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.

Advice

Some advice I gave to a staff member the other day regarding an email exchange with a client on which I was bcc’d.

While you’re right, and factual, I’d never say to a client “you’re wrong”
It’s not appropriate expression and just shows the growing frustration on this issue
Words like “I disagree” or that’s not aligned with specifications”
Never directly attack the person no matter how foolish they are, because it wont register to an angry or stubborn person. Attack the problem and suggest an alternative path to resolution
If they are unwilling then seek intercession as you’ve done. As you stated, sometime it’s best to step back and stop

communicating”

Be wise

Be personable

Be clear

Be respectful

Draw appropriate boundaries

The New You?

We woke up to a New Year, but did we wake up to a new “me,” a new “us?”

We carry our same old self into the new year unless something changes on the INSIDE. Circumstances influence us but should not define our reality.

How will we MAKE 2018 different. What will dominate our thinking, reality, identity? Whom will we serve?

Your choice. My choice. In good, bad or mundane circumstances.

Let’s encourage one another

#beintentional

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.

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.