Civility’s retirement party

I like politics, so I stayed up late to watch our youthful federal leaders deliver their post-election speeches.  There was a strange chaotic moment when, the Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP all tried to take their respective stages at exactly the same time – perhaps each hoping to drown out the others – forcing the poor CBC anchor to jump feverishly between them.  But it was the contents of their speeches that really dismayed me.

The NDP burst into an animated chant of TAX THE RICH, TAX THE RICH that the leader encouraged along for two full uncomfortable minutes.  Andrew Sheer for his part went on about how his loss was really a win and he was going to beat the encroaching forces of socialism next time.  Our prime minister dished his regular pablum and seemed to think that liberal values had triumphed and been embraced by all, when in fact only 32% of our country supported him.

What was missing for me, was any recognition that the election is over and it is time to bury the partisanship for a bit and get united on governing the country.  We have ample big problems:  resource development and Alberta’s place in a new economy, housing the next generation, Indigenous reconciliation, how to pay for our cherished education and healthcare systems, getting citizens to take responsibility for the hot mess we’re making of our planet…to name a few.  But our leaders were not talking about solutions for Canada’s problems.  They were each preaching to their bases and bashing the other two thirds.

The only redeeming moments of the night were the gracious speeches from Conservative Lisa Raitt and Liberal Ralph Goodale – two seasoned and respected parliamentarians who each went down to defeat.  They both seemed to come from a more civilized planet than their respective leaders.  Godspeed.

It made me think about the changes in the construction industry that Jeff Smith observed recently:  our industry is becoming nastier.  I agree with Jeff, over the last couple of years our jobs have become more about emailing than millwork.  More about building arguments than structures, more about protecting our interests than getting the work done.  I fear that the old guard that has been retiring over the last few years were the holders of common sense.   They were leaders who could leverage relationships to get work done without a single trip to their inbox.  Their underlying ethic was win-win in spite of whatever crusty exterior they might have presented.

It’s funny because when I started in the construction industry I thought this group of gruff, old-school men where the problem (yes alas, they were all men).  In retrospect, in almost every case these gentlemen had an uncanny sense of the best way to get a project to the finish line with all of the players intact.

My friends, reflect on this.  Is it possible that our industry has become too political, too partisan?  Is it possible that our younger generation of project managers is more concerned with winning than with satisfied customers and successful projects?  As this industry’s leaders, what can we do to improve this state of affairs?  I’m going to suggest we need to act less like our current political leaders and look to the values of the old guard who are now retiring.  Let’s not let their wisdom slip away unrecognized.

Our MVP Plan

I learned why Alan Mulally is such a unique CEO when I heard him speak last October.  He changed the way I run my business and inspired me to create our MVP Plan.

What makes him unique

First off, Mulally is responsible for saving the Ford Motor Company. When Ford was at its lowest point (losing 17 Billion in 2006) hled the company back to profitability.  This included weathering the 2008 financial meltdown, that bankrupted GM and Chrysler, without taking any government assistance. 

Another is his unique style.  Mulally describes his leadership as service and combines this with infectious optimism and gracious humility – traits that let him unify a fractious company around a shared mission.  He says his leadership values are based on snippets of wisdom his mother ingrained in him such as  “It is nice to be important, but more important to be nice.” And “The purpose of life is to love and be loved.”  This is not typical thinking from a corporate titan.  However, it struck me that his message of collaborative teamwork is the way forward not only for manufacturing but also for our construction industry.

The most powerful lesson for me was Mulally’s integrated operational plan that he summed up on a single slide titled:  ‘One Ford: one team, one plan, one goal’.  It laid out the way Mulally united a complex global corporate culture around a single compelling vision and tied that directly to an operational plan that was tracked with detailed metrics.  

Mulally famously carried this out at a weekly Business Plan Review meeting (BPR), which he established to track the progress of the One Ford plan with his 16 senior managers.  At the Thursday meetings, each director was responsible for reporting on a host of green/amber/red colour coded metrics that tracked their department’s progress against the plan.   The focus and accountability that the BPR ultimately created are credited with Ford’s turn around.

How he changed my company

Understanding this simple, powerful system connected deeply with me.  We started building and tweaking our own Business Plan and identifying the right metrics to drive the results we’re looking for.  I call the result ourMost Valued Partner Plan’ because our Mission is to be just that for our clients – their most valued partner. 

Internally we now track 37 metrics under the four categories that are critical to our customers’ success: 

  • Competent People
  • Obvious Value
  • Flawless Execution
  • Excellent Quality

I’m already noticing that seeing the data weekly is causing us to uncover longstanding problems and motivating the team to cooperate on eliminating them.  

Starting next week, we’ll be surveying our customers and our staff and integrating their ratings of our performance into our dashboard.  This data will further confirm that we’re ‘on plan’ and show us where to focus our efforts.

These are exciting times and I’m grateful to Mr Mulally for showing me the path. 

Learn more about Mulally’s turnaround in this book by Bryce Hoffman .

Watch us get LEAN!

  You’d call me a student of Lean because for as long as I’ve been working, I’ve been trying to learn and promote the tenants of Lean Manufacturing.  I say student because I’m constantly learning more and even more often being humbled by how much i don’t know. I think my biggest aha moment came […]

Victoria BC

Resolution Free Zone

I’m always searching for better. Better business systems, better health, better time at home… Plus, there is something about this time of year. Maybe it’s watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ yet again, or seeing your in-laws, but I always end up reflecting on the state of the world I’ve built around myself and think about how it could be better. Don’t get me wrong. I’m routinely accused of being a ‘glass overflowing’ kind of guy, but this is the time of year when I look to see if my destination is getting any closer and if it’s time for any course corrections. And so, we come to the inevitable topic of resolutions. I got some great advice from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. He is an advocate of tiny habits resulting in big goals. James talks about optimizing for the starting line instead of the finish line. For example, instead of aiming to lose 20 pounds, make your goal to just show up at the gym, even if you don’t get out of your car, just make a habit of getting to the gym. Once that becomes a habit, the larger goal will follow. Read the book or watch one of his youtube videos.

This is the same message our friend Paul Akers preaches: tiny improvements gradually transform our company and our lives. Like Clear, he’s talking about forming habits. The habit of making daily improvements. So here’s wishing you an Atomic 2019. May your habits make you happy. If you like some inspiration for your lean goals check out this video made at Yellowtools in Germany https://youtu.be/O6R2CmyaMlY.