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Thanks to All New Strategies Group Clients for a Great Year

Since partnering with Dexter + Chaney in 2015, we have added many new Strategies Group clients! We are very grateful for the opportunity to assist these companies in their implementation of Spectrum® Construction Software. We look forward to partnering with you in 2017!

New Strategies Group Clients

We wish all of the new Strategies Group clients the best of luck in 2017 and beyond.

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Vision Casting…The Waterfall Effect

One of the hottest terms in leadership these days is “Vision Casting”. While the term itself has been both admired and admonished, the necessity of creating and sharing a cohesive vision in every successful organization is uncontested. When we hear a term like “Vision Casting” we often think about those creative types at Disney or Pixar who think of and develop the likes of Toy Story or we think of the CEO of a multi-billion dollar organization who spends his days thinking strategically about the future of his empire.

The fact is that every Vision cast by a leader no matter how grand or how small, offers the opportunity of other team members to develop their own vision of how they will participate in the overall corporate vision. To get buy-in and create excitement about the corporate vision, team members must be able to see how their departments, jobs, etc. relate to the vision.

An understandable and effectual relationship between the corporate vision and individual department or even functional visions is crucial. If a vision is to be defined as seeing things that don’t exist and imagining the world in which they do, then vision casting is charting a course to that world.

For example, Strategies Group’s corporate vision is straightforward, however achieving that vision is complex and must be inclusive of other departmental vision statements that support the overall vision. Actually, the departmental specific visions help to define our corporate vision. What does it mean to be successful? To be customer centric?

Each department needs to create those definitions and define what the end result looks like for them...a vision of the future of their department. A vision that should first be defined by how this success is felt and experienced by our customer. If our success is not their success, then we have charted a course to nowhere.

To accomplish this, each department must define those objectives for their own portion of the business. For example, success for the sales group is measured incorrectly aligning each client with all the tools necessary to help them manage their business more efficiently and more profitably. A customer care department is measured by the client’s satisfaction with the timeliness and helpfulness of each support request. The consultant’s vision will be to ensure that each tool introduced by our sales team will be used to its maximum efficiency. This combined “corporate” vision creates the world where everyone who interacts with the new technology will have a better work experience and therefore a better life experience because of our relationship.

We often get the vision process backwards. We think about what our company needs to look like in 5 or 10 years and then create a vision that fits that desire. I believe it is truly more genuine and more constructive to imagine what our clients will need to be successful over the next 5 or 10 years and then create a vision to help them get there. At Strategies Group, we have recognized this error in our planning and are in the process of re-imagining success for our clients and therefore for us.

Our first step was to align with vendors we feel agree with our desire to think of client needs both now and in the future and align their product development to that end. By connecting with customer-centric technology partners like Dexter & Chaney, we are beginning to chart a course that looks first at what the customer will need not only today but years from now to be successful.

We will be reaching out more directly to our clients as we develop this vision to ask what they see as their most imperative needs and most pressing challenges of the next five years. We want to know the toughest challenges ahead for our clients both now and in the future to help build a more secure path through the landmines to profitability and success.

Our vision must align with our clients’ vision or we become obsolete and our services unnecessary. In order to truly bring value, one must know what “value” means to their client. That value is always related to our ability and willingness to help the client attain their own vision.

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Ocular Business Myopathy

I was talking to a good friend the other day at lunch, and he was describing the first time he realized he needed glasses. He was in a business meeting and during a break, he jokingly picked up a pair of eyeglasses belonging to a business associate and put them on. He always thought the way he saw the world was the way the world really existed. The lines were blurred, the colors muted and to him, that was the reality until this moment. As he slipped the glasses on, he saw a world that, while it resembled the world he knew, it was much more alive with crisp lines and vibrant colors. A revelation like this both shatters our current perception of reality and gives us a new appreciation for the world around us.

How Ocular Business Myopathy Occurs:

I think many of us get Ocular Business Myopathy (a continual weakening of our ability to see the true nature of our business) over time. As our business lens adapts to the world around us, we start to see things as our continually weakening natural lenses allow us to see it. Our original mission, once so vivid and exciting, becomes compromised and diluted. The time altered view turns into something unexciting and the challenge and hope begin to fade. Our answers to the issues of the day are often based on old visions and old solutions using old tools. Because we don’t cognitively realize that our vision has weakened, we don’t see the need for a new business lens to view the challenges at hand.

Adjusting Our Lenses in 3 Steps

So how do we correct this degenerative disease and avoid the potentially damaging results?

While I’m not a physician (and I haven’t even played one on TV or stayed in a Holiday Inn Express lately), I have struggled with this dilemma over the years. I have found several courses of action that helped me to correct my degraded and damaged business lens. They all involve simply slipping on a new set of proverbial business lenses through which to see the world, but just like our eyeglasses, not all prescriptions will work for us. Make sure to choose the lens that allows the most clarity for your particular business vision.

1. Try On New Lenses

The first exercise to “try on a new lens” is easy and can be done in the comfort of your own home, your office or the nearest cozy coffee establishment. Buy a few books that your friends or business associates keep recommending to you and actually READ them. Digest the words with the intention of determining how the ideas expressed can help you understand your current business issues better or how they can help you correct your long term vision. Compare their ideas with the world as you see it. Look for those ideas and concepts that give you a clearer image of your current surroundings and challenge you to refocus. Then put some into practice.

2. Create Community With Mentors That Will Challenge You

The second vision improvement activity is to intentionally create fellowship with others in your industry who appear to be winning in those areas where your vision has become dull. You can do this through becoming more active in a local trade association like the ABC, AGC or CFMA or just call up an colleague in the industry and ask for some time over lunch to discuss what they are doing in their businesses or jobs that appear to be working. Be willing to share with them your view on the issues as well.

3. Repeat Continuously

Finally (and most importantly) no matter how you choose to “try on” your new business lens, make sure you choose the one that gives you the clearest vision and then keep it on. Just like our physical bodies, our business vision will become cloudy and blurred again if we don’t keep up these exercises. Embrace the new, vibrant business landscape and look for those answers that were hidden before.

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How Much Time Off is Enough?

How does your company handle it’s paid time off policy? Is it traditional? A banked system? Or something more radical and experimental? Employee benefits, including Paid Time Off (PTO), have become a much bigger consideration in the retention of good team members. With technological advances promoting the opportunity for remote workers, the inclusion of the Millennials and their ideas, many companies are breaking the traditional barriers of PTO policy.

In the old days, it was a black and white issue. New employees got two weeks of Paid Vacation and three sick days. I remember once early in my career when a co-worker called into our boss and said she was “sad” and would not be in that day. After that call was received, I remember my boss talking to his boss for what seemed like two hours to decide on whether this fit into the “sick day” policy. Not a banner moment in that company’s history. This dilemma was eventually erased with the first change in standard PTO policy when the “Sick Days” policy turned into a “Personal Days” policy in order to give the employee more flexibility.

Most companies today are looking at their PTO policy as a way to attract and keep good employees. The next wave of major changes to this policy started in the early 2000’s as companies offered “banked” time off that allowed employees to gain additional time with each year of seniority. A recent survey stated, “bank styled PTO policies have reduced turnover by 9% when compared to traditional systems.” As we look at total cost of operations, personnel expenses are growing dramatically. With the increased cost of healthcare, regulation administration and other burdens, it is more important than ever to get our policies right.

Today, a small number of organizations (and not surprisingly spearheaded by tech firms who deal with Millennials almost exclusively) are implementing unlimited PTO policies. These plans were put in place to hire the best of the best. Here’s my question….If you hire the best of the best, aren’t you hiring those people who will most likely work harder than the next guy and not take advantage of these “policies”? EXACTLY! That is the bet these tech companies are making. The staff now has the freedom to take the time off, but their own desire to succeed and move up the corporate ladder is their new master. Sure take the time off, but don’t get too envious of that corner office.

All of this maneuvering makes my head spin and my teeth hurt. I have never been a big fan of social engineering at the macro or micro level. My contention is that we should find people who fit in our culture, have the skill set to do the job we hired them to do and then treat them right. Plans and packages that intend to make people act a certain way are usually manipulative and counterproductive in the long run.  Hire right, treat them like individuals with respect and accountability and they will thrive and so will you!

If you’re looking for more consulting on hiring and retaining construction employees, contact Strategies Group today. We can help consult you on tactics that will help your business grow.

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CHANGE Management Process – Commit (or You Will be Committed to your Circumstances)

change management process

Having seven kids, my wife and I are always looking for ways to engage with them on their level to create shared moments of growth and discussion. One of the unlikely tools we have started to use is Netflix. While this method is probably not taught in any Human Behavior courses or change management process workshops, it seems to work for us. We pick a series and set a time for popcorn and the show (after homework of course). Our youngest kids are now seventeen and we decided to go retro and watch the show Lost that first appeared on TV over 10 years ago.

The premise of the show (well at least the naïve premise) is that 40+ people crash landed on a deserted island. At first, they stayed on the beach waiting for rescue, but as it became clear that nobody was coming they began to plan to “stay awhile”. These plans included moving off the beach and near a water source. Soon however, other forces began to negatively affect them. As their situation became more dire, one member of the group decided to build a raft and head out for the shipping lanes to find a rescuer. With little food and fresh water, a small group boarded the raft as the group pushed it out into the surf. There was no turning back. They committed to the concept of rescue or death.

Luckily most of our decisions don’t require option “B” as death; however, we often treat them as if they did. We wallow in our subpar circumstances and accept our poor performance. We too often only pull ourselves out of our stupor when our temporary “comfort” is affected by outside forces (Poor P&L results, loss of clients, etc.).

5 Factors for Your Change Management Process

Very few of us are willing to concede the idea that we even need a raft (change), much less undertake the process of building it (change management process). However, IF we realize that our current circumstances will not change by a passive or external force and IF we have the courage to effect active change then we can expect several outcomes:

The Dissonance of the Comfortable

Once we start to discuss change, there will always be a group of our co-workers who live to protect their comfort and fear anything that threatens that comfort. Even if the change is rational, the research is sound and the process is bulletproof, some in your midst will fight you.

The Support of the Uncomfortable

It always surprises me how many people think alike but sit in silence and accept their circumstances. Once the building of the raft is announced, supporters will almost always come out of the woodwork to learn more about the plan and provide support.

The Criticism of Everyone

This is your vision, even those who support you will have different ideas about how to achieve the results. Listen to them, revel in their support and embrace their individual input and experience but it will most likely be up to you to drive the change forward.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

No matter how much we plan, prepare, test and engage, you will always have uncertainty as your partner in this process. By proper preparation and planning, you can mitigate the more dire outliers as potential outcomes, but you can never guarantee the end result. While this is a part of the process, it should not be the catalyst to quit building the raft.

The Necessity to Commit

None of the above matters if we don’t launch the raft into the surf and trust our planning and our abilities. While lessons can be learned in the process, big positive change does not usually happen without that moment of commitment.

Who knew that 10 year old TV series could teach us lessons to apply to our business’ change management process. Actually that particular show has a running comparison of at least two different management styles among the leaders of those lost on the island, but that is a conversation for another time. I encourage you to inspect your circumstance honestly and see if it’s time to launch a raft.

strategies group change management process

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Watershed Moment

Whether you are basking in the glow of a prosperous and fulfilling 2015 or trying to forget the challenges of last year, we will all most likely have to face another watershed moment in the New Year.  A watershed moment represents a critical turning point when an important change happens. The decisions we make in that moment definitely affects the outcome of our year; however, the attitude and dedication with which we follow our new path will affect the rest of our lives.

Think back through your life to those moments that changed your path and drove your steps. Many of those seemingly monumental decisions are now forgotten in a stream of consciousness that dwells on the here and now. The new paths we take can lead either to new successes, dead ends or, even worse, dangerous areas.

In my experience, it is not the eventual destination of the new path that we dwell on in years after, it is the effort that was exerted to get there. Think about anything that you have accomplished that took herculean effort or think of those who have accomplished world-class feats such as climbing Mount Everest or completing an ironman triathlon.

When you speak to those people or think back on your own accomplishments, the end result is sweet, but the story they tell people is most often of the struggle and perseverance it took to accomplish the goal. To the Everest climber, it was the training and the ascent, not the eventual summit they are most proud of and love to tell their friends about. To the working father who finishes an ironman triathlon, it is the countless hours in the pool early in the morning before work or the late nights cycling while the family sleeps that others love to hear and the athlete loves to tell.

In October 2015, I had one of those watershed moments. The decision I made was risky but calculated. The plan was well thought out and the eventual goal was defined, visualized and eagerly anticipated. Those affected by this business decision were carefully considered and their successful transition was of utmost importance.

However, all of this planning did not fully prepare me for the road ahead. Within thirty days of taking this path, obstacles and new adversaries appeared that I hadn’t anticipated or (in my opinion) deserved. For me, clearing the path and helping others keep their eye on the destination provide me with the energy I need to keep walking. For Strategies Group, 2016 will be a year of sometimes exhausting path clearing, but the end result will be our ability to provide our clients with the best business solutions that will allow them to plan and execute their own watershed moments.

My encouragement to each of you is don’t dwell only on the goal, but get energy and fulfillment from the herculean effort that will go into creating the summit experience. The lessons learned during this time will be what you build your company or personal future on. Most of the summit moments will be just a fleeting memory, but the effort exerted will always be nourishment for your future growth.

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Let’s talk about how trust IS NOT developed. How many of us have been to a company team building outing where we are asked to do things like fall backward into the faithful arms of our fellow team members? Do we really believe that deep trust can be obtained because four other team members with nothing to lose catch you instead of letting you fall onto the ground and split your head open? What kind of sociopath would allow any human being to fall to certain injury like that? Is that the level of trust we expect in our organizations? If so, I am pretty sure I would not want to be a part of that organization. Trust isn’t developed in a contrived environment with no personal gain or loss on the line. Trust is developed in the daily interactions of our management team with our customers, our vendors and our employees.

If we as owners and managers aren’t loyal or honest to our customers and our vendors, we place a reasonable seed of doubt in the minds and hearts of our employees. I am a big believer that character is exposed best under the bright light of monetary risk. If our morals are such that our loyalty to customers and vendors change based on the financial risk at hand, how are we to expect our employees to think we would treat them any differently? It is incumbent upon us to EARN our team’s trust through our daily interaction with our company’s ecosystem. Our team must begin to trust us as they do the other drivers on the road. They need to know what to expect when they encounter us if they are to trust us with their best.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” I wish it were that simple. I would rephrase it to “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to watch them when money is on the line.” What can we do to build trust in our teams? The first step is to make sure we are trying to be trustworthy. Here are few places to start:

  1. Customer Relationships – Review our internal practices to determine if we are treating our customers fairly. Do we truly offer a significant value proposition to them or are we simply in it to maximize our profit? Do we communicate bad news as well as good news in a timely manner?
  2. Vendor Relationships – Do we communicate honestly to vendors about our payment cycles? Are we doing our best to pay within terms and communicating the bad news to them if we are unable to meet their terms?
  3. Employee Relationships – Do we really offer our employees a safe place to discuss their ambitions and discuss their place on our team? Are we willing to accept that we may lose some of our best team members because their ambitions lie somewhere else?

If we can honestly evaluate those areas and strive to become trustworthy in them, then our team will begin to accept us as they do the 3,000 pound car coming at them on the road. They won’t give our integrity a second thought because we have earned their trust in the corporate things we do every day.

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Even Big Brown Can Let You Down

We all mess up, heck even Big Brown messes up. My son ordered a new longboard for our spring break trip to Florida. He paid for overnight shipping so that he could make sure the board was there for our Friday departure. After two missed attempts to deliver by UPS during the week, I called to arrange a pick up at the customer service center. At 7:46 pm on Thursday evening I received a call back to tell me that I could pick up the package at the service center if I could drive the 24 miles across Atlanta in the next 14 minutes. With my private helicopter in the shop, I instead opted for a pick up the next morning when they opened at 8 am (pushing back our departure time by an hour).

We arrived at the UPS customer service center, a small office a block from the main distribution center. The clerk at the counter told me that our package would not be “down” until 10 am. I explained we are heading out of town and were told it would be available for pickup at 8 am. The “customer service” agent then told me that the package had been delivered to the distribution center (an entire block away). I asked if someone could walk over to the distribution center to pick it up to which I was told a definitive “NO.” Now defeated, I told them I would pick up the package when we returned a week from Monday. Ms. Customer No Service informed me that the package would only be held for five business days. I would have to call Customer Service to arrange for a longer hold. When I mentioned that they were Customer Service I received a glaring response and a “That is a different department.” When asked if they would let the other Customer Service Department know that I needed longer holding time, the attendant said, “No sir, they have to hear it from the customer.” Once my head stopped spinning, I said “but YOU just heard it from ME the customer.” She gave me a disapproving look as though I had just been caught chewing gum in the classroom. With the obvious stalemate ahead, I turned and left for spring break.

I knew immediately that this encounter was great fodder for an article. However, the lesson I learned changed greatly as I pondered the encounter on my six-hour drive to the gulf coast. My initial thoughts centered on how poorly I had been treated, how angry I was and how this should not happen to a valued client. But as I mulled the events of the morning over in my head, the real story became clear. Be good enough at what you do to survive making a customer temporarily angry.

One of the most repeated phrases I’ve uttered in my twenty-five years of parenthood is “I’m sorry.” I have become very proficient at being less than perfect in my personal life and in my work life. There is no doubt in my mind that our management team and our employees have our customer’s best interest in mind every day; however we still fail to deliver an exceptional customer experience 100% of the time. How can a company survive if it fails to meet client expectations?

The answer is simple. Make yourself and your business essential to your client’s success. UPS has figured this out. While I may have been livid at the clerk and her total disregard for true customer service, at the end of the day I need Big Brown in both my personal and business life. The vast majority of the time, UPS excels in providing the service we request. They do it better than anyone else. If I need to have goods shipped to me (thanks Amazon) or I need to ship goods to clients, then I NEED UPS…PERIOD. I need the reliability of their residential overnight delivery service to compensate for my inability to shop early for Christmas and anniversaries, and I need the reliability of their business delivery service to ensure that my clients receive the goods they ordered on time and undamaged.

How do we become essential to our clients’ success? Three components of UPS’s success come to mind; Systems, People and Partnerships. UPS has some of the most impressive physical and technological systems in the business world. Their distribution network runs like a recently tuned Swiss watch. Their industry leading technology allows their clients to easily track their packages movement throughout the shipping process. UPS does a great job of realizing that their most important people are those employees who interact with the client often (okay, with the exception of Ms. Customer No Service.) UPS drivers are well trained, hardworking, courteous and well paid. This insures they get the best drivers in the industry. The end result is great client interactions. The third component of the UPS client experience is the company’s ability to partner with other firms who need their services to extend their clients reputation. One great example of this is Amazon. If you are an Amazon Prime member like me, then those free shipping spiffs are largely due to their shipping partner UPS being able to provide quick shipping at low prices that Amazon is willing to absorb into the Prime business model.

I am not naïve enough to think that these three principles will work for all of us; however the core components of industry best system management plus well trained and highly motivated employees fit most of our business models. If we invest in improving our delivery systems (workflow processes, technology, etc.) then we will be more efficient and more profitable. If we understand how our client sees us and then use this lens to train our people appropriately, the client interactions will improve along with the entire client experience. Taking the time to understand, document and improve these two components of our business will dramatically affect our relationship to the client.

While there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question, it is incumbent upon us as business leaders and managers to identify the magic mix of products and services that will make us indispensable to our clients. Once we have identified and instituted these services in our business at a high level, we can expect the client to begin to rely on us as a trusted partner in their business.

If your firm needs help in reviewing internal workflows or improving technological systems, our team at Strategies Group would love to help you. Please reach out to us and let us help you become ESSENTIAL to your clients.

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