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.

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?

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 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.

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?

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.

New stuff

This morning I got an email informing me that I received my Texas Professional engineering license (PE.) It’s one of 9 or 10 states that I never really pursued or needed. Previously at our company we had another TX PE, but he moved on to another firm a few months ago. I decided it would be best to maintain it myself, and get another staff member registered as well.

The timing was great. We have a Texas client now with 3 new projects. It’s interesting to me how when we pursue certain activities, as a company and as a person, when we take action, expend energy, invest, and build, that stuff happens; stuff we expect and stuff we don’t. Activity produces more activity. It’s action-reaction. And there’s collateral benefit that happens as well. People talk, things happen, lives are touched and results are produced.

It’s good to act, to invest, and to see the results. How’s that going for you? Do something new today and await the results.

Workflow and Development

There are two basic forms of “workflow” or “new practice” development:

  • That which we create (innovation and new category.) This needs to bring value to clients and they become part “creative partner” with us (from a “what if” and testing scenario).
  • That which our clients require (get competent and optimize)
    • They define
    • We build/design to spec
    • We execute
  • The Truth moving into the future
    • We all need in our businesses to develop one or both of these.
    • It needs to be done while being connected to the market; with the user/client

The details, the building, the success of the service or product, is up to the builders and operators