Things I Learned from the Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference

January 16, 2017

Celebration Community Cheerful Happiness Success Concept

This was a post from several years ago and is so much more relevant now:

Yesterday I was on a panel discussion at the ENR Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference in New York.  It was a great experience for me.  A couple of things that really stuck out:

1.  This was the first time EVER that I was in the minority.  And I mean THE MINORITY!  There were probably five men there out of 300 attendees.  It was a very different feeling.  I never felt out-of-place really, but I did feel outnumbered.  It was a little intimidating.  I finally felt what it must be like for women and minorities at a normal construction conference filled with mostly middle-aged, white men.

2.  I experienced bathroom discrimination for the first time.  I say that with tongue planted firmly in my cheek.  How many times do we men sail in and out of the bathroom at intermission or the seventh inning stretch while the line at the women’s bathroom snakes around the corner for miles?  There were so many women and so few men that they actually put a sign over the men’s restroom that said “WOMEN ONLY”.  I had to go down two floors to use the bathroom.  What a shift in perspective.  Women probably get really frustrated by those long lines and think to themselves, “When are the mostly male architects going to wake up and put in twice as many stalls in the women’s bathrooms?”

3.  Women interact differently than men, at least in construction and engineering.  Men will gather and greet with a cool and somewhat forced confidence.  The interactions are low-key and low energy and the topic of conversation is mostly about business.  When a large group of women interact, the energy is amazing!  It is palpable.  The room is buzzing!  They are animated and talking and exchanging business cards and discussing lots of different things, including non-business topics.

4.  Women have some of the same issues as men.  There are some difference such as childcare that are quite different for men and women, but what I took away was that the skills for a woman to be successful in the construction industry are exactly the same skills that men need.  It’s just in a different context and should be taught in a slightly different way to address their specific needs.  Leadership, presence, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence skills are at least a part of those success factors.  Individuals will likely just be working on different areas.

I look forward to more of these kinds of conferences and hope that other industry organizations will reach out and invite this group to the table.  They deserve a seat at that table.

Check out my ENR Viewpoint article on diversity:

CLICK HERE

Also, I am in the process of finishing up my latest online course on diversity and inclusion as part of the Total Leadership Library. Click here for more information on that.

 


Innovate or Die!

May 28, 2015

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein

 

Albert Einstein was a pretty smart guy.  And HE said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  He told an interviewer that he came up with the Theory of Relativity by imagining himself riding on a beam of light.  In this highly competitive market, companies must innovate or they may not be around much longer.  Does your competition suck?  Probably not.  Can you win projects and market share on your expertise and resume alone?  That may have been true 10 or 20 years ago.  But not today.

Think about it.  The only two things you have that differentiates you from your competition is your people and innovation.  I talked in previous blogs about paying attention to companies that are thriving in this economy.  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 managers are taught to say “yes, and” and “thank you”  instead of “no, but” and “we tried that before in 1980 and it didn’t work.”

What is the atmosphere at your company?  Is it open to new ideas and innovation?  We all must think very differently to survive.  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.


Things I Learned at the Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference

May 7, 2015

Celebration Community Cheerful Happiness Success Concept

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” ― Stephen R. Covey

 

Yesterday I was on a panel discussion at the ENR Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference in New York.  It was a great experience for me.  A couple of things that really stuck out:

1.  This was the first time EVER that I was in the minority.  And I mean THE MINORITY!  There were probably five men there out of 300 attendees.  It was a very different feeling.  I never felt out-of-place really, but I did feel outnumbered.  It was a little intimidating.  I finally felt what it must be like for women and minorities at a normal construction conference filled with mostly middle-aged, white men.

2.  I experienced bathroom discrimination for the first time.  I say that with tongue planted firmly in my cheek.  How many times do we men sail in and out of the bathroom at intermission or the seventh inning stress while the line at the women’s bathroom snakes around the corner for miles?  There were so many women and so few men that they actually put a sign over the men’s restroom that said “WOMEN ONLY”.  I had to go down two floors to use the bathroom.  What a shift in perspective.  Women probably get really frustrated by those long lines and think to themselves, “When are the mostly male architects going to wake up and put in twice as many stalls in the women’s bathrooms?”

3.  Women interact differently than men, at least in construction and engineering.  Men will gather and greet with a cool confidence.  The interactions are low-key and low energy and the topic of conversation is mostly about business.  When a large group of women interact, the energy is amazing!  It is palpable.  The room is buzzing!  They are animated and talking and exchanging business cards and discussing lots of different things, including non-business topics.

4.  Women have some of the same issues as men.  There are some difference such as childcare that are quite different for men and women, but what I took away was that the skills for a woman to be successful in the construction industry are exactly the same skills that men need.  It’s just in a different context and should be taught in a slightly different way to address their specific needs.  Leadership, presence, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence skills are at least a part of those success factors.  Individuals will likely just be working on different areas.

I look forward to more of these kinds of conferences and hope that other industry organizations will reach out and invite this group to the table.  They deserve a seat at that table.

Check out my ENR Viewpoint article on diversity:

CLICK HERE

 


Why Your Construction Projects Suck and How to Un-Suck Them

January 15, 2015

Group of workers at a construction

“Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.” Paul Hawken

 

I’ve been around construction my entire life and this is my 13th year in business teaching the skills that actually make people and projects better.  And the three biggest mistakes that are made on most projects:

1.  Not enough planning.  You know the drill.  There is a budget crunch.  There is a lending timeline.  There is an opening or launch deadline.  The architects and designers have not had the proper time or budget to adequately design so the owner puts a clause in the contractor’s performance based contract that tells them that they must “coordinate” everything and “make everything work properly”.  That additional risk is passed down to subcontractors.  All of this risk is mitigated usually through higher costs. In addition, there is a lot of re-work and re-design and quality and productivity suffer greatly.  So, the owners, in an effort to cut costs, have actually added to them.  And the end product has much lower quality.  It’s a terrible way to start a project and usually portends a total disaster for ALL parties that will end up in court. Collaborative planning way ahead of anything happening on site is the key here.  Everyone has input into the process and many problems are solved ahead of time.  It is much better to use more collaborative design methods like Lean, IPD or Design Assist, or Design Build.

2.  Not enough focus on relationships and trust in the beginning:  A project is like a forced marriage, only there is no option for a divorce.  We throw people together in a very intimate, very demanding situation and expect a high level of performance.  It’s okay to have an arranged marriage, but you have to do some homework and lay some groundwork for a successful partnership.  This has to be deliberate, well thought out, and reinforced over the life of the project.  There must be a focus on maintaining the relationship first.  Then, the other issues that always come up will be more easily managed.  You must develop the trust early on.  We have a program called Beyond Partnering:   Here is  a link to that blog:  http://wp.me/p1JXuE-g3 .  This blog discusses this issue in more detail and gives you a step-by-step method to ensure that this relationship and trust part of the project is successful. Everyone is working on their own personal and professional goals while the group works toward project goals.  There is cross functional accountability.  You build your people while you build the project.  You also offer classes that address specific project issues (teamwork, communication, collaboration, stress management, time management) head on and relate those back to everyone’s individual and collective plans.

3.  Not enough focus on collaborative problem solving:  Most projects are set up by all parties to mitigate their risk.  So it is in everyone’s best interest to blame others for any problems.  They search the contract trying to find a way to make someone else responsible.  Again, collaborative project delivery methods like Lean, IPD or Design Assist, or Design Build are keys to this team approach to construction projects.  That way, everyone is pitching in to find the best solution together.  There is much less finger pointing and much more problem solving.  The result is a much better project for everyone.

If you want to make your next project more successful, take a look at these three areas. And if you need any help with any of these, let me know.

 


The Miracle Workers of Construction

April 24, 2014

construction

 

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting some projects of one of my very favorite clients, and I have to say, it was a moving experience.  When I was a kid, my dad would take me and my three brothers to his projects.  I was wide-eyed and full of wonder at this miracle of construction.  Yes.  I said miracle.  It is a miracle.  Think about it.  There is no process on earth as complicated as a construction project.  The space shuttle isn’t as complicated as most construction projects.  There are a million parts and pieces with so many human beings putting their mark on it.  It’s amazing that anything gets built.  But it does, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the workers that actually put everything together.

They are the unsung heroes of the industry.  Many of them are struggling with finances, with workloads that limit time with their families, with health issues.  This very tough business has beaten them down physically over the years.  But there they are.  They show up every day.  They do their jobs without complaint.  They perform the day-to-day miracles that propel their projects toward completion.  I visited a particularly difficult retail project with an impossible completion schedule and little or no details on dozens of different rooms with completely different finishes.  As one Superintendent put it, “Well, here we are, pulling another rabbit out of the hat.”  And they did complete the project in time for the retailer to open.  Another magic trick executed to perfection.  Another miracle.  And when I point this out, they don’t see it as miraculous.  They are very humble about what they do.  They get so caught up in the day-to-day work, and they are so good at it, they don’t see it as extraordinary.  But I want all of you workers to know that what you do IS extraordinary.

So this blog is a salute to these unsung heroes and their families who have sacrificed so much.  You have my admiration and respect.  And if there is anything I can do to help you or any cause that you have, I’m here.  Please contact me and let me know what I can do.


A Life Lesson from a Songbird

April 17, 2014

songbird

While walking this morning, I was really taken by the birds and their cacophony of songs.  They were loud and insistent, offering a symphony of sound on an otherwise very quiet morning.  Their chirps, tweets, and twitters were the only thing you could hear.  I looked up and saw a small sparrow on a power line.  He lifted his head up and warbled out a throaty, clear, insistent sound that was absolutely amazing.  I couldn’t believe this gigantic sound was coming out of this small bird.  With total abandon, he lifted his voice out into the world, and it carried on the clear morning air.

Lately, I have been struggling with my confidence.  I didn’t feel worthy of my successes.  I beat myself up.  I felt that I needed more education, more experience, more knowledge.  I felt like a fraud.  Sometimes, people in the construction industry reject this work with emotional intelligence, and I always blamed myself for their rejection.  If I had explained it better, or put it to them in a different way, they would be on board.  It was always my fault, and I was always second guessing myself.

And then a revelation came to me.  That songbird just sang.  He didn’t worry if people liked his song or not.  He didn’t wonder if he could do it differently to satisfy more people.  He didn’t second guess his song and change it because of me or anyone else.  He did what God put him here to do, and he did it with a massive amount of joy and energy.  He poured himself into his song, put it out to the world, and let the world decide.  Thank you, Mr. Songbird.  From now on, that’s what I will strive to do.  I am going to do what God put me here on earth to do and do it with as much passion and energy as possible and let the world decide.

 


The Second Oldest Profession

April 3, 2013

constructionI work pretty exclusively in the construction industry.  When I think about the industry, it seems I focus a lot on the negative.  We all do.  In one survey, the only two professions with lower levels of trust than a contractor were television evangelists and used car dealers.  There are a lot of alpha males in the industry.  They are tough and aggressive.  It is adversarial.  It is difficult.  I was talking to a  good friend of mine about it.  His business is creating alliances, and his view was that construction folks create alliances all of the time.  In fact, it is impossible to build a project without some sense of cooperation.

He said to me, “If two people were stranded on a deserted island, the first thing they would do is cooperate with each other and build something.  It’s the second oldest profession.”  That made me think about construction from a different perspective.  It’s part of who we are.  It’s in our DNA.

I grew up in the business.  We moved every 18 months or so because my dad would be on to the next project.  It was an exciting, nomadic life.  And when we visited the construction sites and dad let us ride up in the buck hoist (the small elevator on the side of the building) to the very top, that was an absolute miracle.    Even as a small child, I was amazed at how these guys could take something on a piece of paper and build this thing that seemed to sprout out of the ground.  It was created for people to use, and yet, when most of us walk into a building, we very rarely think of that natural miracle and how it was created for us.

Think of all of the parts, pieces, and personalities that go into a construction project.  It’s far more complicated than even something like the space shuttle.  I think we’ve lost that sense of wonder and miracle.  We get bogged down in the day to day grind of the business and we don’t appreciate the history and the true nature of construction.  So if you know someone in the industry or  you are in the industry yourself, celebrate today.  Make this your construction appreciation day.  Think of all of the projects that are built for us:  our homes, sporting and entertainment events for our pleasure, schools to educate our children, hospitals to treat us when we are sick, office buildings that add to our economy, infrastructure to get us from place to place, process our waste, and give us fresh water to drink.  When you think of all of those amazing things that make our lives so rich and comfortable, you can thank someone in the construction industry.