The Age of Relationships

March 5, 2015

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Pay attention.  We are coming to the end of the Information Age and have  now entered the Age of Relationships.  The signs are everywhere.  It permeates every industry.  It is part of the globalization of everything from business to governments to resources to weather to our very survival.  The younger generations were raised with collaboration and that sense of being interconnected.  Relationships give you motivation, inspiration, ideas, and encouragement.  Yet, in many industries, including the construction industry, this is something we have yet to embrace.  Perhaps it is because of the technical nature of the industry.  Perhaps it is because of the typical emotional intelligence profile of the people in the industry.  Empirically, relationships are not our best thing.  Every single group I have ever worked with over the past 12 years have the same profile.  The three lowest scores on the EQi are ALWAYS emotional self-awareness, empathy, and interpersonal relationships.  The three highest scores are ALWAYS assertiveness, independence, and self-regard.  This is a recipe for relationship disaster.  No wonder it’s such a hard business.

It’s time that we tackle these tough people issues and embrace these collaborative concepts.  Focusing on relationships is no longer touchy-feely.  Neuroscience is verifying many of these concepts of connection from a physiological standpoint.  We all have mirror neurons in our brains that mirror the emotions of the person sitting across from us.  They light up and connect us together whether we are aware of it or not.  We can no longer ignore these interpersonal connections.

In South Africa, they have a philosophy called Ubuntu.  It is a sense of being connected to everyone else on the planet.  When two people greet each other, the first person says, “I see you.”  The second person responds by saying, “I am here.”  There is real significance in that exchange.  Without the acknowledgement from the first person, the second person doesn’t even exist.  Imagine the power of that if you walked down the hallway and was pre-occupied with something and didn’t greet the other person.  What you would be saying is that they don’t exist.  I believe that this philosophy prevented South Africa from devolving into a bloody civil war after apartheid ended.  The black South Africans merely moved on and embraced the end of apartheid without retribution, without punishing the whites.  It is because they feel so interconnected.  They believe that if they harm someone else, they are harming themselves.

Can we move toward this sense of being connected?  Can we embrace this new way of collaborating?  Can we change the industry for the better by focusing on people and relationships?  Time will tell.  As Ben Franklin said, “We must hang together or we shall surely hang separately.”


How We Have Created All of the Problems in the Construction Industry

February 26, 2015

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We lament the problems of the industry and wail and gnash our teeth.  We wring our hands and worry about how we are going to solve these issues.

Our productivity has been relatively flat for the last 50 years.

We have a workforce development issue!  Old people are retiring and young people aren’t coming into the industry.  This is occurring at all levels from the trades to C suites.

We have a diversity issue!  Many qualified women and minorities are choosing not to be in this industry.

We have a generational issue.  These kids are lazy and they aren’t loyal.

Here is the sad fact.  We have created every one of these problems!  I will take each one of these and tell you why:

Flat and Low Productivity:  As an industry, we are very slow to accept new ideas and new technologies.  As a result, our productivity remains stagnant.  There is very little innovation.  The attitude is, “We’ve always done it that way.”  I actually heard this remark after a young person put forth a new idea:  “We tried that in the 1980s and it didn’t work.”  A Chinese company recently completed a 30 story building in 15 days.  Now I get that this is propaganda.  I get that they have unlimited resources.  There’s no telling what that building cost.  But they did it!  Can we take some of these concepts and start utilizing them without all of the political and ideological arguments?  If we don’t, Chinese construction companies will likely be taking away our work in the not too distant future.

Workforce Development:  When I was growing up, I chose to work construction every summer instead of at McDonald’s because the pay was so much better.  Then contractors got greedy or bowed to the pressures of the industry to lower the costs of construction and increase already slim margins.  We started paying people poorly, we didn’t give them any benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, or sick days.  We treated them as commodities, and with some trades, paid them for piecework for the work they put in place each day.  It made no sense to care about them or value them as human beings.  Even the immigrants that came here during the booms are staying away this time.  We must reverse this.  We must pay a living wage, perhaps even pay salaries for certain positions, provide benefits such as paid vacations, paid healthcare, and paid sick days.  We must show these workers that we value them and treat them more like family instead of commodities.

Diversity:  Our diversity issues is monumental.  Every construction conference I attend is filled with middle-aged white men.  And some of the vendors bring beautiful models, some scantily clad, to pitch their products or services.  What year is this?  1950?  If I were a woman or a minority, I would take one look at the demographic and run away like my hair was on fire.  Many of the leaders in the industry say things like, “I don’t mind women and minorities in the industry”.  They don’t get it.  We can no longer merely tolerate women and minorities.  We have to actively pursue and promote women and minorities and find ways to use their talents.  We have to show these groups that we value them greatly and train them on how to thrive in this industry.

Generational Issues:  These younger generations are lazy!  They have no loyalty!  The fact is that these younger folks are very smart and can come up with creative answers to our industry problems if we let them.  And the loyalty label that we slap on them is a result of decades of laying people off when the work dried up.  They saw this with their parents and they experienced it during the downturn.  If there was work, you had a job.  If there was no work, they could not find a job when they graduated.  Or companies said, “Thanks for your 20 years.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”  It’s no wonder that these kids developed a sense of how to take care of themselves.  You’re right.  There is no loyalty. From the Baby Boomers.  That street goes both ways.

These problems are monumental, but not impossible.  It comes down to the people dimension of this business.  We must start to treat people like human beings.  We must respect them, value them, and give them what they need to thrive.  We must embrace innovation, new ideas, and the latest cutting edge technologies, we must pursue diversity, we must increase our productivity through people and processes, and we must take this industry to an entirely new level in a short period of time.  If we don’t, our industry is in big trouble.

 

 


Innovation, Part 2: Top 10 Outrageous Ideas for the Construction Industry

February 19, 2015

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein

 

 

Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” quote is usually taken out of context.  By “fittest”, he didn’t mean the strongest.  He meant the one who could adapt.  Those are the ones who survive.

The movie, Moneyball, is a great reminder of this concept.  It is the tale of someone who truly thought about how to do things differently.  Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, wanted to “change the game” of baseball by abandoning the traditional scouting process and use statistical analyses and to find the “right” players to attain the correct number of runs to attain the correct number of wins to attain a playoff slot.  And it worked quite well.  The Athletics won 20 in a row, setting a new baseball record.  There is a downside to the story.  They never won any championships, but they consistently have good teams even though their budgets are 40% less than some other big league team’s budgets.  The ROI on this approach is undeniable.

So how do we think differently about the construction business?  I have a few ideas.  Many of these are not my concepts.  There are companies who do these things already.  But can we find a way to adapt these ideas to this industry and our business?

Here are my top 10 crazy ideas for the construction industry:

10.  Make every employee do anything other than work for one hour a day.  It can be anything from surfing the web to rollerblading.  This gives them some downtime and clears their head for thinking in innovative ways.  Your employees will be more creative, less stressed, and more satisfied.

9.  Put in nap/recharge rooms for employees so that they can restore themselves throughout the day.  There is study after study that shows that this improves the bottom line and the health of your employees.

8.  Let employees bring pets and/or children to work.

7.  Create a ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment).  Let employees set their own work hours and also self direct as to what they want to work on.  You can set work goals, but not tell them how or when they need to be done.

6.  Collaborate with each other (throughout the industry, even competitors) on best practices for marketing, purchasing, procurement, delivery, etc.  Help each other and share the rewards.  Come from a place of abundance that there is enough work for everyone.

5.  Find as many ways as possible to create a positive emotional experience internally and externally.  Have fun.  Laugh.  Do office chair races, have games in the office.  Give people a sense of purpose.  Your employees should have a blast every single day!

4.  Take the risk.  We are all so risk averse in the industry, it stifles creativity and innovation.  Let it all hang out and innovate like nobody’s business.  Reward it, cultivate it, revel in it.  Don’t condemn ideas that didn’t work.  Go to the next one.  Edison found 999 ways that a light bulb didn’t work before he came up with one that did.

3.  Give employees as much time off as humanly possible during the workweek and for vacation.  Let it be one of your main incentives.

2.  Put some love in everything that you do.  It’s not that serious!  Spread love inside and outside of the company.

1.  Re-brand your company and fill it with spirit.  What does your brand say to your clients?  If you are like most contractors and engineers, it says, “trustworthy”, “reliable”, “stable”, “ethical” and probably a list of very nice words.  First of all, MOST contractor’s and engineer’s brands convey these things.  But these words are a bit stuffy.  Look at most commercials on television for a variety of products and services.  All of them are filled with positive emotions:  Coke:  Open Happiness.  Love:  It’s what makes a Suburu a Suburu.  Harley Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles.  They sell freedom and independence.  We have really missed the boat in this industry.  The company who figures out how to brand themselves with fun, love, great times, humor, innovation, and creativity will slay the competition.

Owners are starved for this type of approach to building.  Owners will choose you because they like you, trust you, and respect you.  In that order.  You may be saying that it’s all about low price.  But there is a backlash of the low bid mentality.  The only ones making money are the lawyers.  And according to Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, those intangibles of spirit are not only a moral imperative, but they are much harder for your competition to replicate.

You may dismiss these ideas.  You may think they are ridiculous.  You may say that there is no way to do any of these in the construction business, especially on projects.  But I can tell you this:  The companies who figure these things out and actually implement these kinds of radical changes and find new ways of working  will dominate the industry.  It may not be the ideas listed above.  You will likely have to adapt and change them to fit company culture and industry standards.  But I can tell you that those who continue to limp along with ideas and concepts that are hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old, are doomed.


Inspire Genius in Yourself and Innovation in Your Company

February 12, 2015

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“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein

 

You only have two competitive advantages:  Your people and innovation.  And your people are the ones who will be coming up with innovative ways to do things.  Companies must innovate or they may not be around in the near future.  Companies like Google, Apple, Zappos, and Cisco all invest a lot of  time and energy on two things:  1.  Making sure that their people are engaged and excited about what they are doing.  and 2.  Creating an atmosphere of innovation.

How do they do this?  The first thing is to pay attention to the needs of the employees.  They continuously talk to employees about how they appreciate what they do.  Managers walk around and interact and get to know the employees and their passions, likes, dislikes, and motivations.  Secondly, they create a climate where innovation is rewarded.  There are no bad ideas.  Everything is considered.  They don’t negate new ideas.  They embrace everything as a possibility and discuss the options.  They create an environment where people can come together formally and informally to share ideas and thoughts on how business is done and how to make it better.   Employees are taught to silence that inner critic and mangers are taught to say “yes” and “thank you”  instead of “no, but” and “we tried that before and it didn’t work.”  Let me be clear.  “Yes, and . . . ” doesn’t mean that you agree with everything.  “Yes, and . . . ” creates a healthy dialogue of meaningful discussion.

What is the atmosphere at your company?  Is it open to new ideas and innovation?  We all must think very differently to survive in this economy.  Early designers of flying machines used movable wings because it emulated a bird in flight.  But it wasn’t until the paradigm was shifted with fixed wing aircraft that manned flight became possible.  There are artificial hearts that emulate a real heart with chambers and a flow of blood that causes a heartbeat.  But the latest innovation in that arena is an artificial heart with continuous flow.  There is no beat.  It is a simple pump that continuously flows the blood through your body.  This paradigm shift is leading to very efficient and simple artificial hearts.  But it took someone to look at the way things were being done and say, “What if?”

What is your expertise?  What are your people’s talents?  How can you leverage that in a business setting to create new revenue streams?  Don’t think about how you’ve always done business.  Think about what value you and your people bring and see if that is applicable in other areas.  Get a group discussion going and brainstorm this concept.  You never know where it will lead.


What is your purpose?

February 5, 2015

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Everything and everyone has a purpose.  I recently saw the movie Hugo on Netflix and highly recommend it.  It is the story of a young orphan who takes care of and repairs machines.  He explains that his purpose is to fix machines.  Because when a machine is broken, and cannot do what it was made to do, it is a very sad situation because the machine no longer fulfills its purpose.  Do you know what your purpose is?  And are you living your purpose?  If not, you may be like those machines that are broken.  You are not fulfilling your purpose.  And that is a very sad thing.  If you don’t know what your purpose is, there are many resources that will help you find out.  One excellent book is The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  Or you can take this time at the beginning of the year and start writing down a few ideas of what your purpose might be.  It’s worth the effort to explore this very profound question. Try writing down 10 things you want, 10 things you need, and 10 things you love.  What do those lists look like?  Does it give you any clarity of purpose?

 


Forget About Your People and They Will Certainly Forget About You

January 30, 2015

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It’s all about your people.

This concept may seem trite and redundant and many of you will say, “Duh!”  But I think it bears repeating because during this economic turnaround where companies continue to procure more work, but have not hired back to capacity, we tend to forget that your employees are stretched to capacity.  Even if it is unintentional,  many companies neglect to truly take care of their people.  Employees are busy, they are focused, they are working very hard.  Keep in mind that, as a business owner, many of your hard working people are are likely approaching burnout.   Get up right now and go talk to someone near you.  Ask them how they are doing, and perhaps more importantly, how they are feeling.  Check in with them often and address these issues!

During these stressful times, we crave connection with others, so do everything within your power to create those connections.  The golden rule says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  We talk about the platinum rule which says,  “Treat others the way that they want to be treated.”  Remember, others may want to be treated differently than you would want to be treated. The platinum rule honors that difference.

Both individuals and companies can focus on ways to create more connections with others. Increase the social activities during work hours and after work hours. Involve the families. Let people know you care. Celebrate the wins. Celebrate the personal milestones of births, anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, and graduations.  Mourn the losses personally and professionally with your people.  Let them know that you not only know about their life, but you care about what happens to them.  If you don’t take these steps, be prepared for a mass exodus.  People will go where they feel cared about and nurtured.  Period.  And if you have leaders in the company who don’t subscribe to this notion of taking care of your people, remember that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they don’t like their boss.

This isn’t hard to do, but it takes effort and focus.  And the payback can be tremendous!  If you have any success stories with this people approach, please share them.  I would love to post it on the BDI Blog!


How to Improve Your Relationships by Increasing Your Oxytocin

January 23, 2015


Oxytocin is an amazing hormone.  It is called the “cuddle” hormone and is secreted by mothers and babies when mothers are breastfeeding.  It is also released during orgasm and when we have basic human contact with others.  From handshakes to pats on the back to massage, that human touch starts the production of oxytocin.  It gives us that feeling of warmth and connection.  We naturally mirror the emotions of the person sitting across from us.  Mirror neurons in our brains fire without any conscious thought.  Emotions are, indeed, contagious from a  physiological point of view.  Try this experiment.  Get a partner and try not to show any emotion.  Then ask them to put a great big, genuine smile on their face.  What happens? Your mirror neurons kick in and you WANT to smile.  It’s involuntary and automatic.  Can you look at the following photo and not smile?

Think of the power of that connection and what you can do to affect it during your next encounter with another human being.

There was a study done where men sorted pictures of angry faces.  Normally this triggers a response in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.  These negative faces trigger a negative emotional response.  But they took half the men and had them inhale oxytocin.  The other half  inhaled a placebo.  The men who inhaled the oxytocin showed far less activity in the amygdala and far less negative emotions.

So, short of breastfeeding, how do we boost our own levels of oxytocin? There are no supplements or foods that naturally boost this amazing hormone.  But there are some things we can do.

1.  Smile.  Smiling not only releases lots of good hormones in your body, including oxytocin, it will excite the mirror neurons of the person sitting across from you.  They will be much more likely to “catch” your emotion that you are sending them.

2.  Make an emotional connection.  Ask the person how they are truly feeling.  Try to empathize with their situation.  Show real concern.  Remember, treat everyone kindly because we are all fighting epic battles.  This concern for another human being starts the oxytocin pumping.

3.  Reach out and touch someone.  What do they do every two hours to premature babies?  They hold them and feed them.  Humans need human touch.  One story from a Romanian orphanage tells of a child that survived in a room full of kids because he was near the door.  As the attendant turned out the light and shut the door, she touched the kid on her way out.  He was the only one that made it out alive and owes his life to human touch.  So look for appropriate ways to impart touch to someone else.  Ken Blanchard talks about the literal pat on the back.  Take every opportunity to give a good, warm, open, inviting handshake (and it won’t hurt to smile while you do it).  Hugs are also great things and I find myself hugging more, even in business settings.

4.  Send love.  I know this sounds a little esoteric, but emotions create energy and that energy will affect the outcome of any situation. So if you put yourself in a good emotional state of love or even a state of positive thinking, the people across from you will pick up on that energy and it will affect them and the outcome.  I have found that this works even with the most hard boiled people and the most contentious situations.

If you try these ways to increase oxytocin and improve your relationships, you will find that people will be much more receptive and open.  I would love to hear about your experiments with this approach.  Post here or let me know via email.

 


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