What I’ve been Up To

My business partner and I have been very busy for the last 9 to 12 months on quite a few fronts at www.wheatonsprague.com and affiliates, so here’s an update on some of what’s going on.

EOS

We’ve implemented a new operating system known as The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS.) It’s built on a Visionary – Integrator (V/I) relationship with a Leadership team. The “visionary” (Me-“CEO” for us) is the “big idea” person, big relationships, innovation, brand, growth. The “rainmaker.” The Integrator (President and COO for us, Richard Sprague) manages the business, P & L, oversees the leadership team. The “gatekeeper.” It’s built on LMA (lead, manage, account), clarity, Level 10 Leadership meetings, and evaluating placing people in positions under the acronym “GWC” (get it, want it, capacity for it.) There’s no hiding in EOS. It’s all visible, connected, and results driven. People report scorecard values that are developed by the leadership team to asess the health of the business, the department, the project, etc. Meetings are substantive and get traction. I’ve cut my internal business meeting time by 3x to about 6 hours per week.

What has it led to?

We defined as a leadership team our Core Purpose, Core Niche, Core Focus, Core Values. It was hard work, but very gratifying and unifying. The core values, collaboration, integrity, client-conscious, communication, capable, are not aspirational. They are real. They are “who we are” as people and as an organization. This clarifies hiring, staff retention, annual reviews, client types, and more. Our Core Purpose (our “why”) is to Enable Facades that Inspire. Our core niche is engineering, design, science, and consulting for building facades. We also defined our ideal client demographic and psychographic. All of this was done as a leadership team with an implementer. It’s not a “panacea.” The work has to be done. The topics dealt with have to be relevant to the need. But EOS provides a format for a path to sustainable, self managed, growing business not dependent on ownership alone or a charismatic leader playing “hero ball.” We’ve tried different forms or operating systems and EOS is our choice long term. Nothing else has made as much sense as EOS.

What about Creating Structure?

So, I have this registered service mark and brand named “Creating Structure” which is no longer part of our core purpose statement. We still own the brand name. My Podcast still bears the name, and will stay as such. Creating Structure dates back to the start of the company, when our primary purpose was viewed more as structural engineers and designers doing facades, building structures, forensics in a broader manner. But it was time for a change. The new core purpose “Enabling Facades that Inspire” will take us a long way on our journey. At heart, this is who we are- curtain wall, facade, enclosure, architectural component engineers, designers, consultants, scientists. BUT with owning the brand name Creating Structure it gives me and us options as we consider other forms and divisions of the business (stay tuned!)

Welcome New Staff

We’ve been rebuilding our engineering department and I couldn’t be more pleased than to have Mark Enos, PE (December 2021) and Nestor Perez, PE (February 2022) back at Wheaton Sprague. Both men are insightful, pragmatic, solution oriented engineers, that align with our core values, purpose, and niche. They are a great complement to Jeff Cook, PE as our core group of PE’s. Our foundation is strong, and with our other engineers, present, and future, we can build a deeply rooted group that can deliver solutions to clients.

Our Operators

Michael Kohler is our Director of Building Envelope Engineering Operations. Mike leads, manages, and accounts for our delegated design, drawing, BIM, engineering, system design, thermal analysis, area of the business delivering work products to glazing subcontractors, exterior wall subcontractors and architectural metal fabricators.

Paul Griese, is our Director or Building Envelope Consulting Operations. Paul leads, manages and accounts for all consulting activities which includes a variety of design, analysis, investigation, QA, QC, field and shop observations, testing and forensic support and more.

John Wheaton, yours truly, is the Director of Marketing. This position has always been a primary focus for me and will always be linked to the visionary and external role for me whether I do the marketing work directly or through a person, team or outside resource. I also still do a lot of engineering work, support, PE review and stamp, advisement, coaching, and participation in the engineering work. I get to also now communicate with everyone in the business more as “good cop” since I have no direct reports outside of the marketing function. When “in the business” I get to help, support, coach, lead, and interact with our people. The staff in our operating divisions work for the directors. Yes, as an owner of a small privately held business I can make any call I choose if I see a problem, but it is only done with and through my partner and the leadership team.

Richard Sprague, my business partner at WSE and affilates, is President and COO. Richard “runs the business.” All the operators in all the business report to Richard. He is a fine steward, a clear thinker, and a focused gate-keeper. He makes the decisions in the business on what gets done and what does not. Richard leads the EOS L10 meetings for the leadership team. In my work “in the business” I work for him

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more of my focus and perspectives in market dynamics, trends, the Creating Structure Podcast, thoughts on results vs performance mindset, what I’m listening to, the power of LinkedIn and more

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 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?

The Entrepreneurial Dichotomy

Dichotomy; a contrast between two things

The Entrepreneurial Dichotomy is that our energy, ideas, our vision, are deeply needed, yet our businesses are worth much more without dependence on us; without us having to be present to do transactional things; to not have to handle the day-to-day. We are supposed to be building an enterprise rather than doing a specific job.

Being free to devote our attention to the places where we provide the most value to clients, and to our business, is what creates the best opportunity for everyone to benefit; being unencumbered by everything else to the fullest extent possible

This takes constant effort and intention.

I recommend a “not to do list.” The list facilitates what we are supposed to be doing, and provides a reminder to delegate everything else.

Dynamic change should happen in perpetuity in order to keep this process advancing.

What’s on your not to do list? What’s your focus?

It’s a constant battle and effort to make it happen.

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?

Our “Why”

It truly is always about “The Why”…the essential reason, the purpose, that clarifies our “what” our “context.” (Thanks Simon Sinek)

For instance, when my partner and I built our most recent office space, we wanted to support a new expression of our vision, one that would also permit us to grow, to showcase our brand, to attract and retain talent, to host clients within, and to be happy to work from every day. We also wanted some flexibility of space and options. We wanted to express a more refined version of our trade-marked brand of “Creating Structure.” We wanted to facilitate more collaboration, more inclusiveness, more connection. We wanted the building to functionally express our “why” within its surroundings and architecture. We defined a budget and we got what we envisioned. The same is true with our company’s branch offices. We want them to be the best expression of our values, for the context within their geography.

Everything we do as people comes from the internal expression of who we are, why we think we exist, and from where our identity is defined. What we do (the behavior) is driven from who we are (our identity.) And everything we do should be with thought; it should point to our purpose and mission. It should express our brand in tangible ways. In fact, it does whether we know it or not.

Why not make it intentional and meaningful? Why not do all that we can to support our “why” in everything we do?

Selling “Experience” – The Gas Stations

There are two service stations in my town. Both are within blocks of each other. Both charge within pennies per gallon of each other for gas. Both are national-level name brands.

One always has receipt paper at the pump. The other doesn’t. One always has full window-cleaning fluid troughs at each pump. In fact, at the one, the fluid smells like Wintergreen. The other rarely has enough fluid, if at all. It smells like regular cleaning fluid.

One has an ample stock of snacks and beverages inside and a clean smell. The other is always under-stocked and has an awful odor like a bad hospital smell inside.

One has nice canopies at the pump stations, well intact, with clean lines. The other always seems to have some maintenance issues going on at the pump stations.

One has uniformed attendants inside that typically respond with a polite greeting. The other has people with no uniforms, and generally a dis-interested person behind the counter.

The price is almost the same at the one or at the other; sometimes even the exact same price. But even if not, it’s worth the extra thirty to fifty cents per fill-up, to use the one.

At which one would you purchase your gas and snacks?

In a commodity business, “the one” has learned at how to differentiate. The other doesn’t care. It is always possible to differentiate within our existing revenue stream and context; to deliver value with some thought and care for the customer’s experience.

How about your business? How about mine? What experience do we want to create? What experience are we delivering?

 

 

 

 

 

PRICE IS IRRELEVANT

If the first question a client or prospective client asks about is related to price, then we know that their values are centered around cost. Most attempts to sell them otherwise will not typically work. To this purchaser, value is based on low price, and the product or service is viewed as a commodity. If the client-buyer is interested in what we’ve got, and we aren’t the low price, they may ask us to justify ourselves. I got this question last week “Why are you double the other price? Can you explain why your price is so high?” (This is a downward spiral by the way. Don’t answer the question to try to validate.)

I provided a polite and professional response, but didn’t answer the question exactly. I indicated what value was being provided and how the fee compared to other service-company fees in our category. My response asked the opposite question back, “Why is their price half of ours. What are they so cheap? We are both looking at the same project, right?” Then I explained what was being provided and nothing more.

I didn’t hear back from that client yet. And there’s a good chance that I won’t. They will likely purchase the other provider’s services. Because what this client was really SAYING, not asking, was “Hey, you’re too expensive. I can get the same thing for 40% less.”

So why do I say that price is irrelevant? Because we buy based on our values. Price is the consequence, the manifestation. It’s not the issue. Price or cost-based buying says “any of these firms will do, just get me low price.” The problem with this is that the buyer is assuming that they are getting the identical service from any of the choices presented to them.

It’s never really about price. It’s about the buying mindset and values.

Cost-based buyers want low price. Cost leads the conversation.

Value-based buyers want what they perceive to be the best investment and value for the cost of the purchase. Value and investment leads the conversation, price falls out, sometimes negotiated, sometimes as stated.

Identity, connection, or brand-based buyers, want to identify with a particular person, enterprise, brand or genre. Being connected to the associated values leads the conversation. Price is what it is; “If you want to be connected with us, the fees associated with that are as defined.”

Price is important, but price is really irrelevant. People already know about what they are willing to pay based on their mindset.

What kind of buyer are we seeking to attract?

What values are we seeking to communicate?

How is that portrayed in our brand?

Are we delivering?

Whatever we choose, we need to stick to it and dive deep. Pick a lane and stay in it. We can’t be all things to all people.

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.