Author Archives: Kristin Hege

The Power of a Well-Developed Tech Stack

The Power of a Well-Developed Tech Stack

As construction technology continues to develop, the options and customizations available can give a contractor the exact stack of solutions they need to be as effective as possible on the job site. But if implemented incorrectly, all of the options can create a confusing jumble that no one on the team can use effectively and ultimately doesn’t get used. Fortunately, Eric Tucker joins us on this episode to help our listeners understand how to build and use a tech stack successfully.

Eric is the Senior Business Development Manager at Procore Technologies and has spent nearly a decade finding solutions for specialty contractors to solve collaboration, safety, and profitability challenges contractors are facing today and in the future. In this episode, Eric shares the ups and downs of all-in-one systems, what is happening in the industry and tech-stack strategies.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Building and maintaining your tech stack ensures your ROI. Understanding your tech stack, all of the software and hardware used by the company, and how each piece interfaces with the others, will ensure that your data flows through the entire stack. This  gives your leadership the transparency into each aspect of your business to make the best decisions throughout the life of your projects – a benefit that compounds over time.
  2. Mobility is critical in a tech stack. Digitization has taken data off the clipboard and put it on the computer, but that isn’t efficient enough in today’s market. There isn’t enough time to go to a computer and input data and be effective enough to keep up with the pace needed to keep your GC, Subs, or clients happy. Fortunately, mobile solutions make data entry as easy as sending a text message or checking your bank account. By putting the technology in the hands of users, adoption among your workers will skyrocket.
  3. Build your perfect tech stack instead of relying on an all-in-one setup. The pandemic changed the way business was handled and managed forever. It became paramount that communication was happening between the field and office continuously and not just when there was a site visit. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for a typical contractor. Your business is unique and needs custom solutions to run as efficiently as possible. Before committing to any technology, first identify your business’ specific needs.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to The Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill, and today we are sitting down with Eric Tucker. Eric is the senior business development manager at Procore Technologies. We’re super excited to have Eric on today, as he leads the Tech Alliance Strategy for Procore and focuses on trade and specialty contractor markets. One of the things that Eric does, is he sources and launches partnerships to further the mission that Procore is undertaking right now in the marketplace. So, today we’re going to be talking about a few different things: the first is all-in-one systems, the other thing is what’s happening in the industry in general, and also tech stack strategies. Hello Eric, and welcome. And thank you for joining us today.

Eric Tucker:

Hey Mike, thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, this is going to be great. We’ve gotten to know each other more recently, as we’re working together as technology partners and companies, and I’m excited to have you join us.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah. Excited to be here, and contrary to popular opinion or what some people may think about to two companies that both have a time tracking tool, that it’s amazing we can sit on a podcast and talk about the future of technology, and future collaboration.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, agreed. It’s been exciting to see the advancements in the industry, not just from a technology standpoint, but also the companies and organizations, and integrations and other things that we’re excited about working on with Procore, and can’t wait to deliver it to our mutual, and future customers.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, love it.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. So, I guess to just start the conversation out and get things rolling, I just wonder from your seat and your perspective at Procore, a large company that’s out there making huge changes and innovations in the industry, what are you seeing that is taking place as we’re working to come out of this COVID-19 pandemic?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, so I think, if we back up to during the pandemic, if you look at a lot of the content that’s been produced about, okay, the look backs around COVID-19 and what happened, technology adoption increased in a big way. Folks that had technology initiatives most likely accelerated those in during the COVID-19 lockdowns, because that was the only way they could stay in business. We were dealing with remote work, we needed to deal with management, servicing multiple job sites. We had workforces leave the job site and take unemployment, and it really required people to accelerate their technology investments to solve for some of these challenges around productivity.

Eric Tucker:

So, I think as we come out of it, we’re seeing some of these technology solutions stay in place. It’s not like they’re going to go back to old habits. I think in a lot of ways, the industry advanced. And the thinking around technology also advanced, and just how we work. We know this on the technology side, that we’re not going to go 100% back to office anytime soon, because a lot of our companies we’re able to survive remotely. And I think certain functions of the construction industry will remain that way as well, because technology exists. And I think a lot of contractors are finding that too, to mean that they’re actually more productive and they’re able to do more with less, because of some of these technology solutions.

Mike Merrill:

So if I’m hearing you right, you’re saying that you feel like the industry as a whole is really more warm, and warming up to the idea then than previous because of this experience. Is that right?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, definitely. And we’ve always had the contractors that are on the cutting edge. I think that contractors get a bad rap that they’re anti-technology, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think there’s a large scale, and I think that a lot of the folks that were maybe later adopters of technology, or hadn’t committed the technology budgets before are now, yeah, they’re warming up. They’re waking up to, oh my gosh, this is actually a big part about how we do business. And technology is going to change everything about how these companies do business.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that, and I think we would be in complete agreement on that. So, one of the things that I’m hearing a lot, and you probably are hearing the same thing, lots of these companies are looking to source or find what I would term all-in-one solutions, more like one place that they can go to for data, one place they can go to for information that they need, and that’s critical to their business. What does that look like from your perspective?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, that sort of perspective, I think came out of some of the construction ERPs positioning themselves as all-in-one. And they did things like field service management, they did things like time tracking, they did things like change order management. But they weren’t mobile, they weren’t in the cloud, they didn’t really allow for collaboration and transparency on job sites. And so what happened was, is these were solutions that were meant to be accounting systems, and kind of became project management systems. Not because necessarily the contractors wanted it, but because there wasn’t a lot of solutions 10 years ago.

Eric Tucker:

That’s largely changed. And what’s happening is we’ve seen… One of the reasons Procore exists, is that an accounting system just simply cannot do everything a project management system can do for construction, and from an operations perspective. And so what we’ve seen has venture capital has poured into the construction technology market over the last, especially in the last five years, but certainly the last five to 10 years, is now contractors have a lot of really good options. And there’s this opportunity for different departments to use best in class solutions for their function, versus an all-in-one that really can’t be good at any one thing.

Eric Tucker:

So, that’s sort of where things are at right now, is we have a view that the ERP and accounting systems should really be for the back office functions and the back office accounting solutions. But all of your different departments and field teams should have best in class applications for what they need. And the importance is really not around buying one system that’s average at a lot of things, but buying like I said, best in class. The challenge for management and for teams is the data component. I have a saying that that different teams should use different applications, but they still rely on the same data. And that’s true without technology. Teams need to share information, and I think technology can accelerate that if the integrations are in place to support it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, much like Procore in existence for that same reason, that’s what WorkMax does too. We try and collect that field data from a labor and production perspective better than anybody, and then empower the ERP, empower the payroll process, empower of the job cost system, empower project management tools with that better data.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, exactly. And those are teams that previously were dealing with email, and spreadsheets, and attachments, and Dropbox folders at best. And every time that information doesn’t get transferred well enough, if there’s a gap in communication there, that’s a deterioration of trust which can really hinder progress of these companies.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I like what you said, no one solution is going to be able to be all things to all people. And so like you mentioned, integration is the key then at that point. APIs, web connectivity, web apps that have continual touch points with sharing that data within the various systems within their ecosystem. Is that the way you see it as well?

Eric Tucker:

Absolutely. And what that means also for contractors, is the more API and integration availability there is from the existing systems, workforce management systems, from construction management solutions, from ERPs, it means that the industry can actually attract more innovation. Because in the same way that one system can’t be all things to all contractors, and all departments, and all their different functions, we want to bring… More startups is good for this industry. It’s going to give contractors more choice, it’s going to bring new technologies to the industry that the bigger companies may not be able to build. And those APIs are going to allow them to play nicely within an existing tech stack.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So you mentioned the word tech stack, so what is that for the listeners to understand better?

Eric Tucker:

Yep. So a tech stack, think about a stack of your technology systems. And this is something I think we’re starting to see construction CIOs, and IT leaders, and operations leaders take a lot of pride in. This is the stack of solutions that is the winning stack for your particular company. And the really good companies are, are managing this as a sort of, I don’t know if fluid’s the right word, but there’s your core stack of solutions. You have a backend platform that’s connecting field, back office, and a lot of your construction functions, like Procore. You have your accounting system that’s synced really well. You have your workforce management system and labor tracking solution, which could be you guys, it could be us, it could be several others. There’s some field technologies that might be really critical to that particular contractor’s needs, whether it’s a mid-market union electrical contractor or a large GC, those things are going to differ.

Eric Tucker:

And then wrapping that all up into an analytics solution, like Procore has a backend analytics system that brings all this data together. And so, you have those core elements, but at the same time opening yourselves up to pilot different solutions to layer on top of that stack, at a low level of risk. And managing that, that idea of managing a tech stack gives contractors the ability to try new solutions. It makes them more innovative, and it helps build an innovative culture within their companies, because they have built a way to safely try new things.

Mike Merrill:

So, you’re saying nail down the core systems, and then try other pieces and components to enter into that ecosystem, is probably your recommended strategy?

Eric Tucker:

Yep, that’s what we’ve seen. I think for the most innovative contractors, a lot of them have dedicated IT managers that are thinking about this, that are managing programs to allow for pilots of new solutions, and also educating core companies around integration. So for us, for a typical contractor, trade contractor, workforce management is absolutely critical. The construction management side, which is managing the productivity component of that, managing the costs, managing change management, RFIs, drawings, communications up to the customer, those are all things that are really core. I think ERPs are also that way. We see companies stick with an ERP for 10 or 20 years, those are really hard to displace. But the good thing is that there’s so much infrastructure being built to allow for connectivity to all those systems.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So, basically whatever trade you’re in, whatever focus your business has as a core, there are solutions to specialize in those particular things. And then you’re saying, find these other complimentary solutions to customize, and tweak the needs that you have as a business. But the takeaway is that those systems, those solutions, despite what industry you’re in, exist. Right?

Eric Tucker:

Absolutely. And contractors are able to survive without some of these solutions today because they have been for 20 years. But the reality is that the amount of work that there is being thrown at them with a shrinking labor workforce, is really changing the calculus of their process. And the technology has shown up to solve this. If you look at field service, there’s several different really world-class cloud and mobile solutions that integrate with the ERP. Several of them integrate with Procore now. The same thing with workforce management. There’s there’s solutions like WorkMax that bring all these together.

Eric Tucker:

There’s also, you have things like labor scheduling, for example, and deeper tools that maybe the solution in Procore, or WorkMax, or the ERP is good for some, but there’s a level of sophistication that another more point solution brings to market. I think point solutions can actually be really valuable to certain contractors if it solves their need. And the good thing about these newer companies, the newer construction technology companies entering this space, is that a lot of them have a freemium or pilot model. So, they’ll allow you to go try before you really commit to enterprise agreements. And Procore has close to 300 API integrations in our marketplace, so we’re trying to make sure that as the solutions come to market, they integrate with the backend solution of the contractor. So you can try them, the data syncs up, and it’s available.

Mike Merrill:

So, you mentioned workforce management, scheduling, service-type dispatch solutions. Are there some other things that are on the horizon, that are coming down the pike as well?

Eric Tucker:

Yes. So, the other area that I think is really interesting is the materials space right now. If you were to go buy, it’s summertime, I just bought a new umbrella for my outdoor patio on Amazon this week. And I can go on there, I can compare similar solutions or similar products, I can compare pricing, and I can choose a shipping route. I can actually have a choice of logistics. I have Prime, so obviously that one’s easy, but there’s also if I didn’t, you can choose between a carrier and there’s a price associated with it. And then once I buy it, I can simply go into an app and see exactly where in the world it is, whether it’s out for delivery or not. And then once it’s delivered, it tracks it.

Eric Tucker:

That’s an amazing amount of infrastructure that’s available to us as consumers, that does not exist in a unified way for contractors. And we’re seeing a lot of companies step up to go solve that, and it’s really exciting. So, both on the materials procurement side, and suppliers are also very interested in this. And so, I think contractors should stay tuned to some of the materials management solutions that are coming to market. We’re integrating with several right now.

Eric Tucker:

The other area would be, that I sort of think of as the supply chain, but it’s not exactly materials delivered to the job site, it’s the fab shop and fabrication solutions. The coming together of BIM models, of advanced computerized machinery, and then actually just shop operations. There’s manufacturing solutions for every other industry, and we’ve seen several pop up for construction in the last few years, and I think those are going to continue to grow. But what’s so interesting about the shop function, and I know so many trade contractors especially in MEP space, are looking to build out prefab functions. You still have a workforce management function there. They rely on things in the construction project, like change management and daily logs. So, those are areas that are going to require deeper integration, and are going to require contractors to give a lot of feedback to get it right.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you brought up a really good analogy. I really love that, buying the umbrella through Amazon. It’s true, you can’t do that with a bunk of plywood easily today. And if you can, it’s not widely known. I don’t hear companies talking about those solutions as of yet, so exciting that you’re seeing some early signs that those things are starting to hit the street, and there are technology companies investing in those types of solutions.

Eric Tucker:

Yep, very exciting.

Mike Merrill:

So tell me, as we talk about some of these different things, I know the common component to a lot of it as it relates to construction, is just this whole idea of the innovation of mobility. How important is that today in any software solution that someone is leveraging?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, mobility is absolutely critical. Going to a desktop solution to actually enter in information, is just too slow for construction today. The opportunity with mobile, if we go back a decade ago, the folks using technology on a job site were maybe the project managers and accountants. It was maybe a project management system, and the accounting team, and maybe some folks in the back office. But the opportunity with mobile is that we’ve brought technology to the field. So, now if we think about time tracking applications, if we think about forms, all of these things that used to be on clipboards and paper, we’ve now digitized, which is really exciting. And so, pretty much every core function of the field should really be digitized, so that we can actually roll up data and run analytics on it to drive productivity and profitability. It’s just such an exciting time for that, and mobile makes that possible. That’s the tip of the spear for data, is creating good mobile experiences.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. It reminds me, we had James Benham recently with JBKnowledge, on the podcast. And he coined a phrase that I really liked and I’m probably going to have to steal and use. But he was talking about the old scanning solutions that would basically take a piece of paper and make it a digital PDF, and he was saying back in the 90s or early 2000s, that was a great solution because it got rid of the physical paper. But all we were doing is making that physical paper digital, we weren’t getting the data from it where we could actually have it digitized. And so, he called it a 90s solution to a 2021 problem.

Eric Tucker:

Yep. I listened to that, and I think he couldn’t have been more spot on. What’s what’s exciting is, I talked a bit about the amount of venture capital coming into construction tech, is it’s attracted user interface designers from outside the industry. So, we have this sort of renaissance of good technology design entering construction, that’s really empathetic to the needs of a superintendent, or the needs of a foreman, or the needs of a worker, and how we may need to capture data from them, or to support them with data to do their jobs better. And we’re hearing, there’s just some really creative interfaces being built. And I think that’s one of the reasons I come back to all-in-one is never going to nail it. Right?

Eric Tucker:

We have in our marketplace today for Procore, we have a couple of solutions that are just interfaces for Procore. They don’t do anything but provide a different layer to interact with Procore data. These are apps that we didn’t build, but some of our customers wanted this functionality. Things like interacting with an inspection via a text message, for example. That’s a solution that folks should really open themselves up to, that is built off understanding the needs of the field, but with the sophistication of a system like Procore. So, I think mobile is absolutely key, and it’s great to have just a confluence of minds thinking about mobile. Even when you think about a backend system, like an accounting or HR system, there’s so many use cases where bringing additional users into that experience can add value. And we’re having those conversations with you guys, we’re having those conversations with HR companies like Arcoro, we’re having those conversations with accounting solutions as well.

Mike Merrill:

Well yeah, and another guest we had on was Jeff Gerardi with Proest. And he was talking about how they just changed their user model so that everybody could be in Proest. Because now it’s not a game of migrating licenses, and inactivating, and reactivating, and sharing and all these things that companies try and do to try and keep the costs down. When in reality, you want all of the stakeholders within the organization to have access to that data, should they need it. And so, I love the talk track that you’re on there with that. That’s great, great to see.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah. Procore’s been an unlimited user model, I think forever. And that’s been an interesting journey, because we’ve seen users of construction management technology that we would have never seen before. And I think that’s where you get some of these innovations coming from, and we’ve seen apps launch in our marketplace that have just been directly suited to adding more value for those users.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And it helps you get the good word out, when people move and there’s ebbs and flows in workforce, and employees move to different organizations, if they’re fluent with your solution or any solution, and they enjoyed the experience and got value out of it and felt like it was a true solution for their role, then they’re going to recommend it to their new organization. And that’s how we all get better as an industry, not just one company or another.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah. And so, I guess to distill down your original question around mobile and why it’s important, I think mobile is the starting point for collaboration. And that’s what actually connects the field of the back office, you have back office and trailer functions that are working in browsers, and the field needs mobile. And not just mobile apps, but we’re seeing audio devices, maybe it’s the Apple Watch solution, maybe it’s a robot. But that’s that mobile functionality is ultimately what really connects those two, and also connects different contractors that are working together on a project.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. True collaboration, right?

Eric Tucker:

Yep.

Mike Merrill:

So, this has been a great conversation, I really enjoyed the technical side of it. Before we wind down, I did want to ask you a couple of other more personal questions. That sound good?

Eric Tucker:

Sounds great.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome, okay. So first of all, when Eric goes to put on his cape for being a superhero, what is your superpower? What is it that you feel like you embody personally?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, for sure. So when I take the Clark Kent glasses off.

Mike Merrill:

That’s it.

Eric Tucker:

Yep. I would say, this is a tough one because I could give you a much easier list of all the things I’m bad at. But I would say building trust is a major, I think is something that I’ve been able to bring to Procore, both internally and externally to different technology partners. This has been a journey over the last three years, where a lot of construction technology players did not work together. Data was in silos, and especially Procore’s a large company and one of the larger players, and sometimes there’s an apprehension to work with a big company like that. Building trust with our technology partners, and contractors, and employees that a partnership model and integration model is something that’s valuable. And that happens in a bunch of different ways, but that would be my answer, is I would say building trust.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. That’s definitely a great one, and I’ve felt that from you in our opportunity to work together recently.

Eric Tucker:

Thanks, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. So, let’s talk about maybe a challenge that you’ve seen either in the industry personally, that you had to overcome and work through, and maybe what helped you do that?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah. Learning construction. I spent the first half of my career at a similar company to Procore, but we were the Procore of the boutique wellness industry, so yoga studios, salons, spas, CrossFit, and helped build out their API ecosystem and a lot of the partnership connectivity there. And so, in the last three and a half years, I’ve had the joy of learning construction, and overcame that just by, gosh, asking a million questions. Procore does also a phenomenal job of learning and development of, like I said before, bringing technology people into this industry and getting fresh eyes on how to solve challenges. And so, we do a lot of work to train up our people on construction and construction management. And I have some amazing colleagues that have come from industry, that I just continue to learn things from every day.

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. Yeah, we need more tech and construction. I appreciate any company that’s helping bring that talent into this industry that we love so much, and that we serve every day. So last thing, if there was one takeaway that you wanted our listeners to have more conversation today, what would that be?

Eric Tucker:

So, it’s really funny that you said we need more tech in construction. Because I think it’s a perfect segue, because I think the inverse is true for what I’d like to leave this audience with, is that we actually need more construction in tech. There’s so much tech that’s shown up, and I think the reality is that on the Rogers’ adoption curve of technology, most contractors are still in the late adopter or lagger phase. And we need more early adopters and more innovators to come help technology companies think about how to innovate, how to integrate. We need feedback on integrations.

Eric Tucker:

There’s a lot of solutions, thousands of solutions. I think there’s like 4,000 construction technology companies today. And we really need feedback to go solve for new workflows that meet the needs of the field. And so, this is a big challenge when construction IT budgets have not increased despite the influx of new technology solutions. So, I think we need more contractor input. And even if technology companies aren’t asking for it, they need the input, they want your input.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Boy, more construction in tech. What a great way to switch the words around and give a deeper meaning. Thank you for that, Eric.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Well, thank you. It’s been a pleasure, I’ve enjoyed this conversation. We’re excited about our partnership with Procore, and the integration that we’re providing, and anxious for the future. So, if you enjoyed the conversation that Eric and I had today, please give us a five star rating and review, and share this episode with your colleagues and friends in the industry. Of course, our goal always is to not only help you improve in business, but in life.

Advice to Overcome Common Obstacles Construction Business Owners Face

Advice to Overcome Common Obstacles Construction Business Owners Face

Construction leaders are masters of their trade, but at their core, they’re also entrepreneurs. Fortunately, as different as industries may be, there are several immutable laws of running a business – and that’s something Cody Rich knows all about.

A serial entrepreneur, Cody is the founder of the Backcountry Fuel Box and host of the Rich Outdoors Podcast. With two successful companies under his belt, Cody knows a thing or two about implementing and improving business processes and structure. Chatting with host Mike Merril, one of the biggest challenges they will talk about today is the unintentional roadblocks that owners can sometimes create for themselves. Cody shared what he feels are three common struggles owners are facing. If you own a construction business – or you want to – this is the episode for you.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Build a line of credit with your employees. Giving your employees power over something is important if you ever want your business to run without you. Start by giving your employees a dollar amount they can spend to solve problems or create opportunities without having to get your approval. As they prove themselves, make sure to increase their “credit,” it can get to a point where your sharpest employees have unlimited credit. 
  2. Systems are what separate business owners from firefighters. Having established systems in place with the right people and technology releases the owner from having to spend their days running from situation to situation putting out fires. A leader should not be doing a job they hate, the right system means that the right person can do the hated job better than the leader ever could. If you are doing jobs you hate, your system is broken. 
  3. Don’t be the bottleneck to your business’s success. Your systems can always be improved. Cody points out the best way to find issues in a well oiled machine is to step out of the business. Start with a day, then a week then a month. It will reveal the holes in your system that you can improve. When you can leave for a month without issues, you have the healthiest of businesses.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello and welcome to The Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are joined by the wonderful Cody Rich.  Cody is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Backcountry Fuel Box, and also the host of The Rich Outdoors Podcast. One of my favorite podcasts to listen to in my spare time.

With two successful companies under his belt, Cody knows a thing or two about implementing and improving business processes and structure. One of the biggest challenges that we’ll talk about today are the unintentional roadblocks that sometimes owners can place or create for themselves. So Cody’s going to share what he feels are three common struggles that owners are facing. And if you own a construction business or want to someday, I think you’ll really enjoy this episode. So hello, Cody. Thanks for joining us today. 

Cody Rich:

Hey, how’s it going, Mike? Glad to be on. 

Mike Merrill:

Doing Great. Thank you. Really appreciate you joining us. So I mentioned in the intro that you’re a serial entrepreneur. So can you share a little bit about your background and why you love to tinker with new ideas so much and really focus in on solving problems? 

Cody Rich:

For sure. So I guess my most current background and most people know me as a hunting podcast host, but like you said, I eat, sleep and live businesses and startups and those things. I got into that world and went deep. And so I run Bozeman entrepreneurs. I deal, I consult with multiple entrepreneurs. And that’s been my world, but for you guys as listeners, I’m just a dumb farm kid who grew up with Seventh Generation Grassroot farmer. And so I come from a really, really, really small town. And all of my friends are farmers or contractors. My brother-in-law owns a big excavation company. And so I know that world at least enough to be dangerous. 

And it’s interesting to me because I guess my last 10 years are very much in startup land and these businesses and how to structure businesses. And one of my goals personally is how do I help entrepreneurs get through the struggles that I had early on? I had this idea that I was going to create a business and go hunting all the time. And it turns out that’s way, way harder than it sounds. And so I like to help entrepreneurs get to there. 

And yeah, this is pretty applicable podcast because I was on a hunt with my brother-in-law and this is the conversations we were having is, how do you scale a business in the construction space to get to the point where you can hunt at least more often, maybe not as much as you want, but at least more often? And so I think a lot of these problems that I try to solve for all kinds of entrepreneurs are perfectly applicable to a lot of the construction industries. And I have a lot of those conversations even on my podcast from general contractors, to builders, to custom home builders to excavation guys, all these things. So I’m stoked to be on. Stoked to talk about some of the philosophies and mindsets, or I guess frameworks that I put into a lot of businesses to help entrepreneurs get the most out of their business. And also that whole work-life balance thing, which is a joke, but we’re going to do that as well. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. Yeah, you’re definitely a great fit for our listeners. I think again, your entrepreneurial background is certainly long-lasting and a little bit more broad than what a lot of us do. A lot of us get stuck in one direction that we’re focused on and not necessarily stuck, maybe it’s a path we choose, but you probably have a diverse background. So that’s really cool. 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, and I hate the term successful because I don’t even look at myself as successful the same way with my podcast or with businesses. I’m on a step. There’s been a lot of lessons learned and it’s almost scary to think that I’ve been doing this for 10 or 12 years, but there’s people I learned from and I try to be a sponge. So I don’t want to come on the podcast and say I’m an expert, which I don’t think anyone assumed, but just for clarification. It’s tough because there’s still multiple things within our businesses that I’m struggling with or working on. And so it’s an ever-moving target.  But that’s the fun thing about business. It is an ever-moving target. And I think that one of the things I’d like to get to and we’re going to talk about is, what got me here, won’t get me there. And it’s this ever-evolving mindset that have to keep shifting as you grow your business because as your business grows, you scale into more problems, different problems and those things. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, man, I love that term. What got you here, won’t get you there. Tell me a little more about that? 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, there’s a great book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, and it really shifted my mindset on a lot of things. But once you have that framework of all these things, when you start out a business, you’re just trying to keep the doors open. You’re trying to get paid. And let’s let’s say you’re just trying to keep employees fed, employees happy employees from leaving, all these things and you’re dealing with that and you’re just trying to make enough jobs to get it to work. And then pretty soon you’re trying to buy back time. You’re like, “Man, I’m working 80 hours a week. I got to figure something out.” And so then you’re trying to do that and it’s just a different scaling problem. It’s about changing things. It’s about changing cultures, getting employees be happily do what they want to do. And how do you work yourself out of your own company and those things? I don’t know if we’re on takeoff on the first one of being the bottlenecks and those things, or how do you want to go about it, Mike? 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, let’s talk about bottlenecks. What are some examples of bottlenecks that companies experience that maybe they put in the way of themselves? 

Cody Rich:

So I think we’re all guilty of this and especially me. I’ve been guilty of this and it’s one of those things that I have to come back and remind myself of constantly, but we are our own bottlenecks. So when you start a company and you’re in the mud, you’re in the trenches, so to speak, you’re just working, working, working. And I think we all go through this where it’s tough to hire someone because I can do it faster and I don’t have time to explain it to someone, but I think as you mature and you realize that I just can’t possibly do everything, that’s a bottleneck. And that’s usually the first one that you come to is hiring people. It takes up time, I don’t have time, but you realize that you can’t possibly keep going at that rate. So that’s a bottleneck.

So that’s how you the owner becomes a bottleneck. And I think this goes throughout a business life cycle. And this problem just grows as you grow. So I really want to push on entrepreneurs or business owners. And even, we were talking about this, even superintendents, how are you becoming the bottleneck? We put so much reliance on ourself that we are the thing, we are the reason this business is successful and that’s great. But at the end of the day, how are you being the bottleneck? 

And that’s one of the most important questions I think anybody can ask themselves is, how am I becoming the bottleneck? And it’s one of those things where we try to have value. We try to be important. We want to think that yeah, we’re the reason. And I don’t care if this is the business, the owner down to the superintendents. You’re basically trying to make yourself valuable to some extent. And at the end of the day, how are you becoming the bottleneck? And it’s a balance of not being the bottleneck, working yourself out of the system. 

So for me, a lot of what I teach is how to basically be able to go and do the things you want to do. I don’t really care if that’s going hunting, if that spending time with your kids, or that’s being able to go get more jobs. You still need to work yourself out. And I think for me, the goal is always how do I take myself out of it and not make myself a bottleneck? And so from the top to the bottom, I don’t care what you want to do. It’s a matter of how do I create systems and empower people to do the things that I can do or teach them how to do the things I can do? And that’s a really tough step for a lot of business owners.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, what are a couple of examples of, let’s say somebody in a construction business they specialize in something and they feel like they’re the only one that can do that thing. And I’ve been in that boat as an owner many times where, oh, I got to be there. It has to be me. I’ve got to be involved. And I think that’s exactly what you’re talking about, but what are some ways that people can work through that? 

Cody Rich:

Well, some of the… Let’s just take excavation as an example. Usually you start out, you’re an owner operator. And then you can run a whole faster than anyone. And you hire a guy and he can’t do it quite as fast or quite as good. So you might as well just do it your damn self. And this becomes so common, but you can’t scale, you can’t go get new business. You can’t work on relationships if you are the one running the machine all the time. And so this is super common. And then finally, you hire an operator and yeah, he does 80% of the job you do, but then you’re always working and managing them. So now you’ve got, let’s say a crew of three and you seem to just be bounce around being a firefighter. 

I always joke that I went to school to be a firefighter, and then I became an entrepreneur, which is ironic because that’s exactly what you are, is just a firefighter. And as an entrepreneur, the next bottleneck usually becomes the firefighter. And that’s where you get to this point where you’re like, “Okay, I got five guys. Now I need a super who can manage these people,” because you always have to look at yourself is, what is the next thing? What does moving forward look like for our business or our company? Is that new, or is that expanding lines? Sometimes, let’s just say you specialize in doing a particular thing like solar. And so your job is it to go get more solar to build a bigger crew and specialize in that niche thing, or is it how do we expand? How do I grow to the next things? But that always needs to be looked at as what is your job? What do you want your job to be? And how do you get there? 

Mike Merrill:

So one of the things that I know you’ve talked about in the past is team building and that being a component of working through these bottlenecks, how would that relate or improve the situation? 

Cody Rich:

It goes back to hey, this is our biggest problem is, I can do everything. And I always say you have to give your managers and/or your team, it doesn’t matter. I always say a line of credit. So a line of credit is, you have to trust them. For me, I just hired a new gal and I’m like, “Hey, any decision under $100 need to be your decision.” And that usually grows. For this one that was by $500 by Monday. We don’t have tome for those. So I have to empower those people to be able to make decisions. And the metric can change. You could change like, “Hey, whatever, it’s $10,000 or $100,000 decision. I don’t really care.” But by empowering those employees, you give them more to work for than just a paycheck. 

And I think that’s another big piece of it. A lot of people want to say like, “Oh, how do you keep good employees?” Man, that’s the end all be all question. And I think it boils down, for me, to be more than just dollars. I think it’s important to pay your people well.  And it’s important that you know the benefits and all of these things, but at the end of the day, is that really what’s keeping employees. And in my experience, I don’t think it is. And I think it boils down to purpose and meaning and being trusted. Take it your kids, for example. If you give them an allowance, it doesn’t mean they’re going to work harder, but if they feel special, then they’re going to work harder, or they know they’re appreciated, or they get to think for themselves, that tends to work better. 

Employees are no different, not to demean employees. But people, humans want to be valued and appreciated. And so how do we instead give them the power to make decisions? And this is by and large, you’re going to fix your own bottleneck problem. So if you’re an owner, you need to let your superintendents run their own line of credit. And this grows. And so you don’t just give them free will to make decisions, but you come up with a metric, whether it’s a dollar number, that seems to be a good baseline and you say, “Okay. Hey, anything under a $5,000 decision, I trust you to make that decision.” And what that’s going to do, that’s going to create more trust, more value. 

And there’s always holes in the strategy and there’s going to be people that don’t pan out. But if you create that expectation, it should trickle down the line. So if you’re a superintendent, the same thing. I think there’s a lot of supers that want to feel like they want everything or they’re doing the right thing. Like it’s won or lost on their shoulders and their team is just these peons that do their work for them and that set a bad mindset. And I think you need to create that culture that trickles down and like, hey, you trust the super to make the right decisions. Anything under $5,000, that’s his the decision. He needs to make it, which is only going to free up your plate. But at the same time, I think even the most grunt ditch digger needs to be able to make his own decisions clear. 

So you can’t have like supers that are just micromanaging everything. And it’s just a trickle down building that culture. And this comes from top down. And we hear this all the time. Corporate comes top down. Well, you as the owner need to be creating this culture within that goes top down. And you need to push it a little bit because not every super want to empower every book sticker or every operator. And so those have to trickle down, and that’s why culture really to me, is so important. And it can be tough though. And don’t get me wrong. I know people are like, “Hey, well, it’s easy in your industry, but in mine, it’s totally different.” But I don’t know, I disagree with that. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re onto something there. It’s just people. We’re all just people and have similar thoughts, feelings, emotions, wants, needs. 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, in the fire industry, it’s like you have this trickle-down ladder and I think that’s really applicable, but you have to be able to trust the lowest level of firefighter to be able to do everything he’s going to do. And that firefighter has got to feel like he know he can make decisions. He’s got to feel like he knows what he’s doing. Sometimes the captain is going to slap you upside the head and say, “No, we’re going to do it this way.” And there’s going to be a butting of heads. But man, culture is so important. And I think if you want to get… As an owner, we see one of the bigger problems is, how do I work myself out of this? I can’t work myself out of this. My guys expect me to be there. 

I don’t know those two are necessarily perfectly in sync. As an owner, I’ve seen this a lot of times where owners have a struggle to leave because their guys are like, “Well, the owner is just effing off all the time. Why don’t I get just effing off all the time.” To me, that’s like a sign of toxic culture. You have to embed that from the beginning. And sometimes that can be really hard as that transition. As you go from owner operator and you have a couple of guys and you guys are all working tight knit together, all of a sudden the owner wants to go do whatever he wants to do. Say he wants to go on a 10-day hunt, those things are sometimes it can be really hard. But again, going back to what got you here, won’t get you there. If your goal is to do $10 million a year, then you working inside the company is not going to get you there. You’re going to be stuck at that middle ground for a long time. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you talked about culture and confidence, and I think that’s a good term building a culture of confidence that your employees know that they can be trusted and that they are trusted. And the firefighter example, I just keep thinking that literally is a life and death situation in many scenarios. If you’re out there fighting a fire, you can’t say, “Hey captain, what should I do?” You have to be a power to make those decisions or you may be risking your life. 

Cody Rich:

Right. And in most construction and most businesses, that’s probably not the case, but at the same time, that’s why it’s easy to let those things slide is, if you’re an officer and you got a bunch of firefighters, they know they have to be able to make decisions, whereas in a business it’s easy for me say, I’m the owner and I’m just telling everyone what to do. And every time someone comes to ask me, I give them the answer. But instead, maybe try to say, “Hey, what would you do?” It’s so simple. Like, “I don’t know, tell me what you do.” And it’s like corrections. I can do this all the time. Like, “Well, what’s your thought?” And people taking it back. “Well, I don’t know.” “Well, what would you do?” And boiled down to that fourth question. And then, even if it’s wrong, sometimes I’ll let them go. I’ll say, “Okay, let’s try it.” And then we’ll come back to it. Because at the end of the day, sometimes I don’t have all the answers. I know that just because this is the way I would do it may not be the perfect way. 

And I think in construction is more black and white. Here’s how it’s done. It’s almost easier to say, “Well, what would you do?” And then tweak that. “Okay. Here’s how we could do it better.” But make that decision. And sometimes this is very true, the employees getting habits. It’s easier to go ask for a decision than it is for me to make a decision. And so you almost have to force those like, “Hey, stop asking me. You know what to do. That’s why you get paid what you do.” Let’s do this. And maybe it’s a tough love thing. And that seems to work sometimes and then blow up and others. But at the end of the day, it’s like you have to force those people to start thinking for themselves. 

You’ve seen employees where they’ve been at companies where every decision is made for them. They’re just basically doing this thing. And so that can be a big shift in just the type of culture that they’ve been into to the culture you’re trying to create. And that’s why culture is so important within a business. I don’t care what kind of business, whether it’s construction, whether it’s e-commerce, whether it’s a media company, all these things, they become important because at the end of the day, that’s what’s driving you to get to the next level and just having clear, concise goals on what that looks like. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you mentioned culture. And before we hit record, you said something that struck me. You said even as your company was growing, even with 14 employees, or even under 20, sometimes people don’t necessarily really know each other even. So what can you do to help them have more camaraderie as a unit instead of just 14 individuals? 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, and you see this happen a lot. In my space, I’ll talk about it because I know it better than some others. But what happens is, and everyone’s seen this where it’s three to five employees is a team and it’s pretty tight knit. And then all of a sudden, when you have multiple job sites or you have 20 employees, and you just switch is usually between like 10 and 15 employees, it becomes us versus them. And that’s an interesting thing to watch is when it becomes, the employees become a team. And then all of a sudden it’s management is this other team. You have to be cognizant of that and work towards it. And whether that’s cracking beers or bringing pizza to the job sites and things like that and just creating that comradery of this is… Or being transparent with what you do. 

So, a lot of resentment comes when you have an owner that is just mysteriously gone. And it is like, “Oh, he’s must be off drinking [inaudible 00:19:59] at the beach or whatever.” But when you have a clear, concise company structure like, “Hey, here’s what I’m doing.” And as much as it doesn’t seem like the entire company needs to know what you’re working on. And sometimes that helps create or get away from that division of us versus when it comes to management and every other employee. So when you build that culture, it should so different, it goes back to what got us here, won’t get us there is, you have to understand that culture is very different at five employees than at 15 employees. 

And there’s just different struggles. As long as you have that concept, I think every company is slightly different. Every company has got its own problem. Some is going to be us versus them. Some is just going to be bickering within employees, or people who don’t get along. So you got the best operator in world, but he doesn’t get along with anyone, that can really crush a company. And I think it’s important to build companies that mesh together well. I would take an operator that is 80% as good as another operator, but fits well with the team because the team is going to operate as a whole better. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. So is there a mentality that the owner needs to have? Is there some advice you would give as a approach to making these kinds of adjustments within their business? 

Cody Rich:

 

And so the simplest thing is taking an interest. And there’s definitely a mentality of not getting too close to employees, which there’s a fine balance, but it goes back to what got you here, won’t get you there. And when you have three employees that has to be different than at 50 employees. But I think it’s important for company culture to have a relationship with those employees. And I don’t care if you got 50 employees, at least knowing them, maybe not knowing everything about them, but knowing them so they know you. And I think that face-to-face it can go a really long ways.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, so you’re saying have a relationship with- 

Cody Rich:

Have a relationship. Have a basic of that, right?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and it’s interesting as you’re talking. The last few days I’ve been doing some interviews. We’re hiring a marketing position. And so one of the questions that I’ve been asking is, what are your goals with this position? Well, what do you hope happens? And all of them said, “Well, we want to grow the company.”

Cody Rich:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

And so then I dig in further and say, “What does that mean?” And with five different people, the answer was different with all of them. It all had a money component, but one of them actually said, “No, grow as individuals. I hope we all grow together.” And that’s what pushes the growth of the company. And ultimately the revenue is going to come because of that internal personal growth as a team, which was really interesting.

Cody Rich:

Oh, absolutely. And I think it’s getting really clear about your goals and your struggles. So when it comes to hiring, we tend to hire what we think the company needs, or what’s the biggest thing that we don’t want to do. That’s a really common one like, “Man, I hate bidding jobs. So I’m going to hire someone to bid the jobs.” But looking at it is like, okay, if we look at where do we want to be, and what’s our five-year ten-year goals, and who’s the best person for that? This goes back to being the bottleneck. So if you’re the bottleneck and say yeah, you hate bidding jobs, but you’re probably the best person for it, then maybe that’s where you need to be. And maybe you set out a goal to say, “Okay, in three years, I’m not going to be that person.” 

This is 100% where I’m at. There’s jobs I hate doing. But every time I hire for them, it slows the company growth because no one’s going to do it well. And it’s my lack of desire for that particular job is the bottleneck. So it may not be… It’s my personal bottleneck, but that’s not the company’s… It’s the company’s bottleneck. So there’s just a different. So, you know what I mean? It’s like if I don’t want to do it and it sucks, but it’s going to help the company get where it is until I can find someone that can do as well as I can. And for me, a lot of what that means is that I need to create a better system. 

So I look at all my comraderies is building systems. So I build systems to test things to get myself out. That’s how I solve bottlenecks. So in this particular case. So there’s a job I really hate doing, but I can’t seem to hire people to do it as well as I can, which just means that I don’t have a good enough system. And so I evaluate a lot of things on systems before the podcast and we’ve talked about this before. One of my goals, frameworks, I should say is that every September I leave [inaudible 00:25:32] County and that’s a hard fast rule for me. And what that does is, it’s a litmus test for how well my companies are doing. So I should be able to leave in September and take three weeks off. And if there’s a problem, that means that I didn’t build good enough systems.

For me, that’s the ultimate litmus test is can I leave? And what would it look like? So, the very first time this happened, it was like, I read this book called The 4-Hour Workweek and it was like, okay, what if you were diagnosed with cancer and you couldn’t work  for four months or whatever? What would that look like? And you really start to think about these things. And to me, it’s a great litmus test for, okay, are my systems operating correctly? And I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and getting jobs and doing jobs. But at the end of the day, we have to look at our company as systems. And I want to take myself out of that. That’s my goal. 

So every year on September 1, it’s like, okay, can I leave? And granted. Man, the first year that it fell apart completely. And every year [inaudible 00:26:37] and it’s been going on for 10 years. And I get much better. And there’s good years and bad years where I leave. but this goes back to building that line of credit with my employees so they know they can handle these things and I should be able to leave. That’s the culture I wanted. So that’s the culture I created. And from the first hire and every hire after I’m like, “That’s my goal.” My goal is to leave in September and be able to do so with everything running smoothly. And then how do I get there? And so my job for 11 months out of the year is to build systems.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. Even for my position here, and I think back to my construction days, and I remember that first trip to Disneyland where my kids were four and two and a homeowner freaking out that I was leaving. And so I hadn’t even trained my customers to realize that hey, I have a life too. So your point is very well taken by me directly. So I hope the listeners are realizing you’ve got to make yourself replaceable in terms of your role and the things that you do day-to-day so that you could live life. I love that advice, Cody.

Cody Rich:

You have to be very intentional about your goals or they won’t happen. And one of my good friends, Brian Barney. He’s a builder. And he leaves. That dude hunts more than I do I think. And him and I have talked about it on my podcast, how do you design your…? He’s like, “You just have to be intentional. And you go into these things.” Yeah, he was saying, and I think this is very true, a lot of contractors will try to hide the fact that they’re going to be gone like, “Oh, I got this other thing.” You don’t want to tell your clients. But it turns out that if you’re just really open and honest with your clients and you have a good team, they’re not really going to care. Their only worry is that things go well. At the end of the day, they want the job done. They want to at the right price and they want it done well. 

So if you’re gone or not gone, I think it’s better to be transparent about those things and say, “Okay. Hey listen, I’m going to be gone, but here’s my guy that’s going to be your point of contact from this point on.” You make the introductions and this is how it works. And you’d be surprised when you go out a problem like, “Well, this is how we do it and this is how it’s done,” most people aren’t going to have a problem with that. There’s always going to be this like, “Oh, I hired you and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Well, make note of that. And that’s not the kind of customer who we want from now on. At the end of the day, it’s about being very intentional of what your goal is. For me, that goal is to leave every September and working very diligently to build the team and the culture around that that happening and making it happen. I have to move towards that. And for me, leaving is a litmus test of how well I built my systems. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think that’s brilliant. And as I think back to, it’s the same thing. It could be just golfing. That’s a really common one. I remember my subs like, “Well, actually I’m golfing.” And it’s like, “Oh, you failed the inspection. We got to get this fixed today.” And now I’m ruining his golf game and he’s… So again, if my plumber would have had a system where I’m not calling him the owner directly, I’m calling his guy who’s not golfing, then I wouldn’t have messed up his golf game and he wouldn’t have to worry about it.

Cody Rich:

That’s the bottleneck. Right?

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Cody Rich:

And these things happen and that’s a litmus test like, “His crew failed inspection and we got to be back there.” Up didn’t get a good golfing today. But instead of being like, “God, dang it. Why don’t you fix this? Shoot darn.” It’s like, okay, how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? What processes can I build so I don’t have this problem? And that’s it. Just keep building processes until you solve all the problems, your biggest headaches. We sit here and be like, “Man, I go back to this firefighter analogy.” I’m constantly the firefighter in my own company. And half the problem is that those problems are always changing and they’re always growing. 

And so I’ll solve one problem and up pops two more. But that’s life. It’s like as soon as you cut off the head of one snake, I’ll pop another. But that’s the game to me is, how do we build these systems and solve these problems? And then when you get really good at this, it’s like, okay, how do I empower my people to solve the problems so I don’t have to? How do I get the people to be cutting off the snakes heads so I’m not doing it for them?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and I think most people, they just like, in those interviews that I was conducting, they have a goal for their business. They have a goal for their family, for their life. They’ve got hobbies and pursuits like I said, whether it’s hunting or golfing or camping or traveling or whatever it is, there’s somewhere else they would like to be on occasion and probably should be for a healthy balance. And everything you’re talking about about building a culture where there’s trust, where people, they’re not afraid to make decisions because they’ve done it before. Right?

Cody Rich:

Another thing I constantly harp on for a lot of entrepreneurs is, when we first start out, we all just trying to make money. That’s the goal number one of how do I work for myself, make money? And then you get money and you realize, “I really actually just want time.” So we have to restructure our companies so that we can actually have money and time. And then we get to money and time and then we’re like, “Okay, what am I really doing here?” And so purpose is the third wheel of that. And so then we have to restructure our entire company or pivot in a way that we can actually have money, time and purpose. 

And I think it’s really important to stop and sit down and think, how do I work towards at least time? Purpose isn’t for everyone, but at least time because that’s inevitably. If you look at every business owner before you, and a lot of my mentors, they all made money and then they were trying to figure out how to have money and with time. And that’s the ultimate thing. And so think about as you build your systems and you build your culture and all these things, even if you don’t want it now, time is what you’ll be after once you get there. 

Look at all the business owners before you. They all built money and then they built these empires and they’re like, “I wish I had time.” So they want to build time. And I think in order to get to time, you have to have a great team. You have to focus on team. So, as you’re sitting there today and you’re like, “Man, I’m just trying to get more contracts, more money, more money, more money,” also, I think it’s important to think about how do you build a culture and a build a team because a team is what’s going to get you to having money and time? 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you use a term earlier that I really liked. You said “buy back time.” 

Cody Rich:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

You’re still fighting for the time, even though you’ve been fighting for money the whole time. And now all the money you earned, you got to spend it to go buy that freedom back because now like you said, whether it’s now or later, you’re going to want to have some time. Right?

Cody Rich:

Right. And it’s the classic conversation is the one I was having. I was on spring bear hunt with my brother-in-law and he’s like… He went through that 2008 recession. And I think it started looming, man. They were just scraping by. And so after that happened, it was just be super conservative, pay off everything and just work, work, work, work, work, take every contract you have. And I think you’re seeing a lot right now. Construction’s booming and everyone’s taking in money while they can because they don’t know how long it’s going to last. 

But don’t get in the rat race of just money and jobs and trying to hoard that and pay off equipment. Because at the end of the day when things go bad, you got to have good systems or you’re just saving money. And I think the system, system, system is what I try to teach entrepreneurs. And I get it because I get stuck in the rat race of just trying to keep the lights on, trying to pay the bills. And that is a rat race in its own. But that’s its own bottleneck, You have to be able to build systems to build a great company on top of that. 

Mike Merrill:

Well, and the thing that I was rolling around in my brain as I’m thinking of this analogy with our children and how we build trust with them and how we allow them to grow. And eventually they are going to be making their own decisions, whether we like it or not and they’re not always going to be what we want. But hopefully is- 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, in retirement homes, they tell you not to do things for people that they can do themselves. And I think this is true with kids. If you dress your kid and do everything for him every day, is he going to learn to do it on his own? And no. And so the same with elderly or anybody managing a lot of injury, they’d say the same thing is don’t do things for them that they can do themselves. And I think this isn’t true with employees. Sometimes it’s easier just do it for them, but they’re never going to learn and they’re just going to be more reliant on you. So the more you can let them struggle and fail, the better. And also it’s like your kids. If you just give them the answer, they’re not going to learn as well as if they have to struggle to figure it out. Right?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, if you end up being there Google.

Cody Rich:

Right. You become the easy button and you become the staples button and that can be as toxic to a culture. I don’t want to harp on that whole thing, but it’s like, “Man, you have to let them struggle to figure it out.” And I think this is as much… I think most owners get pretty good at this. I think it’s a mid-level problem. I think there’s a lot of superintendents because they don’t have the necessarily freedom to walk away. Superintendent’s usually trying to hold onto his job and he try to add value to the company. And he sees that value in his ability to make decisions and do things. But and it’s different because the owner is trying to work himself out of a company where the super’s just trying to justify his payment. 

I think there’s multiple ways to go about that. If you’re a superintendent, you can also be very, very valuable by building a great tea. That is powerful. I will gladly pay you $120,000, $150,000 a year for a team that runs perfectly smoothly. And I have zero problems with it. I have zero fires to put out. That’s efficiency.  And so building those things. And so when you look at that mid-level, you have to… The reason you have owners and you have, let’s say employees that are high-level employees, one has job security and one has risk. So the owner takes the risk of time or the risk of losing everything for the benefit of time. 

And I think it’s easy as owners to look and assume that that supers or any high-level employee is going to be the same, but their big benefit is they get to go home and leave the problems at the door. You don’t. But the trade off is, they have security. And so, maybe they get a pickup and a $120,000 a year job. That’s really handy. They leave all the problems at the door when they clock out. And so that’s what they want out of life. And maybe they don’t want to go spend a month off doing everything, but at the same time have risks 24/7. 

So I think every position has trade offs and it’s easy for owners to put their own desires on all of their employees, which I don’t think is always true. So this goes back to understanding your employees. You got a high level manager and he’s like, “Oh man, hey, what’s your goal?” “Man, I just want to make good money, hanging out with my kids, be able to offer them a life I didn’t.” That’s probably a really common answer. So how do you provide that, they’re great. My goal is X, Y, Z. And I think you can help facilitate a lot of those goals. 

But we as owners tend to put our hopes, desires, wishes on our employees as if they’re the same. But not everyone has a risk tolerance. Not everyone’s an entrepreneur, not everyone’s a risk taker. So us as owners tend to be like, “Oh man, they probably want to start their own company,” or these things. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. And I think if you can offer them the ability to have money, time, security, which is probably what they’re wanting, then they’ll probably be great employee for forever.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I’ve heard it said many times by lots of entrepreneurs, coaches, and inspirational leaders and people out there. I’m sure you’ve heard the same phrase. And it’s basically, if you want to get what you want, you’ve got to help other people get what they want. 

Cody Rich:

100%. 100% agree with that. 

Mike Merrill:

So we got to start by asking. We got to ask them, what do you want? 

Cody Rich:

What do you want? 

Mike Merrill:

What’s your goal? What does that mean to you? And then drill down till you get to the finite answer.

Cody Rich:

What do you think too because when ask people that, they think you’re like scheming. I just hired one of my new hires and I’m like, “Hey, where do you want to… And I think she was trying to give the textbook answer. I’m like, “No, really?” And you sometimes have to work through that. You can’t just go to an interview like, “Hey, what do you want?” They’re going to give you the textbook answer. They’re going to be like, “Oh, what’s he want to hear? And I’m just trying to get the job. Today, that’s what I want. Today, I want a job.” 

But I think if you look at like, I don’t know, what the human wants. So they want to feel appreciated. They want to have… They want to be tested. I think that’s a big piece of it. When I was working for another company, I think more than my pay, what kept me there was that people trusted me to do my job and they trusted me and make big decisions. And how simple is that? That’s actually what the owner wants. He’s like, “With your pay, doesn’t matter. It’s more about the decisions you make or being able to solve problems.” It’s pretty underrated. It’s pretty cheap thing to give to people. 

Mike Merrill:

Well, the difference is, you’re talking about more personal interior fulfillment than cash. You feel like now you’re so important. Right?

Cody Rich:

Yeah, and I think we all have that, even if you want to work at a job. You’re already got a job. You want to get paid 120K a year with a truck. That’s your money problem is fairly solved. And now you have security, job security is in the thing. But then once you have those things, you want to be tested. We’re humans. We all want to be pushed. We all want to grow. And I think those are pretty natural things across most people. 

Mike Merrill:

So Cody, we’ve talked a lot about putting and processes in place.  Let’s say somebody already has those things in place. They’ve improved. They’re in a better place. I know that you seem to really have a mentality of how else can I improve and streamline and embrace innovation? What can you tell us about that? 

Cody Rich:

Yeah. So innovating is the name of the game. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. And that can be at odds with what we were talking about about being a bottleneck. So I think it’s important to always be innovating and pushing like questioning. I always say question why you’ll be out of business in five years and then work to not make that happen. Or the same could be said for, in what capacity, what would put me out of business? And so, always be thinking about what would happen to put this whole system at a play and then how do I work towards that or work towards making that not happen? That’s a really important thing because it’s easy going back to, hey, we’re getting in the day-to-day the rat race, the hamster wheel, so to speak, and we’re just focusing on the little things, but all of a sudden there’s an iceberg ahead and it can sink the ship. 

And so, as you innovate, I think it’s important not to be rescued, but not risk everything. And so you see people they’re like, “Man, the next greatest thing.” All this money’s going towards this thing and they’ll push. And then that thing falls on its face. And so I think it’s important to have really, really good systems that are in place to keep the wheels turning and that keep the flywheel turning, but then be always looking in dabbling. But keep that at a percentage. You say, “Hey, 20% of new business is going to be XYZ because we think this industry is where it’s going, but never enough to sink the ship,” because going back to thinking about what could possibly sink the ship like, “Hey, if we pivot because there’s all this money and x, y, z, then if that falls on his face is it going to crush the ship and crush the culture?” So I always look at innovation is, how do we innovate to stay alive, but not completely pivot to sink the ship? 

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I love that. Yeah, so I guess to summarize the conversation, which it’s been fantastic. What’s the one takeaway that you would hope the listeners would have from our conversation today? 

Cody Rich:

I think the one takeaway that I always preach is, you have to be intentional about where you’re going or you won’t get there. And build systems with goals in mind. Simple as that. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, powerful. Love it. Well, thank you so much, Cody, for joining us today. I had such a great time catching up and also learning from you. I’ve appreciated your innovative spirit and of course, our friendship. And look forward to maybe doing this again down the road. 

Cody Rich:

Absolutely, Mike. Thank you for having me. 

Mike Merrill:

You bet. And thank you to the guests for listening today to The Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Cody and I had today, please leave us a five-star rating and review. And of course, share this episode with your friends and colleagues. After all, our goal here is not only to help you improve your business, but also your life.

 

Digitization, Privacy and Efficiency are Top Trends in Construction Technology

Digitization, Privacy and Efficiency are Top Trends in Construction Technology

As an industry with a reputation for being behind the eight ball on technology adoption, there are a number of trends taking place that many contractors may not be aware of. This is a problem, especially when these technology trends have implications on the future of the construction business. Fortunately, Nathan Wood joins host Mike Merrill to touch on the latest conversations about technology in construction. 

As the founder and CEO of SpectrumAEC, Nathan is an expert on construction technology and has worked with over 100 project teams spanning the US, Europe, and the Middle East. These experiences have taught him that when it comes to adopting technology in construction, it’s not one size fits all. As the Executive Director of Construction Progress Coalition, Nathan’s goal is to break down the human-based barriers to new process and technology adoption and see contractors succeed like never before. That starts with understanding where the industry stands with digitization, privacy and efficiency.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Efficiency vs Privacy: the battle between top down and bottom up needs. The need for data consistency and dashboards are top priorities from the executive, IT and management levels of a business. On the other hand, those that are actually creating the data and digitizing that work – the folks on the jobsite! – simply want the tools that are most efficient for them. There needs to be a balance between finding a midpoint between the top-down data consistency needs and the bottom-up efficiency needs. 
  2. Data is different from technology. Converting analog timecards and reports scanned and put into digital form, or collecting data born digitally, doesn’t do any good unless it is distilled into usable, actionable information that the entire team can understand and use. That is where technology comes in. The right technology will take your data and give you information in return that you can actually use to be more effective and efficient.
  3. Create fair expectations for all stakeholders on a technology implementation. Rolling out technology without getting insight from key stakeholders is a receipe for failure. Instead of introducing a new technology and telling everyone how things are changing, leaders need to engage potential users from across the board and secure buy-in from the start. 

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to The Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host Mike Merrill, and today, we are sitting down with Nathan Wood. Nathan is the founder and CEO of SpectrumAEC and the executive director of the Construction Progress Coalition, otherwise known as CPC. Nathan is an expert in construction technology and has worked on over 100 project teams spanning the US, Europe, and the Middle East. These experiences have taught him when it comes to adopting technology and construction, it’s not one-size-fits-all. His goal is to break down the human barriers in new processes and technology adoption and see contractors succeed like they’ve never been able to do before. Today, we’re going to be talking about digitization privacy and efficiency. So, hello, Nathan. Welcome on the podcast today.

Nathan Wood:

Thanks for having me, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. When we talk about technology in construction, we have to talk about digitization. What can you tell the listeners about digitization and what it is and isn’t?

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. I love the term. You said, “born digital”. Tell us a little bit more about that and what the differences are of something that’s born versus not, digitally.

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. I think it goes all the way back to is your contract at the very beginning a smart contract that’s digitally sealed and signed? How much of a digital paper trail you have across your entire project I think is one of the major drivers for the digitization of this industry and really the need for it. I think that the McKinsey reports and all the stuff that you read about this lack of data is the only thing we can shed light on. I think the unfortunate thing is once we do see that data, we’re probably not going to like what we’re seeing either. So, it’s sort of this two-edge sword of we’re not getting the data we need, and then once we find it, how do we actually reckon with what that data is telling us?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Got it. With that being said, what are some samples or examples that construction companies today have of both sets of that kind of data. Both originated and converted.

Nathan Wood:

I think anything that’s coming out of your ERP, your accounting system, that is you’ve set up that PO, you’ve set up that job number, that’s kind of that born digital that you want to stay digital all the way through to completion. Too often, those get printed out into paper tags and different things that lose that native digital. I think really where we’re facing the biggest challenge, not necessarily keeping things digital inside of our companies, inside our company firewall, but that external exchange from the general contractor to the owner or the subcontractor to the general contractor. That’s where we lose a lot of the data and why we end up with this duplication.

Mike Merrill:

Got it. So, I’m also imagining when you talk about data types that are born digitally versus otherwise, it sounds like transferring something that was on a paper document or maybe a spreadsheet or somewhere where they’re having to recreate, or retype, or regenerate is the disparity between the two. Is that right?

Nathan Wood:

That’s where I look at digitization as actually a bad thing. It’s the unnecessary effort that it takes to recreate something that is analog back into digital, whereas digitalization, add that extra A-L in there, is that streamlining, that connectivity, that integration across the supply chain that starts to smooth things out is kind of that next level. So, we kind of look from digitization to that next level of digitalization is a lot of the early efforts and early successes that we’re seeing in the industry today.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. When you’re saying this, it’s making me think of, we just had James Benham, the CEO of JBKnowledge on the podcast recently and of course he’s a big proponent of the same approaches to technology and true solutions, and James talked about the older scanning solutions where we were digitizing paper, but all it was creating an image. So, he said that’s a ’90s solution to a 2021 problem.

Nathan Wood:

To be really nerding out, what he’s actually talking about, it’s electronizing because there’s electronic is that scan that I can see on my computer but it doesn’t actually have anything inherent to it. Making it digital has some level of inherent data, but, again, that effort versus digitization versus digitalization. Say that 10 times fast. It’s that barrier there that is really the rub, the frustration, that we’re seeing with technology adoption, because I think we all see the potential, but there’s this barrier of frustration. We actually have to figure out the process change that enables this digitalization for us to have our cake and eat it too. Otherwise, we get frustrated with the technology not working when really it’s not necessarily the technology’s fault.

Mike Merrill:

So with companies today, what would you say is the key to successfully going down this path that you’re talking about of efficiency versus what they might be doing today?

Nathan Wood:

Not looking to technology to solve the problems upfront. Technology is a huge component in the solution, but it’s really the last step in that kind of three step process of addressing the people, and then addressing the process, and then addressing the technology that best fits it. Depending on who you ask, whether it’s an IT director or someone in the BIM and VDC operations tech world or a superintendent on the field, you’re going to get three very different answers as far as what they’re looking for from technology. I think that the solution, the digitalization, is when you can get all three of those folks to align on the same thing and figure out what that kind of magic sauce is to use technology to translate their needs so that we can actually have our cake and eat it too.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I like that. What kind of an ROI can a company expect if they are able to leverage some of these advanced functionalities that are available today?

Nathan Wood:

As a former project engineer and BIM engineer, I can say that the unfortunate truth is that what you’re saving is additional hours that one of those poor, young engineers would be doing that is pretty much captured in their salary anyway. But, from a quality of life? What other things could they be working on? There’s so many intrinsic reasons, but usually when it comes to that ROI calculation, what my response is don’t look at the return on investment, look at the revenue loss potential, RLP which is basically a hybrid calculation of how many hours are you spending unnecessarily doing things that could be automated with a little bit of investment in this integration, 1, and then 2), what risk are you posing yourself by having this person manually be doing this thing that could be automated through technology so that you’re actually better managing your quality of data and your quality assurance.

Nathan Wood:

So, there’s really two different reasons why, but it’s almost like, “Tell me what your ROI is on your insurance policy.” I can’t tell you the ROI, but I know that I pay it. I feel like the better you are with technology, the less you’ll end up actually paying for it because you’ll pay less for services. You’ll have more of that internal. You’ll be able to leverage it more, and you’ll figure out how to create it as a profit center, like a lot of those that in the industry are able to do. I think it starts by recognizing that there’s a big investment. There is a dip in that curve that you have to make and sort of a trust fall to get to that point where you’re actually showing that it is a profit center and there is an ROI. But for a while, you have to almost treat the ROI calculation like an insurance policy.

Mike Merrill:

Hmm. Yeah. I like that analogy. I think it’s very easy to visualize. So, if you’re comparing a large organization to a small organization, between the two of them is the savings on that ROI proportional to their company size or do you see any differences between the two?

Nathan Wood:

I think the larger the company is and the longer that they’ve had existing system… I think it actually matters more not necessarily how large they are, but how long they’ve been in existence and how long their legacy systems have kind of grown roots within the organization. I think the biggest challenge that we’re seeing now are organizations that were very forward-thinking 20 years ago and built systems when it was better to build it than it was to buy it, but now everything is software as a service and everything’s in the cloud and they’re not quite ready to make that jump from on-prem to the cloud because they’re so embedded in the way that they’ve always done it. I feel like there’s a big dilemma with big companies on that front, which gives a great opportunity for the smaller guys that maybe never had something, it was just Excel spreadsheets, or other things, or were kind of kicking around different tools, gives up an opportunity to really search the market, pick the right tool, get themselves set up right, and scale right at the right time.

Mike Merrill:

Another big topic in construction tech today is the discussion around privacy versus efficiency. Can you break down maybe what those issues are around privacy that you’re hearing?

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. The best way I actually describe that is almost like a top-down versus a bottom-up need. We were talking earlier about this need for data consistency and dashboards and wanting to see all the data in one place. Generally, those that want to see that are at the executive level or at the IT level or at the management level, whereas those that are actually creating the data, those that are digitizing and doing that digitization work, they’re frustrated and they just want the tools that are most efficient for them.

Nathan Wood:

It’s really this how do we bridge that gap between the most efficient tool for those in the field to capture and create data and also get that data to the same common source that IT or that executive, whoever wants it, from the top-down. Really finding that midpoint, that translation between the top-down data consistency needs and the bottom-up efficiency needs. Things like privacy, security, all those other aspects that are really top-down challenges are always contrasted by, “Well, but that’s only going to create less efficiency, and my job isn’t to do this paper pushing. It’s to be out building or to be out managing.” I think that’s where that dilemma continues with technology. It’s actually making something worse rather than fixing it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. In some cases, I know when we hear companies have concerns about adopting newer technologies, mobile technology, they’ll say, “Well, you’re making so-and-so’s job easier, but now you’re going to pile this on me” or, “Now, I’ve got one other process I’ve got to manage.” I think messaging that out to your staff and having not only a consistent message, also overall buy-in from everyone. That “Look, we’re going to give a little here. We’re going to take a little there. In the end, generally, this is going to be better for the entire organization, so this is why we need to do it.” It’s about the team winning together, not any one person shouldering more or less than another, right?

Nathan Wood:

What makes that team is shared purpose and having that alignment on a common why? Why are we doing this in the first place? I think that’s where a lot of times I see, especially in the consulting side, leaders get tripped up in they want to see the dashboard, but yet they can’t effectively communicate the measurements that they really want to see. Again, until they can define very clearly what are those top five or six key performance indicators or critical success factors that you’re measuring across projects, that is going to define this is how your project’s performance is measured.

Nathan Wood:

We believe this to be a fair measurement across all projects, and that everyone’s had that conversation and agreement of what that is. Too often, technology gets rolled out and people are told that things are changing, and they’re not really told why they’re not given that full context. It’s either because it’s not communicated to them, or it was never actually determined in the first place. That’s really the order of operations. Figure out what those measurements are, communicate them to the organization, and then deploy the changes, and I think the adoptions are much more likely to be successful

Mike Merrill:

I love the way you phrase that, and I think one of the things that we’ve got to be more aware of as an industry is that we’re, by definition laggards in adoption of technology compared to other industries. A couple years ago, we did a data report where we surveyed companies from all over the US, different industries, and basically, the results came back and said that, generally speaking, most companies are using five to seven different apps to collect different data. That’s still a high number. It would be better to be using less apps. Most of them are still using some form of paper or spreadsheets. They haven’t gone fully digital. There’s all these different findings, but generally speaking, we’re finding that more companies are moving on board; the trend and the tide is turning, and so, that really leads into something that I really wanted to talk about today. That is this Construction Progress Coalition that you are heading up. What can you tell us about that and the mission there and why you’re doing your work that you’re doing there?

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. The high level story going back to 2012/2013 was actually prior to a Bluebeam Extreme Conference. Sasha Reed, who was with Bluebeam at the time, and Kyle Hughes, who was with Skanska at the time, got together with about a dozen contractors to talk about the shared pain of, “Well, why is it that some PDF, which again was an open ISO standard at the time export, why can’t we use these files to more efficiently automate different processes like tagging and searching and hyperlinking that were new capabilities that were coming out from the technology.” We sort of had this big epiphany of, “Well really, again, this wasn’t how folks were using the Revit or AutoCAD or other designed tools or how they’re using Bluebeam.” It wasn’t the tools themselves. It was actually how they were using them, and the process that they were using in the settings that they were using that was missing.

Nathan Wood:

So, what we were missing was this, this sort of guidelines around, if you just do these basic things, make sure these certain settings are turned on, make sure you have a true type font so that we can search through and actually search the font rather than having to use optical character recognition, OCR, that makes it much less reliable for searchability and other things. Because you’ve seen some of these projects; they have 2,000, 3,000 drawings, and we have to be able to parse through that and in an effective way. It was really the early stages of this need for data standards, data interoperability, and changing our process, so the Construction Progress Coalition was born out of this PDF shared pain. We left, dropped the name Construction PDF Coalition, picked up Construction Progress Coalition, and joined forces with the Construction Open Standards Alliance, that I believe you guys may have done some work way back in the day with the AgcXML efforts and some of those early… Is there a story to that?

Mike Merrill:

We sure have. I have attended, in fact for years, meetings every month and regularly. We had two or three other team members, so we made sure that we were present and accounted for when that was going on. We work with all the other major ERP vendors in the space, and they also were a part of that. They were happy to see us involved and felt like it was important. We have a broad voice in the industry and our experiences from large to small organizations, so many integrations with all these different vendors. It made sense for us to throw our hat in the ring and be a part of that.

Nathan Wood:

I think that’s what’s so interesting about this dual kind of combined story of these shared pains at the industry side, between architects, engineers, contractors realizing if we just do these things certain ways within existing tools we can make this work, while at the same time technology players, like at ISA, HUB, and Sage and SmartBid, and you guys were all kind of working on these AgcXML integrations. But, I think the industry wasn’t quite ready for you. They weren’t quite understanding; it was a little too far ahead, but it set a really great framework. We still have on the website today, those original AgcXML downloads and the RFI/CDX certification that we’re starting to move forward with is still based on that fundamental framework.

Nathan Wood:

Anyone that did work based on that original stuff is actually ahead of the game, but it’s just taken that long for industry and technology to really catch up. Now it’s not XML standards, it’s APIs, so we have to understand what really is JSON, what are the capabilities of these different tools, and how do we bridge that language gap between what industry needs to communicate from requirements and what APIs can do from their end so that again, we can have that cake and eat it too. I can use my preferred time tracking or daily report or whatever app and that whatever system the GC requires and whatever system as a sub I require on my end, I can push one button and have that data go to the correct places all at once. We’re getting close to that. We have sort of micro-examples on the RFI and submittal level thanks to these iPaaS integration platform as a solution type products, like Rivet and Avocados and others, that are doing this types of stuff. It takes both new markets who pays for this middle integration platform that we’ve never had to pay for before.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Nathan Wood:

Do we trust the data? This whole privacy security issue. At the end of the day, it is addressing the efficiency challenge, and so CPC, as an organization, we’re not a standards organization. We’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes and advocates for open interoperability standards. Groups like the XBRL, Extensible Business Reporting Language, that does a lot of work with CFMA and all of the Surety organizations, NSBP, SFAA, trying to get them all together because they’re obviously seeing the need for data and connectivity across all of their projects. Ultimately, their data, a lot of it comes from contractors, so where can we identify opportunities for some shared gains where you get the same data you’re sending to the owner, you can also send to Surety and not have to do that reporting twice.

Nathan Wood:

I think until we can start to find more of those win-win opportunities, it’s going to be hard to find that ROI on some of these integrations. The more we start searching, the more we realize like, “Oh, wow. There’s some really big opportunities.” As we all know, there’s a ton of waste in soft costs in our supply chain that we can certainly cut out.

Mike Merrill:

Well, it’s like climbing a mountain. You’re going from one bench to the next to the next before you can get to the peak. Every time you get to the next part of that elevated area, your perspective changes, and you’re on higher ground. You’re in a better position. It just sounds like everything that you’re advocating for is let’s move this to higher ground. Let’s get to a better place. As you do that, your opportunity to improve and pick up other efficiencies is going to continue to grow.

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. The Everest analogy. Yeah. I feel like we’ve just gotten to base camp. Just got out of the valley, and we’re like, “Okay. Now, we can actually see where we need to go. We have some vision here.” For a while. It was just kind of searching around for like, “What is it that we really need to solve?” I think we now have a better understanding of what is missing in this disconnect between industry requirements and technology capabilities.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Well, I can think back to your point. I can think back to, I don’t know how many years ago, seven or eight it seems like, I’m speaking with James Benham, again who’s been a guest on this podcast, and Dennis with Sage who’s also been a guest, and I know Benny Baltrosky, at the time with eSUB. They were all a part of that COSA. We had the plaques on all our trade show tables, and we’re proud members of COSA. My partners were asking me now, “What’s his thing?” I said, “It’s probably early right now, but I still think it’s important to have our voice be a part of this. It may evolve and become something else, but I can tell you right now, if this is what James Benham is doing, it’s probably a good thing that we should be looking at and also doing.”

Nathan Wood:

He is a visionary. You got to give him that. Right?

Mike Merrill:

The point is that we have to be forward-thinking in this technology space. We’re trying to help construction get better, and the only way that’s going to happen as if trailblazers, like our organizations, get out there early. We started on PalmPilots, so we’ve been through the whole iterative history of PDAs all the way to smart phones and smart devices and tablets that we standardize on today. Interesting and fun to kind of have a flashback to the ’80s it feels like.

Nathan Wood:

Right? Yeah. But, you guys were the early kind of elevated state of thinking that it is going to be open. It does need to have these interoperability points because regardless of if you ask me even if one system were to own an entire organization and, let’s just say Sage for instance, fits every single tool for a company, they’re still going to have to communicate that data to the owner that might be using e-Builder or Project READY or something else and a trade contractor. They might be using ISA or Procore or anything else, so that there’s still going to be that need for external interoperability regardless. Both industry and technology are opening their eyes to that. I think it’s an important inflection point for the industry.

Mike Merrill:

I agree. You mentioned Procore, and we’re working on some things with them as well right now. They’re super proactive. In fact, we’ve got them coming on the podcast here this next week. We’ve got a couple of different guests from their team scheduled, and we’re anxious to have those discussions as well. But, earlier you mentioned CFMA, and I know that you have a survey that you’ve been working on with them as well. We’re longstanding, almost from our inception, members of CFMA. We love CFMA. We’ve had Stuart Binstock on the podcast a couple of times already and will again in the future. What’s this survey that you’re working on with them? What can you share with us?

Nathan Wood:

I have to say, and plug, listen to Stuart’s interview because I did listen, and the CIASP is also a collaboration partner with Construction Progress and love everything that Cal and Stewart are doing on the mental health end of things. On the CFMA and around this shared pain of specifically with data reporting, and it’s, again, in partnership with XBRL US. Michelle Savage over there has been amazing, and they have about a dozen different Surety partners that are very active about looking for ways to, again, combine better interoperabilities, solve those shared pains.

Nathan Wood:

We’re working to finalize and distribute a survey that will go out to all CFMA members around identifying and really getting to think about “Where do I currently share a lot of this similar financial and with data to different parties? What if I could just hit a button and send it to all of them?” Probably a lot of folks that just hadn’t even thought through that before, so hopefully, the questionnaire 1) gets us some really interesting data and interesting insights on where the opportunities are, but 2) just gets their brains thinking about how much duplicate data entry they’re already creating, so they’re creating their own kind of mental ROI as we build the solutions that best meet those needs.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. The market decides what solutions get created because they’re going to be asking for those solutions, and they’re going to pay money for them. When they are asking and they’re paying money, then organizations like ours are going to enlist them, and we’re going to develop those things that they need. We do need to hear from the customers what their challenges are and how we can best solve them, and I think that’s been happening for decades now. We’re in a really good place, but we want to keep going. If you’re listening to this, please plug in, do the research, learn about these organizations, and plug into not only within your own organization, but your networks. If you’re a member of the AGC, we’re big proponents of the AGC also. CFMA we talked about. The Construction Progress Coalition, CPC. So many great organizations to come and get involved with to up your game in a digital age that we’re all living in now. When you say for better or for worse, I say it’s certainly from the better. Wouldn’t you agree?

Nathan Wood:

Oh, absolutely. It’s so great. Since the early AgcXML group got together and was really kind of shocking the industry of, “Wait. Software would actually share data with each other? Aren’t they competitors?” I think since then, Procore has been certainly a pioneer, and they’ve been early member and supporter of ours. Adios, frankly. As much as they’d been amazing in the industry, they really have pushed the industry towards subscription, towards cloud, better than a lot of the other platforms have been able to. I think the real dark horse in all of this is actually a Newforma, with coming from the architect engineering side, and the fact that they do control so much of that project. That really important project management, the RFI and the submittal data, is a really big pain point for the contractors and for the owners. They hold a lot of it from the designer side.

Nathan Wood:

So, the fact that all these different players are coming to the table, recognizing that we have to share this data, and we have to be open with it to some level, but that the customer still has to decide from a privacy, from a security, “What am I willing to share? What am I not willing to share?” It makes the technology end of it much more complicated, but I think together, we can find that middle ground that is not too burdensome on technology and is meeting that 80% need for the industry.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Is there a place that the listeners can participate in the CFMA survey still? Is that still available or open that?

Nathan Wood:

It is actually to be sent out, so hopefully by this time, as this is being released, there’ll be emails going out. It will be only for CFMA members, so if you are CFMA member, keep an eye out for it. It’s basically the XBRL contractor to Surety CDX survey is the name of that to look out for. It’s related to submitting WIP report data and those shared pains that are facing it, so keep an eye out if you’re a CFMA member for that email to click on that survey.

Mike Merrill:

That’s fantastic, and I think many members of the CFMA are listeners and many of our listeners are members so works both ways. Appreciate your plugging that as well; that’s exciting stuff. I’m glad to hear that’s going on. We’ll make sure to link that in the show notes so that they can click right from our show and plug into that survey.

Nathan Wood:

Great. Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. So a couple things just to wrap up more on a personal level. I’ve had a great conversation, learned a lot today, even personally excited for everything that you continue to do. I appreciate that good work, but on a personal level, if there was one skill that you’ve developed in your professional life, what would you say that is and you would attribute it to it as your superpower?

Nathan Wood:

Hopefully, Sasha Reed’s listening to this. I would have to say patience. I am not a patient person at all. I am a self-admitted millennial that is very impatient with the change of this industry. But, through my headbutting and getting knocked down a few times and getting back up, I think this combination of patience and persistence has really paid off. Say that 10 times fast.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a good one, Nathan. I appreciate that. What about a business challenge that was difficult to overcome? What was it? How did you get through it?

Nathan Wood:

Oh, man. I think trying to stay to the defense of the IPD contract. I think there’s a lot of animosity, and sort of disdain for this new fancy, risky collaborative contract of integrated project delivery. That’s where I come from. That experience both the good, the bad, and the ugly. I would swear by IPD, but I think you have to be very careful with it and really understanding the importance of culture and leadership and how you use the system and not just rely upon the system to work for you. The biggest business decision and what I’ve found, the more I work with folks at the CMAA and other organizations that are more on the construction management side, is I feel like IPD has gotten a very bad rap over the years. So, I would always try and come to the defense of the target value delivery methodology and the whole alternative thinking on systems level approaches to business models.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Well, for those nerds out there, they’re going to love that answer.

Nathan Wood:

Target value! Yeah. I know how many TLAs, three letter acronyms, can you fit in one answer.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. All right. So, the last thing. If there was one takeaway that you wanted to ask or hope that our listeners have at the end of listening to our discussion today, what would that be?

Nathan Wood:

I think that deciding on technology platforms and making these decisions, whether it’s one platform or many, is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Executives and leaders that may not be in a technology position do need to at least have a base knowledge and educate themselves enough on different perspectives. I think too often we found that executives leave the decision in the hands of one IT person or one BIM or VDC or innovation person, and too often, you don’t get that full spectrum of input and perspectives from those different stakeholders. The more you can make a broader decision when going into those technology decisions and use methodologies, like the choosing by advantages, CBA, another acronym for you. I think that decision making process and getting everyone involved in that is the biggest sort of advice that I’ve been giving out recently.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. That’s great, Nathan. Thank you so much. It’s been a fun discussion, and I’ve appreciated having you on today. I hope you enjoyed it as well.

Nathan Wood:

Thank you, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. Thank you to the listeners today for joining us on The Mobile Workforce Podcast. If you enjoyed the conversation that Nathan and I had today or were able to gain some helpful insights or intelligence that you can apply to your professional life, we ask you to please share that with your colleagues and coworkers and also give us a five-star rating and review on the podcast platform that you are listening to this episode. That feedback that you share with us is very valuable and helps us to continue to bring on great guests, like Nathan and others. Again, thank you for your listenership. Our goal, as always, is not only to help you improve your business, but your life.

Providing Mental Health Support & Suicide Prevention in Construction

Providing Mental Health Support & Suicide Prevention in Construction

A few months ago, Stuart Binstock, CEO and President of CFMA, joined the Mobile Workforce Podcast to discuss why mental health and construction safety go hand-in-hand. If you missed that episode, listen to it here. In today’s episode, Stuart joins host Mike Merrill to dive deeper into how mental health struggles and even suicide impact the construction industry, company culture and employee productivity.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. When an employee’s mental health suffers, so does their productivity. According to the CDC, in the U.S., mental health struggles result in 200 million lost work days per year. That research goes on to show that in a three month period, a depressed person will miss 4.8 days of work and experiences 11 days of 0.5 days of reduced productivity. Upwards of $44 billion dollars is estimated in lost productivity annually, and a person suffering from depression consumes two to four times the healthcare resources that someone who’s not depressed.
  2. Investing in mental health is good for business. The CDC also reports that one in five adults will experience some form of mental illness in their lives. That’s 43.8 million people. 60% are left untreated, 7% have depression, 18% have anxiety, and this can lead up to 27 loss work days per year. This can seem overwhelming to leaders, but the fact is investing in employees’ mental health pays off. According to Binstock, for every $1 investment in mental health, businesses see a $4 return on investment. This includes things like building awareness, starting company wide training and giving employees the incentive to take care of themselves.
  3. A company culture that values mental health retains skilled employees. Having a culture that values the mental health of the team builds a safe and successful space that employees are not going to quickly want to leave for “greener” pastures. Adding value to your employees’ lives and wellbeing at work and at home will help retain employees, saving the time and money lost onboarding new employees.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Merrill and today we are sitting down to have a second discussion with our friend Stuart Binstock, the CEO and president of CFMA. Stuart was on the show on episode number 25 a little while back to talk about why construction, safety and mental health go hand in hand.

If you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend that you go back and give it a listen, I think you’ll really enjoy that episode and that discussion. But after recording that first episode, it was unfortunate because we just didn’t quite have time to dig into some of the other details on the importance of mental health as it relates to productivity in construction. And so after the inflow of feedback from some of the listeners, we had a request to bring Stuart back and have this further discussion. So, excited to have you here today, Stewart, we’re grateful for you to join with us and welcome back to the podcast.

Stuart Binstock:

Thanks Mike. Anytime I can have an opportunity to talk about this subject which is so critical to the industry, I welcome the opportunity. So I really appreciate this second shot at it.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great.

Stuart Binstock:

We will get it right this time around.

Mike Merrill:

There you go. I think we did a great job and again, we just ran out of time, right?

Stuart Binstock:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Well, I guess just to start off just for those that maybe haven’t heard the first episode, do you mind just sharing a little bit about your background with CFMA and also the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention?

Stuart Binstock:

Sure. I’ve been at CFMA now for this is year 11, just started a year 11. The organization actually is 40 years old, so that’s kind of historic. I’ve been here for about a quarter of the time. And time flies when you’re having fun, Mike. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as an organization over the last 10, 11 years. We’ve increased our membership substantially, but really the hallmark for me is we’ve increased the value to a membership. And I think, we always talked about when I came on board, let’s increase value and members will come. And that’s exactly what we’ve been able to accomplish.

Stuart Binstock:

We have a free monthly webinar and actually, I think last year we ended up being 18 free webinars. We did a great job on the payment protection program. I think eight or nine webinars, they averaged over a thousand people per webinar. During COVID, I like to say that not only did we survive but we thrived because we really met the needs of our members and we’ve seen that this year. Quite honestly, we were worried a little bit about renewals, but people renewed with the same fervor as they have in the past. And they’ve actually renewed their memberships at a greater percentage than what we expected and what we thought it would be. And I think that’s a testament to what we’re able to accomplish at CFMA this past year during some very, very difficult times.

Stuart Binstock:

Regarding CIASP, it is the construction industry alliance for suicide prevention. So CFMA started CIASP about five or six years ago. Cal Beyer, a very well-known person in the industry wrote an article with Sally Spencer Thomas, we published it in our magazine. We had no idea what would happen when we publish that. In fact Christine [Debusky 00:03:53], editor of our publication walked into my office and said, “I got an article on suicide prevention. What do we do about that?” We both looked at each other and said, wow, that’s not typical CFMA article. It’s not about succession planning, it’s not about tax planning, it is not in the controllers or CFO’s ballywick, but we published it and the rest is history.

Stuart Binstock:

We obviously hit a nerve that existed in the industry that no one else was. So we’re very proud of doing that and we very quickly realized this was much bigger than CFMA. This was an issue that really permeated the entire industry where union, non-union, whether you’re a craft, whether you’re GC, it hit across the board. So we brought in the entire industry to help us out. Now it’s a separate entity that services just the subject of suicide prevention.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Again, kudos and thank you so much for the great work you’re doing there. This is not a topic that’s in anybody’s wheelhouse in construction, typically. It’s not something that we talk enough about.

Stuart Binstock:

Right. Absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

So just to kind of seed the discussion just a little bit and recap, a question I would have is what does the construction industry really need to know and better understand about mental health and the issues that are in the industry?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, let me give the context for why we need to know that. And that is, construction has either the first or second depending on how you measure it, first or second highest incident rate of suicide of any industry in the United States. OSHA measures what are called the fatal four. Those are the top four ways in which people die by fatalities. So it’s falls, electrical, struck by and caught in between hazards. In 2018, I think those are the most recent numbers we have, 1,008 construction workers died by one of those fatal four. The estimated number of suicides in 2018 in the construction industry was over 5,000. It’s five times, fatal four fatality rate. So that gives you some context and why this is so important.

Stuart Binstock:

This is an issue that is just gone, I wouldn’t say it’s unnoticed, but it hasn’t been discussed. I had the opportunity to talk to 30 of the largest construction companies in the United States about a year and a half ago. They’re safety people. I am a lawyer and as a lawyer, you’re supposed to never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. But I went out on a limb and at the very beginning of my presentation, I asked, please can I see a show of hands of how many are aware of suicides of employees. And over two thirds of them raised their hands, which just kind of blew me away. I shouldn’t say it blew me away, it reinforced what we already knew. It reinforced what we have seen over the last five to six years when we talk about this issue. It is unbelievable how many people have suffered from this, either themselves or family members or construction companies. So there is a real problem.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So within the demographic, is there a certain group or subset of individuals that seem to be more at risk with this or is there any statistics that you can share on that?

Stuart Binstock:

Sure. Well, first of all, this is the first time I saw this statistic, but there actually are suicide rates by trade, which I thought was interesting. I had never seen that before. And the highest incident rate is with iron workers and followed by millwrights, masons, roofers. It’s interesting that you can actually distinguish amongst trades. But the hallmark of the incident rate and the demographic, basically white men between the early twenties through their fifties account for the bulk of suicides. And if you paid any attention to the construction industry, that’s the workforce of a construction company, and male dominated industries tend to have more suicides. 97.4% of the US construction workforce is male, so it shouldn’t be surprising that that’s a problem. And then there are all these demographics, or maybe talk about the work culture.

Stuart Binstock:

Construction folks are very stoic. So they’re not going to complain but there’s a lot, people get injured on the job site and they start taking opioids and then that’s a downward spiral that goes nowhere very well. The other factors that lead to this, a lot of times folks work remotely, so they live in isolation. They go to work and come home, they probably go drink. They don’t have a family life because they’re on the road for six months.

Stuart Binstock:

And then, I think it’s fair to say probably, there’s a little bit of access to lethal means. There is kind of a gun culture, probably in some parts of the construction industry and the easier you have access to lethal means, the more likely you’re inclined to do something. So you add all those things up, family separation, sleep deprivation, folks get laid off, the stress on a family from getting laid off because construction sometimes can be seasonal, chronic pain which leads to opioids. You add all that up, access to lethal means and it’s not a very good recipe for, unfortunately it’s a recipe for suicide.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, there’s a lot of stark and shocking really information that you shared there. I think it makes sense. It makes sense the demographic can understand again, that opioids or substance abuse of some kind, certainly have a role to play. I would agree with that completely. So with that, the last time we had you on, we talked about some of these things but an area that we never really had the opportunity or time to drill into is how does this kind of thing, when a tragedy like this happens, whether it’s death by suicide or even an accident of some kind and somebody loses a life out on a project or within the company, what kind of an impact is felt by the organization and even financially. I mean, you’re a president of CFMA so that’s something that’s probably important to talk about.

Stuart Binstock:

Well, first let’s talk about the impact of a suicide and then let’s talk about just mental illness and mental health and how that impacts the productivity of a company. So I always tell the story, I was talking to an electrical contractor many years ago. And I was talking to him about our initiative here. And he kind of got [inaudible 00:11:47]. He looked at me and he said, how did you find out about us? I said, what are you talking about? He said, we’ve had three suicides in the last 18 months. The last one was at a fortune 100 company. One of our foreman died by suicide by hanging himself in the boiler room of a fortune 100 company. His spouse sued us, blaming us for the suicide.

Stuart Binstock:

The fortune 100 company called up the company and said, I’m not sure you guys can work at our shop anymore. This guy was the president of the company, he had to go out to the fortune 100 company which was in the Midwest and they were based elsewhere and explained to them how they were going to continue to work in the environment after one of their people had just died by suicide in their boiler room. Just think about that for a second. You’re getting sued, it speaks to your credibility with a fortune 100 company, and what’s the attitude or the mood of the people on your workforce. You add all those up and there’s a lot of lost time and a lot of cost involved.

Stuart Binstock:

So let’s talk about short of a suicide. Let’s just talk about mental health problems. So these are, I think national statistics and they’re not necessarily related to construction, but they’re overwhelming. Mental illness results in 200 million lost work days per year. In the three month period, a depressed person will miss 4.8 days of work and 11 days of 0.5 days of reduced productivity. $44 billion dollars per year is estimated in lost productivity and a person suffering from depression consumes, and this is an interesting statistic, two to four times the healthcare resources that someone who’s not depressed.

Stuart Binstock:

To think about all those costs that are really hidden costs, and one in five adults will experience some form of mental illness, they say. That’s 43.8 million people. 60% are left untreated, 7% have depression, 18% have anxiety, and this can lead up to 27 loss work days per year. Depression is the leading cause of disability and increases risk of other chronic medical conditions. So you just start to add all that up and it’s kind of overwhelming. So let’s talk about, maybe some other factors. A $1 investment in mental health results in a $4 return on investment.

Stuart Binstock:

So this is good business. I will tell you that we’ve gotten involved recently in the diversity and inclusion issue as well. Contractors won’t necessarily do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, but if you can make a business case, then they’ll listen. And there’s a business case to address this, just like there’s a business case to address diversity inclusion. So 33% of workers complaints in men and 66% of women had an existing mental health condition, and 50% report symptoms of depression in the month following an injury, and nearly half have a co-occurring substance abuse disorder.

Stuart Binstock:

When we talk about suicide, let’s talk about way short of suicide and just mental health and all the impact of this on a company. It’s a hidden cost that nobody really understands. And those statistics, I think are going to be eye-opening for people. And I think they’ll make them think twice about, we’re not necessarily always talking about suicide, we’re talking about mental health. This is part of mental health. Unfortunately, the ultimate act of losing your mental health is suicide. But before you get to that, there are all sorts of things that can happen and all sorts of things that can really hurt a company from a productivity standpoint.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, so what I’m hearing you say and it makes perfect sense, if we can attack the issue at the root before it becomes more severe, we can prevent far more suicides by addressing the mental health issues. And then I also heard that a lot of them seem to stem from maybe an injury. So giving extra attention to those that have had an injury and making sure that they have a clear path to recovery, maybe how the extra attention and resources that they need to get back into good health is probably a very good preventative cause for some of these issues that can come down the line.

Stuart Binstock:

Absolutely. I think we’ve all heard and it goes way beyond construction, but we’ve talked about opioid use in this country. But in the construction industry, opioid use primarily, probably is connected to injuries and then taking some kind of opioid and then getting hooked on the opioids. And then, goodness knows what happens after that and possibly suicide, but certainly, certainly a loss of productivity at the very, very least.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I think everybody listening and you and I included directly, we’ve all had bad days at work where we just didn’t get as much done, we weren’t very productive. So if we have something that is recurring and persistent that’s causing us that issue or those challenges, then it only makes sense that they don’t lead to anywhere good and certainly nowhere productive.

Stuart Binstock:

Yeah. Well, I mean, think about having a bad day and then thinking about having anxiety or depression on top of that.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, every day.

Stuart Binstock:

Every day. Think about how effective that employee is going to be and think about, how do you find out about that? That’s kind of, I think probably the major questions that people might ask is how do you know that you’re dealing with a disgruntled employee or a depressed and anxious employee. There are warning signs and at the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, we have little cards that you can purchase that talk about what are the warning signs for depression. So they’re things like feeling sad or depressed most of the time, increased use of alcohol or drugs, feeling hopeless and helpless, sleeping too much or too little, withdrawing from family and friends, talk about being a burden to others. Those are kind of all signs that someone’s going through something.

Stuart Binstock:

And then in construction, actually some construction specific warning signs, once again decreased productivity, increased conflict among coworkers, near hits, injuries and accidents. Someone’s not paying attention, their mind is elsewhere, decreased problem solving ability and increased tardiness absenteeism. So you add all those up and it’s not a perfect formula. You’re not going to get this right all the time. But if you know the warning signs is important. We at CFMA, CIASP, we don’t expect people to be mental health experts. That’s really not what CIASP is all about. It’s all about understanding what are the possible problems and getting someone help.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I keep thinking of the old adage. My mother used to say all the time that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Stuart Binstock:

There’s a lot of truth to that. And as we discussed, it really has a monetary impact in the construction industry. I mean, it’s a serious monetary impact. If someone’s not going to do it because it’s the right thing to do, it’s also the right thing to do from a business standpoint.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, fascinating. And again, not something that we hear enough about. I think back to my career in construction for over a decade and this is going back a couple of decades, I don’t remember anybody ever talking about it at that time, so.

Stuart Binstock:

Well, Mike, let’s add another layer to this. How about the last and a half during COVID? I mean, talk about putting stressors on people. There’s a lot of anxiety in the world today. Hopefully it’s lessening and hopefully people get vaccinated, we can return back to normal, that’s my little pitch. But that has nothing to do with suicide prevention, my own personal pitch, for God’s sakes get vaccinated. I mean, just really think about it, everything we’ve just talked about and then think about COVID over the last 15 months and how the stressor that is put on people, on families, on construction companies, really the whole world.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and tragedies are always… I tend to view the world this way, I try to view it this way. Tragedies are always an opportunity to regroup, to buckle down, to improve, to learn, and let’s use COVID if nothing else, to raise awareness and to be more in tune with the mental health and just the general wellbeing of our coworkers, of our work family, of our employees.

Stuart Binstock:

Yeah. I speak at a fair number of places and so I’ll go to safety and health conferences and I’ll say, you’re all fine talking about safety. Wear a hard hat, you have toolbox talks, I get all that. But when it comes to health, well, health it’s a little more complicated, but mental health, nobody wants to talk about that. It’s hard, it’s complicated. It’s not an easy issue. I don’t think we need to blame people and blame the industry. It is understandable that people don’t want to talk about mental health, but we’re at the point where, and Cal Beyer, really the father of this whole initiative talks about removing the stigma, get away, we need to talk about it. And that’s the only way this issue is going to get better.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. When you mentioned that, I think of, a lot of people are aware of alcoholics anonymous or other organizations were admitting that there was a problem as an industry, that’s something we just need to be better at.

Stuart Binstock:

Yep. And I’ll tell you interestingly enough, they’re better at this in the UK and Australia. I can’t really explain the why, but they have a program called Maxim Construction in Australia. They have a budget of $1.5 million to spread the word about this issue. Ours is a fraction of that or 10 times the size of that country. So it is something we need to spend more time on.

Mike Merrill:

Do you have any ideas or thoughts on what companies can do to at least take a first step towards this? Are there programs, are there websites? I mean, resources?

Stuart Binstock:

Yes. I’m glad you asked that question. The website for CIASP is www.preventconstructionsuicide.com. There are a host of resources on the website. One of them is how do you evaluate a company’s mental health and suicide prevention, preparedness and culture, which is a very long word. But it’s really an expression, but it’s kind of a needs analysis and implementation. So you can go in to the website and almost check off whether you’re doing this or you’re not doing that, and will give you a good sense of where you are on the continuum of what probably would be ultimately the most enlightened company and the company that’s treating this best versus the worst, depending on kind of what you come up with as a score after you do this needs assessment.

Stuart Binstock:

But I think that’s a first step to do kind of a needs assessment. And then the second is to start doing some training. We have some training programs at our website. I think one is an hour long course that just gives you a real overview about preventing construction suicide, what you should do if you’re with somebody and you think they might be suicidal. These are very troubling and difficult issues, particularly for someone who’s a novice in that area. So there are a host of things you can do. The first thing I would tell people is get started, do something. That’s really kind of my mantra when it comes to this issue.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and I can’t help but think as well, you talk about the productivity and the loss productivity, but even if I feel like I’m doing fine, if my buddy to the right or to the left of me is not, and heaven forbid they have an accident or mental lapse or a challenge, it’s going to affect me as a crew member. It’s going to affect my project, it’s going to affect my mental stability too. My concern or my worry, I can’t help but think that the ripples that occur from an issue like that don’t reach everybody in the company.

Stuart Binstock:

I think they’re of enormous proportion. You’re absolutely right, they’re from the person who works next door to the person in HR who’s got to deal with a death in the organization, to the CEO who’s got to worry about the liability that the company might face, because somebody might sue them and blame them for the suicide. I mean, it’s endless and it really does cut across the whole. The foreman who might think he’s going to get blamed for pushing somebody too hard. I mean, really when you think about it, it cuts across the entire company, a suicide cuts across the entire company.

Mike Merrill:

And we all know socially when somebody passes that we’re connected to even in our personal life, the impact that’s felt by hundreds or thousands of people immediately that they’re gone and grieving, it’s going to do the same thing in your work life.

Stuart Binstock:

Absolutely, absolutely. It is going to definitely have a devastating, well, I mean, I think it’s going to have a devastating impact of your company, but I don’t think you even understand what impact it will have on your company. And it’ll be different for every single organization just depending on the makeup of the company, makeup of the person, makeup of the way they handle the situation. There’s unmarginable opportunities for a problem and for something bad to happen, when something like that happens to a company.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and in an environment where again, we have all these other stresses with lumber pricing and concrete prices and steel prices and people are busy and you can’t find enough good help and we’re already running around probably a bit frayed and ragged as an industry right now.

Stuart Binstock:

And let’s think of something that of course we all think is a great opportunity, but from this perspective, the unintended consequence could be negative. And that is the infrastructure legislation, which is a great opportunity for the industry. But if the industry is not manned enough and ready to do that, I mean, we’ve always talked about worker shortages before COVID. We do a confidence index survey every quarter. We ask our members what their confidence level is and we ask them what are the top five issues that they’re concerned about.

And workers shortage prior to COVID was five times higher than any other single factor. So post COVID when everyone’s back, then the infrastructure bill passes, oh my God, the concern about worker shortage. I have seen people talking about prefab and robotics. There’s got to be a solution because with the current workforce, we will not be able to handle what’s coming through the pike.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. We both know and I’ve had a couple of guests on here, Letitia Hanke runs a contractor school out in California to teach young roofers coming out of school to be trained up in the trades and has just a wonderful program called The LIME Foundation. We’re seeing it everywhere, it’s not just in California where there’s just major worker shortages as it is. So we just can’t afford as an industry and as a society to keep looking the other way, whether it’s intentional or not, we really need to put our eyes fixed on this issue and start making some changes.

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I will tell you, and I know people never think of it this way, but you could think of this from a recruitment standpoint. A company that is known as a caring culture and takes care of its people, people are going to want to work for that company. And I think millennials even more so, seem to be a little bit more independent than some of us old folks. And I think they look at that kind of stuff more than I think our generation did. And so if you come across as not being a caring culture, I think you have an issue in terms of your future employees. So it’s a recruitment tool. No one ever thought mental health was a recruitment tool, but I think it really can be perceived that way.

Mike Merrill:

I love that you bring that up. People generally, we’re feeling, caring beings. So they know when you’re interested in them from a physical perspective, from an emotional perspective, they know when you care about them and I think you’re right. I think a company culture has that same spirit of what that company is about and I think people will take notice.

Stuart Binstock:

I think so. Yep.

Mike Merrill:

So tell me Stuart, if you were to sum up the conversation today and boil it down to one key takeaway, what would that message be for the listeners as we wrap up today?

Stuart Binstock:

Two words. Do something. Do not sit still, do not just say, oh, this was an interesting conversation, it’s somebody else’s problem because it could be your problem tomorrow. You have an obligation to your employees and you have an obligation to yourself as a company too. You can think of this Mike as a risk management issue as well. There’s so many ways to think of this issue, but the bottom line is do something. You can start out small, you can maybe train some of your supervisory staff so that they’re familiar. We have a host of information available on the website that you can use, free of charge and so we really want people in the industry to use the material that we’ve created. We do accept contributions from people, but we don’t have membership fees. We’re just trying to do the right thing and do the right thing for the industry.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I’m hearing a Stuart tell the audience, “Take action”, right?

Stuart Binstock:

You just took my words and you put them into yours and they worked very nicely.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Well, thank you again for this great conversation, Stuart. Before we hang up here, I just wanted to check in and see, is there anything, any meetings or conferences or opportunities that CFMA has coming up that the listeners can participate in or sign up for?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, Mike, now that you mentioned that, of course there is. Our annual conference and exhibition this year is going to be a hybrid. Last year, it was all virtual. This year we’re going 2.0 virtual, which means we’re going to be live in four cities; Dallas, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona, Atlanta, Georgia and Washington DC. So we’re going to have a limited number of people that we’re going to allow to attend in those four cities and have the opportunity to network with one another. And everyone else, it will be virtual.

Stuart Binstock:

It’s July 19 to 23. It’s interesting when you do a conference like this, I think we have more sessions and more CPEs than we would if we were at a live event. We have 32 sessions, we have 60 CPE credits, and I know one of the things that’s always popular with our members of the small, medium and large firm round tables, where contractors get to talk with similarly sized companies about issues that are troubling. So we’d love to have people attend that and all information is on conference.cfma.org.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Well, thank you, Stuart, and I highly encourage everyone to check that out. We’ve been members of CFMA and involved, going on 11 years now. And I know that again, I think I said this on the first podcast we did, CFMA always continues to grow. It never shrinks. Nobody ever leaves it, they just keep coming and coming and coming. So we excited to have more people come and join in the conversations on the education happening there.

Stuart Binstock:

Thanks so much, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

You bet.

 

Expert Advice on Leveraging All Your Technology’s Features

Expert Advice on Leveraging All Your Technology’s Features

Today’s construction technology is more sophisticated than ever before, with better offerings to help construction leaders run their businesses smoothly. The downside? Some of the software options inadvertently get ignored or underutilized. But to get the most out of any technology investment, companies need to make sure employees are using all of the available features. 

Judy Coker is a consultant, controller, and accountant. She has decades of experience implementing and advancing technological platforms and systems to enhance administrative, operational, and reporting efficiencies. In other words, she knows her stuff. In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Judy is going to share with us what it takes to have a successful technology implementation – as well as what comes after implementation to ensure you’re getting the most out of your investment.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Make deliberate decisions on each feature your software offers. Most of the time, software is purchased to solve a surface problem. Still, to get the best ROI for your technology, contractors need to be deliberate about reviewing, understanding and deciding on each secondary feature the software provides. For example, you might have purchased a tracker for payroll, but does it make sense to track your labor against job codes or use an authenticator like a pin or facial recognition?
  2. Take the time to have an honest dialogue. It is easy to see a glaring issue but what gets passed by is time-wasting processes that can usually be rectified with technology. The only way to find out what is slowing down your teams is to have open conversations where they can share what is holding them back and what is frustrating about their day-to-day tasks. Those conversations can lead to opportunities for unused aspects of your technology to increase everyone’s productivity
  3. Take the time to do it right. Implementing software is not an easy task and requires a slow and steady process of working with small teams to get them engaged, invested and onboard. This means working through issues and hiccups with each consecutive group until the rollout becomes straightforward and reliable. The time between each small group becomes less and less as the system is honed more and more.

 

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Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax, I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with Judy Coker, who is an expert in budgeting, accounting, and technology implementations. And Judy’s really good at helping companies increase efficiencies and enjoy more profits. Judy has been involved with a lot of projects that have software implementations, complexities, and different moving parts. And she’s going to share with us what it takes to make projects like that successful. So welcome Judy, and we’re excited to have you on today.

Judy Coker:

Well, thank you. I’m so excited to be here. Share my knowledge.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, before we get into the specifics, I just wanted to set the stage a little bit and talk about your background and maybe how we met initially, where we met. It’s been over 10 years ago and maybe a little bit about that backstory, because I think that really plays into what we want to talk about today. Does that sound good?

Judy Coker:

Okay. Before I met Mike, I was at a MaxWell Conference, User Conference and I was there to learn more about the accounting software where we using at the company. And I ran into someone at the conference and they said to me, “Judy, are you going to go to this AboutTime thing on module Bubba?” And I says, “I don’t know anything about it, but what is it?” And they just told me a little bit about it. So I went right away. I says I’m going to go in on that. And there was no room left in this session, but they managed to put a seat in there for me. Maybe I was just so charming that they says “We got to get this girl in there.” But when I was sitting in there, my mind was just turning. And as you were giving your presentations on things that the software could do, I basically was paralleling what you were saying and seeing it as an application at the company back home.

Judy Coker:

And after the session was over, I think I was the first one out of the room and I ran over to your booth. And I remember you telling me because I was determined, but you had told me that you saw this woman come in with force into the vendor’s area, towards your booths with determination in my body posture and in my face. And just further ask a lot of questions. And I went back to the office and the president of our company and owner. I told them we had to implement this software and I explained why. And he trusted me enough that he says, “Well, if you feel strongly about it, let’s do it.”

So I got back with your company and I think within days you had someone on a plane coming up to the Twin Cities, so we could talk about it. And there’s a whole side story about that trip, but he did make it like 10:00, 11:00 at night. And we met at the office. And from that point on, I believe it was six weeks. We were fully operational with AboutTime. For that company, I had determined working my budget, my numbers, the rate of return on our investment, and it was way shorter. So within three months, the savings that the software brought to us and mobilize having electronic time cards and doing the electronic system, we just had a return. And from that point on I saw how well it was doing with guys in the field, because one of the things that really held me back was before I found the software was the guys were spending too much time in the office when we did payroll once a week, it was like, seemed like the whole morning you had everybody from the field coming in and doing their timecards and stuff like that.

But after getting the payroll done, we were able to restructure how we manage projects. And we also worked a lot with AboutTime Mike, with you guys. And I saw in my mind things that the software wasn’t doing that I thought would help us be more efficient in the office and information did to us more timely. So it was just a wonderful experience and that was my first of rollout of the product.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think and I’ve used and described that story of yours used the analogy of a Mexican jumping bean. I don’t know if you have seen those… I had them when I was in elementary school they’re moving around and that’s how you looked in your chair when I was presenting that session, I could just see you counting with energy and excitement because it was music to your ears. I find it interesting-

Judy Coker:

And I think that’s.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, go ahead.

Judy Coker:

I was going to say for me, I have as a manager and working in my positions that I’ve held, I always see something and how it applies to the company I’m working for. And it was just like a big light bulb went out for me. So that’s interesting. I was a jumping bean.

Mike Merrill:

Well, what I really like and appreciate about this story that you shared is that even the session, it wasn’t like it was on your roadmap. It wasn’t like it spoke to you from its title or description. It was just an opportunity that you took to check out what was going on. And you immediately connected those dots with the gaps that you had in your business and something that could bring more value to your accounting and payroll and job costs and budgeting systems. So I think the lesson in there is that sometimes we’re just not looking under the right rocks or we think we’re going to solve the problem one way when really the answer might be something else that can empower or improve upon what you’re getting from the very system that you’re hoping to improve upon. Yeah.

Judy Coker:

Yeah. And one thing I want to tail onto what you just said is when you look at a software, you look at it for one purpose. And one of the things that I did once I got the payroll going, I was able to think, look at the company, see how people were functioning and say, if I could streamline say, project management and make their job a lot easier, I wanted to take that software as far as I could and use every feature that it had, or it didn’t have. And I always communicated that with AboutTime so that I wanted to every inch of that company, every employee really maximizing the use. And that’s really key when you look at systems is you may go in with a surface objective, but it’s you got to think it’s far deeper than just what’s on the surface.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And when I think of the term technology champion, you’re the essence of that from what I’ve seen in these last 10 years in the work that you’ve done. And we can talk later about some of the other organizations and things that you’ve done, but very passionate. And I know you’re very conscious of budgets, productivity metrics, trending and you just knew what you were looking for from a results standpoint and a process standpoint, and it was great that you’re able to connect those dots and actually put it into place.

Judy Coker:

Well, what’s really I’m thankful for, I worked for other industries before I got into construction. I was in publishing, marketing, distribution, manufacturing. And as we all know in the construction industry, it’s kind of antiquated in its technological approach to running a business. So I had that advantage too, because I, especially like in publishing, we had to do things at a whole different level. Distribution was the same way and you come to construction and you see that it’s just the technology is not embraced. And I think if the one big lesson I want to pass on to anybody listening to this is you have to, if you’re in the construction industry, you have to embrace what technology has to offer.

Judy Coker:

And you mentioned budget. One of the things that I’m a stickler about being an accountant, of course. And then the controller is what does the dollars parallel with the work that’s being saved or the proce sses that are being saved? And if a company does do that and tracks it, they can identify their return on the investment. And I would guarantee that it’ll be a lot faster return on the investment than you initially projected.

Mike Merrill:

So what is it that drives you to think that way or to approach things the way that you do because it stands out?

Judy Coker:

I think really what’s big is efficiencies. I’m an organizer and I believe in efficiencies and especially being an accountant, you learn systematic ways of approach. And I think I take that to the next level when I’ve been lucky that when I became controller, whatever company is that I worked with, I look at the total operation. I don’t look at just accounting. So in construction, I want to know what’s happening in project management, in service, in managing jobs. And I think that’s really where my passion is, and it just built up over the years as I learned different. And yeah, that’s it.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I am with your marketing background and some of the other industries that you mentioned working with, it’s interesting to me, how well you were able to apply your people skills to communicating technical processes, things that were specific, and technology-based with blue collar field workers that were welding something or bending metal, or putting a roof on, what’s your secret to finding success in getting the field up to speed with some of these things that most companies think, “Eh, that’s not really our guys’ forte.” They’re really good at building stuff, but they’re maybe not so technology driven.

Judy Coker:

Two things, first of all, I grew up in the construction industry. My father was a sheet metal worker and a foreman. So I was his first son. And he always involved me in that one way or another. Of course when I started my career, I was not in construction. It was later in my career that I got into it. Second of all, so I was able because of my father to understand, how the workforce thought. And I think another big thing is not only knowing that you have to get into their heads, in the last implementation that I did. A big example is once I got the payroll side working, I went out to the field here in Phoenix, and I went to every foreman actually throughout the country I did this, I flew to our different offices and I talked to the foreman and just ask them how it was going, what in their day seemed laborious and just let them talk and listening is a big key. I’ll never forget one of the foreman’s mentioned to me that, “Geez, we were talking about something” and he says, “Well, I have to call the office, get the address for the job site. And then I have to put it in Google maps and do all that.”

Judy Coker:

And I said, “Well, do you know on your device, all you do is open up the job.” And I showed them where the navigation key was and that spread like wildfire, in the field, they talk to each other and that became a big thing. So I was able to connect with them by finding something that was at their level and I could make more efficient. And to this day, I’ll never forget how big of a deal, to me that was very simple. But for them, it was a big deal because of the time it took for them. And when we talk about budgeting, just using that example, you look at something being implemented and the guys that said of calling the office, getting a person at the office. So now you’ve got two people on the phone and then they’re writing down the address, and then they’re going into a Google Maps and typing in the address. And you know those guys aren’t really good at typing. And the savings as I go through that. I want you to visualize the savings that goes on when you have 175 foremen in the field, that can make a big difference.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. What I’m gathering is that the application that they were using to track the time and labor and production already had a button to take them to the job, they just didn’t realize it was there.

Judy Coker:

No. And they didn’t. When we first did the trainings in the last rollout that I did one of the things I was very, because it was a large, we’re talking 800 employees. And what was big for me was I wanted to train them in small groups, intimately, and then I could read how they were feeling because you have all different skill levels in the field. You have guys and a foreman and then the guys that work under them and they may not even have computers at home, but you have to identify what their level is and hone in on that and help them through that. So they build a comfort level. So that relationship grew from my vantage point where I had foreman calling me and saying, “Hey, I have this problem can AboutTime do something like, help me with this.” And I had information free flowing through me to help expand the features we already use. And or maybe they in the training, they missed it because there’s a lot in the training.

Judy Coker:

And that’s another thing when I train them, I also, six months, a year later, I’ll retrain them because there might have been things that they missed, especially the foreman that the field guys that they missed.

Mike Merrill:

Or new functionality that could have come in the app.

Judy Coker:

Oh, yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. So you’re dealing with all types of culture and different regions of the country, different weather, I mean, everybody has unique challenges when you’re dealing with that many variables. Is that fair to say?

Judy Coker:

That is fair to say. When I traveled to the offices, one of the things that I did is I had to wipe my mind free and of my expectations and really open my listening and my visual and everything open up to what was that culture in that city. When I went to the office and listen to the people and then adapt in my own specific way, how I’m going to roll this out to fit where they’re to learning.

Mike Merrill:

Well, I think that’s a real pearl of wisdom right there. You’ve got one software system and this could be any system and it’s coded, it works the way it works. And you’ve got settings and configuration and workflow and other things that can be adapted or adjusted, but every employee in the organization was using the same mobile software. So you’re adjusting maybe the messaging more than anything else.

Judy Coker:

Yes.

It’s worth the investment initially to assign one internal manager to do the rollout, which means that person, if it’s a full-time person needs to be excused from their full-time job, most of it at least six months, depending upon the size of the rollout, because one of the things that I did on the second application I came and your product had changed so much, you had so many features in it than when I initially implemented it up in the Twin Cities that I had to learn about it. So I spent a little time really digging in, learning, understanding the feature. So I created in my mind the phases that needed to be rolled out in order to maximize our return on investment. And I give him the credit for really understanding and bringing someone like me into the company and really faithful to really get that return on investment.

And it was a good call on his part because we were able to take it to not only this one third of the multiple companies under this company umbrella, but other divisions around the country. And one of the things why you need someone focused on this is because it takes time to really not only understand all the features in the software, but also to prepare materials to roll it out, understand who your audience is and prepare the materials to really help them embrace what’s going on. And then, further want to learn more about it. And that’s not done as a part-time or one-fourth time job.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And when you’re trying to… it’s like if you’re trying to land a plane or have a plane take off, the pilot can’t be back serving drinks, he’s got to be flying the plane, right. So when you’re launching a product or when a product is taking off, or when you’re landing on a rollout, or you need to have full attention of somebody who’s piloting that project, is that a fair comparison?

Judy Coker:

That is a fair comparison. And when I’ve gone to conferences and talk to outside of the company, other company leaders, they were frustrated with rollout and all that. And when I questioned them, I’d find out that the person that’s trying to do it has a full-time job. And I could tell that they couldn’t really get their arms around it to really when a company spends that kind of money on technology, spending a little bit more to do it right is really to me the key. And then the second key is once that manager and I’ll call it an implementation manager or a specialist, once they really have a map in their head of the software and all the features or modules, whatever, then the key is for that person to decide how they’re going to roll it out.

Judy Coker:

And slowly, I think from my experience, rolling it out slowly is really key. And that’s what I did here in Phoenix is I did one office at a time. And within the office, I did small groups. So you get a small group. And like, I got a small group of field people and talk to them about it, getting them to buy into it and feeling comfortable what I was talking about. And then when I started rolling it out, they were the first group I rolled it out to and then found out what my glitches were in the rollout and fix those and get that group feeling good because they’re talking about it already on the field.

And then what I did was picking, I had them pick, “What would you recommend another group to be?” And then I did another small group can see how that rollout was. And then once I got the bugs, the final bugs worked out on that. Then it was just doing small groups, but boom, boom, boom, roll in and out. I I was able, I was told five years and I got it all done within six months for that large in all the locations. Yeah. And that’s before all the features, and that was a payroll thing.

Judy Coker: 

Yeah. And that’s what you have to think about it. If you throw too much out, it’s just not going to work well, in my opinion. And then you have phase two, and I started to look at the different features in there. And I started meeting with the different departments and asking them, listening, just asking, “Now that you see the payroll working,” because it was interesting, the frame of mind at the company was just the payroll system. It didn’t do anything else.

Judy Coker:

So I had to educate everybody else, even though they were told this, that this is more than just payroll. And so by meeting with them individually and listening to them and saying, “This is how I can streamline what you’re doing. And I do have examples of that if you’d like me to share those.”

Mike Merrill:

Sure. Yeah, I think that would be nice.

Judy Coker:

For example, I talked about the foreman, how I went out to them. That was the first thing I did because the rollout was payroll field, hourly payroll. So I went out to them and I talked to them. One of the things they were saying was, “We just don’t know how many hours have been budgeted to the job.” So all I did was show them on the device, how they could look that up. And it was like another flood gate shut down. And the world was really good. They were so excited that they could just, by pushing the couple buttons, find out what the budget was. And I also tell them when we sync the devices, when they could identify when they could include in the numbers, today’s hours work, which is the next day by the end of the day. So they were pretty thrilled about that.

Judy Coker:

And again, to show field people, they had a thing with HR forms, there are HR forms they had to fill out and they said, “Judy, this drives us crazy.” So I worked with HR and we put some of the HR forms on there, so they didn’t have to come to the office. And they just had, if it’s employee form, they could give it to the employee, sync that form into the office. HR had it, and that’s another huge thing. They didn’t have to file it. It was all under the job number. Whereas before that, the foreman had to bring those forms in and then there’s chit-chat time going on there. And then they had to get the paperwork file it. And it was all done with a push of a button.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Wasted fuel and sitting in traffic and whatever oh its 4:26, I’m not going back to the job now I’m just going to head home.

Judy Coker:

Exactly right. Another big example was I met with the safety department with the same idea. I got to find out what they were doing so that I could identify how the software would work for them. So there was a group of safety people in the room in this meeting. And one of the things we picked out, we have safety forms that have to be filled out, toolbox talks and a whole bunch of other stuff. And so when I found out what their process was, the foreman first of all, they don’t want to deal with paperwork, tools is their thing. So to get them to do it was a really hard thing. So it wasn’t being done, when that was done, they had to get the paperwork back to the office. Sometimes they didn’t get to the office for a long time.

Judy Coker:

So then there could be piles of paper come in and the office had to sort through the paperwork, make extra copies because they kept one copy here. And another copy there. So we put like 120 some toolbox talks on the product, both in English and Spanish and all other safety forms in there. And another connection with the field, I had to train them how to do it. So what that saved is a lot of money because all they did is fill it out on the device, send it, and it was filed by job and by employee or foreman. And I know we succeeded in a that because up at our Montana office, OSHA was coming in and they wanted for a certain job all the paperwork.

Judy Coker:

So the safety director went into AboutTime, downloaded all the forms, safety forms for that job, turned it over and never heard a word from it where in the past that wasn’t the case because time would have to be sent with the office to pull out the copies, take a copy, mail it, or scan them in so that they could email it to the person that’s asking for it. And it was kind of funny, Keith came to me and he said, “I love AboutTime.” And I thought he was teasing me. And he told me the story. And I was so thrilled to really get the feedback that my approaching them, my listening, and coming up with a solution with the tool I had was making a big difference.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Yeah. What a couple of great examples of exactly what you’ve been saying. And I can’t even imagine the financial impact or benefits that the company received from that.

Judy Coker:

Well, let me tell you this, the company saved $1.47 million in the first year, and that did include the safety forms and stuff like that. I just figured that was icing on the cake.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So just on the time and payroll side of things?

Judy Coker:

Yeah. It was huge, it’s just amazing when you take a look at the details and what goes on. And I think companies that are hesitant about using technology should try to become comfortable with it because it’s going to pay for that company in the long run. And one of the things, the company in Twin Cities, we were one of the first contractors up in the Twin Cities to do something like this. And being also in marketing myself for a couple of years, we were able to use that as a selling tool in working with new clients.

Mike Merrill:

So you marketed that your company was adopting this kind of technology to track their jobs so they had more confidence in your work?

Judy Coker:

Yeah. And another big thing on the service side we always got phone calls at that company. We always got phone calls because they fought, we were overstating our time and the billing was not getting out on time. The billing was anywhere from three weeks plus getting out because we had a nice sized service department and what we saved there, huge just on the service size, we were able to turn billing over within 48 hours. The time was to the minute and around it. I think we rounded. And one of the things about customers getting invoices early, they remember, “Okay, this company got us heat when we were freezing or this company cooled us down when it was hot. They process the invoices and one of the things,” yes, right. And and then what cut down is the number of phone calls service was getting in challenging the bill. I tracked up there, I tracked my collection calls and they dropped by half because they were getting the invoice, they were processing it and paying it within terms.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So instead of an argument, you’re getting a check. Would that be a fair statement?

Judy Coker:

Yeah. Big time fair statement. Yes.

Mike Merrill:

Over the years, on occasion, I’ll run into somebody or hear them share similar experiences, but there’s maybe aren’t quite as sunny, they run into challenges. And one of the approaches that companies take on occasion is, “Well, I’m going to roll this out with my toughest team or with the guy that’s maybe the least capable, or I’m going to find the lowest common denominator and start there. And then if we are successful with that, then I think anybody else can do it.” What would you tell those people?

Judy Coker:

That’s not good. That’s really not committed to the investment and before you even spend the money, I think a company has to be committed. And that’s why having someone, one person who understands the operation, so you can’t get a low level person because that person may not have the skillset to really identify cost savings around a company, or look at systems and evaluate, be able to quickly evaluate how the software can work with it. I think it’s important for a company to get someone with a skillset that has management capabilities, people skills, the ability to evaluate operations and systems within the company, because you have to constantly looking at, “Maybe this is not my target right now, but I’m going to make a note of that. And this software will solve that problem there.”

Judy Coker:

And in the long run, you’re saying people will do this and then they walk away. When the person that implements it, the time can cut down quite a bit after everything is implemented. And a good, big portion of the features utilized are operational. But this person can get back to the daily and have this a certain percentage of their time. Because what I think is very important is a relationship with the vendor, with the software provider things are constantly changing in that world. And that person, you should have one person that’s not only understands it from beginning to the current today, but looking ahead if there’s any issues or any updates and anything like this, that one person is always going to be there to not bother anybody else it, and by having one person, one of the things I experienced quite a bit is becoming, I held that position and I was the expert and I made sure anybody could come to me if they needed to.

So they always know and I built their confidence. I was their motivator. They too became advocates of the software and also became my eyes and ears when I couldn’t be there. But I was the focal person, even after everything was rolling really well. And it was more maintenance. There’s always features that you’re going to find that are new or maybe can be rolled out at a different day. But I think that one person concept is important and that’s where companies, I think miss it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love how you worded that. And I think it makes me think back to when we first met, I think it’s important for the listeners to understand that initial system was on disconnected, PDA PalmPilot. There was no phones, no cellular, no WiFi, no Bluetooth. It was cable sync through the server, right?

Judy Coker:

That’s right.

Mike Merrill:

Where you started. But before you got off the bus or switched buses, we went through Blackberry and then pretty soon it was iPhone and Android, MyPads and web-based and all these other advancements. So to your point over time, the technology is going to change underneath your feet. And it’s important that you continue to stay vigilant and to keep your head up and on a swivel to be aware so that you can help make sure that the company is leveraging those tools the best way that they can with what’s available.

Judy Coker:

I do have a story in my last application that I wanted to share. And this is regarding the of field operations director. By my meetings with the different departments, I got them thinking, especially as I delivered for them, got them thinking about, the product was always in the back of their head. And he ran into a situation where he was discovering that with the geo-fence, he was noticing guys clocking in the commute, clocking in, at home, drive to lunch and then clock in at lunch. Well with the… What is it called? Yeah, the geo-fence-

Mike Merrill:

Geo-fence.

Judy Coker:

… when they’re outside of the geo-fence it marks where they clocked in. He started to really call the guys out on this. And within six months, that stopped completely. If he didn’t have that tool because these guys are out in the field, they’re on the go. If he didn’t have the tool, he would have never known the money the company was spending in wrong clock outs or clock ends in clock outs. You’re supposed to be at the job site when you clock in. And I tell that story because I’m so proud that something that started as just payroll was really ingrained into the minds of people within the company. And they were looking for ways to save in their own budget.

Mike Merrill:

So that efficiency tool began to affect change and behavior.

Judy Coker:

Okay. I was going to say behavior’s a big thing and technology can help us with behavior. And I saw that in many areas of the company, you’re going to get pushed back and you’re going to get resistance, but once it’s embraced, then it becomes a system that can really change behavior if you need it to be changed. That’s like the safety forms, they were now the dyes, the foreman in the field were now doing safety forms because they knew we could check every day if they did it or they didn’t do it. And we could react right away instead of three weeks ago. Oh, they bring their forms in and we check them and say, “Well, you missed this week. And that week,” then it’s too late.

Mike Merrill:

And you’re potentially rewarding bad behavior, instead of good behavior and whatever behavior you’re rewarding is usually what’s going to continue to happen. Right? So a couple of questions. How did this impact over time, do you know?

Judy Coker:

What I did is I took the quarter before we did the rollout or as we were doing the rollout to all the offices around the country. And what I did is I took all the overtime. I calculated that. And then once I had every office on the product and doing payroll, which happened to be the next three months. So this was the fall. So the first was the summertime. The next was the fall. So we know in construction, summer is a big deal. So probably a lot of overtime. The fall, it starts ramping down still heavy, but still wrapping down. I was just for the quarter, we dropped over time by 1.2, $2 million.

Mike Merrill:

Oh my goodness.

Judy Coker:

Just for the quarter.

Mike Merrill:

Just the overtime?

Judy Coker:

Yeah. And when you do paper, you never know what accuracy you’re going to get. And I had one office, I had the guys Colin saying, “It’s not fair because my pay check is short.” Now of course they call me directly. Right?

Mike Merrill:

Mh-mm-hmm (affirmative).

Judy Coker:

I don’t have anything to do processing payroll that’s done at their office. Something must be wrong with the system. So I remember saying, “How much is it off?” Ask him a lot of questions. And then he said and this two guys called me on this separate occasions and the word got out. But anyway, so I said, “So are you telling me your foreman has been fraudulently overstating your time. And you’re working really less hours than we paid you for? If you’re telling me your pay check is short, do you want me to go back and verify that you haven’t been overpaid in past payrolls?” After I said that in both conversations, it stopped and nobody ever called me again, the word get out nationally.

Mike Merrill:

They said, “You know what Judy, we’re good.”

Judy Coker:

I mean, I always tell that story because who knows? Staff, and when you’re doing time count, you’re going to say from 9:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 9:15, but when they’re clocking in on a device, it’s time. There’s nothing to say about it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. What about spreadsheets, how do you feel about those?

Judy Coker:

Well, I’m an accountant, so I love spreadsheets.

Mike Merrill:

What about for field reporting and other things in that way, as far as accuracy. And are they just a better piece of paper? Or I mean, there’s some efficiencies gained, but what’s your opinion on if someone was submitting time in a spreadsheet versus an actual clock or something accurate?

Judy Coker:

Oh, I could see that happening. We weren’t into that because the field guys don’t have that, but you’re still exposing yourself to the same thing. It’s just electronic. It doesn’t mean just because it’s on a piece of paper that you use a pen or pencil or a spreadsheet that it’s as accurate. It’s basically the same thing. I like the live clock ins. So you get an in both companies that I rolled out the product, in both companies, the real data is the actual clock in and out. And you can’t get that on a spreadsheet or on a paper time card, it just doesn’t happen. And if you believe it to be true, I would do some soul searching on that topic-

Judy Coker:

… is all I’m saying.

Mike Merrill:

Good word, soul searching. I think that’s implies some things for people to consider.

Judy Coker:

Yeah. And another thing we’re talking about the hours, one of the things that was important to me in both operations is timely reporting of hours. And when you’re on a manual system, it takes two, three weeks before you really know the performance of the job. By that time, if something has gone astray, you’ve realized it too late. And one of the things with real time reporting, that data is downloaded and in your counting system, and in AboutTime, AboutTime doesn’t do hours, but if you’re a project manager, you want to know and even a foreman. I had the foreman doing this at the last company, they could go on their device or at the office they can go into the control center, take a look at how many hours have been spent versus budget because it’s in there. And if it’s getting close, they could go ahead and feel comfortable with it. And I’ve always told both the project managers and foreman, this, for example, we know how this works in construction. Customer wants something extra done.

Judy Coker:

I’ve always told in support of project management. “You have to get it priced to do extra work because it’s not in scope of work.” So in both cases, the customer will come to the foreman and say, “Hey, can you do this?” Well, it’s very easy. The foreman can call the project manager and say, “I looked at the hours, this is the budget. And this is the actual, do we have room for me to do it or are we going to have to charge and if so, what it is?” So one of the things that I talked to the foreman about and the project manager is, that gives you the play because sometimes you want to give him something. Sometimes it’s too big and you’re going to have to do a quote. But without that, what I found was they say, “Go ahead and do it and we’ll get the numbers to them later.” Well, you know what that means that you call the customer and the customer says, “I didn’t expect it to be that much, and I’m not going to pay that.” And then you see your job going south.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And if you document even the gimmes, the freebies, the things that do that, you donate to them in good faith. You can document those two and then note on the invoice, no additional charge. And now you’re acknowledging and you’re getting credit for the generosity and the kindness that you extended to them instead of… having a conflict and a problem where you actually went out of your way to do something extra. Okay. So going back to really the beginning of the conversation where we were talking about your company using disconnected PalmPilots, no cell phone. This is before Blackberries and moving all the way forward to today, where we standardize on Apple and Android device and iPads in most software applications and then cloud technology, what are some of the efficiencies that companies can gain by moving to the cloud and by migrating off of that hardware based installed system?

Judy Coker:

Well, I think it’s a huge advantage. And that’s one of the things I was looking at is making that transition for the company. Because as I ran into some issues and there need to be some tweaks done by your company. There were multiple people I should say, IT had to get involved in that kind of stuff. I’m always cost conscious and the fact of having a cloud access based system kind of eliminates all that. So if there’s a problem, it doesn’t affect what’s going on in the day-to-day operation, it’s kind of working behind the scenes, nothing gets blocked, nothing gets stopped. You don’t have to reboot and stuff like this, it just happens. And one of the things when you’re operating a business, like in construction, those interruptions can cause problems in the day.

Judy Coker:

And not saying that there’s a lot of them, but when it happens, we’re so used to having things run smoothly and all of a sudden you get a hiccup and the world ends. It’s like, oh, but with the cloud-based system, what I envisioned was a lot of that would go away and it would be just a relationship between me and the AboutTime person that’s handling my problem. And I had issues with devices that you got different technologies or different generations of cell phones and stuff. And that caused me a lot of problems. So you’d have one guy that was having a problem. And from what I understood, a lot of that would be eliminated because it has nothing to do with the device. It’s a little bit more protective against that kind of hiccup in a day’s operation.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So with cloud technology, you’re taking out the middle process of managing that hardware, whether it’s you and you have people on staff or you’re outsourcing and having to hire a third party, those phone calls get eliminated, Amazon Web Services or whatever cloud hosting vendors being utilized for the web-based technology. Their uptime is 99.99999, whatever percent. And if they’re down, everything’s down anyway, nobody’s up. So to speak.

Judy Coker:

Yeah. And as a matter of fact, when I did the budget or the numbers on that and presented it, that was one of the big things I’m remembering right now is the disc space on the computers, local computers, there’s a big savings in that. And the more you put on your local system, the slower it runs. And I just remember when I was looking at the technology, that was one of the things I was really putting numbers against is how much am I going to save in having cloud-base and not having to bear down our system with the other things, the accounting software and anything else that was on there. And of course that has to be maintained.

Judy Coker:

And really here’s another big key. I got the guys in the field and the managers got the guys in the field to take pictures, take pictures and that takes up a lot of space. So we were talking about having to download certain historical data in order to make room for the new staff. And each office was really ramping up job site pictures that they were taken, with a cloud-based. I wouldn’t have to worry about that. And now that I’m remembering, that was another reason why our database was filling up with information and you have to pay for that and you have IT, internal IT managing it. So that’s one less thing you have to do.

Mike Merrill:

Aside from the performance hit that you’re taking, has that space fills up?

Judy Coker:

Yeah. Oh yeah. And we were seeing that too. That’s why we had to do historical timelines and say, “We’ve got to take this off so that it’s not slowing us down.” And of course, payroll is really very important. And if you’re down locally, that’s going to make a big difference of processing payroll and these cloud-based systems have backups. They have backups after backups, after backups. So chances of you being down are pretty slim to none.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Well, there’s a lots of great pearls of wisdom here for sure. And I have really enjoyed having this discussion and catching up and talking a little bit more about your journey over the last decade plus with these different solutions.

Judy Coker:

Well, I enjoyed it, I had fun.

Mike Merrill:

Well, so to wrap up if I were to ask you, what is Judy Coker superpower, when you put that cape on to go to the rescue to somebody, what is it that you’re about to do?

Judy Coker:

I would say determination and keeping my focus on the goal. You got to keep, and I think that’s what happens when companies start implementing a system, they take their eye off the goal. When you know you have to do something, you stay on it. And I had roadblocks thrown up against me and I just had to be eloquent in going around those blocks because I knew what the goal was. And that’s what I would say.

Mike Merrill:

All right. So navigate with determination, that sounds like, right?

Judy Coker:

That’s right. That’s right.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. What about is there one challenge that stands out in your mind that you worked through in business that you could share, or someone might glean some wisdom from, with that determination?

Judy Coker:

This goes into different industries and it’s kind of been consistent through which every company and that sabotage. There are people out there that want to, for whatever reason, they don’t want something to happen. Maybe it’s their personal, maybe it’s a group effort, but having courage and strength stand up against that and be eloquent about it and still have your eye, your mind’s eye on the goal. And as the sabotage comes your direction, you just shift to the side and work around it and pat them on the back and say, “It’s going to be okay, but I’m going forward. You just stay right there. I’m going to continue going forward.” I would say that, is it because it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. That’s I think every business person runs into that in one or another.

Mike Merrill:

Finally, I just wanted to ask Judy, if there was one takeaway from our conversation today, what would you hope that the listeners walk away with after listening to us talk about all of these things?

Judy Coker:

The big thing I think is don’t be afraid of change and don’t be afraid of say technology. I know in the construction industry, technology can be a waste of time, but it really isn’t. It takes courage and determination to really bring your company forward and bring challenges to everybody within the company to be better and stronger than what you were in the past. And you need tools to do that. And it is scary. You could talk yourself out of anything. But I would say just face it with courage and knowing that the company is going to become stronger in the long run. And so will you, because you’ll learn something and walk away with it.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. I love that. Well said, Judy, thank you so much for the conversation today. I’ve really, really enjoyed talking with you and catching up, and I know that our listeners will enjoy what you shared as well.

Judy Coker:

Well, I really enjoyed sharing. That’s always my goal. I want everybody to be better. So thank you for asking me.

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. Well, we’re all better from hearing this today. So thank you to the guests for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed mine and Judy’s conversation today, I would highly encourage you to please give us a five-star rating and a review and share this episode with your friends and colleagues in the industry. Of course, those reviews and those positive comments help us to continue to bring on valuable guests like Judy. And we want to continue to bring value not only to your business, but your life.