s one of the most hospital people I’ve ever met.

Rich and Donna are long term renters. They stay for most of the winter to escape from up north. They are embedded in the community here and have lots of friends from North and South that they visit and entertain. Both are retired and don’t need to work anymore

Gary and his wife Elaine came to the island from up north a few years ago for the first time and bought a house immediately. He owns business as well but is in the process of selling. He can work remotely or travel back and forth. Either works for him. Quite the world we live in.

James and Carol have a home on the island and live part time here. They are connectors. Generosity defines them. We have become very good friends. James never met a stranger and will lend a hand to anyone in need. Hospitality is one of their gifts.

Betsy and Rob are super handy. They live here half a year in winter and spring, and spend the remaining months up North in the snow belt when it doesn’t snow. She is an artisan, he is retired from owning a trucking business. They grow flowers, orchids to be specific, and have a little greenhouse. Rob can fix just about anything. You’ve got to be able to fix stuff on the island.

Then there’s countless others; renters and homeowners, short and long term, the boat dock numbers, the landmarks, the houses, those for sale and those not; the lending library, the dirt paths, the little church, high tide, low tide, and more.

Everyone has a story. There’s common ground on an island. There’s community if you want it. People help each other because you’re always going to need help. Spare parts don’t get thrown away easily, because you or someone else will need them at some point.

We ought to live as such in our off-island neighborhoods instead of always running about in the hustle and bustle. Neighborhoods are islands within a city or suburb, but the vibe isn’t typically there.

When is the last time we talked to our neighbor, volunteered to help at random, stopped at someone’s fire pit spontaneously, or asked someone if they had a spare valve in their toolkit?

We shouldn’t have to live on an island to build community.

Compressed construction 

I mean REALLY compressed. Rarely works.

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

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

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

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