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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.

 

Construction Safety: Inspiring Workers Through Leadership & Action

Construction Safety: Inspiring Workers Through Leadership & Action

Construction safety is an issue important to Chad Hyams’ heart. Twenty years ago, Chad’s life was changed forever when a 2,800 pound bale of hay fell on him, shattering his neck and leaving him a quadriplegic. Devastating as this was, Chad dedicated his life to being an advocate for safety, especially on construction sites.

In today’s podcast, Chad joins host Mike Merrill to discuss the right mentalities for a culture of safety, how to prepare for the inevitable and how to respond to failure.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. The right mindset will increase safety. Safety managers and leaders often have the mindset of “If X happens we will do Y.” For example, you need to be out of the way of the payload falling if a crane fails to avoid injury. However, it’s more beneficial to have a mentality of “When X happens then Y.” So, remain out of the way of any crane payload to avoid injury when a crane fails. By changing from if to a when, then nothing should surprise the job site. 
  2. Just because you’ve gotten away with shortcuts doesn’t make it right. We live in a world where things can go right when they should go wrong and wrong when they should go right. Doing the safe and right thing is important even if nothing happened the last time a protocol was missed or forgotten. Remember those warnings and rules are there for a reason.
  3. Have a 24-hour safety mindset. Safety doesn’t stop when you are off the job site. Having a 24 hour safety mindset means practicing what you are required to do on the job site but in every situation in your life. For example, if you are taught to wear safety glasses at the job site when using power tools, then do the same when you’re using power tools at home. The majority of accidents happen at home or the office – the potential for injury is everywhere, so it’s up to you to be aware and take the steps to ensure something avoidable doesn’t happen wherever you are.

 

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Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am the host Mike Merrill and we are sitting down today with the renowned Chad Hymas. Chad is a speaker on both leadership and safety and before we jump in too deep into the conversation with Chad directly, I just wanted to share a little bit about his background.

For starters, safety’s very important and near to Chad’s heart of course because at the age of 27 his life changed in an instant when a 2800 pound bale of hay shattered his neck, leaving him a quadriplegic and devastating as it was, Chad dedicated his life to being an example of what is possible despite and challenges that we may face.

Chad’s also a bestselling author and a recognized world class wheelchair athlete. In fact, just two years after Chad’s accident he would set a world record by wheeling his chair by hand from Salt Lake City, Utah to Las Vegas, Nevada for a 513 mile trip. So, today Chad continues to inspire and travel around the world and the globe and also has put on about 300,000 miles per year in his travels. Chad has spoken to companies such as American Express, Rain Bird, Wells Fargo, Blue Cross and Blue Shield just to name a few. In today’s episode we’re going to discuss three of Chad’s favorite topics. Inspirational leadership, safety and self accountability and how each of these are important for the construction industry.

Hello Chad and welcome to the podcast today.

Chad Hymas:

Hey. You forgot to tell them that you and I have known each other for long before that. I’m just saying, we spent a couple years in Bangkok together. So… Right?

Mike Merrill:

We sure did. Chad and I were missionaries together over 25 years ago. So, long time ago. Many moons, right?

Chad Hymas:

Very, very, very fair to say.

Mike Merrill:

I will say too before we get into the conversation, Chad was a great leader and an inspiration and a great example to me even back then. So, I…

Chad Hymas:

It’s amazing what you can do with the power of delegation.

Mike Merrill:

Well, I remember you well from that time and look forward to the conversation today.

Chad Hymas:

Great. Sounds good.

Mike Merrill:

So, Chad why don’t you give us a little bit about your background? Of course, I know you do have some construction in your background, which is interesting.

Chad Hymas:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

What can you tell us about that?

Chad Hymas:

Yeah, construction really is my forte. I did that when I was in high school as a part time job and then in the summer time when there was a guy in my church that had a construction company so in the summer time I would work full time for him. Then I loved going up and helping my uncle with my dad. We’d help my uncle run the farm. So, the dream was always to be a guide, be a hunting guide, have a ranch and raise elk and release them in the rocky mountains and guide people to get close to those animals, whether they shoot or not. With a camera, I don’t care what they shoot with, I just… I’ve always wanted to get people close to elk.

Chad Hymas:

When I came home from Thailand ironically I didn’t have the money to start that dream so I started construction and it is dear to my heart. So, I grew up from one person, myself, to 52 employees and I broke my neck six years into that while skipping a pre-op. So, that’s why safety is dear to me for sure. I told my guys one thing, I went out in the field and I did the opposite. So, it’s very, very passionate to me and it’s something that I share a lot when I’m going in and doing safety coaching or safety training on some of those principles. But yeah, aside from that background, Shondell and I live just outside of Salt Lake City in the Stansbury Mountains. We have four children. Two are biological, they were born before the accident, both boys. Ace is 23, Kyler’s 21. Then after the accident there was about a seven year gap and we adopted a little girl from Mexico. Her name is Gracie. She’s a junior in high school and Caleb we’ve had for just three and a half, maybe I guess now four years. We got him when he was eight and he’s now 12. We got him from Ethiopia. Beautiful dark little boy. So, our family’s quite diverse.

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome and it sounds like you are living life to the fullest.

Chad Hymas:

We’re taking it day by day.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Well, thank you again for joining us today. We’re really excited to have you on and I think just to start off in relation to safety, where do your presentations usually start? What’s the first thing you usually talk about?

Chad Hymas:

I love to… There’s several different ways to start a presentation or to start. Really I want to be interactive and engaged. I love to get to know people depending on how large the group is, but one of the things that I think is a mistake in safety, especially in construction is we measure safety due to regulations, whether it’s OSHA MSHA, retroactively and not proactively. In other words, we’re going to count lost time, first-aid recordables, light duties. We’ll count near hits, near misses although that’s more proactive than reactive, and we’ll count fatal injuries. That’s retrospect. I think a better way to indicate how well we’re doing safety proactively to prevent those accidents is to count really something we learned in Bangkok. How many touches are we doing a day? How many contacts are we making? How many times are we stopping a job to look around and see not if anything’s wrong, just what’s going on? What are we doing today? And allow other people to speak other than the supervisor or the foreman. Allow people to speak up and share their mind and have that openness where people feel that comfortable that when they know when something comes up they can stop work without reprimand or without fearing that they’re going to lose their job. So, I like to start, that’s one way to start. Right there. So, proactive measurement versus reactive measurement. So, instead of counting numbers, count assists. Count how many touches.

Chad Hymas:

Another thing I like to ask people is what’s our greatest asset at B&B Construction? Every time I ask that question what’s the answer going to be Mike? Every time I ask what’s our greatest asset? By the way, as I pulled up today in your guys’s yard I noticed that there’s a lot of cranes, a lot of semi-trucks. Your guys’s logos are on everything. Looks like you guys are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. What’s your greatest asset? What do they always say?

Mike Merrill:

Well, I think it’s the people but they might say their equipment. I’m not sure.

Chad Hymas:

Well, they’d say the same thing. They’d say their people and then I ask them this, how many of their people did they send home maned, injured, dissatisfied, unhappy or stressed? How many of them can answer that question for me?

Mike Merrill:

That’s a great question. Probably not very many.

Chad Hymas:

Not very many. Then I ask them this, if you were missing $500 on your paycheck next pay period, would you know it? What’s your answer?

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely.

Chad Hymas:

Do you see the… Do you see the… Do you seem the… We say one thing in safety meetings and that’s why it comes across as lip service. We say one thing, we know we’re worth millions of dollars but we don’t live it. So, I’m guilty of that. That’s why I’m… I’m guilty. I measured safety retroactively. I told my guys what to do. Then as the boss I went out and did the opposite in the field. Now you know why I take those two things very, very seriously. Right there, the way that we start right there, is the way that we lead and guide and gain influence and also the way that we’re measuring safety. I think that’s a great way to start. I’ll usually start with a fun story just to get them engaged and realize this is going to be a different meeting than any other meeting they’ve ever had. So, I mean, this is not a lecture. I want to be interactive but yeah, those are some questions that I’ll normally start off with. Right there.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So, I talked at the intro a little bit about what happened, your accident, but can you share just a little bit more detail with what happened?

Chad Hymas:

Yeah. Sure. It was April 3rd. I’ll have to take it back 21 years, April 3rd. We just celebrated 21 years last month. It was a Tuesday morning. I left the ranch heading to work and I got a phone call around 11 or 12 from Shondell, my wife, telling me that our youngest son at the time, who was just turning one, had just taken his first two steps and she asked me to hurry home from work to see if I could play some ball with both boys out in the garage and maybe we could play some two on two. I told Shondell that I would hurry but I had to stop by the field first to feed the elk. So, my dream again is contractor by day, farmer by night. I was really trying to build that dream and grow that ranch and working hard at that effort.

Chad Hymas:

I raced home after getting all 52 guys lined up. I got all seven crews of eight with a little bit of math in there, there’s an odd crew in there but got all seven crews lined up, headed back to the ranch and I decided to stop by and feed the animals first so that I wouldn’t have to go back out that night. I got on a tractor, something that I do routinely every day. I loaded a bale of hay that weighs more than most vehicles that are outside a parking lot, more than an SUV. I lifted the bale up 15 feet and that’s when I had a problem Mike. I saw a red light flashing on my dash, which is simply an indicator that something was malfunctioning and it told me exactly what the problem was. My tractor was low on hydraulics. I ignored that indicator because I had gotten away with it before and I was in a hurry and I had never gotten caught before. So, there’s a message right there for our contracts that are listening. Just because you don’t get caught doing something you know to be wrong or something you’ve been doing as habitual or I don’t like to use the word complacency in safety just because it’s a word that’s used in every single safety meeting, it’s overused, but just because we don’t get caught doing something that becomes habit makes it right.

Chad Hymas:

I’m guilty of that as well. I’d never been caught before, I kept pushing the lever, I tapped the brakes too hard while in reverse and that big heavy load suspended in the air, rolled over backwards, it landed on my body, punched my head through the steering wheel and a shaft is what went through my mouth breaking… This has all been redone and it broke all the bones in my neck and it severed 95% of my spinal cord. So, today I do push a chair. It’s a four pound chair but my hands are paralyzed, I’m obviously sitting. I’m in the office here just for a little bit this afternoon. I’m numb from the armpits to the toes. I lost a midsection. I lost all stomach muscles. The only thing that’s keeping me upright is the way that my chair is contorted for me to stay balanced. The torso’s what keeps your body balanced when you’re sitting freestyle. I lost two out of my three chest muscles. The chest muscle that I do have is called the diaphragm, which allows me to breathe with no trache. Took me a while to figure that one out and to gain that back. I lost everything from the elbow to the fingertip on both sides. The movement that you’re seeing is strictly shoulders and everything from the armpit and above I can feel and that’s where my new life was to begin.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. That’s a lot. A lot. You probably still remember it like it was yesterday, but wish you could forget.

Chad Hymas:

Sure. Yeah, I never lost consciousness until I went in for surgery and then I was asked to count backwards from eight and… everything is as if it happened yesterday for sure. A lot of that’s due to writing books and talking about it on a regular basis and Shondell and I both journalized what happened that day and henceforth as well, not just that day but the progress that we’ve tried to make and the digression as well, because you can only measure progress by digression. The best place to start is when you lose something. Consistency compounds and so we also measure days that are bad as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. What a testament to the importance of safety and how things can literally change in an instant.

Chad Hymas:

Sure.

Mike Merrill:

So, with your initiatives I’ve seen on your website and some of the things you’ve spoken about, you’ve got a couple of terms, zero zone and roll with safety initiatives. What are those and how do they relate?

Chad Hymas:

I like to use the… The capacity model is another one. Those all tie in well. Zero zone, roll with safety, they tie in to something that we use a lot with a client of ours called a capacity model and it’s really just… It allows people to learn in the workplace. I’m not asking people to do what everybody else does in their safety program and go to work and have no blood although that’s the goal.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

The capacity model, roll with safety, those terms that you just identified, it allows people to fail without getting injured. In other words, we realize that people make mistakes. We don’t hire perfect people, there’s no such thing. So, the first principle of several that we teach is that people are fallible. They make mistakes and that’s okay. Now how can we fail and do without damaging anybody or putting people in the hospital or creating a severe injury? So, that takes… Those go into other principles and then those principles, a few of them are management’s response to failure matters. Right? How managers response to failure, it dictates how people react, whether they’re afraid or they feel confident in themselves that they can speak up and share a near hit, near miss. That’s one of them.

The fact that work is simply a tool for learning strategy. That’s all work is. It’s a tool for growth. Everybody gets old Mike. Growth must be intentional. So, I mean, everybody’s going to get gray hair or bald like you and me but growth must be intentional. So, the capacity model should be a company that allows people to grow while at work. It doesn’t necessarily mean a pay raise every week or pay raise every month or every year. I don’t get into that. But it’s an environment where people spend most of their time if we’re not counting the hours that they sleep, it allows them to grow. If we’re not sending our people home with that kind of an opportunity then we’re doing them a disservice. So, that’s really what safety is in a nutshell.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and it sounds like you’re talking about providing a safety culture or creating one. Would that be accurate?

Chad Hymas:

Sure. Or enhancing one. I mean, it is behave… There is behavior based involved and everybody teaches a behavior based safety program. I’m not against those, but a lot of times those BBC programs, they don’t allow people for that growth. They just say hey, we went 364 days without a lost time recordable. If we’ve done it this long we can surely do another day. I’m not saying that’s a bad way to teach people but it gives people very little room for error in a safe manner. Right? We can err in a safe manner. We can have. It’s called controls. We can have controls in place.

Chad Hymas:

So, instead of going to work and identifying the hazards, go to work… Instead of saying if it’s going to happen. If the bale of hay’s going to fall over. It’s when’s it going to happen. Now it puts that mindset into putting controls in place. Right? It’s not if we’re going to get in a car crash. When are we going to get in a car crash and now we’ve got the safety belt on. We have controls in place, we’re driving the speed limit. So, instead of asking and doing safety meetings asking the question if, always say when. When is the bale of hay going to fall? When’s the suspended load going to happen? When’s the flat tire going to happen? When’s the crane going to be lifting too much weight? Then there are controls put in place in advance that will help people fail safety without injury. So, two different way to approach questions. I hate asking the question if. Never start a safety seminar or a safety share with something that begins with the word if. It’s when’s it going to happen? Then that allows us to start identifying controls that we can put in place.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. When’s a good word because it is inevitable that there are going to be issues. 

Chad Hymas:

Right. For sure.

Mike Merrill:

For certain. So, what are some of the more common mistakes that you see people making that jeopardize that safety on site?

Chad Hymas:

I think a lot of common mistakes really just are just… They’re common sense mistakes. They’re lack of awareness. A lot of them are ignorant. Now, one of the things that we talk about when we talk about the capacity model or talk about roll with safety or the zero zone is that not do we just allow people to fail but we allow people to recognize when they fail and we allow them to share it openly so they feel like they can do that in a very real way. We recognize that people are not malicious.

Chad Hymas:

So, when you talk about mistakes, what are some of the common mistakes, whatever the mistake is, we don’t believe that people are coming to work and we shouldn’t be hiring people to come to work that are trying to abuse the system, get unemployment, right, workers comp, that we’re hiring competent people that want to contribute to our workforce and we believe that. So, we share that. That’s principle number four. People are not malicious. I’m not saying all people, but we believe that as a company. Right? When I go talk to a company like Okland Construction or whatever the construction company might be, that we believe that we are hiring family and that we want to integrate them and that people aren’t trying to jeopardize or hurt our family. That we’re here to have a great impact on those that are around us and again, the work environment impacts everybody else around us.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. You were mentioning… I watched a talk that you gave to Utah a while back and you were talking about the portion of our time in our life that we spend with these people at work, to the right and left. It’s as much or more than we spend with our family.

Chad Hymas:

It’s more than, yeah. I mean, if you want to count a 30 day time frame and not count the hours that you spend sleeping, most of our time is spent at the workplace. All the more reason for us to send them home not the way they came to work, everybody does that, that’s called the replaceable company. That’s called me looking for another job. Much easier for me to train people and keep the same employees and make them feel like they’re wanted, make them feel like they’re needed, than it is for me to go hire another employee. So, again, it’s providing those resources to send them home better, safer, happier, healthier, because if we don’t do that the people that bare the burden are the ones that they go home to. If our listeners don’t believe me, just try it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

Go home tonight upset, watch what your family does.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, great advice. You also talk a lot about having a 24 hour mindset as it relates to safety. What does that mean?

Chad Hymas:

I think it’s shared a lot in safety meetings. It’s we really… I mean, I’m a prime example of saying it with my mouth and not living it. I think all of us, to one extent or another, whatever end of the spectrum we’re on, we’re all guilty of that in some form of our life or at least at one time or another. A 24 hour mindset is really practicing what we are taught at work as it pertains to safety, at home. So, if we’re taught to wear safety glasses at work, I think we should try and wear them at home when we’re mowing the lawn. That’s a common one that’s used. Again, probably a little… Deer in the headlights is another one that’s used way overkill, but it’s really living it and it’s living it 24/7.

Believe it or not, the majority of accidents that never get reported do take place at home, not at work and when you talk about work there’s a lot of accidents, more than you would think, that take place inside the office building, not in the warehouse or out in the field. So, this applies just as much to our admin, HR, people that are doing behind the scenes work that aren’t seen out in the field, as it does to those that are working out in the field.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s interesting you bring that up. We’ve had a few safety folks on the podcast so far and that point at least so far hadn’t been made so I love that you bring that up. What are common injuries that happen in the office environment that people need to be more aware of?

Chad Hymas:

Back strains, heavy lifting, moving boxes around. People slipping on stairs. A lot of slips, trips and falls. Again, simple, simple things that could be prevented if controls are in place. Not if, but when it’s going to happen. Then just not asking for help, or better yet, somebody not being aware and then saying hey, let me help you out with that. I think, again, that’s a… If somebody’s in the workplace or in the office and they’re asked to assist, like you and I are in the office right now and if we ask someone to help us, more often than not we’re going to get the help that we need.

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chad Hymas:

What about offering help and being in such a mindset and a state of mind that you see it proactively and so without any hesitation whatsoever you go up and you say hey, can I help you with that? Can I help you with that box? Chad, do you need help getting on the plane? We got you covered, whatever you need. Now we’re talking about people that become indispensable in a workplace. Not just safety, but you will keep people like that. We’ll fight to keep people like that. Why? Because not only do they keep people safe around them but everybody else has a positive attitude around them.

Chad Hymas:

Another example is when I travel. I don’t travel with my assistant, I don’t travel with a nurse or my wife or… I travel alone, but I don’t get up and walk on the plane. How does that work Mike?

Mike Merrill:

You got to have people help.

Chad Hymas:

And most of the time I don’t have to ask, and would you believe on some occasions the captain says whatever you need, I got you covered. Now, keep in mind captains are union.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

Right there in their handbook it says that they’re to fly the plane and it’s very strict. It’s a very strict handbook. They’re not allowed to touch or work with passengers that are handicap. That’s left for other people to do. The other night, four nights ago, five. I landed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, one o’clock in the morning. The people that are trained to help me get off the plane when you land in Harrisburg, they’re not there. They wanted to call the fire department to get me off that plane. That’s how stupid this was.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Chad Hymas:

I love what the captain said. He said buddy, what do you need? I got you covered. That’s all he said. I said you want to know what sir? Thanks for representing what four stripes actually is on your shoulder. Because there were four stripes. In other words, I’m not asking people to ignore policy and procedure. I’m just asking people to go with their heart. Go with their gut. It’s not hard to get me off a plane. There’s no training protocol. There’s no procedure. The truth is, if the plane lands in the water safely, what’s the captain going to do anyway? He’s going to help people get off the plane. We saw that happen in the Hudson a few years back.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

Right? Don’t wait for the bus to tip over or the accident to take place before you change your mindset or your heart. Always go with your heart. You’ll make yourself indispensable and you can go to bed at peace at night realizing that you did what was the right thing. Regardless if you’re rejected or not, you went with your heart. I can sleep with that kind of a conscience and I think that other people can as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that and getting back to the concept of family, when mom comes home with the groceries or dad or whoever, the kids usually come and help or they’re expected to help or they’re asked to help or they should help.

Chad Hymas:

Sure.

Mike Merrill:

Our office environment should be similar where we’re mindful of people that might need assistance.

Chad Hymas:

Right. Yeah, no I think you’re right and I think a part of it is doing more than your job requires as a father, as a husband, as a parent, as a welder. Whatever. Anybody ought to be able to do their job. Doing more than their job, now you’re putting yourself in a place where you’re becoming indispensable in a very dispensable world.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and it goes back to service like you mentioned earlier and I think if we’re there to not only to help and do our part but serve, then we have a different attitude about all that anyway.

Chad Hymas:

Right.

Mike Merrill:

So, another thing on your website, you have some avian inspired tips or avian based on birds right. So, what are some of those and what can you explain and share about that?

Chad Hymas:

You mean just our daily beliefs and tips?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

Those are just things that I come up with that as I read books or see things posted that I’ll make them relative to something that’s going on in my life. We’ve already mentioned a couple of them. I mean, but there’s thousands of them that I posted. I mean, it’s our daily belief. I put up a daily belief every day. Consistency allows compounds. Proactive versus reactive behavior. Don’t wait to lose something before you hold it sacred. I mean, these are just things that I have not just learned to come up with my own but I’ve also read and then I make them applicable to my life or they’ve inspired me to come up with my own version of how I can make that apply or I’ve listened to their podcast or heard other speakers mention those things but yeah, again, there’s thousands of them that we put out there on all different social media sites and they are things that I’m trying to live by. Haven’t perfected them, but trying to live by those.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you talked… One was success and the bird next door.

Chad Hymas:

Oh, so you’re talking about the topics of my talks. Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

So, there’s some topics but I try and customize those topics but yeah, eagles don’t fly in flocks, seagulls never get lonely. I ask people when… That’s a leadership presentation where we’re asking people to really be different than everybody else and to really lead by being an influencer. Eagles are hard to find. Seagulls? Just walk out to the nearest asphalt and grab a McDonald’s french fry and throw it out there, seagulls start landing left and right. They’re a dime a dozen.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

They’re everywhere. But eagles, those people are… They’re there, they’re just harder to find. So, that’s one of the titles that we use as well. Yeah, I try and come up with clever titles all the time. I think the ones that are on the website are just some of the latest ones that we’ve come up with and all I do when I present is I have an entourage of about two to 300 stories. All you have time for in a 60 minute presentation is maybe three principles, maybe four and maybe four stories. So, I’ll try and pull from that library, that archive and hit those principles.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Well, I… Yeah, there’s many inspirational talks and messages that you shared. I appreciate subscribing to those and tuning in. It’s a blessing to me, so I’m thankful for that. I think the one thing that most people are intrigued with is how do you keep that smile on your face and that positive attitude?

Chad Hymas:

Easy. We’re on camera right now. You didn’t see me this morning. I mean, we had things happen left and right. So, I mean… And people ask me all the time Mike, like what you’re saying, hey, how do you maintain that or maintain that attitude? My assistant’s sitting right next to me. She’ll tell you, this is not… This is… Everybody puts their best face forward but I’ve been asked, when did you finally reach that plateau? Whether it be my marriage, whether it be overcoming this and not… This becoming not an issue. The truth is, I haven’t. I don’t think I ever will. I’m trying to perfect it or I’m trying to make progress every single day, realizing that I’m going to make mistakes and I’m going to have slips, trips and falls or I’m going to fall out and how can I put controls in place where I can do it safely? How can I watch my tongue so that I don’t get upset so quickly? What can I do to be more humble, more grateful, show more kindness, more gratitude towards my wife instead of being not understanding, not listening?

Chad Hymas:

A lot of times for me it’s been just getting away and trying to let things soak in, but I… We’re going to be transparent and honest on this podcast, which is what I think you want, I… The truth is, I’m still working at it. I’m trying to be as good a person that I possibly can. I do not have this paralyzing mastered. I have no idea what marriage is, COVID has taught me that. For 21 years my drug of choice has been a hotel room 26 days a month. That’s been my drug of choice. In the last 14 months, prior to the last three weeks, the last three weeks have been pretty much flying around and we’re picking up pretty heavy now and I fly out again here tomorrow, I’ll stay in a hotel in Salt Lake here in just a little bit, and I had to learn how to be married. Let me rephrase that. I’m learning how to be married. We were married for six years prior to the accident. I don’t… I guess I don’t remember how good or how bad of a husband I was but I know that we make this commitment when we get married that sounds like this, for better for worse. No one plans on their spouse helping him shower. I know it sounds like fun, it’s not fun.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

No one plans on their spouse helping them get dressed. I know it sounds like fun, it’s really not that fun. Shondell’s nice about it, she’ll ask me what I want to wear and I tell her I want to wear my jeans and a Harley Davidson T-shirt. You can see what I’m wearing today. Nothing what I asked for. She dresses me up in outfits. If you pick your outfits, you got worse problems than I’ll ever have in my lifetime. Now, here’s the catch. Here’s the catch to this. It takes me a couple hours to get dressed by myself. About two hours. I don’t mind it. I don’t. It’s exercise. Some people get up and they have coffee for two hours. I just get dressed. Some people get up and they go to the gym. I see you exercising all the time on your social media, a couple hours, I just get dressed. It’s not a big deal. It takes Shondell five minutes to get me dressed. Five. At best. I mean, she’s quick. Then would you believe that she wants me to do this absurd thing called go out and have breakfast with the kids before they go to school? Now, I know that’s not absurd, but when you’ve got into a habit like I have of not being there…

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

It’s just different. It’s the right thing. I feel it in my heart. Now I have to adapt myself, and other people that are listening think Chad, that’s a no-brainer. Yes. But when you’ve been smoking for so long it’s hard to stop smoking.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

When you’ve been eating unhealthy, listen, you can’t have high expectations with mediocrit habits. We have high expectations for our marriage. My habits, at best, have been mediocre because I haven’t been there. I’ve been traveling and doing my thing. So, if I’m going to raise the bar in my marriage, I better raise my habits. I better change some things. So, that’s one of the sayings that I love to use. You can’t have high expectations with mediocrit habits. Must change your habits. No one’s ever climbed downhill. It’s an uphill… You know, this relationship thing.

Chad Hymas:

Now we’re… Now we… We went from talking about safety to now marriage. I mean, it’s an uphill… It’s an uphill… It’s not a bad thing, it’s just it’s a growth experience. It’s learning how to accept that you don’t always have to be right and I’ve been used to being right because I’ve been by myself in a Marriott or a Hilton. So, what I say goes and how I get on a plane, that’s how it works. When I come home now it’s a two way street and receiving… Here’s another. Receiving help with gratitude. You receive without forgetting and you give without ever remembering that you gave to somebody. That way you’re always in debt. I’ll say it again. Give without remembering that you gave. Give without remembering. And when someone gives something to you like service or money or some sort of a, I don’t know, memorandum, never ever forget who gave you or loaned you that money. Now you’re always indebted to people and I think that’s a great way to live life. It keeps you humble. Too much pride is called arrogance. Too little is called suicide. You have to find that balance.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

I kind of hover somewhere around that midway point. So…

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I love what you pointed out earlier. I think all of us can learn from this. If we’re breathing we can learn from this and that is that there is no plateau. We’re never going to reach that place where we’ve nailed it all, we’ve figured it out, we’ve grown enough. That’s what life’s about and so if you’re not growing, we’ve heard you’re dying. So, get used to change. Right?

Chad Hymas:

Yeah. What’s that saying on the movie? Get busy living or get busy… Get busy dying.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

It’s a great… I mean, it’s a great phrase. I think that that… I mean, just because people are alive doesn’t mean that they’re maximizing their potential.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

I meet a lot of people that rob air. That steal air. So, I… In fact, I’ve met people that have full function of all their limbs that are more trapped than I’ll ever be in my lifetime. That’s a bold statement to make on this podcast. It’s very, very bold. People that are more trapped than me and I’ve lost 95% of my feeling and movement, and they’ve got all of theirs intact. What do I mean by that? It’s exactly what we’ve been talking about. People that refuse to change, remember I just admitted to all of you, I confessed that I’m learning to change in my relationship with Shondell because I’ve been home more, but people that refuse to change because they’re not changing for anybody, they’ll find themselves trapped in their own habits. I mean look at me. If I wasn’t able to change the kind of clothes that I wear. My shirts two sizes too big. My pants are two sizes too big. My shoes don’t have laces. They’re two sizes too big. This allows me to get dressed by myself. Do I like my clothes? No. I didn’t say I’m not grateful. That’s different. In fact, all of your watchers, that are watching, they should be grateful that I’m grateful otherwise this could be a naked meeting. So, I’m grateful for clothes it’s just I don’t like these. I like cowboy clothes, they’re just a little bit difficult for me to get on because the boots are narrow, the wranglers are too tight, so I wear jeans that are stretch jeans. I wear shirts that are pre-buttoned and I do the last button, I have someone else do that last button for me. So, changing the way that I walk. I’m not walking like you. I’m just kind of… My chair just kind of coasting around here.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

But that’s not the way that I was taught. But if I’m not willing to change the way that I walk I’d still be stuck in my office just like this.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

How about COVID? Most people in my industry are waiting for hotel ballrooms to open up.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

If you look at my website, where all of our meetings the last three weeks are being held? Outside.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

We just changed our way that we’re approaching this until insight opens up slowly. Our meetings are all outside. I mean, we’re taking the bus tour around, we’re going to different construction sites, we’re bringing the message to the employees. So, we just found a different way to market but if I’m not willing to change with a changing world, I’d still be stuck back at the foundation or back at place number one wondering when things… When’s the government going to send my bail out cheque?

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

When am I going to get that money? I’ve never been successful with that Mike. I’ve never just… I’ve never felt fulfilled doing that.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and because you’ve been willing to adopt, your situation changed like we said in an instant, you’re caring for your family, you’re raising children, you’re a father, you’re an active husband, you’re a contributor to society and your community, you’re finding purpose and creating purpose that wasn’t going to come find you. I just… Hats off to you for that.

Chad Hymas:

Yeah. No, it’s very, very fair. Very fair to say.

Mike Merrill:

So, what… More on a personal side, what’s something that you are grateful for in your professional life but personally?

Chad Hymas:

The fact that I can provide. I mean, I take great pride in that. I take great pride in trying to make a contribution. Before my accident I was looking for a way to make money to build a ranch.

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chad Hymas:

There’s nothing wrong with that.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

Money’s a good motivator. Since the accident I’ve tried to find a place to fit in with you and I’ve made a living in the process. So, those are two different approaches. Right? Two different objectives to go to work. I think when we go to work looking for a way to make a contribution to other people’s lives the money comes, it’s called abundance, it comes more abundantly and we aspire and inspire others. Inspire means to breathe life into, so we should ask people if we’re inspiring, if we’re breathing life into our children, are we breathing life into other people? I’m not talking mouth to mouth. I’m just talking being… People are better because we’re around. I mean, we should ask ourselves on a regular basis, is my wife happy that I’m home? Some days that answer’s no for me.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

Some days it’s yes. Right? Right? So, I need to try to make more of those a yes. Are people better when I got to my church or do they not want me there because I’m grumpy? Are my kids excited to see dad come home? Do my kids know or do they want me at every single game because they play better when I’m on the court or do they not care because dad’s always on an airplane? As a side note to that, I didn’t miss one of their games. I know I traveled a lot, but during November, December, January and February I was in Toole County or whatever high school on Tuesday and Friday nights. I just don’t miss a kids games. So, that… While I missed everything else, homework, Eagle Scout, I never… I just don’t miss their games.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I remember a story you shared about the ice road truckers crew and how you got back for Ace’s first varsity game.

Chad Hymas:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Do you mind sharing a little bit about that?

Chad Hymas:

Yeah. I mean, I was at ice road in Greenland and Ace was…

Mike Merrill:

Greenland the country. Right?

Chad Hymas:

Yeah, so…

Mike Merrill:

Not close.

Chad Hymas:

Yeah, well, this is not an easy country to get to. It’s 36 hours one way with all the layovers. It’s not… There’s not a direct flight. You know? You’ve got to work your way to get to Greenland and so it’s about 36 hours one way from where… If I’m traveling from home base. If I’m traveling from Atlanta it’s a whole different ball game but I was traveling from home base because I had just watched Ace start JV ball as a freshman. He was a freshman. So, I went that night to Atlanta red eye and on my way to ice road in Greenland and two days after I get there I get a phone call from Ace telling me that coach Fox had called him into his office and he was going to be starting tomorrow night in less than 20 hours in his first varsity start for a varsity only tournament. I did not want to be in Greenland anymore.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

But the game’s in 20 hours and I already told you the flight time.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

So, even if I was lucky, and there is no luck, I’m not going to make it back. So, my mind just… You know, I lost it a little bit. I was emotional. I just… Ace told me that he was excited he was going to start, he was nervous, he was scared and he asked me what he should do. I told him the truth. I said, “Well I never started varsity as a freshman so I don’t know the answer to that stuff but you’re probably supposed to be scared. That’s part of the gig. You’re probably supposed to be nervous. That’s part of the gig, and as far as knowing what to do, go ask the coach why he moved you up. I mean, you’re going to have to do it at a higher level because those kids are going to be stronger than you are. They’re going to be faster, they’re going to be big. So, you’re going to have to play your guts out. Buddy I’m sorry I’m not going to be able to keep my commitment and my promise. I would do anything to be there. I’m going to go talk to the boss of ice road right now even though it’s really late here and see if I can’t move third shift meeting tomorrow night. I better go, bye.”

Chad Hymas:

I just hung up and I just started crying and praying right there because I did not want to be in Greenland. I want to listen to the ACDC music as they come out. I want to see him dunk it during warmups. I want to hear his name and jersey number called out. I want to see all the intricate details. I want it all filmed. I want everything done. But I’m not going to make it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

But I can watch it on the internet or FaceTime. I just have to get the boss to move the night shift meeting tomorrow night because of the timezone. There’s five hours difference between Greenland and Utah.

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

Chad Hymas:

So, that night I went to her office. Nice lady, female office. She wasn’t there, she was in her barracks so I went and knocked on her door at 11 o’clock at night. She was awake. I told her the story I just told all you guys. She said, “You’re not living what you teach.” I said, I don’t understand.” She said, “You’re not going to be able to make the meeting tomorrow night but you just talked to us about our greatest asset today and your greatest asset’s back at home.” I said, “Yes and I’m doing all I can to watch it.” She said, “You’re not asking me the right question.” I said, “I don’t want to argue with you, I just… I thought it was a pretty good question, I just want to move the shift so I can watch it on my computer.” She said, “Let me show you a better question.” She walked over to her desk and she grabbed a two way radio and she alerted the pilots of ice road truckers to get the engine started. I didn’t even know they had a plane.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Chad Hymas:

But I wouldn’t have asked anyway because that’s not professional. I would not have asked.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Chad Hymas:

I just wanted to move the meeting. I would not have asked for that. Wheels were up by midnight that night. They were up. We had wheels up.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Chad Hymas:

On a private jet, all night, from the Atlantic to Toronto where the next morning I caught a commercial Delta flight from Toronto to Salt Lake through Detroit. Same plane. The office was scrambling to get me tickets. They got it all worked out. The plane landed in Salt Lake 40 minutes before the game started. 40 minutes. So, plane hits the ground 40 minutes before tip off. I’m still not there yet. I mean, I got to get my butt to the game. I didn’t even go get my bags. Of course my bags probably didn’t arrive. I flew Delta so I’m sure they probably didn’t arrive. I just have say Delta is my number one carrier. They love…

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

Chad Hymas:

They love me. I love them. They take very good care of me. I love Delta. That’s my plug for Delta Airlines.

Mike Merrill:

Sweet.

Chad Hymas:

I had a helicopter waiting for me.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Chad Hymas:

Landed the bird in the football field. I called a buddy to come help me get in. I didn’t call my wife, she didn’t know I was coming. I don’t want her to know what I spent on the helicopter and as soon as I wheeled my chair into the gym, kid saw me. ACDC playing. Thousands of people in the stands.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Chad Hymas:

He threw down a hammer dunk because the adrenaline was pumping through his veins. I mean, the adrenaline was going and I heard his name called, starting freshman, and then right before tip off he ran over to my wheelchair which is always baseline, I sit baseline, and he dropped to a knee and he gave me a hug and somebody up in the bleachers was filming that. They put it on YouTube. I didn’t know that.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Chad Hymas:

All I know is the next day flying back to Greenland, ice road, when I landed at one of the layovers my phone was blowing up from the office. Bunch of people were trying to contact us. Dr. Phil, Ellen. I don’t know who those people are because I work.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, right.

Chad Hymas:

Do you guys know who those people are? You should probably get a job too. I had no idea. So, it just kind of blew up and took off from there.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Chad Hymas:

Yeah, I didn’t miss a game. Almost missed a game. Didn’t miss a game.

Mike Merrill:

What a story and although that was not your objective initially you were trying to at least get a half measure in and attempt to do your best. The blessing came later because you put the effort in…

Chad Hymas:

Sure.

Mike Merrill:

And put yourself in an opportunity to receive it.

Chad Hymas:

Yeah. That’s fair to say.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Great story. So, tell me this and I could fill in this blank, but rather get your answer, so what is Chad Hymas’s superpower? If we were going to boil it down to something, what’s that thing that you feel like you put your cape on for?

Chad Hymas:

I don’t think I have one. I think it’s everybody else’s that allow me to do what I do because I can’t travel… As independent as I like to think that I am, I mean, I rely on other people to get me transferred. Leslie’s been with me for several years. She helps me get in and out of my van. She helps me pack my bag sometimes when Shondell’s not here. Other people help me get in Uber vehicles. I travel alone. At night a complete stranger will help me get into the Marriott. I’ll get up in the morning and fly out first thing. I don’t know who those people are yet. Haven’t met them. So, I don’t know that I have a superpower. I just… I rely on other people’s strengths to compensate for my many, many weaknesses and I have a lot.

Mike Merrill:

That sounds pretty powerful to me. That’s a lot of people’s weaknesses including mine. I struggle receiving help. So, tell me, and this might seem like a facetious or even obvious question, but if you could go back to that fateful day when this accident happened and you could rewind the tapes and not have that happen, would you take all that back?

Chad Hymas:

You know, I was asked that question before on a talk show by a very famous host and my answer today is the same as it was then and my answer is this. I wouldn’t change what happened to me that night to avoid all the pain, the grief that I put on my family, and I put a lot, have put a lot. Still put a lot at times. I wouldn’t change it. Some might think I’m crazy and that’s all right but if you had been what I’ve been through, met who I’ve met, traveled where I’ve traveled, grown the way that I’ve grown I think that you would all echo with me when I say I thank God that we have adversity, challenges, we have setbacks that allow us to realize what our potential really could be, and we honor our losses by the way that we live our life. So, I wouldn’t change it because the growth that I’ve experienced because of it, I would have to give up everything if I went back and changed that, including this podcast. I would have to give up flying and traveling. There’s pros and cons. You know?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Chad Hymas:

Start thinking about having your spouse help you and things it makes you think, would I change it? Yes. But the truth is I’m learning how to be authentically grateful. Gracious acceptance. I’m fine with others. With the one person I’m married to, that’s not always easy for me because I see her doing things that I feel like I should be doing. She never complains. I don’t want to come across… She loves it. She loves to be out in the field. She loves to work the horses. I just have a lot of envy and jealousy. I want to remember what I said about pride, taking care of my family? I like to be the one saddling the horse but that still said, even that, that tells you that I’ve got some work to do and I’m growing because there’s a lot of pride sitting in this wheelchair in this office. You’re not supposed to ask me that question because I don’t like to talk about that.

Mike Merrill:

I’m sorry about that. I just know… I know you, like you mentioned, we knew one another before. I had a chance to get to know you close enough to see what you stood for even 25, 30 years ago and I don’t… I mean, I think you’re evolved and adapted and you’ve grown but I still see the same guy. I feel the same spirit about you as I felt when you were 19, 20 years old. So, I think this has allowed you to become more what you could become than has handicapped or hindered you from what I feel. So…

Chad Hymas:

I have to believe you’re right. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what allows me to wake up with purpose, passion and perspective every morning.

Mike Merrill:

Well, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and had a great time getting to know you better and learning more about your story. I guess just the final question I’d love to ask, what would you hope that the listeners would take away with today from this conversation if there was one thing?

Chad Hymas:

There’s hopefully several… Some gems, some nugget, something that will help you be a better spouse, a better parent, a better child, a better coworker, better colleague. Remember that there are several right ways to solve a single problem. Doesn’t have to be your way. Remember the value of life and to not rob air and the way you honor the losses, and we’ve had a lot the last 14 months, 15, a lot of loss. I’m not just talking about the loss of life, all of that is to be mentioned, but we’ve also lost freedom, the ability to gather together, the ability to show our face in public because it’s been masked up. Something that other countries have done for years. They’ve always masked up their people. Us, in America, we’re used to traveling without masks. We’re used to being able to go to football games in stadiums and watch high school sports. You honor the way you move forward by the way you handle the loss. Attitude is key. Attitude is everything. So, please take a hard look in the mirror at the way that you have taken some of these hits and then move forward not forgetting how those hits can impact your life for the better, and that’s how you honor that loss.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you Chad. You are one who walks the walk, no question. Thank you to our guests and listeners today for joining us on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Chad and I had today and were able to gain some valuable lessons and insights, please give us a follow on LinkedIn and WorkMax, underscore on Instagram and give us a five star rating and review. We also love it when you share the episode with your colleagues and friends and allow them to be blessed by the same information that we’ve shared here today. After all, our goal is not only to help you in business but in life. 

The State of Construction Technology and Digitization in 2021

The State of Construction Technology and Digitization in 2021

There’s no denying construction technology is changing the industry for the better, so it’s no surprise companies are increasingly implementing software solutions and digitizing their processes. Curious where you stand in this migration toward digitization and what you need to be at the top of the game?

James Benham is more than an expert in construction technology. He’s the founder and CEO of JBKnowledge, TerraClaim and hosts two podcasts, The ConTech Crew and The InsureTech Geek Podcast.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, host Mike Merrill welcomes James to discuss the state of construction technology today. They touch on who is using it, what they’re using it for, how construction technologies streamline business and improve the bottom line. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Prioritize consolidating your technology. Contractors are using a high number of apps to manage the complexities of today’s projects. But using too many apps can tack on unnecessary administrative time and add to the confusion. Moving forward, contractors should be actively looking for new ways to simplify their tech-stack for their employees. 
  2. Consider the low-hanging fruit. It is easy to assume that technology needs to make sweeping changes to your business to make a difference. And while solutions that tackle major problems are invaluable, there are also a number of big improvements and profits that can be impacted from small simple changes. Finding a solution that saves workers five minutes in their day, for example, automating payroll and job code tracking, leads to increased profitability with hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings, in some cases, millions. 
  3. Automation is the way forward. The four B’s of technology will be the driving force of change in construction over the next few years. They are: Business Intelligence (BI), Blockchain,  Business Information Modeling (BIM) and Big Data. If you are aware of how your technology incorporates each of them, you will be lightyears ahead and can quickly adapt each for your business. If you’re not familiar, make time to learn about these offerings and how they influence your technology – and benefit your business.

 

Check out the Construction Technology Report and EOS Worldwide mentioned in the episode.

 

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Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

And welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host Mike Merrill and today we are sitting down with the James Benham, the CEO of JBKnowledge. James taught himself to code at an early age and that helped him spark his entrepreneurial spirit and after his first year at Texas A&M, James and a partner founded their company JBKnowledge. JBKnowledge is an information technology services company that specializes in application design and development, also electronic data interchange, as well as strategy consulting, mobile solutions, and web development.

In 2018 James launched another company called TerraClaim. It’s also a claims management company and also has benchmarking systems. Lastly, James is also a podcast host like myself and not only does he host one podcast, but he hosts two. The first one is The Con Tech Crew and the other one is the Insure Tech Geek podcast.

So today we’re excited to talk to James about the construction industry and how they are embracing technologies and how those things are laying out across the construction landscape. So hello, James. Welcome to the podcast today.

 

James Benham:

Howdy, howdy, thanks for having me on, always good to be on somebody else’s podcast other than my own.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it’s a nice switch up I’m sure for you. Great. Well, do you mind just sharing a little bit about your background and how you got into the positions that you’re in?

 

James Benham:

Sure yeah. I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, went to a high school for engineers. It was like if you’re old enough to remember the TV series Fame, it was like Fame, but for nerds. We built a lot of software in high school and then I went to Texas A&M, just an absolutely awesome, amazing university in College Station, Texas and they taught me about business and accounting and got my Masters in Business there, then did a couple internships with a big five consulting firm, and decided that wasn’t my path. And so when I was back in college I decided to start this company JBKnowledge with my dad and one of my high school classmates who was an exchange student from Argentina named Sebastian Costa.

And so for 20 years we’ve been building software for construction companies and insurance companies. We built a big product called Smart Bid. Smart Bid ended up being a pretty dominant industry player and invitation to bid. We had about a third of all projects flowing through it at one point. Sold it three years ago to iSqFt Construct Connect, kept JBKnowledge, kept all my engineers, and we built a product for certificate of insurance tracking, which is a big problem at GCs and built a product for insurance claims management, which is a problem for a large organizations that self insure. Then we kept doing construction technology consulting, so that’s kind of the path.

I stayed in College Station, love living there, married, two kids, two daughters, and I have a lot of hobbies. I’m like a compulsive hobbyist. I’m a pilot and I fly pretty much every week. All I really think about is flying. I play the guitar and piano and sing and do all that about every night, and hang out with my kids, go campaigning every month. If it’s a hobby, I like doing it, and I’m really into tech in every way, shape, and form. I got hooked, just hook, line, and sinker when I was 11, and got my hands on my first computer and started writing code, and really haven’t looked back since then. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by awesome people. I’ve got 245 employees now at JBKnowledge and most of them are engineers and I’ve got the world’s best business partners. We’re fully employee owned and no outside capital ever and we’ve really focused on building great companies and had a lot of fun doing it.

 

Mike Merrill:

My goodness, when do you sleep?

 

James Benham:

Usually five or six hours. Last night was five and a half and that was about it. It was between 12:30 and six. It was a short night last night. I’m on the Board of Regents of Texas Southern University in Houston, down here in Houston at the Four Seasons right now for some board meetings and just love education, so I’ve been trying to help them for the last seven months. It’s a lot of fun, but does get a little tiring, but as they say you sleep when you die.

 

Mike Merrill:

Maybe, right? We’ll see. Well good for you. I’ve known you for many years, well over a decade and I’ve never known you to be anything different than full of pizazz and enthusiasm. I’m glad you’re still maintaining that same love for life and passion.

 

James Benham:

Got to, man. Life’s short and then you die. I joke that I have a carpe diem complex. My wife says I have FOMO, fear of missing out, and so I like to go get it done and have fun doing it. The world’s full of opportunities on where you can spend your time. I try and spend it on areas I think are fun. Construction’s one of those areas because it’s just so rewarding. People are so amazing, technology can have such a huge impact on safety and health and productivity and profitability, that it’s proven to be a worthwhile journey for the last 17 out of the 20 years that I’ve been really focused and in a specific industry verticles.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love it. In this space, obviously I’ve been in this space a long time. I was a contractor before, but everybody knows James Benham as Mr. Tech for Construction and so I think a lot of people look up to you for that and also look to you for direction and maybe insights onto what’s coming down the pipe. I know you’re also very well known for your annual construction technology report for the last nine years.

 

Mike Merrill:

So, what can you share with the listeners about that report and who is it for?

 

James Benham:

Yeah, we started it nine years ago because there was really no definitive work. There wasn’t a really good work from Gartner or somebody else that would usually produce industry research that we thought was good enough for the specificity of what our clients were looking for. Again, we’re kind of a weird bird as software company because we have a media group that does the ConTech Roadshow, which we do six of those a year and then we have the two podcasts, and then we have our report. That’s our media group.

 

James Benham:

Then we’ve got our development group, which is huge here. It’s a couple hundred people, and then we’ve got our product group and it’s been really interesting. When we started it, because our consulting group was really trying to answer these questions like what are contractors using? What are they doing? How’s adoption? And it was really interesting because this is about field, to see through the last nine years the explosion of mobile tech and the number of apps we had to cover, the number of mobile devices, mobile device utilization. The real objective with the report was to give a free report out there that people could download and read, and first understand market share, understand what tech they should look at, what apps are popular. Mind you, we serve thousands of companies. You see a lot of surveys and market research, then like 100 companies responding.

Our average is two to three thousand every year, and so it’s a big enough market set that it helps people make spending decisions. We also really dive, because I have a degree in accounting and spend a lot of time looking at money, looking at how’s money being utilized. We talk about the percentage of revenue that’s spent on IT because it’s a really low number in construction. That’s one of the big things that’s holding us back. You got to invest before you get return. That’s part of, to answer your question, what the report’s about. We’re trying to get people to get off of center and really recognize that technology’s an investment, not an expense. They’ll get their money back. It can make them more profitable, and then help them identify which tools they should start with that are pretty easy to implement that all their peers are implementing, that are delivering returns.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love how you said it’s about the money. I think one of the things that I always come away with is that there’s an X factor on those dollars. This is sacred money. It’s new money. It’s different money than just raising your price. You’re able to leverage that multiple times and grow it rapidly when you have an ROI on a technology investment.

 

James Benham:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, technology in general should all have some return allocated to it otherwise there’s no point in buying it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

James Benham:

Like why would you do it? In business there’s no cool factor. There’s no points assigned for style, really. There’s one scorecard in business and it is how much cash does the business generate. That’s it. That is the … and by the way, it’s not gross revenue. A lot of contractors get confixated on gross revenue and their building volume. I’m like, it’s nice to have but it really doesn’t indicate how good of a business you are. What indicates how good of a business you are is how much cash at the end of the year, do you generate every year from your activities that you can then use either for your own personal enjoyment or for other investment, one of those two, but that’s the whole point of a business. This is capitalism. We’re not talking about capunism, which is this weird hybrid communism, capitalism thing that goes on in China. We’re talking about capitalism and we’re here to drive profit and margin and wages, because the beautiful thing is more profitable companies tend to pay more money to their employees, too, and bigger bonuses. Everybody wins. Everybody wins when you have profitable businesses and low profit businesses have a harder time paying wages and paying bonuses. So there’s combination there-

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. So from the 2021 report, is there anything that is blaringly obvious that you’ve come away with?

 

James Benham:

I’d say, well, one of the glaringly obvious things is that spending is really not materially moving north. I would like to see it moving north faster. That’s probably a disappointing side of things, that spending just isn’t budging off of center. Secondly, we are continuing to see a big push into mobility. That wave is not a fad. It didn’t die off. What we are seeing a desire from contractors to start consolidating some other mobile solutions, so maybe instead of using 10 they want to use five. You’re seeing some consolidation, of course. You’re seeing consolidation in general in the marketplace, but you see that, too.

When you look at it, they have a desire to consolidate. The number of mobile apps that each company uses is still pretty high. They’re using five, six, seven mobile apps for a company. So that’s still been pretty popular. The popularity of mobile devices in general and of connecting the field. I call it the difference between going paperless and going digital. Nine years ago we had a lot of companies that responded to the survey that were trying to go paperless, so they were really just creating scanning workflows that allowed for their field staff and office staff to keep using paper, but then scan it in and then route that digital representation of the document, which is a poor substitute for truly going digital. Going digital means you’re going to originate digitally, you’re going to log the data digitally, you’re gonna route and work flow that data digitally. It’s never going to get turned into an image. Any time you’re routing an image that’s paperless and it’s really a 90s solution to a 2021 problem. So that’s certainly something else that-

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it’s half a step better, but it’s certainly not the be all end all that you want.

 

James Benham:

Yep. It’s better than routing physical paper. It is, but there’s still a whole bunch of mistakes that happen on the rekeying, there’s mistakes that happen on RCORing or scanning or routing. There’s a lot of room for error and that’s the real problem. When you can’t capture all the context you can with digital origination, so we’re trying to get people moved into originating data digitally, take the photo with your phone, fill out some data, auto tag it, add GPS locations, put it into a structured or unstructured data that can be structured later. There’s a real goal there and it’s ideally to do away with paper forms, paper plans, paper specs. Those are really problematic. This industry has thrived on unstructured data and it would be nice to structure more of the data because then we can more easily do things with it, like make better decisions.

 

Mike Merrill:

I think it’s fascinating. You mentioned five to seven apps. It’s ironic because we did a survey report a year ago also, and that was the exact number. It was between five and seven apps is the average number the companies were using to collect job site data, so you’re spot on with our findings as well.

 

James Benham:

Yeah. Yeah, yeah, and some are okay with it. Hell, I use- I use a lot of apps. You look at my phone and you’re going, “Oh god Ben, how do you track that many apps?” I’ve got a couple hundred on here, but the reality is I love tying things into my phone. I really do. I just got a new washing machine from Maytag, the damn things got an app, and I never thought I’d love it, but I’m like, “I love the damn thing. It’s amazing.” Yeah, it’s awesome because I can load clothes in there, like workout clothes and that kind of stuff, but you want to wash them the next day so it’s not sitting in there getting moldy, so I can schedule, I can load them in and go on my phone and schedule when it starts. Then the really cool thing is it push notifications me when they’re done.

I think it’s important as nerds and as technologists that in our personal lives, we really try to go digital because it gives a lot of ideas about what’s possible in the work world. That phrase kind of consumerization of IT, we ideally … and this is happening a lot more, people are so digital in their personal lives. They step into work and they’re going, “My gosh, it’s like I’m stepping back 15 years.”

Mike, I drive a self driving Cadillac. My car drives me to Houston, so why is my construction equipment still requiring manual input? It’s affordable now. You can get a Tesla Model Three really reasonably with great autopilot future functionality. So why is it so cheap to get that level of automation on a personal level and so accessible, and it’s not in a business environment? That’s what a lot of the students that I’ve taught over the last five years are saying is, “Hey man, I’m using all these digital tools and then I go to the workforce and it’s like a time warp.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, step back to the 80s.

 

James Benham:

Yeah, it’s just not cool and they’re not liking it-

 

Mike Merrill:

You bring up a great point. The rising generation, they’re in college right now and in high school, I mean my junior high daughter just finishing up ninth grade. She’s been doing online learning with Covid and everything else, of course, everything was digital. They’ve had school issued tablets for years now, so if you try and hand a new employee just fresh out of college or even high school a piece of paper, they’re not going to know what to do with it, right?

 

James Benham:

Yeah, it’s a bit challenging. I’m in Texas, land of the free, and we were face to face school all year, a little different, but my kid’s school uses Google Chromebooks for everything and so they had to have a Chromebook, these Google classroom, everything’s digital, I can log in and check the assignments, totally game changer. Then you step in your average company, it’s like, “Man, where’s all this centralization at?” It’s something we got to be aware of. You can’t just say, “I hate the thing. Thank god I’m retiring, I don’t have to deal with this.” What a terrible way to approach that. You really got to … I think it’s helpful to embrace change, not for the sake of change, but for the sake of results and productivity and profitability.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, so this is your 20th year, right, at JBKnowledge? Is that right?

 

James Benham:

Just turned 20 April 16th this year. 20 years ago I drove from my dorm room in my 1995 Ford Mustang to the Brazos County Courthouse and filed the paperwork. We’ve managed to survive 9/11 and the ’08 economic crisis, and Covid, all this other garbage that easily put a lot of the gray hair on my head that I’ve got, and it’s been quite a ride. Yeah, we just turned 20 as a company and of course, our products, Smart Compliance and TerraClaim are a little younger than that, but yeah it’s been twenty years.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you mentioned mobility. That’s the obvious one, but what else has changed in ConTech in those last two decades for you from your seat?

 

James Benham:

Yeah, mobility huge. I remember the first laptop I got was a year into business. The first year I just had a desktop computer. Then we got into laptops. Okay, in general, I got into construction tech, like I said, I think it was 17 years ago, it was 15 years ago. I’ve gotten into insurance 17 years ago. 2006, I jumped into construction tech with Smart Bid and the bidding system. I saw a boatload of paper, just reams and reams and reams of paper being used, a whole bunch of printing and shipping plan files, which is just dead now. That completely went away, right, which was good. It was a billion dollar revenue line for UPS and FedEx to print ship plan files. It was crazy, just think about all that waste. It’s just waste. Don’t feel sorry for FedEx and UPS, they’re doing great. Online and eCommerce has done wonderful things. They don’t need to print and ship plan files for us.

 

James Benham:

so certainly, the disappearance from, not everybody, but from a lot of people job sites, the majority of their paper, they still use some, but not nearly as much. The advent of smartphones, so 2007 was when the iPhone came out and it really wasn’t the first smartphone. Don’t forget about that. I had a Palm Pilot back in the day and then the early stages of Android, but Apple was the first one to really nail it down and get it really right and get everybody excited and market and sell the hell out of it. That was the year after I started Smart Bid. I want to say we were one of the first three construction apps in the app store, but I don’t really know if that’s true. I know we were number one on the list at one point of construction apps with Smart Bid. If you think about it, it was for estimators. They didn’t really have to have a mobile app because they were largely at their desk.

 

James Benham:

So you’ve seen mobile apps become a big deal. Automation has completely changed construction. Drones and sensors, right, so the miniaturization of chips, how chips become really inexpensive, semi conductors have become really inexpensive sensors and data are really pervasive, and then 4G and now 5G has had a massive impact on construction because now we can actually get real bandwidth at the job site fairly easily, which has a sea change of an impact on construction because now you’re able to pull of a lot more tech like beyond a lot of site drones. Drones in general, like half of people we survey have drones. That’s a huge change. You have your own ariel fleet over the job site that you can take aerial images of anytime you want and you can produce photogrammetry, and you combine drones with photogrammetry and that’s a huge change as well, because they’re able to measure and count and do all kinds of other existing condition assessments.

So all those technologies came along, and then you have the ERP players, are slowly getting in the line. It took awhile. They had to do some acquisitions and bring some other players in. The big guys had to start some new companies, so you saw like Jonah and CYNC start their own equivalent Cloud products. So all of that has come along pretty nicely, guys like Coins in the UK built a new platform that’s all web mobile based. They’ve really come along and they’ve gotten with the times, and then of course the big thing that changed is the amount of venture capital and money flowing into fund new ideas have went up exponentially. So you have a lot more choices, almost too many choices.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s why we’re seeing the consolidation again, right? We’re seeing them get gobbled up again.

 

James Benham:

Yeah, classic cycle, classic cycle. Classic cycle of fund, innovate, create, sell, acquire, consolidate, then now we’re going to be back into the split off part of the cycle.

 

Mike Merrill:

So that’s exciting that the drone thing is something else I’ve noticed, too. I remember, it’s been about 10 years ago, I was in an insurance claims adjuster’s office at a big company and they had developed, and it was top secret, they had this miniature helicopter. I think they spent like $30,000 building this thing. It had a weed eater engine on it, it was nuts, and it was top secret to get something that could actually hover above a roof and take measurements. It’s amazing that you can order it on Amazon and have one tomorrow if you’re a 10 employee roofer in Chicago. And it sounds like from your survey that half of the companies have invested in those. That’s a huge change.

 

James Benham:

Roughly, yeah. Half of the ones that we survey have invested in some type of drone. Now, many of them are under utilizing it. They’re not using enough apps. They’re using the base factory apps for drones. Thankfully DGI, DGI who of course, dominated the drone space for construction, has really got on the ball with their factory applications, but still. My personal favorite is Drone Deploy. There’s a lot of really good construction drone apps out there.

 

Mike Merrill:

So you mentioned there are companies that are jumping on board, a lot of little larger ones, a lot of the ones that you’ve surveyed. What is the hesitancy behind the ones that still aren’t jumping on board yet?

 

James Benham:

They just don’t see it. When it comes down to it and I have conversations with them, they just don’t. They think that the return numbers, the ROI, is fictional. They’re skeptical about the ROI. They’re carrying a lot of risk already and there’s already so many things that could go wrong on a job site. I respect this. It’s hard to be a contractor. There’s a lot of ways to lose money. Being a contractor’s like playing a game of a thousand and one ways to go bankrupt. It’s challenging. It’s a high risk and sometime high reward, sometimes low reward, but it’s definitely a high risk, low margin business that maybe people feel like they have to make up on volume.

That’s pretty challenging and so you introduce this concept of change and more of it gets really tough for them to stomach a massive change and I respect that and understand, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating for me and everyone else in the tech sector when they site a lot of the same old reasons. The reality is the end of the day, they’ll be willing, and I’m a pilot so I like to fly, all of my neighbors at the airport are all contractors, all. They have really big expensive airplanes and they don’t like spending money on tech. Now, why is that?

They’re willing to drop three million dollars on a new King Air, which has marginal incremental value to their productivity. They’ll say it has a ton of incremental value, and it has value, but not for the dollars they have to burn to run it, operate it, buy it, acquire it, etc. Then they’ll under invest in IT, which has the opportunity to get a much bigger jet.

Exactly. It’s like you’re putting the cart before the horse in some of these things because you understand a plane. A plane gets you to your job site faster and you can easily … anybody can justify anything. If a business owner wants to justify something, if they want to lie to themselves long enough, they can do it. And one thing my dad told me to do a long time ago in business, because he’s my personal mentor in business, always has been. He said, “James, no matter what you do, don’t lie to yourself.” He goes, “You can choose to not disclose everything to everybody else, but at the end of the day don’t lie to yourself and pretend you’re profitable when you’re not. Don’t pretend that things are good when they’re not.” Don’t pretend like your proactive investors have seen so many construction CEOs stand up and say, “Man, we’re a proactive tech forward company. We’re going to innovate blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and you go talk to their employees and they’re like, “Man, that guy won’t even approve an iPad purchase.

Then they say, some of the more dangerous ones will make really snide comments about IT guys. What they do is they denigrate the IT department and it’s kind of like classic jock behavior, “Oh, look at the nerd over there.” What they do is they give everyone permission to just dog on technology because the reality is most people are so busy and they work so hard in construction, because construction’s filled with hardworking people, that it’s a lot to ask them to change their process and rethink things.

So if you give them permission, if you give them a moral license to just deny or dog anything new that comes up, then they’ll take it because they don’t want to do the work.

 

Mike Merrill:

Shooting themselves in the foot.

 

James Benham:

Absolutely. Look, why do our margins suck? We’re the bottom. We’re the bottom. We’re also the industry that has improved productivity the least of all industries and we’re at the bottom of margin and so why? Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t it obvious there are other high risk industries that make far larger margins because they’ve invested heavily in technology in form and process and they’ve gotten the results.

 

James Benham:

It’s tough because I always want to balance and walk the line of respecting the road contractors have to walk and respecting the risk they have to take, but at the same time not giving everybody a free pass just to dog the stuff they don’t like or understand. Simply because they don’t want to change. And look, the desire to not change is very strong in many, like the force is strong with you, Luke. I’ve been watching the Mandalorian, which I love, and I’m not a Star Wars guy. I’m a Star Trek guy.

 

Mike Merrill:

It is pretty good.

 

James Benham:

Mandalorian’s amazing. The force is good with some. The force is strong with some and it’s not with other.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think it is interesting. You’re in the same position that I am where you’re technology driven, technology facing, you’re trying to help and it’s exhausting trying to convince some of these same companies. I, like you, I can think of a dozen huge companies that we’ve been talking to for over a decade that are still in their own way on some of these things. It doesn’t make any sense at all to me.

 

James Benham:

Well, it doesn’t make any sense when their peers have made so much more money than them and have reduced their risk profile so much because there’s two sides of the coin. It’s becoming more productive and also becoming safer and less risky, which that’s a big part of contractor losses is insurance risk management claims. It’s two sides to the coin. My hope has been for them to catch it and understand that they have to invest to get return. They have to take risk to get reward. They have to invest in technology and people and process and adopt, learn to experiment, and of course walking the line with not experimenting too much because then you burn your people. There’s always a balancing act and so I don’t want to paint it with just gross generalizations because … We do a lot of consulting with construction companies and every single company is kind of a different grab bag.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think that the fear of change seems to be the largest thing that we run into. We say it all the time and we can back it up with statistics, we rarely lose to a competitive solution, it’s usually no decision or delayed decision or, “We’re going to get to it later,” something else became a priority.

 

James Benham:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

So you’ve talked many times about the three B’s of construction. What can you share about those and how do they relate to ConTech solutions? Is that ringing a bell to you, big data, big business, and block chain?

 

James Benham:

Yeah, it’s not big business. It was, yeah, big data, and then I think BIM, and block chain were the three that I-

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, BIM. Sorry, yeah.

 

James Benham:

Yeah, okay. I just want to make sure that we’re on the same page. Big data is really exciting. The insurance sector, which is the other half of my business, I spend a lot of time on insure tech. They are really learning how to leverage big data in a massive profitable way because they’re using big data for automating, underwriting, and claims handling decisions. For dramatically reducing the amount of forms they ask people to fill out because they can automatically populate the data on properties and people and equipment, because they’re using public records and they’re using data aggregation repository. It’s really oppressive what is going on in insure tech.

We got to take a big lesson from them because we require way too much manual entry of stuff. I’m going to give you an eetie bittie weetie little tiny example, just one eetie-

 

Mike Merrill:

How small?

 

James Benham:

Tiny example just addresses. Back in the day, which was like a Wednesday, you just type a whole address in. It takes you, let’s say it takes 30 seconds of really fully type a whole address in, street number, street name-

If you’re in Utah, then lord help you through your addressing system works. So, I still can’t figure out how streets or address in Salt Lake City-

 

Mike Merrill:

It’s a grid system.

 

James Benham:

But you still got … It’s a grid system, but New York grid system is easier for me than Utah’s grid system, so I’m going to say that. All right, so then you have to figure you type the whole address out with the city, state, zip, country, county. Then we end up with these zip code databases, so you type in the zip code, it auto populates city, state, zip. Now, because we have ridiculously good mapping data, I mean ridiculously good Mike, amazing how good our mapping systems are. You can use the Google Maps API and you just start typing the first part of the address and then it auto completes. It cuts a 30 second transaction to about five. That’s a wonderful example of how much you can leverage big data and that’s just the thin tiny little sliver off the top.

Then when you’re talking about property data, let’s say you’re keying in data on a property and you want to know all the details about that property and what’s the year of that property. There’s a bunch of databases you can tap into to automatically pull that data into your project systems so you don’t have to manually key all the stuff in and you can make better decisions.

So big data’s really, really exciting. It’s a lot of potential. Also in analytics, once you start aggregating all the data across all of your different verticals you can start making better decisions, data base decisions, not emotional decisions. When I started looking at work comp claims, which happen a lot in construction, I found that my emotions told me one thing, that could be more factors like diabetic, overweight, smoker, we’re going to contribute to a worker having a tough time recovering, and in fact, it contributing to a cost of the claim. The reality is once you started peeling through the data, their lawyer contributes as much as any other factor.

Yeah, not just the fact that they had a lawyer, which lawyer they had contributed heavily to how much that work comp claim was going to cost. I didn’t discover that until I really started peeling through millions of records on work comp claims. So that’s big data.

BIM, there’s been a lot of mandates in the UK, the level two mandate. There’s been a lot of mandates, not a lot of mandates here in the US, but BIM continues to have the opportunity to revolutionize the way things are built and the quality that they build them because you want to find the mistakes before you start building. There’s no better way to clash detect and find mistakes than by doing fully coordinated multi trade BIM.

I absolutely still stand by BIM having the ability. Now, I talk about block chain and here’s the interesting thing. These are all underlying tools, so what’s actually happening with block chain is really interesting because it’s being implemented in a lot of places now, but they’re just not out in the open

It’s all under the covers, behind the scene.

 

James Benham:

It’s all under the covers. They originally had it over the covers. They were actually using it to par their product marketing and everybody’s like, “I don’t know.” Unfortunately, they immediately associated block chain with bitcoin and that became a big problem. So people are still using block chain, but they’re using it under the covers to accomplish the same thing without really talking about it. Big data, block chain, BIM, BI is something … That was a fourth B, that we do a lot of talking about and that’s just business intelligence, really getting people used to not just analyzing data in Excel, but moving into a tool like Power BI or Tabolo, because that’s allowing them to make much better nonemotional decisions.

We use Medibase ourselves. It’s an open source BI tool system and we love it, really helps us analyze our enterprise data. So that’s actually the fourth B is BI. Those still should be watched. Now block chain, man, it’s in the news all the time because they’re talking about all the different cryptos, which are all on block chains, either on Ethereum or whatever you’re on. I just don’t think they’re going to talk about it as much, even though it’s going to be a huge games changer.

 

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. Yeah, I love the way you phrase that. It’s the underlying technology that’s driving these things. That’s back to contractors need to have confidence and trust and get on board with the rest of planet Earth, the other businesses out there that are leveraging technology to be more efficient as opposed to avoiding it or trying to see what they can do to keep away from some of those changes that are maybe uncomfortable.

 

James Benham:

Pretty much, man, pretty much.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wildly profitable, right?

 

James Benham:

Yes, can be. 

 

Mike Merrill:

When we talk about the word artificial intelligence, it used to be people think of iRobot or other things. What does that mean to you when you hear AI when it comes to construction technology?

 

James Benham:

We’re not in general AI, we’re not there yet. That’s Hal in 2001 Space Odyssey. I don’t think about that. I think about the specific forms of AI like machine learning that are really transforming individual skills. Natural language processing, which is being used for NLP search like Dato or what pipe is doing with ripping apart spec books. There’s a lot of machine learning tools being used, SmartVid is using Computer Vision, which is another subset of AI. I’m just really excited that all these little specialty areas inside of AI, like machine learning and deep learning, Computer Learning, and NLP are all being utilized now at commercialized products that are mainstream. They’re definitively mainstream and so when you look at all those tools I just mentioned, all mainstream tools, heavily adopted, people are using them everyday. We’re auto tagging, we’re doing index search, we’re doing contextual search, we’re looking for intent. It’s awesome things you can do around AI.

Then of course, you see the mapping and decision making trees. Again, other parts of deep learning and machine learning being used for spot the robot from-

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

James Benham:

From Boston Dynamics, is using some very specific forms of ML to get around. Exciting outcomes. The most exciting outcome for AI is that it’s actually mainstream, products are actually using it, it is real, it’s not fake. It’s not just a giant if/then, conditional statement. It is [crosstalk 00:36:47].

 

Mike Merrill:

What about digital printing? Are you seeing that used more widely yet or commercialized? Yeah, 3D printing, sorry.

 

James Benham:

3D printing? Yeah, slowly but surely. Small scale 3D printing, yes, like even form work contractors are using it to test their form work before they go make it. Fast Brick is one of my favorites with the Hadrian X Robot out of Australia. They’re getting certification. They’re passing engineering tests. They’re printing with blocks instead of with concrete and they’re being successful. Their government is stamping and sealing, that’s the really big hurdle for 3D printing.

 

James Benham:

You look at Icon out of Austin, they’re hella far. They’re on fire. They’re 3D printing houses. So 3D printing is real. Dubai said 25% of their buildings in the next four years are going to have to be 3D printed. They’re laying out super aggressive 3D printing targets and then Apis Cor, the big 3D house 3D printing project in Russia in the middle of winter under a tent, some crazy stuff is happening with 3D printing.

 

James Benham:

Most important thing in 3D printing is that government bodies are starting to approve it for people to actually live in it, which was the major step because we started seeing 3D printing of houses out of China.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

James Benham:

Eight, nine, 10 years ago, but you’re finally starting to see countries that have really tight building standards say, “Hey, this works. People can live [crosstalk 00:38:12].”

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, they’re efficient and they’re now safe. They’re deemed safe.

 

James Benham:

Deemed safe. Yeah, we’ll see how that all works out.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, lots of great things. Obviously you’re a great advocate for construction technology and the adoption of opportunity. Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you think is important for people to hear and understand about construction technology and the impacts it can have on their business?

 

James Benham:

No, I’ll just leave you with this. Just enjoy the ride and geek out, become a tinkerer. Go to Best Buy and buy stuff and then return it if you don’t like it. Discover the love of playing with things. It’s really part of my DNA and part of my team’s DNA that we just geek out on what we do. I ask my clients to do the same thing. Whatever it is you do, geek out on it. Life is too short to be boring. Life is too short to be meaningless and the beautiful thing about improvement is I believe improvement gives purpose. It allows you to look back and see what you accomplished, even if nobody else knows, you will always know. That’s the thing.

I think as humans we got to be in the experience business because no one can take those away from you and that’s what’s so fun about innovating and changing and adopting technology, is you can look back and you can see what you got done. You got to discover the joy of being a tinkerer. When you’re a kid, you break up a new Lego box [crosstalk 00:39:46] still build Lego. I still do. I just rebuilt all the Lego from my childhood. My daughter, my 11 year old, and I just finished a 5,000 piece Lego piano that actually functions. It is still a blast to make, so if you got to play with technology toys, or you got to go back to Lego or Connects or whatever you got to do to rediscover that inside, I encourage people to do it.

Just recognize that in business, the ultimate goal is to generate cash and this is one of the things that can have such a [crosstalk 00:40:18]-

 

Mike Merrill:

I love that. So more on a personal level James, what is one of your superpowers or your strengths that you feel like you really can lean on, helps drive you?

James Benham:

I’m fairly quick at figuring things out. That has served me well as a consultant. It’s served me well as a software developer. I can generally step in and figure things out pretty quickly and I’m a fairly quick learner. That’s also because I just never stopped learning. It’s one of the reasons I love being a regent at Texas Southern, because I can help people learn. I love teaching. I love learning. I really enjoy the process of educating and I think great companies are great teaching companies, too.

I think that’s probably one of the things that I’ve been better at over the last 20 years that’s really helped me with my team and has helped me to enjoy the day more and help my people to upgrade more. I think that’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoy teaching, really enjoy leading our folks and I really enjoy trying to get people excited. Motivation is this funny thing. Sometimes it’s hard to come across and sometimes it’s easy to lose. Anytime you can motivate a group, that’s what leadership is. Leadership is motivating ordinary people to do extraordinary things. That’s the important part of life and business, so I think that’s probably one of [crosstalk 00:41:50]

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. I believe the same. I think that great leaders are people that empower others to implement their good ideas, not to just come up with all the good ones on their own, right?

 

James Benham:

Yeah, exactly.

 

Mike Merrill:

So tell me this, what’s a big challenge that you’ve overcome in business and how did you solve that?

 

James Benham:

I’ll say this to wrap our conversation up. The biggest challenge was we were hitting the ceiling in our business several years ago. We didn’t have an actual methodology we followed, and so I discovered and found this methodology called EOS, Entrepreneurial Operating System. It allowed me to put a really defined way of achieving vision traction and health, and fixing our meetings. We have awesome meetings now. Fixing our planning, we have planning documents, we follow them. Fixing our process, we have process, and we follow it.

I stopped flying by the seat of my pants. I started running our business on the process and it was like just putting really high octane fuel in the engine. It started performing so much better. We started having so much more fun. My Chief Operating Officer Sebastian and I, who’s just my right hand man, started getting along a lot better. That was a huge issue. We were stressed out. We were burnt out. The wheels were falling off seven years ago and really getting serious about implementing a process, US isn’t the only one, but it’s my favorite eosworldwide.com, I have nothing to do with EOS. I’m not a planner, but it changed my life. It changed my business. It fixed the biggest business problem, and by the way, my personal life made it a lot better, too, because I was able to not be so stressed all the time. I was able to put a system in place and delegate and elevate, and really trust my people.

That’s by far the biggest challenge we had in business that we were able to tackle with a process. It was a lot of change and some technology and a whole lot of people. It was same thing: people, process, technology.

 

Mike Merrill:

What a great tribute and we’ll be sure to link that in the show notes so that listeners can check that out. I’m interested personally as well.

 

James Benham:

Yeah, hire an implementer. I hired the world’s best implementer. He’s now working for me, but there’s over 250 implementers of EOS now. Hire one, pay them the money, it’s worth every penny you pay them. We made the money back ten fold.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love that.

 

James Benham:

It was the best decision we could have made.

 

Mike Merrill:

Last thing, what is one takeaway that you want the listeners to come away with from our conversation today?

 

James Benham:

Embrace change. Don’t fight it. Don’t embrace change for the sake of change, but embrace change for what it is, the potential to dramatically improve your life and your business.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well said. Well thank you, my friend. I’ve sure enjoyed our conversation today, looking forward to connecting with you again in the future and maintaining this relationship on technology for construction.

 

James Benham:

Thanks Mike, appreciate you, appreciate your business, and let’s go geek out. OK?

 

Mike Merrill:

Sounds good. Thank you to the listeners today for listening to the podcast with James and I. If you enjoyed our conversation and were able to gain some insights and somethings that you can implement in your business, please share this episode with your friends and colleagues. We also love those five star ratings and reviews, of course. Those help us to continue to bring valuable guests like James on and grow our podcast platform. Again, our goal is not only to help you improve in business, but in life.

Successfully Marketing Your Construction Business on Social Media

Successfully Marketing Your Construction Business on Social Media

Construction leaders know a lot about the art of construction. But marketing a construction company? That’s a whole different story. Promoting a construction company can be challenging, especially in today’s competitive market where the landscape is often flooded with advertisements and noise. That’s why companies are increasingly thinking outside the box – and their tactics may surprise you.

Dillon Hales, the owner of Yeti Welding, joins the Mobile Workforce Podcast to share how marketing his construction business on social media helped him build his welding company from the ground up. They discuss different ways to leverage social media, including building trust with general contractors, raising brand awareness to attract new prospects and strengthening relationships with current customers. In this episode, Dillon also dives into speed bumps he’s encountered and how you can start using social media to grow your business today. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Show off your difficult jobs on social media. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn, social media is all about grabbing the attention and imagination of your potential clients. Putting up pictures that anyone can get won’t do the job. Look for the opportunities that will get the wheels turning in the client’s head and spark their interest.
  2. Getting started is as easy as pulling out your smartphone. Putting quality images and posts on social media might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t take a team of experts – simply pull out your iPhone. The camera on any current smartphone is more than capable of capturing the right images. Start taking shots and you will quickly learn what looks good and what doesn’t. 
  3. When the camera comes out, job site safety actually increases. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and that goes for double on the job site. OSHA and other safety organizations do monitor pictures posted on social media and will look for safety violations. But don’t let that scare you. Think of it as an opportunity to increase safety on the job site while increasing your marketability. Everyone on the job site benefits from the cameras coming out because it requires everyone to confirm that the job is being done safely.

 

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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 with the Dillon Hales, the owner of Yeti Welding. How are you doing today Dillon?

 

Dillon Hales:

I’m doing really good. Thanks for letting us come out. It’s a little bit hard getting everything set up. I kind of come with baggage, I guess I could say.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well we all do, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Thanks for inviting us man.

 

Mike Merrill:

Happy to have you here. This is fun. A little different format for us too, so excited to do this today.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

So a little bit about Dillon, and I’ll let you tell your own story but basically Dillon grew up on a farm. Being on a farm, had to learn how to weld and probably weld well or your dad would kick your butt up and around your shoulders, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Right.

 

Mike Merrill:

So that part of it you nailed but then you had to find a way to accelerate your business and really learn how to grow that footprint and find success. What Dillon did that’s really unique and that I don’t see a lot of yet, I think it’s catching on and companies are starting to try and do this better, but Dillon used social media to really grow that business more rapidly than just doing a good job at welding. Is that right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. You’re spot on. I guess I could give you a little bit more background of what you just said. The first time I ever received money for welding, they’re a local grain dispensary here, called me up and said, “Hey, we need something to be welded on a forklift.” I welded it and they said, “Well how much do we owe you?” and I’m like, “I don’t know. We’ll catch you on the next one.” Do a good turn deed daily on the farm. It was always like that. They’re like, “No, we’ll get you some money. Should we write a check to you?” and I was like, “Please, I don’t need any money. You guys do great for us.” I told them just give me $50 would be good. I was there for five hours. I’m 14-15 years old.

 

Dillon Hales:

Anyway, he brought me out a check for $250 and that’s when I was like, “Whoa. I can make money as a welder?” And that’s where it all sparked from there, kind of evolved into getting into the welding and stuff. I just knew I needed to be a little bit more loud in the welding because I was super young when I got into welding. I just escalated from there and I did my great success in using social media to get where we’re at.

 

Mike Merrill:

Nice. Did you learn most of that in shop or was it just on the farm?

 

Dillon Hales:

The weld skill?

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

When I grew up, we had an old 1971 miller welder. It didn’t even have the dial on it to control your head. You had to plug it out and plug it into a different port for as far as the heat. My grandpa had this old welding hood from Geneva Steel from way back when and when you weld, I didn’t know you could actually see what you were looking at. I didn’t.

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh, okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

Until I went to high school and I took a welding class and they had these brand new auto-darkening helmets and I could weld and I could see the puddle. I was like holy crap. I went home and told my grandpa. I was like, “Grandpa, did you know you could see the weld puddle?” He was probably just like well I probably just cleaned the lens out in the hood. But he’d built up that excitement and was like, “What do you mean?.” So to answer your question, I learned on the farm but I didn’t know you could actually see. I thought you had to weld by Jedi force.

 

Mike Merrill:

You feel the weld.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, you could kind of see this orange glow and then I got to high school and I was like whoa, you could actually see the puddle and the metal form together. That’s when it escalated and I really took hold of it in high school. Sean Black was the teacher there. He’s now teaching at Payson and he helped me understand the principles of welding.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

Right out of high school, there was a company looking for experienced welders. Me and my friend just applied for it as a joke, “Hey we got experience. We’ve got seven years of experience. We’ve been welding since we were 14.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

Dillon Hales:

So we applied and they laughed at us when we went in, this big company. Anyway, we did a weld test. They’re like, “Hey, if you guys can pass a weld test we’ll send you on the road.” We passed the weld test and a week later I hit the road and I did a lot of on-the-job learning that way and hit the pipelines for about five or six years. I didn’t want to travel as much so that’s why I settled. For the most part I’d say I learned most of my welding principles from the farm and honed them in through high shool. I didn’t take any trade classes or technical training.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right. On-the-job.

 

Dillon Hales:

Just high school and then on-the-job, yeah. Most stuff in welding needs to be done on the job. You can learn a lot in the trade schools and get your principles right where they need to be but as it escalates, to gain the majority of the knowledge that you need at skill, it’s got to be done in the field. There’s just no other way around it. Yeah, that’s how I got into it. I don’t know why I stuck with it to make money. I went to college. I was in college two years and then one day I told my wife, “I just want to be a welder.” I got a D on my business plan for my business class and it was on a welding company.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

I was just like, “I’m making $40,000-$50,000 part time going to school. How much could I make if I was full-time? I was making great money on the pipeline welding and I knew if I could just do it on my own, struggle for a couple years, that maybe we could make something out of it. I never thought it’d be what it is today.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So you were getting a D in college but an A on the job, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

I guess. I hope I was getting an A. I don’t know.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well you’re here, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

You’re still rolling.

 

Dillon Hales:

Right. We’re still rolling six years later. This is year six welding for us.

 

Mike Merrill:

Cool.

 

Dillon Hales:

Completely debt free in our company too.

 

Mike Merrill:

Good for you man.

 

Dillon Hales:

I want to make that known. That we just literally didn’t take a dime from anybody. We started from a 2-wheel drive Ford Ranger and a 1971 Miller Welder. Now we have four employees and I have six welding trucks and 12 welders. I do have a problem with buying too many welders. That is a problem.

 

Mike Merrill:

You need to get some guys for those if you can find them.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, if I can find guys. Growing up, if you have a nice engine drive welder or in any shop they’re always like, “Man, if only I had an engine drive welder I could make it. I could make it.” Every time I see a good deal on the classifieds for a good welder I pick it up. Just stock them up. That’s how I got into welding and here we are. We started originally welding decorative ornamental iron, when I started on my own.

 

Mike Merrill:

Railings and stuff like that?

 

Dillon Hales:

Railings and decorative stuff. I knew it was a lot lower entry point versus doing big commercial projects. Then I just built it off of that one tool at a time. Now there’s a lot of different ways I do it now but that’s how it started. That’s how I got into welding and here I am. Just a dirty welder.

 

Mike Merrill:

You clean up nice.

 

Dillon Hales:

It’s funny, Mark’s like, “How come you look all dolled up?.” I’m like, “What? I always wear this.” He’s like, “No, that’s a new shirt,” and I’m like, “Well yeah, I didn’t want to have holes and stuff all over my shirts everywhere.” Show up to you guys’ nice castle here. Maybe if we were at the shop I would’ve had on my holy shirts but since we were able to do this in person, unlike the other podcast, I was like, “I’ll throw on a fly shirt.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Nice. You look like you’re ready to go to a wedding.

 

Dillon Hales:

I know, right? Give it a couple months and this’ll have holes in it. Burn marks all on the chest. I’ll have UV fade on the right-hand because that’s where you hit the weld. My left arm will be perfectly the same color and the UV will be all faded on this side.

 

Mike Merrill:

I like it.

 

Dillon Hales:

Then you’ll see me in the gas station and be like, “Is that guy… Who is that?”

 

Mike Merrill:

Who is that kid?

 

Dillon Hales:

Some people’s children, you know?

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s funny. So tell me, you start real young. You came essentially from your farm and from some high school welding, essentially. How did you go from that to getting the kind of camera angles and video footage and shots and things that you do. Because you’ve got a really cool… your Instagram page especially is very entertaining, it’s fun to watch. I’m a construction guy, my trade historically, but it’s just enjoyable to watch you guys on your lives. You’re up in that tower welding stuff, craning people up, and doing funny, crazy things. You film that yourself? How did you catch that footage?

 

Dillon Hales:

How it started, I didn’t think I would push social media as hard. In the beginning, I worked in a shop where everybody was always complaining about the boss. Everybody wanted to change stuff in the shop and nobody was willing to go off on their own. I went off on my own but like I said I’m just starting, young kid. I’m young right now and I look young but when I shave and clean up really nice, you’ll still think I was in junior high. I got that effect when I wanted these big job sites. I thought the only way to get work was to go onto a construction site and get the work. So I’d go with my two-wheel drive Ford Ranger and my little welder and I’d go to a construction site and I’d be looking around, looking around… This is me at 19-20 years old.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

I’m looking and be like, “Who’s the superintendent? Can I talk to the superintendent?” and I’d find the GC on the site and I’d say, “Hey, I’m Dillon. I do welding.” They’d look at me and then they’d look at my truck and they’re like, “We got some stuff going on.” I could tell that they needed structural iron in the house and they needed some handrails but I could tell the feel. When I’d meet those GC’s on the project that they were like, “I can’t give…”

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. You’re not welding my stuff.

 

Dillon Hales:

What kind of credibility is his high school dude? He’s rolling up in this two-wheel drive Ranger. I beat my head against the wall trying to get these general contracts to see me. How do I tell them that I grew up on a farm that on the farm you have to fix and solve problems and I’ve been doing that for already years. Although young, most farm kids will attest that you do everything. You do everything. How do I convey that to these GC’s that I’m meeting and say, “Although I and my crew could be young, we can handle your project.”

 

Dillon Hales:

I knew that the only way it was going to do that is to slip into their bedroom at night, when they’re scrolling through social media, Facebook, when they’re scrolling through LinkedIn, when they’re scrolling through Instagram and all of a sudden they see me in that same two-wheel drive Ranger but doing something else. That’s free time to enter into that GC’s head. When I’m on the construction site, when I was just there trying to get his business, it wasn’t working. I started my Facebook with just some really ugly, not very glamorous shots at all. Of just some handrails, but I was getting comments on my Facebook page from local people saying, “Hey, I saw that you did a handrail. Can you do mine?.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Nice.

 

Dillon Hales:

Then it just went from one project to the next and as I took pictures and built more of a social media portfolio, it just grew and escalated. That’s when my eyes started opening, when people were contacting me through Facebook saying, “Hey, we live in Santaquin… We need this” that’s when I need to figure out how to do this more because none of the shops around in Utah County were doing that. There’s a lot of startups and a lot of dudes I could call out here on the podcast. They were doing the same but we were all figuring it out at the same time.

 

Mike Merrill:

It was new.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, it was new.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

It was new at the time but I could see that if I was going to be in it and in a trade, I wanted to have the loudest shtick.

 

Mike Merrill:

Nice.

 

Dillon Hales:

So even though I look young when I roll up on the job site, even if I’m in a brand new Ford or that old two-wheel drive Ford Ranger, that the generals would be like, “Those guys, I’ve seen what they can do.” Not just judge me from the very beginning. That was my take off and then the social media just evolved from there.

 

Mike Merrill:

I’ve seen your content evolve and obviously your projects have gotten more complex and bigger. You’re doing some more cool things, so to speak. How have you had to adapt your approach to capture that content for social media out on the job site in order to continue to display that in the best light possible?

 

Dillon Hales:

As we were capturing content social media, it became a saying in our shop that we’re not a welding company. We’re a photography company.

 

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

 

Dillon Hales:

We want to take pictures of the cool stuff we’re doing. After we did the handrail game, everyone’s doing handrail around because of how much construction is going on around here. A lot of iron needs to go into the homes so what would set us apart from the other companies? We like doing handrail, we enjoy it, there’s money in it, but we don’t like and we don’t enjoy it at the same time. It’s a love-hate relationship. So then we only want to take pictures of the cool handrails. We’ll only post pictures of the cool stuff. Then me and McKay, I think it was about the time we met Ryan, one of the founders here at WORKMAX, that we only want to take pictures of cool stuff. We said that and we turned down a lot of projects actually because it wasn’t quote-unquote cool.

 

Mike Merrill:

It wasn’t as marketable, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. We didn’t want to do it because we wanted a cool picture. We wanted a floating staircase.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

So then as we started doing that and we literally made it a mentality of we have to want to take a cool picture. We molded it into that. That was what set us off but it’s not what we go off of now. Now we go off of, we’re going to still take on any projects that we can and do them, because we’re bigger, we have larger infrastructure, but we’re going to post the coolest ones obviously. We do post a lost bet or whatever. We didn’t win on this one. We bad weld this valve.

 

Mike Merrill:

Which is good, right? The authentic content that’s real.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

People appreciate that. Every job isn’t amazing.

 

Dillon Hales:

No, no. Right, right. And off that same note that you mention, Mike, people want to see their own projects on your own stuff. People took that to heart. When they’d have us do a project for them, they’d see us posting it on our stories and stuff, they could see their project in the shop. That meant a lot.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, sure.

 

Dillon Hales:

And it does. It’s cool. It’s cool. So then that helps propel what our agenda is in doing projects because more people, even if they pay more or less, they just want to see their own project on somebody else’s page.

 

Mike Merrill:

Sure. They’re proud of it, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Ryan showed us his barn, the beams, the different decorative iron, the doors, the gates, all of that stuff. Guess what? We thought it was awesome. Wow, that’s really cool.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. The homeowners aren’t going to take a picture… You’re living in the same cul-de-sac, right? I remember I saw your railing and I wondered who did that. I mobbed Instagram until I found it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Nice.

 

Dillon Hales:

But you didn’t post it on your own stuff.

 

Mike Merrill:

I didn’t.

 

Dillon Hales:

You weren’t like, “I just built a new house, check out this awesome rail.” But when you see it on Ryan’s page, because it was Rigby that did your stuff, you’re like, “Hey honey, take a look. This is our house.” You’re showing her, in your house, that’s special to you guys.

 

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

 

Dillon Hales:

And it’s special to our clients.

 

Mike Merrill:

I take pride in that. Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

We took awesome pictures of Ryan’s projects when we were done and we sent them to him.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s nice. So you share that content with the customer so they can then hopefully share it out, tag you and give you an opportunity to get more people.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yep, exactly. Exactly. That’s how I evolved in taking pictures. I didn’t set out to say we’re going to be a media company or we’re going to do what we’re doing now. It just evolved. The whole end goal was to share more with our customers and to be able to get in front of people with the credibility that I was looking for.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. This is modern day marketing, people. Listen up. This is good stuff.

 

Dillon Hales:

One hundred percent.

 

Mike Merrill:

Now you’ve invested in some equipment, probably got some drone stuff, you’ve got somebody full time that spends time capturing content for you. Is that right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. In our notes here, there’s a picture of a pool.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

Dillon Hales:

The Olympic sized pool.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yep.

 

Dillon Hales:

Right? That’s a pretty cool project and I didn’t want to miss it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Because you wanted the footage.

 

Dillon Hales:

I wanted the footage. We floated a barge on an Olympic sized swimming pool.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

 

Dillon Hales:

And then they put a lift on it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Because water was still in, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Right.

 

Mike Merrill:

So how do you get above that to weld in a building?

 

Dillon Hales:

The way that the architects have engineered the building, there was no way to get a boom lift in the building. They didn’t put a door big enough, they didn’t put a removable window. There was no way to get a lift in there.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

Inevitably it was going to cost more money to blow out a wall just to get a 100-ft boom lift in there, versus just to float a barge on there. But I didn’t want to miss it because that’s a cool shot.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

Dillon Hales:

How often do you do that? So I just tried to get some part-time people to shoot some footage of it and Lad did a great job. But there was times that we were doing cool stuff that Lad wasn’t there and so I need to have my own stuff. I went to the camera store and I got the nice Cannons. I got some more equipment to help us capture it and that’s the behind-the-scenes things that people don’t see as often. We did it for four years off our iPhone.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right. Selfie stuff, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. Selfie stuff. Cameras are great on iPhones. That’s really all the people are looking for too. We have invested a lot and the next chapter of Yeti Welding is going to be a lot more loud. We’re looking to grow a lot more in the next year to two years. I know from our success that whoever has the loudest shtick in marketing, even in the welding word, is going to get the game. I think that goes for any industry.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

I don’t think that everybody needs to have this fancy equipment in their own arsenal, their own tool box. That’s just the way we’re taking it. But I think anybody could use it on an iPhone and get away with it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well how do you start anything? You start.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. You start.

 

Mike Merrill:

Do something, right.

 

Dillon Hales:

One hundred percent.

 

Mike Merrill:

Start with your slipping phone, right? Or not your flipping phone because they don’t have flip phones anymore.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, your touch screen phone.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, so just start. You just have to start.

 

Mike Merrill:

The thing that I really keep going back to is that phrase. Say it again. So you’re not a welding company, you’re a what?

 

Dillon Hales:

We’re a photography company. We’re not a welding company, we’re a photography company. We’re a media company. We wanted to take pictures of cool stuff. That’s what we wanted to do. Inevitably, that’s what came to us. As we posted that stuff and we said, “Do you guys have a staircase you need? A floating staircase?” That’s what we did. “Hey, do you guys have a really weird project that none of the other people are wanting to do?” That’s what we did.

 

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

 

Dillon Hales:

There was little bit of money side to those things because a lot of the companies around here, they didn’t want to do the weird stuff or the wild stuff. People would stay away from it. On the other hand, for us, that’d be a great opportunity to, one, get a great picture. Two, help out our client who can’t find anybody to do it. And three, make a little bit extra money because it’s a project nobody wants. But it all started off with let’s take a cool picture.

 

Mike Merrill:

What is the craziest project you’ve ever done in your mind? Anything come to mind? I know I’m putting you on the spot.

 

Dillon Hales:

We worked on a building on a construction site where we cut apart shipping containers and used them as sides.

 

Mike Merrill:

I heard about that.

 

Dillon Hales:

For around a building in Springville.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yes. Over by the restaurant Strap Tank or next to that, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yep.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

That was probably one of the wildest projects that we worked on.

 

Mike Merrill:

So like the big Conex’s? The huge suckers.

 

Dillon Hales:

The huge Conex’s. The big shipping containers. Our client wanted to make a building look like shipping containers. People were dipping out of it, people were dipping out of it, and honestly I wanted the shot, Mike. I wanted the photo. It was hard work. We burned through a lot of people because they didn’t like doing the work that we were doing.

 

Mike Merrill:

What did you have to do? Tell the listeners about that.

 

Dillon Hales:

They wanted it to look like a shipping container building but the engineering wasn’t allowing them to do it and build the building as big as they wanted without having extra supports everything. He just didn’t think it was economical but he really wanted that look. He wanted the feel of it being shipping containers. Their way of doing it was they would use the big corrugated sides as siding on the building.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

 

Dillon Hales:

We cut them apart. We cut the roofs out of them, we cut the floors out of them, and then we used the sides of them essentially as the siding for the building, for its protective coating.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

 

Dillon Hales:

I think we cut probably 70 or 80 of them. We lost track after 50 or so.

 

Mike Merrill:

How many blades did you… thousands, maybe? Hundreds? Was it blades or what did you use?

 

Dillon Hales:

We used a lot of variable, different stuff.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

We used 8-in Milwaukee carbide blade saws. Those were really good at cutting certain aspects. Other aspects we used 16-in gas powered Stihl. We had them all. We had Stihls, Husqvarna, we had them all.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

Dillon Hales:

We used diamond blades that cut through pretty much anything because we needed the depths of those to cut the floors in the bottoms.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

Then we used torches and plasma cutters and stuff like that. But mainly our 16-in saws and our 8-in saws. I think we had 200 of those diamond blades. They’re $100 a piece.

 

Mike Merrill:

Twenty grand, then.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, twenty grand in just 8-in carbide disks.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

 

Dillon Hales:

And then the 16-in blades, we’d go through about one every other week so we used about 20 of those maybe per saw. There was quite a bit. Probably about $40,000 worth of cutting consumables just in blades, aside of gases and stuff. That was probably the wildest project we’ve ever been on.

 

Mike Merrill:

I’ve never heard of anything that wild.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. It lasted a full year. It took us a full year to do the project. It was just really cool, the whole process of it. I’d say that one to date was our wildest project.

Mike Merrill:

And still profitable?

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, it was. It was. It took a lot of my manpower and I got tunnel vision in it. I was just really focused because it was so cool. I was so focused on it that I let others go.

 

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

 

Dillon Hales:

That probably could’ve been a great opportunity for growth but I was just so tunnel focused on social media and that was bad on my part. It was great. Then 2020 hit and we actually did six times the amount of money and projects than we did in 2019 as we were there for a full year. It was a great paying project, yeah. For sure.

 

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. It’s long-game, right? Maybe the opportunity cost short term but down the road, you are always going to be the dude that did that building.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. My name’s plastered all over that. We didn’t miss a shot. One regret I have is I wish I could go back in time and say hire this dude, Mark, behind the cameras who I’m pointing to. Hire this dude to capture it all. We’ve captured a lot with our iPhones but we didn’t capture everything.

 

Mike Merrill:

Sure. You have to work too.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, we definitely had to work. We definitely had to work but I think the payoff would’ve been much worth it. $20,000 in blades, what would’ve been the payroll cost of somebody to work for three or four months.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, sure.

 

Dillon Hales:

You do the math.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

Dillon Hales:

It was fun.

 

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. With that, how much time do you have to allot for getting the footage, the shots. As far as taking a hit on production, do you know what that number looks like?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. That’s a good point. When I saw that in the notes, I laughed. I was like, “This is funny.”

 

Mike Merrill:

You’re like wait, I don’t know if I want to ask that question.

 

Dillon Hales:

I don’t know if I want to answer it, Mike.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

At first, we would do something and we’re like, “Dude, we should grab a shot of that” and we would undo it and redo it. But that was in the very beginning stages where it was just me and one other guy.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay, okay. That makes more sense.

 

Dillon Hales:

It’s become so normal now that we’re four years into it, that my employees all know, I know, that if something we’re doing they know could be a good shot…

 

Mike Merrill:

They’re telling you in advance?

 

Dillon Hales:

They don’t even tell me now. It’s become a company culture that if somebody pulls out a phone, and they’re not going like this or looking to scope, but if they pull out a phone like this, that just means keep working because they’re going to get a shot. If they stop, then it slows us down. We like to execute projects as fast as possible. We love doing stuff. The faster you get something done, the more money you can make. Your time is money. So when we see a phone come out now, it’s just really normal for us to keep moving on.

 

Mike Merrill:

Just background noise to what you’re doing.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. I’d say in the beginning stages, creating that culture was a little bit strugglesome. I see an employee pull out a phone, I’d be like, “Dude, get off your phone.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

 

Dillon Hales:

But then later we’d finish a job and I’d be like, “Hey, does anyone have any good shots?” The one employee actually put me on my place and he’s like, “Well, you told me to get off the phone.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

 

Dillon Hales:

I was like, “Oh, dude. Were you trying to get a shot?” “Yeah, I was trying to get a shot of that crane flying that big box in the air.” “Oh, shit. Dude, sorry.” That’s my bad. That’s a little painful to tell employers you have to give a little more leniency to your employees to use their phones.

 

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

 

Dillon Hales:

But now, camera comes out, shots. The best practices that we’ve found are shots are taken and then shots are taken to whoever’s posting for the day.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

That person just hurry and add them into an air drop to the phone and we’ll just keep moving on with the project. To answer your question, in the beginning stages it took a lot of time. Now it’s almost seamless and it doesn’t seem like it takes any more time than it regularly does. When that camera comes out, everybody works safer, everybody works smarter because of the backlash that you can get online.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up.

 

Dillon Hales:

Right? Because the camera will come out and if they’re doing something that could be a violation or even just something that could be made fun of. It’s as simple as your shoe’s untied. I know you got those people online. When a camera comes out, people are working safer and smarter and more effective. It almost makes everybody rethink. Do we have that piece of metal rigged right? I know it can go into the hole once with the crane but are we sure because what if somebody sees it and then makes a stink? Our safety practices almost gone up, especially on that tower project.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I saw that. You guys were strapped in, everybody had harnesses, you were talking on your Instagram live about being safe and making sure… I was really impressed, actually. I thought, wow, these guys have it dialed in.

 

Dillon Hales:

We even swapped out our hard hats. We have those Italian hard hats with the chin straps. Got fun of a couple of times. The first time I had my hard hat on and I looked down, my hard hat was going to fall. We were in a really confined space and I didn’t want anybody to get hurt.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

Dillon Hales:

We had all of our safety stuff. Double yo-yo lanyards, everything 100% tie-off, it was a super safe job. Our GC on the project, he walked in and he’s like, “Man, you guys really go all out.” I’m like, “What do you mean we go all out?”

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s how you roll.

 

Dillon Hales:

He’s like, “I thought maybe you’d have a safety rope or something. You guys got everything.” He’s puling my harness. He’s like, “You guys got everything.” I’m like, “Well yeah. That was included in our bid. To be safe.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Dillon Hales:

To be the best.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. I love it. We had a guest, I don’t know if you heard this episode, but Trent Cotney. He’s an attorney out of Florida that specializes in safety and OSHA regulation and defending and helping contractors, training contractors how to be safe, avoid OSHA fines.

Dillon Hales:

Okay.

 

Mike Merrill:

That was one of the things that he talked about, is that companies do have to be careful making sure, again, they’re not documenting something that’s unsafe.

 

Dillon Hales:

Right.

 

Mike Merrill:

Glad to hear you’re aware of that and have gotten ahead of it. Like you said, it actually has made you safer because there’s an awareness that you have to be more careful and cautious because you’re out in front of the world.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, yeah. Speaking from experience, I took a picture on that project. I was standing on a pallet and the pallet was on a forklift. The pallet was maybe two or three feet off the ground but nonetheless the picture portrayed that I was in the air. I wasn’t tied off but two-three feet off the ground was really all the picture was. I don’t know if it was that exact photo or if it was just coincidence because the gal didn’t tell me but later the next day or the same day, within the time I posted, we had an OSHA inspector on the job site. Me being the young, innocent dude that I look, I played the innocent card. I was walking through the parking lot and I saw her sitting there watching me guys and I was like, “She’s going to grab a picture,” you know and I saw the state seal.

 

Dillon Hales:

I just poked little questions and texted all my dudes and said make sure you’re all safe. That’s when it really hit me. You can definitely get in trouble for it. But at the same time, what’s the risk for reward. The risk is you’re going to get a fine or a penalty for doing something wrong but the risk of losing the shop, to me, is worth more. As long as everybody’s being safe, it doesn’t matter if it’s a photo or not. They can come and talk to me. As long as our photos are safe. It’s just evolved that everybody works safe now. Just like that tower you said. You could see. You joined our lives.

 

Mike Merrill:

It was obvious, yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

It was obvious that we were 100% compliant with whatever we could-

 

Mike Merrill:

And you don’t know who’s joining. Anyone can join. You’re live to the public.

 

Dillon Hales:

We had 1200 people join that live.

 

Mike Merrill:

It was crazy.

 

Dillon Hales:

In and out. Again, it almost made us more safe because we’re not afraid to document what we’re doing because we are being as compliant as possible. If we’re not compliant, I’d hope that somebody would come and tell me as an employer. In my shop, if you use a grinder without a guard, you’re done. You’re out. You get two warnings and that’s it. In most welding shops, you don’t see guards on grinders. We get made fun of. We post a picture of the guard on our grinder, “What you got that guard on there for?”

 

Mike Merrill:

Sissy guard. Right.

 

Dillon Hales:

I’ll fly to Alabama and show you how to use a grinder with a guard on it. If there’s any position you can’t do with a guard on it then… I haven’t listened to that podcast but some people might be afraid of that but my advice to those listeners is just trust in your employees a little bit more and make sure that company culture’s simply safe.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love that. I think the most refreshing thing… I like social media. We have accounts here. We try and post and share content as well like a lot of companies. It’s just so refreshing to see, not only the cool jobs you’re doing, but I can see, I can feel as a third party, you guys are having a great time. You’re enjoying your job, you’re enjoying your life, you’re enjoying this journey that you’re on. I think it’s just really cool that you’re doing it and you’re sharing it with the world and being an example to others.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, thanks. I appreciate it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Do you mentor others? Do you have people that check in with you or ask your questions or try and get ideas?

 

Dillon Hales:

As far as for media?

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, like other companies. Maybe other subs that are on the project. Do you have companies that reach out to you for those types of feedback items?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yes. I don’t feel like I’m pioneering it away but when we’re on a job site and there’s electricians and plumbers and stuff but we want to do a video, we quickly ask everybody. We’re like, “Hey, are you guys good? We’re going to take a quick photo. Are you guys okay?” I’ve been surprised that some people run out of the photo or whatever. There are those people that’ve come up to us and say, “How come you’re doing this? What are you doing?” Then we’re like, “Don’t you follow us on Instagram?”

 

Mike Merrill:

Nice.

 

Dillon Hales:

I’ve used that line all the time.

 

Mike Merrill:

Cool.

 

Dillon Hales:

Don’t you follow us on Instagram? I don’t give business cards out to people because I just see them get thrown away.

 

Mike Merrill:

Intentionally.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. It goes back to my original days. I bought Vistaprint, I got my thousand business cards, I was handing out to all general contractors. And then just out the door, in the garbage.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

But when I go there and they’re like, “Send me your contact info.” I’ll be like, “Do you got Instagram?” “No.” “Do you got Facebook? You got TikTok?” They’re going to have one of them.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

Dillon Hales:

They’re going to have one of them.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right.

 

Dillon Hales:

I use that all the time. You can just hit the contacts link and all my stuff’s there. Make sure you follow us to keep up on cool projects.

 

Mike Merrill:

Nice.

 

Dillon Hales:

They’ll say they didn’t follow me. They’ll say they didn’t check our stuff out but being a business account you can see the analytics.

 

Mike Merrill:

You can see it, yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

I can see that John just watched my Instagram stories and he went through and liked a couple photos from a year ago so they were mobbing the account.

 

Mike Merrill:

You’ve got what, close to 15,000 now on Instagram?

 

Dillon Hales:

I think we’re 15,000 or 16,000 followers.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s great.

 

Dillon Hales:

That number doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter for any company.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Why not?

 

Dillon Hales:

Because in my view, this is my personal view, I would rather have five people follow me through the fire versus 10,000 people watch me burn.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

Even if you’ve got a small following, your company is trying to start media and you’re like, “But we don’t have this many numbers” or whatever. If you have 100 people following you and you have really good people who are following you-

 

Mike Merrill:

They’re plugged in you’re saying…

 

Dillon Hales:

That’s what should be more important.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. How engaged are they.

 

Dillon Hales:

How engaged are they. Because inevitably at the end of the day it’s not about your main number because analytics of all these social medias are all running completely wild and different now. Not all 15,000 followers of ours get to see our stuff on a daily basis or a weekly basis or whatever. It’s just about how many people are actually genuine on there. I think we have about 15%. I think that’s our rates right now.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s a good number.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

Anything over 10 is a pretty solid number.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, so we’re like 15% right now. Because you can see over my Instagram as you said, you can see how we started and evolved up and I do talk a lot about my humble beginnings and how I started, I do have a lot of people ask me, “How should I go about getting work.” The first thing I say is, “You need to start building yourself a portfolio online to give yourself that credibility.” I do help people, influence them a little bit in that way, to answer your question in that regard. They reach out and say how could I do this or what should I do that. I reach out to as many people in Utah County that are doing welding and try to be in their shop and say this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re seeing that’s worked.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So you’re doing it even with competitors?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. That’s another rabbit hole we could go down. I had a competitor that we were like this. I’d show up and he’d give a bid. I’d show up and they’re like so-and-so just came here and I’d be like, “I’ll do it for half.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh, boy.

 

Dillon Hales:

There was big animosity between us and one day I was like you know what? They’ve blocked us on Instagram and I have to follow my personal account to see what they’re doing. I’m done. There’s so much work in the construction trade, everyone should be working together.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

Because everybody’s numbers are different but they’re all the same at the same time. It doesn’t matter about who gets the project or doesn’t. Like I mentioned earlier in the podcast, who did your rail? I’m logged in Instagram looking for your rail. Why didn’t I get Mike’s rail? Why did I only have to do Matt and Ryan’s?

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

But I started reaching out to those other people and showing up in their shops and tagging them in our photos and calling them out. We built a really great community of welders around here that we all jab and have fun on Instagram together. We also share a lot of projects.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s what I was going to say next. You probably need some help from those guys on occasion. They got more guys, right? You got a big project, might need some help.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. A lot of the guys around here, they know that I don’t like to do rail anymore. We do it for certain contractors but in the same regards, those companies love to do rail. So when we come across a rail project that we’re like, “We can do this for you but this is our timeframe because of our bigger projects, but we know a guy that’s amazing” and then we send them that way. They get a weird project and they’re like, “Whoa. We have to give those to the Yeti guys.” Follow the Yeti guys. We built a really great community just simply because we’ve been able to reach out and talk amongst ourselves. Literally it all became because of Instagram. I don’t think I would’ve just randomly walked into some guys shop and been like, “Is Dillon around here?”

 

Mike Merrill:

Right. Love it. I did notice you don’t really have a website or anything either, do you? Not really anything that you keep up to date.

 

Dillon Hales:

No.

 

Mike Merrill:

No online presence other than social?

 

Dillon Hales:

When will this podcast air?

 

Mike Merrill:

Probably the next few weeks.

 

Dillon Hales:

Next few weeks so it won’t be right away?

 

Mike Merrill:

Not right away.

 

Dillon Hales:

We did have a website. I took it down. We were actually going to become an apparel company.

 

Mike Merrill:

Like welding apparel? Safety stuff?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. Safety stuff. Then money got the best of me. Had some cool projects come up. That website’s turned on and turned off. Right now it’s currently down and we’re in the construction mode. We’re going to roll out something pretty cool now that we have a team for media. We’re going to roll a sweepstakes. We’re going to give away one of my dearest welders.

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh, wow. Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

As long as it’s going to air in a couple of weeks-

 

Mike Merrill:

Does it come with free training to use the welder?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, yeah. I’ll come out and show you how. I’ll come out and show you how to use it if you win it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Fire it up.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, fire it up. Run some beads.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

I wasn’t planning on being a welder my whole life.

 

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

 

Dillon Hales:

This little welding, it just evolved, and I didn’t really think that we needed a website because we have Instagram. We have our contact info there on social media. We have our Facebook with all of our info there. If you google our name, our Facebook and Instagram comes up. So why do we need to pay to have someone build us a website and maintain it and then hope it’s going to work. Tech’s changing so fast and what’s the fastest way to keep up with tech? Have somebody else keep up with tech for you. These free social media platforms, they’re keeping up. Instagram changed and they’re like do you want to change your bios, we’re allowing more characters and we’re allowing shop links and this and that. So it just evolved. We’ve never really ran out of work hard enough for me to be like, “Okay it’s time to build this kind of a website.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

 

Dillon Hales:

Because our credibility is already built there. You don’t need to go to a website and look about us. Go to the bottom of the page on social media and learn who the founders are. My face is all over there on social media. My face is everywhere on social media and my guys’ faces are all over there on social media. So we don’t have a website currently and we do have a website that’ll be rolling out just simply to share with all of our followers and the people who support us. They all love our hats, they love our logo, so they just want some of their own.

 

Mike Merrill:

They want a piece of the action.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, they want a piece of the action. Hey, where’s my hat. The tradesman, you know that. The lumber guy comes around, he’s handing out free hats. That free hat means more than a paycheck to you.

 

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

 

Dillon Hales:

You’re a contractor, you’re building that whole house, and that dude gives you a hat and you’re like, “Dang.” You don’t care about the $100,000 you just made on the house.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right. You’re excited about the hat.

 

Dillon Hales:

“Hey honey, guess what. Mike just gave me some new hats. I’m going to rep them everywhere.” That’s kind of what we’re doing with the website now. It’s just so people can have a little bit of apparel and support us that way.

 

Mike Merrill:

Cool. Now that you’ve gotten some notoriety, you’re out there, people are recognizing you, know your name, I imagine you’ve probably had some opportunities to represent products? I noticed Keen Boots seem to be you’re tagging all the time or shouting out. Are there some products that you represent or that you’re sponsored by that hook you up from time to time?

 

Dillon Hales:

Honestly, that’s a great question. I truly believe in the products that we use. I love them. If I love them, I’ll let you know. If I don’t love them, I will let you know. I will let you know.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

We did have a shoe company that reached out to us in the early stages. I think we had 5,000 or 10,000 followers. They’re like, “We’ll give you some free boots.” I wore them but there was a contract. The contract was you got to wear these boots and we’ll pay you this much but we need you to post this many times or whatever. I did that but the boots were garbage.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay, cool.

 

Dillon Hales:

Now all my guys wear these Keens. We don’t have any sort of affiliation with Keen.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

Other than these boots have just performed and we love them. I hope that they give us credibility… If Keen ever needs us to weld something, I hope they’re like, “We’re going to call the Yeti guys because we know they do good work.” So we’re not sponsored by Keen in any way. We just really love their boots. We love the protection. But we have done other promotional projects where people have reached out. In the emails and the pre-emails, I’ll tell them the same thing I just mentioned to you. If I like it, I’m going to tell you. If I don’t like it, I’m going to tell you and I’m going to tell my followers too.

 

Mike Merrill:

Straight shooter.

 

Dillon Hales:

Straight shooter. And if you don’t want me to be honest, you want me to do a script-

 

Mike Merrill:

I’m not your guy.

 

Dillon Hales:

I’m not your guy. I learned this thing a long time ago from one of my favorite contractors. He said you hire and you fire your own clients. Your clients don’t hire you. You hire your own clients. Same thing with the apparel. That stuck with me early on, especially right after I wore those boots because I did wear them in you know? and see actually where they worked. They were garbage. My feet hurt so bad.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

 

Dillon Hales:

I just let people know beforehand and I do try them out and if I like them, we’ll do them. We have done a handful of other products and stuff like that that were paid promotion but after they passed the test, after I liked them I’m like, “I got them. This is what we’re going to do for you.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Well, I love your coolers.

 

Dillon Hales:

No, those are not our coolers.

 

Mike Merrill:

I’m just kidding.

 

Dillon Hales:

I wish.

 

Mike Merrill:

I know. They’re expensive right.

 

Dillon Hales:

I wish I owned a company like that, man.

 

Mike Merrill:

You’re like, “I wish I owned a Yeti cooler.”

 

Dillon Hales:

I wish I owned a Yeti bike. The bike.

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh, yeah. They got all kinds of stuff.

 

Dillon Hales:

I’ve been riding a Yeti bike for a little while. I’ve always wanted a Yeti bike. My friends always had them but I’ve never had the money. I’m just an scrubby welder, dude.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s it. Love it.

 

Dillon Hales:

I’m just broke. A broke welder.

 

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Such a cool story, very fascinating. I think people really love this and it’ll resonate with a lot of folks. More on a personal level, I just have a few questions I want to wrap up with. What’s one thing that you’re grateful for, just in your personal life?

 

Dillon Hales:

My personal life?

 

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Dillon Hales:

Probably be my wife.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

My wife and my kids.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Dillon Hales:

I come home all the time and I’m like, “I’m done. I’m quitting. I’m done welding.” The world out there is hard. But Sarah, she always reaffirms me. She’s there for me.

 

Mike Merrill:

Cool.

 

Dillon Hales:

She appreciates what I do outside and that’s probably one of the most grateful things, my wife and her support in being an entrepreneur. That’d probably be my…

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Yeah, it’s not easy, right. She’s signed up just like you are.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, especially when you want to do your own thing as a boss, it’s a whole family deal. It’s a really lonely road that you walk but it’s also everybody’s signed up. Sarah calls and texts and says, “Hey, when are you coming home?” And I’m like, “I’m on my way. I’m just in a longer meeting.” It’s not a set schedule. I’m super grateful for Sarah and sticking with me. Allowing me to drop out of school and be one of those rogue dudes. I’m done with college, going to be a tradesman. Which isn’t a bad thing.

 

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Yeah, I agree with that. I love it. Blue collar is not a bad option.

 

Dillon Hales:

No. Actually I had a client the other day told me I was charging more than doctors and lawyers. I said I might not have gone to school but I know how to fuse atoms together and you don’t.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right? That’s it. Yeah, value of what you’ve got to offer. Good for you. What about a personal skill or Dillon’s super power. What would that be if there’s something about you that’s just your wheelhouse. What is that?

 

Dillon Hales:

My super power?

 

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Dillon Hales:

I think my super power is when I put my mind to a timeframe or something that we need to do, I get it done in that timeframe. My guys know that too. I’ll give them a deadline and be like, “Hey, we told these guys it’d be done then.” They’ll be like, “There’s no way.” It took a long time for my two hands to know that but I think that’s my super power. When I set my timeframe on something and we say we can accomplish it at that, we figure out a way. You make time for things that are important to you and if completing the task is important to you, you’re going to figure it out quick. I think that’s my super power is figuring it out in that timely matter.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Yeah, that’ll continue to bless your business if you’re practicing that now.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, we try. I definitely try.

 

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. What about something you learned more recently that you wish you would’ve known six years ago or so when you started? Is there something that you’re like, “Man, I got a lot of bruises on this thing. I wish I would’ve had this figured out…”

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. That I don’t know everything and my employees know just as much. That I can trust my employees. I wish I could’ve done that… I can weld but so can a lot of other people and I wish I could’ve trusted them to say you guys can do this or you can do these welds too just as good as I can. I wish I would’ve known that four years ago when I hired my first employee. I wish I could’ve instilled and let them know how much I trusted them. It’s one thing just giving an employee a job and saying go ahead and do this, but it’s another to give them affirmation like I trust you to do this and I know you’re going to do a great job. Giving them that affirmation, I’ve seen way more success in letting people run with that versus just here’s your job.

 

Mike Merrill:

Lets them grow, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, lets them grow and lets them think this guy trusts me with this and I’ve got to do a good job. I don’t jut have to do it and then clock out at five o’clock. I wish I would’ve known that a longer time ago. Doing everything yourself for your whole life on the farm and growing up, “I’ll just do it. That’s kind of a hard weld so I’ll just do it.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Pretty soon you’re doing them all, right?

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, yeah. And I can’t do them all. We’re getting too big. I simply can’t do it all.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I heard a quote the other day. I’ll probably butcher it but it was something like true leadership is not being the only person with the good ideas, it’s creating an environment where your teammates and other people, people that report to you, can have their good ideas come to life.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

And then you can implement those.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, I like that. I like that.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. What about a challenge or something that you really had to overcome and work through in business. What was something that was hard and what have you learned from that?

 

Dillon Hales:

Learning to say no. Learning to say no. I have a very wide variety of skills. I can do a lot of stuff. Whenever somebody would say, “Can you do this?” It was always, “Yes.” Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. But that’s been a big challenge and I think it probably took me up until last year to finally start saying no to certain projects and to certain stuff. It was always can you do this? Even if it’s like you’re a welding shop, “Can you make this wood table?” “Yes, we can. Of course.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Right, right. And hang those doors surely, no problem.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, I can do that. I can change a pipe. But that’s probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is just to say no. Knowing what avenue you should stay in and report to.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love that. To wrap up, last question. What would you hope the listeners walk away with after hearing our conversation today? If there’s one thing.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. If there’s one thing, you mentioned it. Just start. Just start. Don’t feel like you have to have a huge following to do any sort of on social media. And you can only capture it once. Like I said in the beginning, we would do projects then we would undo, we would put a piece of stair strainer in and we would undo it just to take the shot. It’s easier to start now, take the shot even if you don’t use it right away, you have the shot and you can use that later. So I hope that the listeners learning about what I’ve done for media and how I’ve grown with our media and what we’ve done, I hope that they just realize that they can start it. They don’t need anything fancy. They just need to make sure that they’re employees know that it’s okay to take a picture of something and to send it to somebody who’s simply managing it. Let them take off with it because it’s not about what you do right now, it’s about who has the loudest voice.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Awesome. Well, I hope you all learned how you can have a louder voice and swing a bigger stick.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

Dillon Hales’s a great example of that and he is definitely out there proving it every day. You can follow along and watch.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah. Follow us on Instagram @YetiWelding. It’ll come up.

 

Mike Merrill:

We’ll link everything up in the show notes and make sure that we tag all of your socials and your content and share that with our listeners as well.

 

Dillon Hales:

Yeah, for sure. I appreciate you letting us come stop by.

 

Mike Merrill:

You bet. Thank you to the listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WORKMAX. If you enjoyed the conversation that Dillon and I had today, please give us a five star rating and review and follow us on all the socials, LinkedIn, on Instagram @WORKMAX_ and please again share this with those of your friends and other colleagues that you have that might be interested in learning from this discussion. Thank you all again. After all, our goal is to help you not only improve in business but in life.

 

Construction Workforce Development, Culture and Safety Ensures Job Site Success 

Construction Workforce Development, Culture and Safety Ensures Job Site Success 

A construction company’s success begins with the successes of its individual employees. And according to Dan Clark, motivational speaker and CEO of The Art of Significance Leadership Development, that individual’s success must be channeled through everyone in the company –– from the very top to the very bottom. The result? An engaged and improved workforce, and a culture of excellence and safety. 

In a special episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, host Mike Merrill welcomes Dan. They intended to talk about construction safety but what they really talked about was life. More specifically, they discussed how companies can support their teams, celebrate their successes and help everyone become the best versions of themselves.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Don’t compete with others – compete with yourself. Competing with yourself requires a couple trains of thought. First, it’s understanding that people don’t see things for what they are, they see things for how they are in the present (perspective). Second is a person knowing the difference between what they do and what they are. It’s very conceptual but once an individual is able to distinguish their personal beliefs from reality, they can become the best version of themselves. A person who takes accountability for themselves (self-mastery) can have a rippling effect on their coworkers, which can have a positive effect on workplace culture.  
  2. A culture of excellence starts with the law of attraction. Clark’s definition of the law of attraction states that people don’t attract based on who they want, they attract based on who they are. Clark further explains that an individual becomes the average of the five people they associate with the most. Combined with the mindset of employees striving to be the version of themselves, companies in the construction industry will have a better time recruiting ideal candidates to come work for them (because extraordinary employees attract extraordinary candidates). 
  3. Trust and integrity improve safety. Trust is the heart and soul of safety culture, so companies should build cultures that support that. In addition, maintaining trust over the long term requires integrity from the employees. This commitment to service before self will lead to a sustainable source of trust within the company, which will create a culture of excellence.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

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Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. Today we are sitting down with a wonderful guest, Mr. Dan Clark. Dan is the founder and CEO of The Art of Significance Leadership Development Company. Over the years, Dan has spoken in all 50 states, 71 countries, six continents, to millions of people everywhere. He’s worked with Fortune 500 companies, Super Bowl champions, NASA, MDRT, I think that’s Million Dollar Round Table, is that right, Dan?

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

I had to look that one up. The United Nations. He’s been on multiple military tribute tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa. Dan has also appeared on Larry King Live, and even Oprah. That’s a big one. Aside from all of those wonderful things, Dan does a lot of other stuff that we’re going to talk about today. And we just wanted to welcome you on the show today, Dan.

 

Dan Clark:

Thanks, Mike, you’re my hero. As I travel and speak, it’s fun to see Mike’s company illuminated as one of the most important vendors in the room, suppliers, if you will. And to hear your reputation behind your back, I think that’s pretty cool. So, it’s an honor for me to be here. And in our stages in life, is not about time management, it’s about energy management. And you and I have so many other choices to take our time and our attention today, and we’ve decided to spend it together, so I honor you and thank you so much. I am excited to talk to you.

 

Mike Merrill:

Thanks, Dan, I’m really looking forward to it as well. A couple of Dan’s favorite topics, believe it or not, are actually workforce development, safety and culture. That’s what we want to talk about today and how those relate to construction leadership. What can you tell us about that, Dan?

 

Dan Clark:

Probably the most important place to start in any discussion as parents, as coaches of sports teams, as family owned business, leaders, and as leaders of Fortune 500 companies, we all have the same formula in which, or on which, we can create our culture, and it never fluctuates. Every culture is created between the strongest belief, the highest expectation, and the best behavior that the leader lives by, and the weakest belief, the lowest expectation, and the worst behavior that the leader tolerates.

 

Dan Clark:

The two operative words are belief and tolerate. And when we can shrink the distance between what we believe, what’s our strongest belief, what’s our highest expectation, what’s our best behavior, and what we’re not willing to tolerate, when we shrink the distance between them, we create what I call a culture of significant partner leaders. And then here’s the kicker, where self mastery is permanent. We’re not the best version of ourselves because it’s expected by somebody else. We are becoming better today than we were yesterday, the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday, we’re not competing or comparing ourselves with anyone else.

 

Dan Clark:

And in a safety construct, well, “He’s not wearing his goggles,” or, “he didn’t follow that protocol.” We’re always rationalizing ourselves out of peak performance because we’re comparing. So we need self mastery to be permanent, and winning to be personal, so that leadership is automatic. We’re not just safe because I said so, we’re not just going through the motions because some leader or manager’s in our presence, we’re not trying to be a good kid just because dad is looking over our shoulder. We’re not keeping the speed limit and obeying the law because there’s a police officer in our rearview mirror, we’re actually taking personal responsibility to become the best version of ourselves.

 

Dan Clark:

And therefore leadership is automatic, where we lead with and without a title, especially when in the building trades in the construction business, in the oil and gas, in the mining, where you actually have to hire contractors outside of your corporate culture. And in that day worker, in that organized laborer who shows up as a member of a wonderful union, you have to get them to buy into your culture of safety, you have to get them to buy into your culture of trust and peak performance, or you’ll never be able to rise to the occasion to have the quality control that whoever’s paying the bill expects of us.

 

Dan Clark:

Again, Peter Drucker said, “Once you get the culture right, the rest of the stuff takes care of itself.” I thought that would be a perfect formula and foundation to lay as the beginning point for the rest of our discussion here, Michael, I hope that makes sense. And we can dissect that a little bit more or whatever other questions you want to ask about culture. Because when it boils down to what you’re not willing to tolerate, it’s easier to get people to understand that, and we’re going to elevate that. You can’t come late, there’s no vulgarity, there’s no sexism, there’s no racism, there’s no bigotry or discrimination. Diversity, equity and inclusion become just part of our culture, is not a new conversation we have to have every day. We start elevating what we’re not willing to tolerate, everybody agrees on that, and the rest of the culture, and the rest of the stuff, the motivation, the peak performance, the personal accountability takes care of itself.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love everything that you’re saying there about the accountability as the individual. And I heard you speak at a AGC safety conference recently. And one of my takeaways was, how critical it is that as individuals, people are making these decisions, that they want to be safe because it’s the right thing to do.

 

Dan Clark:

And it boils down to reputation, the transference of trust. If we’re only going through the motions of peak performance, and increasing our personal productivity, and being safe, when the manager, when the leader, when the safety suite, excuse me, the safety officer in our organizations is around, as soon as they leave, everybody knows if they can trust us or not. And when we lose trust, we lose everything.

 

Dan Clark:

Let me ask your listeners, what are people saying behind your back? Illustrates, a army sergeant phones up the commissary and a young private answers the phone. The sergeant says, “Tell me what we got.” Private says, “We have 1,500 rifles, 10 tanks and one fat-headed sergeant’s Jeep.” Sergeant says, “What?” Private says, “1,500 rifles, 10 tanks and one fat-headed sergeant’s Jeep.” Sergeant says, “Do you know who this is?” Private says, “Nope.” Sergeant says, “This is the sergeant.” Private says, “Whoa. Do you know who this is?” Sergeant says, “No.” He says, “Good. Bye bye fat head.”

 

Dan Clark:

We have to answer, what do people say behind our back, and realize we can’t control that. And when we understand it’s indelibly tied to trust, we will go out of our way to never violate someone’s trust. And that’s the heart and soul of culture, that’s the heart and soul of the safety culture, that’s the heart and soul of peak performance.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and I think, to your point, this really goes back to leadership of the company, those that are in charge, the management, they’ve got to emulate that first, and I think the employees then can follow suit and be in line right behind them. Is that right?

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah. Because the purpose of a leader is to grow more leaders who believe what you believe, not generate more followers. And so as I’ve spoken all these 6,000 speeches and 71 countries, I take a lot of pride in interviewing the CEOs, the leaders of all these organizations, including the military commanders. I just got through speaking at the Pacific Air Force Commanders Conference in Hawaii. And all of these CEOs and the highest level leaders, tell us that the toughest challenge that they have is getting everybody in the organization to care as much about the organization as they do.

 

Dan Clark:

And therefore it begins by saying, what do you believe? Here’s our expectation, here’s our expected behavior, but as you said, I’d rather see a sermon preached in here when any day I’d rather you walk with me than merely point the way. It’s not enough for us to just practice what we preach, we must preach only what we practice, which illuminates the real definition of the law of attraction. We don’t attract who we want Michael, we attract who we are. We attract what we believe we deserve in employees, in friendships, in a spouse, in a significant other, in an income, in a job title, in a holiday, in a home, in a neighborhood. And we attract individuals into our lives, who will help us make that a reality. We become the average of the five people we associate with the most.

 

Dan Clark:

I believe that in my travels, we actually become the average of the five people we associate with the most when it comes to workforce development, and trying to recruit more people into the building industries, more young men and young women to find out what a noble profession it is. You build things, you create communities, you organize the environments wherein we create our memories, you are the most noble profession on the planet.

 

Dan Clark:

Oil and Gas, construction, mining, everything goes into the construction construct, if you will, meaning you’re providing a way for us to build the infrastructure of our lives so that we can become the full measure of ourselves and make our dreams come true. I honor everyone who’s in this podcast. But when it comes to workforce development, we can’t think we can recruit people into the building industries, we have to attract them. We become the average of the five people we associate with the most. If you hang around with five broke people, you’re going to become the sixth. If you hang around with… When you when you put a hard-to-catch horse in the same field with an easy-to-catch horse, most of the time you end up with two hard-to-catch horses.

 

Dan Clark:

When you put a healthy child in the same room with a sick child, most of the time, you end up with two sick children. Moral of the story, to be disciplined, healthy and significant, we must be willing to pay any price and travel any distance to associate with extraordinary human beings. And in order for us to associate with extraordinary human beings, we have to attract extraordinary human beings. And in order for us to attract these extraordinary human beings, we must first be an extraordinary human being.

 

Dan Clark:

Let me step on some toes. If every time I go to a construction site and all I hear are vulgar, sexist jokes, I’m never going to want to work there, and I’m never going to want to hang out with these folks because they don’t think like I think or believe what I believe. If that’s the culture, what we’re going to attract are people who enjoy bigotry, sexism, racism, bad jokes, horrible language, and all of the above. And I don’t want you to think I’m a prude. I’m not trying to be self righteous, I’m just making a point that when we build our dream home, when we had our house-warming party when it was finally completed, every individual who worked on our home, the gajillion folks who put on our roof, who spoke broken English, if I can just be graphic, and the framers, and the plumber, and the electrician, these guys from the unions, and the general contractor, the individual came in and poured concrete, we were so amazed at the high quality of human being that they were who just happened to be in the building trades, who just happened to be an extraordinary finished carpenter in my beautiful cherry wood library.

 

Dan Clark:

So we don’t have to settle. What are you not willing to tolerate? And in this high competitive world in which we live, especially trying to attract people into the building industries, why not put out that good, clean, pure, powerful, positive culture that says, “Wait a minute, we’re different. And when you work with us, you actually leave the workplace saying, ‘I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again.’” You actually leave the construction site, you actually leave the mine saying, “I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again.” Which immediately converts over to our personal lives, our wives, our significant others, our husbands.

 

Dan Clark:

We walk in the door and instead of saying, “Hey, give me a beer, leave me alone, I got to decompress for an hour, turn on the TV.” Instead of as kicking the dog, the ones we walk in the house, instead of us hating our job, we actually love our jobs because it’s helping us become the best version of ourselves. When we walk in the door we’re more loving, we’re more understanding, we’re calm so we listen, “How is your day, sweetheart? Come here, little buddy, hop up on my lap, tell dad how school was today.”

 

Dan Clark:

We get ourselves in a mindset where we want to never ever miss one of our kid’s games, never miss a school concert, a dance recital. Where our lives becomes so fulfilling because we’ve set a higher standard of performance based on our belief. I’m telling you what, it’s so critically important that we understand when it comes to culture creation, there are certain things we cannot control, so don’t worry about them. But we can focus on what we can control.

 

Dan Clark:

And let me give you an example. We have four children, one son, three daughters. And as our children became teenagers, we realized that all of their friends were being raised by parents in a different way than we were raising our children. In a perfect utopian world, wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a parent’s meeting where every one of the parents of our children’s friends came together in the same place, and we agreed on how we were going to raise our children.

 

Dan Clark:

This belief, highest expectation, best behavior, and what we’re not willing to tolerate, but it’s never going to happen, that’s a pipe dream. We can’t control what happens outside of our home, but we can control what happens in our home, when we proactively and on purpose create a culture of excellence, where when anyone walks through our doors, they know our expectation and they know our belief, and we’re not prudes, we’re not self righteous. We’re not saying, “Hey, we’re better than you.” When someone walks in our door, when our children’s friends came in our door as teenagers and young adults in college, immediately they knew they were 100% welcome. They immediately knew non judgmental friendship, unconditional love.

 

Dan Clark:

We don’t care if you have a purple mohawk on the side of your head. Everybody knew there was no racism, no bigotry, no sexism. Our expectation was kindness, honor, respect. We celebrated the social graces, Mike, please and thank you. When someone say, “Hey, give me that,” say, “Hey, what’s the magic word?” “Now.” No, no, not yet. Obviously, we celebrated please and thank you. And what did we not tolerate? Bad language, sexist jokes. No one smoked in our home, no one drank in our home, we said no. What you do outside of our home is your own business.

 

Dan Clark:

But we understand what we can control, and we are inviting everyone to come into our home and live by a higher standard of performance. Especially when you have three teenage daughters, and the tendency is to gossip or bad mouth. And we tolerated absolutely no gossip, we tolerated absolutely no drama in our homes. And one time I went downstairs to deliver some snacks and some drinks to my daughter’s and all of her friends and I interrupted a conversation where they were actually gossiping and bad mouthing two girls who were not in our home that day. What a perfect teaching moment.

 

Dan Clark:

I said, “Ladies, remember, we don’t have any drama. Remember, we are loyal to those who are not present. If you’re talking about some somebody who’s not in our home, the second you leave today, you’re going to worry and wonder about what people are saying behind your back about you, and that violates trust.” And we know that leadership and management and coaching and parenting is the transference of trust. It’s such a key ingredient to develop in this culture. And my whole point, Mike, is that now after all these years with our children being adults, we will run into their friends in Costco, we will see them at a ballgame, and they always make a comment of how safe they felt in our home, how special we made them feel, and how exciting they were to come into our positive environment, especially when they were coming from perhaps a dysfunctional family, or a negative situation, where they were not honored as incredible human beings.

 

Dan Clark:

So, creating a culture of excellence is such a vitally important part of the law of attraction, of taking our performance and our profitability and our organizations to the next level. And remembering that you can’t coach results, you can only coach behavior. You can’t say to somebody, “Be safe.” What the heck does that mean? As parents we can’t say to our children, “You ought to make responsible decisions.” What the heck does that mean? A coach can’t say to his players, “Go out and win the game.” Once the game starts, the coach is stuck on the sideline and he can’t do anything about it. Somebody on the field, somebody on the floor, has to make a play.

 

Dan Clark:

Now, we equate that to the job site in any aspect of the building industries or the construction industry, in the mine, an oil and gas rig, it does not matter, we need to take personal responsibility, make winning personal, and then again say, the only person, again, believe, the only person we need to be better than is the person I was yesterday. And when I start taking care of myself through the law of attraction, it’s amazing how others around me feel better about themselves, and together we rise.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow. I love so much of what you said. And in my mind, the word integrity just kept coming up. I kept thinking, “This feels like, sounds like, smells like integrity.” What can you tell us about integrity?

 

Dan Clark:

Integrity is something that it’s the most important… If you made a list of 10 core values and integrity was the first, if you don’t have integrity, the other nine don’t matter. It’s that incredible. It’s the old-school my word is my bond, my handshake. We don’t need a written contract, even though the attorneys forces to do that. That when we go into a bank for a loan, there’s the five C’s, I’m only going to talk about character and competence.

 

Dan Clark:

Competence is your ability to pay. Obviously, one of the C’s is collateral. But the two most important are competence and character. Competence is your ability to pay the loan, but more importantly, character is your willingness to pay back the loan. And without those two, if I’m a banker, I won’t give you any money. And so that ties directly into integrity. Who are you when no one’s around? And that’s a safety message, that’s a personal achievement, personal greatness message.

 

Dan Clark:

Think about it in terms of this story. I’m flying on Delta Airlines, 757 jet, from San Diego, California, cross country to Tampa Bay, Florida. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour flight. 757 jet has 24 first class seats, I always get a window seat. All 24 seats in first class are occupied. And we’re now airborne for about an hour and a half of the five-and-a-half-hour flight, I’m on my 16th Diet Coke, and I need a comfort break, I need to go to the bathroom.

 

Dan Clark:

I excuse myself from my window seat there in first class, and I go to the front of the plane, and we’ve all seen the bathrooms on an airplane. With the high cost of tickets, don’t you think they ought to splurge for a little bigger room, is that too much to ask? The operating system of the door, it’s an accordion, you got to push in the middle, it folds in. It’s so skinny, you got to turn sideways and then you got to scoot in. And the lights don’t turn on until you lock the door. So I latch the door lock, the lights flicker on, I turn, and I’m this close to the mirror.

 

Dan Clark:

And making its way down the glass is the stinkiest, smelliest, most unidentifiable gunk you have ever seen in your life. And I automatically take into gag reflex. Water splashed from corner to corner. Used paper towels on the floor, crap everywhere. And then it occurs to the person who comes in here right after me, he’s going to think I did all this. I start cleaning up, I’m like, “Are you freaking kidding me? Oh my gosh.” I finished what I went in there to accomplish, and when I came out, I was livid, I was so freaking mad and grossed out. I’ve been raised to be a gentleman, so I didn’t say anything.

 

Dan Clark:

But to the best of my ability, I stood there in front of the other 23 first class passengers until I got eye contact with every single one of them. And to the best of my ability, I communicated, “Okay, which one of you low-budget bums trashed this bathroom, I want to rip your lips off.” It was so pathetic. I went back, “Excuse me,” I went back to my room, “Excuse me,” sat down on my chair in my seat. I’m looking out the window, fuming inside, and then I learned the lesson, you cannot buy class.

 

Dan Clark:

Because of the nature of what I do for a living as a speaker, as an entertainer, I’m invited to play golf on some of the greatest golf courses on the planet with CEOs, some of the wealthiest, most powerful CEOs on the planet, who have absolutely no character or class. They think their money and title makes them someone that they’re not. They think they’re their car, they think their house, or their job, when in reality they’re not. And for the listeners who are listening, I want you to understand the place from which I’m coming.

 

Dan Clark:

I played football for 13 years, and I was paralyzed in a tackling drill. One day in practice, the coach blew the whistle, two of us ran into each other full speed. The only parts of our bodies that made contact, Lyle’s helmet hit my helmet in a violent head on collision. My right shoulder was smashed into the cutting edge of my fiberglass pads, and we slammed to the ground. And when Lyle got off of me, my eye drooped, I had lost the speech, I couldn’t talk anymore. My right side was paralyzed, my arm dangled helplessly at my side.

 

Dan Clark:

Coach comes running over, “Clark, Clark, are you all right, what happened?” Rocasho mocasho my rah-rah. He says, “Whoa, are you from Spanish Fork, Utah?” Just kidding. He says, “You better get yourself checked.” I said, “Whoo.” A doctor that was present on the field, he came over and examined me. Pulls the coach aside, he said, “Clark’s got serious nerve damage. In fact, he might even have serious brain damage.” The coach look at him and says, “How will we ever know?” Nice guy.

 

Dan Clark:

I went back to normal, my speech came back, I could basically talk again, but my right side stayed paralyzed and my arm dangled at my side. I stayed paralyzed for 14 months. I went to 16 of the very, very best doctors in all of North America, 15 of whom told me I would never get any better. And if you ever heard that, and what happens if we believe it, you’re never going to get any better.

 

Dan Clark:

And my life hit a fast-moving downward spiral, until I hit what I thought was rock bottom, until I hit what I thought was deep depression. And now that I’ve recovered, serious questions are asked, “Clark, why did you go to so many different doctors?” Answer. I kept going from doctor to doctor until I found one who believed I would get better. We’ve gone full circle, my friends were back to the formula. Every culture is created between the strongest belief blah, blah, blah.

 

Dan Clark:

We have to understand that it’s the belief of the leader that creates the leader. It’s the belief of the leader that creates the expectation, and it’s the expectation that creates the behavior. And because you can’t coach results you can only coach behavior, we have to understand that behavior is created and sustained 100% by our belief, which brings me to the second most frequently asked question, “Clark, what took you so long to get better?” If the purpose of this podcast is to elevate people’s performance, to give us a mindset shift, a hard shift, a hard set shift, where we click off this podcast and we go be a better human being not because I said so but because you do. If that’s the real purpose, please listen in.

 

Dan Clark:

I stayed paralyzed for 14 months because I was asking the wrong questions. You see, I was asking the doctors how to get better, when I should have been asking myself ‘why’. And once we answer ‘why’, figured out the ‘how to’ becomes clear and simple, not easy. The heart is what makes it great. We still have to do hard things and put in the work. But when we do and focus in on the reason why our organizations exist, why am I coming to work, why should I be a better human being today than I was yesterday, why should I forgive, why should I be kind, why should I be respectful, why should I honor men and women, why should I always be the best version of myself? Once we answer why, figuring out the ‘how to’ becomes clear and simple.

 

Dan Clark:

And here’s the tragedy in corporate training. Most of the time, all we do is talk about skill set, “Can you do this? Show me that you can do this.” We go through an apprentice program. “Can you do all the things that is required to be an extraordinary electrician, an extraordinary plumber?” Can you do what is required of you to not just mix and pour the cement to the degree and the thickness and the level that we need it to be, but you have the skill set to not just smooth it out and make it a perfect patio, a perfect driveway, a perfect slab, a perfect floor for this huge warehouse or whatever the case may be.

 

Dan Clark:

But how are people leaving you, who hire you, who work side by side with you? Are you a class human being that inspires them to be a better performer, a better craftsman, a greater technician? You see, I don’t think we should just focus in on the ‘how to’ because that becomes very simple. And when we come to attracting the right people into our organizations… Do you realize the statistics right now on millennials, is that the average length of time that a millennial spends in one job is two years. And if we invest so much time and so many resources and so much money in training them up, and then they just jump ship for an extra five bucks an hour, based on how they do it. I’m going to hire you away from that company to work for me just because you’re a better-skilled worker, we’re missing the boat. They’ll never hang around, somebody will bribe them away for just a little bit more money.

 

Dan Clark:

What we want to do when we build culture, is start with the human being. And I bring this up because I stayed paralyzed for 14 months and hit rock bottom, thinking I was depressed. With suicidal thoughts, so confused like, “What a drag, my life fell apart.” And the reason why I went there, my friends, and we must talk about suicide prevention in the building trades because it’s hit an all-time high. Are you listening to me, brothers and sisters?

 

Dan Clark:

The reason why I was so confused and hit what I thought was rock bottom, is because I confused who I was with what I did. I thought I was a football player, when in reality, that’s just what I did. And when we identify ourselves in terms of what we do instead of who we are, we become a human doing instead of a human being, unacceptable significance is what we seek. My plea to the world, my plea to you on this podcast, is to itemize who you really are right now, not the motions that we go through, not the behaviors that we seem to wave as our flagship that this is who I am, no, no, no. Not what you do. Who are you, really? And this is the best story I can use to illustrate how we can answer that question.

 

Dan Clark:

I’m walking through the mall with one of my buddies. And somebody bumps into him and he spills his cup of coffee all over the floor. I said, “What happened?” He said, “I spilled my cup of coffee.” I said, “No, you didn’t.” He said, “What?” I said, “You didn’t spill your cup of coffee, you spilled what was in your cup? Had you had tea in your cup, you would have spilled tea, had you had orange juice or water in your cup, you would have spilled orange juice or water.” We can only spill what’s in our cup.

 

Dan Clark:

Let’s put it into human performance. Let’s insert this whole story into culture creation. Is your culture inspiring people to become the best that they can be? And here’s how you find out. If you’re negative and the economy bumps into you, if you are negative and something that someone says, or interest rates, or competition, or a significant other, or a spouse, or something in our life bumps into you, what’s going to spill out? If you’re negative, what spills out is anger and resentment, and, “I want to fight, are you kidding me?” And trying to put somebody else down physically and emotionally, verbally, because our lives are stagnant and stuck. We have to put somebody else down, say something derogatory about someone, gossip about someone, physically hit them to try and make ourselves feel better about who we are.

 

Dan Clark:

We’re not rising, we’re stagnant and stuck, so we have to put others below us to make us feel better about who we are. Isn’t that crazy? Now that we’ve faced the brutal facts of reality, we need to do something about it. But think about this, my friends, if you’re positive, and the economy bumps into you, if you’re positive and interest rates, a significant individual, a competitor, anything in life bumps into you, bad weather, whatever the case may be and your positive, what’s going to spill out is unconditional love, forgiveness, “Don’t worry about it, man, I’ve spilled on myself before, I’ll just take my pants into the cleaners.”

 

Dan Clark:

A non judgmental friendship. Humility, the list goes on and on, of core values, which brings us to your question, integrity. You can’t buy class. What are you doing when no one’s around that makes you safe that allows you to return home safely to your family, which is what they want you to do, which they pray for the second you leave the home, in the early morning hours of that work day. It’s pretty important that we understand how all these stories and how my message all fits together when we talk about safety.

 

Dan Clark:

And let me just throw out a shout out to WorkMax. What you do, Mike, and your company, validates what I’m talking about. You give us the opportunity to increase our frequency of feedback, which allows us to not only change our behavior, but it allows us to pick the most appropriate behavior in every moment, to keep the dream alive, to keep us safe, to keep the profitability rolling, to keep the production moving, to keep the task and delivery date on time. What you do is so attractive to the world, and that’s why you’re growing your business, and that’s why everyone in this podcast, obviously needs to subscribe to you and become a customer.

 

Dan Clark:

I’m not just trying to pledge, to, I can’t even think of the word, suck up to you. This is refreshing, and that’s why I said yes to your podcast, bro, when you approached me and you told me what you did. And then when I spoke at the AGC safety conference, and you had your five or six people back in the booth, paying as an exhibitor to support the conference, we thank you for that, I was intrigued by what you do and why you do it, applies to my message to the world, and how we can fix what’s broken in our families and in our communities, in our schools, and especially in our companies, or maybe not, especially in our companies, but especially in our country, to heal America.

 

Dan Clark:

What you teach us through WorkMax is what I’m talking about, increase our frequency of feedback, so that we know when we’re not being integral, when we’ve lost our integrity, when our trust is starting to weigh, it’s starting to shift, and somebody that loves us, that cares for us, that admires and respects us because of mutual respect and support says, “Hey, Mike, I don’t think you should be doing that. Hey, Dan, your family expects you to come home safe, let’s not get complacent on the workplace. I don’t think you should climb up on that ladder all by yourself, that’s definitely unsafe, bro.” Whatever the case may be.

 

Dan Clark:

And you know what I learned through the safety conference, Mike, was intriguing. That during the pandemic, there was an organization, a company working in Las Vegas, a construction company. And they were ridiculed and threatened with a huge fine for not wearing their masks when one of their pole climbers, or electricity experts, wasn’t even strapped in. That we had lost our focus on safety, to put it on this crazy idea of masking up. We had shifted our focus of what really matters most. And so I challenge all of you to remember that if all of us on this podcast were belly to belly live today, and we were in a room, and we exited the room and entered another room that smelled so badly that our eyes watered, our noses started to bleed, we were in gag reflex, do you realize that we stayed in that smelly, rank, stinky room for five to 10 minutes, it would no longer smell? We had become desensitized, and it now was the new normal.

 

Dan Clark:

What has happened during COVID-19 and pandemic, in our families, in our schools, in our communities, in our workforces, in our high standards of performance when it comes to safety and quality? Have we not been desensitized, like this is good enough now? Have we not become complacent, working from home because there’s no leader or manager looking at us to make sure that we’re the best version of ourselves and doing everything possible to stay safe?

 

Dan Clark:

You see, it’s what’s been so beautiful and wonderful about this pandemic, is that it really has put all the responsibility on ourselves to be self starters, to be class human beings, to focus in on positive things at our families instead of arguing and escalating domestic violence, are you kidding me? This is the time to appreciate and to love, and to forgive, and to make a list of all the things that are going right instead of the things that are going wrong. Because we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

 

Dan Clark:

If we’re all looking out the same window at the same lashing rainstorm in Los Angeles, somebody in our group will complain, “What a horrible day.” Someone else in our group will exclaim, “What a wonderful day,” and the weather did not change. We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. Who are you and what’s going to come out when you’re squeezed, what’s going to spill out of you when someone bumps into you. And if it’s negative, I aint hanging around with you. If it’s negative, you’re not on my team, we’re here to win the Superbowl. If you’re on my team, go find your own team, and in any team.

 

Mike Merrill:

You’ve said so many great things, but I also keep coming back to not only were you paralyzed as a football player, but you were a first-round draft choice by the Raiders. This wasn’t some high school game or some city league game, you were in the big time and getting ready to go to the big stage. And so to go from that to paralyzed, amazing to come back from that.

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah. And again, it emphasizes that we can’t just put our… I can’t speak for women, but I can speak for us men. So many of us live lives of quiet desperation. “Be a big boy, don’t cry, I can handle this.” We think it’s a weakness to seek out for help, especially when it comes to sadness. And when we talked about suicide prevention, I was there. I’m glad you brought that up again. Because I was at the top of my game like everybody else on this podcast, and then something happens, and we get that punch in the gut.

 

Dan Clark:

Let’s go there, bro. We know so many people, family members, friends, who had COVID. And everybody in my family, my brother and all of his children and blah, blah, blah, my mom, COVID… My mom didn’t have COVID but everybody in my family got COVID and they had mild symptoms. I’m invincible, just like I thought I was when I was playing football. Could it happen to you? Nah. Could it happen to me? Nah, no way. No way, I’m invincible, I paid the price, it’s going to happen to somebody else.

 

Dan Clark:

December 17th, tested positive for COVID, December 21st, I stopped breathing, I’m taken to the hospital. For the next seven days, and heparin shots in my stomach for blood clots, and Toradol for… My body hurts so badly. Every inch of it all, 65 inches, I hurt so bad. My cough was so brutal. I was waking up deer on Mount Olympus. They’re like, in the morning like, “What happened over there in that neighborhood?” And I was sitting home, after seven days, with pneumonia. Now that I’ve recovered, people are going, “Do you have any lingering symptoms yet?” “Yesterday I coughed up a box of Milk Duds I’d eat in a movie when I was nine.”

 

Dan Clark:

To battle COVID, and to think I was invincible and ain’t going to happen to me, and then to have it just blindside me. Almost every day, I push on the door, the door knob falls off, I pick up my briefcase, the handle falls off, I’m getting afraid to go to the bathroom. We have got to talk about prevention, not about rehabilitation. And in my situation, what allowed me to get better, was when I finally realized the difference between what I do and who I am. That everybody on this podcast is supposed to be here on this earth at this time. You are somebody very special. And we need to be the best version of ourselves, you’re going to make a lousy somebody else.

 

Dan Clark:

There’s a reason why you weren’t born in the 1800s, there’s a reason why every single one of us on this podcast was not born 20 years from now. You’re on this earth for a reason, we better figure out what that reason is, and not try to live small and hide our light under a bushel, hide it so no one can actually see us. What we have to do is start dreaming a mighty dream. As I said, I hit a downward spiral where I thought I hit a deep depression. In reality, now that I’ve recovered, you know what I learned? Huge difference between being depressed and being disappointed. Giant difference between being depressed and being discouraged.

 

Dan Clark:

Psychologists will remind us about HALTS. When we’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired or sad. When we’re experiencing any one of those five emotionally distorting and debilitating emotional conditions, we cannot feel, we cannot truly love, we cannot listen. It confuses us, and we start confusing activity with accomplishment, we stop serving others, which is the solution to feeling better about ourselves, and our lives seem to unravel.

 

Dan Clark:

But remember, no matter how bad your life is, no one ever hits rock bottom. You hit rock foundation, you hit rock belief, you hit the baseline core values on which you were raised. And regardless of what happens in the economy, our organizations never hit rock bottom, they hit rock foundation, they hit the baseline governing principles on which they were built, which takes us full circle to how we began, Michael, is still about culture, belief expectation, behavior, and what we’re not willing to tolerate. Eliminating the worst behaviors and the weakest beliefs in our organization so that we’re all on the same page, the same team, with the same goal. That’s how we keep people, that’s how we attract people, and that’s how we increase profitability, and more importantly, that’s how we fulfill the full measure of our existence to become who we were born to be. You’re going to make a lousy somebody else.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. You’re talking about laws of attraction, and when I think of the labor market, the construction, especially as you well know, with your involvement with AGC, there’s just a huge shortage of good help. And so I think these principles you’re talking about now, are probably more critical than ever, that we figure out how to get these things right, so we can start attracting that labor force that we’re missing.

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah. In the dating world, all the surveys worldwide, in different countries and different cultures, every once in a while that pops up on the internet, and I’ll read it, it makes me smile. What do you notice first in a person? And the list goes on and on. I always see, “Notice someone’s eyes first.” Well, in our pandemic, in our mask world, suddenly we realize the eye is the window to the soul. If you pay attention in your own home, if you pay attention in your workplace, you can see if someone’s happy, you can see if someone’s in pain, you can see if someone’s unhappily married, you can see if someone’s sad. Let’s pay attention.

 

Dan Clark:

If the first thing you notice in someone is a smile, someone might be archaic and say, “Well, yeah, I noticed his body, and I noticed her body.” Well, I’m old. I’m 60 years old, I used to be chiseled, I used to benchpress way over 400 pounds around the four, 440. And now I’m so sold I’d bend over to pull up my socks and I think, “What else can I accomplish while I’m way down here?” And I wake up injured and all I did was lay there. “Oh my gosh, I better start stretching out,” because apparently, sleeping is a really tough exercise for me, I might pull something at 2:00am.

 

Dan Clark:

If we only attract people into our building trades based on their outward appearance, based on their outside skill set, what can you do with your hands? How qualified are you to do what we asked you to do on the ‘how to’ side? Eventually, they’re going to jump ship. We need to attract people not just based on what they look like on the outside or their skill set, but on who they are from the inside and how they make us feel better. The marriages that last the most are not those that originally started as a physical attraction, man, your heart, which is lust.

 

Dan Clark:

The relationships that last… I’ve been married for 41 years to the same woman. I got a buddy who says “Yeah, I’ve been married 20 years, not all in a row.” That’s funny. I’ve been married for 41 years to the same woman. And I’m not a genius in marriage counseling or anything else. That every morning if I wake up and I answer why am I married, and I can come up with a good answer, there’s a really good chance I can stay happily married for the next hour.

 

Dan Clark:

And if I could ask that question, why am I married, again, I can stay married for two hours. Eventually, a whole day, eventually, a whole week, eventually, a whole month. And if we stay happily married for two years, do you realize we’ll set an all-time record in the state of California? There’ll be marriage podcast, and talk about marriage counseling. So, let’s talk.

 

Dan Clark:

Love is a commitment, not a way of feeling. Romance is not love, romance comes from a Greek word that means erotic, so I don’t even want to talk about it. If I love my wife because she’s beautiful, that’s romance. If she’s beautiful because I love her, that’s real love, it’s a value creating love, that inspires both of us to become the best version of ourselves. Yet how many of us confuse love, commit, with romance emotion? What do we say our whole lives? “Oh, I love her so much, she makes me feel differently than I’ve ever felt before.” “Oh, I love him so much, he makes me feel differently than I’ve ever felt before.” So do breakfast burritos.

 

Dan Clark:

Maybe you just need a long cold shower and a box of Rolaids. What’s my point? We can’t focus in on the outside appearance, our skill set and what we do. We must always focus in on who we are and why we do what we do, that begins with integrity, a commitment to service before self, and a definite long-term dedication to excellence in all we do. I challenge everybody on this podcast to not just be safe for work, be safe on your ride home. Are you putting on your seatbelt?

 

Dan Clark:

If you’re finally off work on Friday and you’re excited to take your little guy fishing and you hop in the pickup truck, are you going down the dirt road 60 miles an hour without your seatbelts on because you’re having so much fun with your fishing poles and you’re talking about what you’re going to do that day together? We’ve got to make sure that we understand the subconscious and the conscious mind, that if we want to change a habit, we have to first identify what we want to change, make it easy to do, and then link it to an existing habit that triggers our desire to do the next habit, to create the new habit, to uplevel our performance, to uplevel our belief.

 

Dan Clark:

So, when we talk about safety, do it because I said so, and here’s the placard, and OSHA comes in trying to catch us doing something wrong. Let’s shift that and catch each other doing something right, because we’re doing it because we say so not because it’s expected by management or leadership or ownership, we’re doing it because it’s demanded of ourselves, it’s who we really are. You can surgically remove the stripes from a tiger and it’s still a tiger.

 

Dan Clark:

If you and I, Mike, are roommates in college, and we collectively agree to wake up every single morning at 6:00am, and go to the gym and push ourselves to our ultimate capacity of potential as a human being, and then leave the gym and study together for an hour to prepare for the exams of the day and to prepare ourselves to enlighten our minds, and we do it together, we’re only changing our behavior. But if you, Michael, wake up every single morning at 6:00am regardless of I do or not, and we’re still roommates, and you go to the gym and you push yourself, and you study for an hour regardless of I do or not, you do it because you say so, that’s who you really are. You can take the guy out of the neighborhood, but you cannot take the neighborhood out of the guy. You can surgically remove the stripes from a tiger, and it’s still a tiger. In country music what do we say? No matter where you go, there you are. The geographic relocation doesn’t really change much.

 

Dan Clark:

How many times do we see a wonderful, wonderful woman doing everything she knows how to do, to get out of a physically and an emotionally abusive relationship, only to jump back into a more dysfunctional relationship with a bigger loser than the bum she just got rid of? It’s because she’s still exactly the same human being in the law of attraction. We don’t attract who we want, we attract who we are. We must be willing to pay any price and travel any distance to associate with extraordinary human beings. In order for us to attract extraordinary human beings, we must first be extraordinary human beings. I thought I better bring that full circle as we wind up our time.

 

Mike Merrill:

At what point did you connect the dots with this mindset? Because clearly, at some point in your life, and maybe it was when you were young and you were always this guy, but at some point you decided, “I’ve got to look at things this way.” Do you remember when that was, or was it an event, or did it happen naturally?

 

Dan Clark:

That’s such a good question, Mike. I could go really deep on that. But I think as I’ve… Because of what I do, I’ve written 35 books. I hope everybody can follow me, danclark.com is my website, obviously, and you can click on Training. And I have online courses on leadership and public speaking, how to tell a story, how to make it funny, provocative and emotional, which helps you in your presentations to win the bid, and you’re in the construction world, all of those things.

 

Dan Clark:

And we can take a deeper… And I have videotapes and great stories on record and blah, blah, blah. But as I’ve analyzed, as I’ve written 35 books, I think it began… My first memory, Mike, is when I was eight years old, battling with cancer in my throat.

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh goodness.

 

Dan Clark:

And I don’t know what our earliest memories are of anyone on the podcast, but I remember being in the primary children’s hospital, and the cancer was on the wall of my vocal cords. And one more day before it was reversed, one more day, a miracle in my life, one more day it would have eaten through that wall and I would have never been able to talk, I would have never been able to sing. You’ll see on my website, I’ve got some gold records in country music. Some of you will love my songs. “Had I shot you when I met you, I’d be out of jail by now. My wife ran off with my best friend and I’m going to miss him dearly.” That’s a tear jerker. “How can I miss you if you won’t go away.” I got great songs.

 

Dan Clark:

But I would have never been able to record any music or be a professional speaker had that not happened. And so that’s my earliest recollection of realizing the significance of personal intensity, personal focus, our personal responsibility to take charge of what it is that we can do to become better, to heal, to do what is necessary, what is required of us.

 

Dan Clark:

And when I was 12 years old, I was in a weekly television series. I know that that same mindset came through especially in the audition. I was the voice of a cartoon character. And in high school, I was an alpine ski champion, a motocross champion, a Golden Gloves boxing state champion. This attitude of personal excellence has been part of my DNA, because I was bullied so many times, made fun of as a kid. Because of my athleticism, I was always playing on teams with kids who were older than me or associating with them. And for some reason, out of their insecurities, I would get beat up. I got in a fight every single day in the fourth grade, and it was just defense, it was not me going after this kid.

 

Dan Clark:

And to be pulled down and made fun of and told my whole life, “You can’t do that,” or, “You’re not good enough,” it accelerated my desire to prove them wrong that, “Yo, yeah, watch me.” And so that played out in high school. I got called American football player as a junior in high school, my senior year I got hurt in the third game, and I was worried about getting a scholarship. And I had to battle back in time to make the basketball team, which allowed me to get a football scholarship because they could see my athleticism on the basketball court and see that I had recovered.

 

Dan Clark:

And everything in my life is linked. I’ve connected the dots based on, I really don’t care what anybody says to me, I’m going to fire up. I’ve got so many stories where people have said, “No, you can’t, you don’t have what it takes.” And deep down inside of me, I’m not an angry guy, and I’m not a mouthy disrespectful guy, I’ll just say, “Thanks.” And then deep down inside, my heart starts to flip and burn. And I start waking up early and staying up late, and I can’t wait to prove them wrong.

 

Dan Clark:

I ran into this kid who beat the crap out of me. I defended myself, but he fought me every single day in the fourth grade. And when I graduated from high school, I was 372 pounds, state 100-yard dash champion. So skinny I had to jump around in the shower to get wet. And I was the Golden Gloves boxing champion. And in the first two summers after high school graduation, I grew two and a half inches taller and gained 87 pounds. And then one day I ran into this whistle dick. And he was looking at me like, “I sure hope he doesn’t remember fourth grade.” And he came up to my armpit, he hadn’t grown. I gave him the look. I didn’t have to say one thing, I’m just looking at him like, “Really?”

 

Mike Merrill:

It’s all you got?

 

Dan Clark:

“You were so insecure in those days, your life sucks so badly that you had to put me down to make yourself feel better about who you are.” And now I am not better than anyone else, don’t get me wrong, I’m just fired up to figure out who I really am, and can I do this? Let me see. Can I learn to paint, can I learn to play the piano, can I learn to play the guitar, can I learn how to fix a bad sink, can I fix a broken pipe? What can I do? Why not let curiosity drive me every single day to wake up earlier than most instead of later than most, and make sure I’m the best version of myself so I don’t die with my music still in me. And that’s my own personal motivation.

 

Dan Clark:

And people who just sleep and, “This is who I am,” good for you all, but not my circle of influence because I don’t leave saying, “I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again.” I want some inspiration. If I’m the smartest person in the room, I’m in the wrong room. I need to hang around with people who will push me in the weight room, who will push me in the recording studio, who will push me in the professional speaking world, who will help me become a better author, a better storyteller, a better speaker, a better dad.

 

Dan Clark:

You got to stop competing against others, my friend. I don’t want to be the best dad in a roomful of dysfunctional deadbeat fathers. If we’re playing golf in a golf tournament, and you’re playing on an 18-hole course, 72 par, and I shoot 108 and everybody else shoots 120, and I win the tournament because I suck less than you suck, that’s a bad system. We’ve got to compete against ourselves, so when I go out on the golf course, first thing I do is compete against myself, make sure my swing is as good as it can be, then I compete against the golf course one hole at a time. And then, I compete against my buddies in the foursome where we got a little action going on closest to the pin, or whatever we’re going to do, on an 18-hole bet. And it’s always in that order. It has to be.

 

Dan Clark:

And the same thing in the workplace. “Well, he did it, so I can do it,” or, “They’re not holding her accountable, why should they hold me accountable?” That doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. What we have to do is say, what is the task, what is the requirement, what is my highest strongest belief, my highest expectation, my expected best behavior, what must I do to prepare myself to always do that, be consistent, with integrity, service before self and a commitment to excellence in all I do, and the rest takes care of itself.

 

Dan Clark:

And there’s some people who don’t like me, and I get over it. They don’t want to be around me, I get over it. And that’s not pompous or windbag at all, that’s just basically saying, “Life’s short.” And I almost died in the hospital with COVID, and I was paralyzed for 14 months playing football. I’ve had enough kicks in the face, punches in the gut, to remind me, “You got to fight, you got to hang tough, and you got to be the best you can be. Don’t ever take one day for granted because we don’t know if tomorrow is my last day.”

 

Dan Clark:

I don’t know if this is my last podcast. That’s an odd and eerie feeling, but put yourself in my position. In one moment, my entire life was changed, from an athlete, getting all my attention with my body, to a philosopher, if you will, a speaker, a motivational, inspirational guy trying to fire people up. And that’s my greater joy. And let me just say this as we conclude. Now, in retrospect, Mike, my paralysis is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Don’t misunderstand. My injury was not one of the best things that happened to me, but who I became as a man, and what I learned about the sanctity of life, and time, and priorities, and relationships as a result of going through that setback, clearly makes it one of the best things that has ever happened to me. We have got to understand that adversity is what introduces us to ourselves. No one will ever know how strong we are, until being strong is our only choice. We really have to get up and go again every single time. Get knocked down seven times, get back up eight. And that day is a pretty good day. And then you hold on and never say never because in two more days, as my song says, in two more days, tomorrow’s yesterday. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t take your life, ladies and gentlemen, don’t give up, ladies and gentlemen, don’t think that’s the course of action. No one wants to kill themselves, they just want the pain to go away, and there’s always ways for us to find the solution. Guaranteed, hold on for one more day.

 

Dan Clark:

And I will help you, danclark.com. Follow me on Instagram, danclarkspeak, and you’re going to get some serious videos. Master the morning, own the day. I can’t tell you how excited I am for us to keep in touch. Please keep in touch, or this podcast is for not.

 

Mike Merrill:

I agree with that. You’ve got a podcast too, what’s your podcast called that you’ve got coming out?

 

Dan Clark:

It’s called Power Players. And now that you know my philosophy of life, I invite intriguing guests, Grammy Award winning songwriters, individuals like Amy Purdy, if you watch Dancing With the Stars. She had both of her legs amputated because of an illness when she was a teenager. And she made it all the way to the finals. Her partner was Derek Hough. So inspirational. Talk about you thinking you had a bad day, look what she’s been able to overcome.

 

Dan Clark:

I have Olympic champions and sports heroes, and individuals who you can believe, because they all remind us we have to be ordinary before we’re extraordinary. Every single amazing human being we’ve ever met who’s inspired us to greatness, was ordinary, they were exactly like us before they became extraordinary. In my podcast, Power Players, I’m going to extract from them, I have extracted from them, stories about resiliency and about how to get back up and go again.

 

Dan Clark:

And why each of us has a story to tell, and why each of us is significant, and not better than or less than anyone else. But we are commissioned by God at birth, in my mind, to become the best version of ourselves, that’s why we’re born into this world. To find out who we really are, what our talents, how can we make the world better so we don’t die with our music still in us. Podcast Power Players. I feel like I’m this walking billboard saying, “Okay, now, please, please follow me on Instagram, @danclarkspeak.”

 

Dan Clark:

But I have ancillary reasons, I really want to keep in touch. Because anyone who’s tuning in to your podcast, will obviously want to tune in to my podcast, knowing that we do become the average of the five people we associate with the most. And what you talk about and who you are as a man, Mike, is so much bigger than the building industries, is so much bigger than the construction industry. And I would hope people would think of me in the same way that what we talk about is not revolutionary, it’s bringing us back to what is really right. Those time-tested truths that have never, ever changed, that apply to every generation, Millennials, Gen X’ers, we Baby Boomers. My hair is falling out, I’m growing in places I don’t even need it, my only hope is my hair in my right ear will grow long enough, I can comb it up over the top of my head. And apparently, Michael, with all due respect, every time you got a gray hair, you just plucked it out.

 

Mike Merrill:

I do. Yeah, I do.

 

Dan Clark:

I don’t even want to worry, I don’t even want to bother.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, Dan, this has been a fantastic time. I’ve surely enjoyed learning from you and talking with you. I really appreciate you coming on today.

 

Dan Clark:

Thank you, Michael. And I’m a fan of yours, so we’ll definitely connect offline many, many times and see how I can serve you because you’re already serving me. Thanks for WorkMax too, I need to plug that one more time. It’s intriguing to me how someone like you would start a company based on what you believe. And that’s why your company is successful and why it’s going to escalate exponentially in growth and the service provided, because it’s built on the correct core principles that we’ve been talking about this entire podcast, so I congratulate you and I encourage everyone to investigate WorkMax and to support you. Because together we rise. You’re amazing. Thank you.

 

Mike Merrill:

Thank you, Dan. I sure appreciate it, and I really look forward to keeping in touch, for sure.

 

Dan Clark:

Thanks, man.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right.

 

Dan Clark:

I was just saying goodnight, goodbye, good morning to everybody.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, thank you to the guests for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Dan and I had today, please follow Dan at danclark.com, follow him on all the socials, and check out his content there.

 

Mike Merrill:

Of course, if you enjoyed the conversation, we would also deeply appreciate a nice rating and review, and share this podcast with your friends. After all, I know Dan’s mission is very much like ours. We want you to not only improve your business, but your life.

 

Strengthen Construction Supply Chains Through Technology and Relationship Building

Strengthen Construction Supply Chains Through Technology and Relationship Building

In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic threw much of the construction industry into disarray, with projects going on hiatus and some businesses going under. And while the majority of the industry adjusted to new safety regulations and got back to business, the metal industry wasn’t spared. The virus caused metal mills across the country to close down or dramatically diminished their capacity, which caused supply chain shortages that are still being worked out today. Fortunately, Isaiah Industries President Todd Miller says technology and relationship building are two ways for contractors to get back on track.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Todd explains how technology solutions are helping contractors build better relationships with the suppliers as well as providing support for their sales and manufacturing processes. He also shares ways in which customers benefit from technologies like visualization software and artificial intelligence, and why the silver lining of the pandemic is how it’s led to companies thinking outside the box.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Develop strong supply chain relationships. While roofing contractors often think about the materials needed for projects, they forget about the people providing them with those supplies. But remember, networking and building relationships with suppliers is important. Not only are these key business relationships, they can provide support with product knowledge and suggest alternatives if certain items get discontinued.
  2. Improve productivity with technology solutions. Building products manufacturers have been late adopters of technology, but that’s turning around thanks to satellite visualization software and artificial intelligence. Today, workers can leverage this tech to measure buildings for things like roofing materials, siding and windows. On top of that, software can determine what products need to be ordered and connect to supplier databases, which streamlines communications and facilitates faster ordering.
  3. Technology can also boost sales presentations. Todd raves over modern softwares that can revamp home improvement pitches, especially when being conducted remotely. He emphasizes that virtual presentations means more prospective customers can be reached since distance is not a factor. Not only does this increase the number of sales meetings, it means contractors can sell more jobs. Post-pandemic, expect the use of technology to boost sales to continue.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

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Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill. I appreciate the opportunity to sit down with you today and especially with our distinguished guest, Mr. Todd Miller, who is the president of Isaiah Industries. Todd is highly regarded in the roofing and manufacturing space, and one of the suppliers and providers of technology solutions and more advanced systems for roofing that roofers are enjoying today. So, Todd, grateful to have you on today and excited for the conversation.

Todd Miller:

Thanks so much. I’m really looking forward to today and appreciate the opportunity.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. I guess, first off, before we get too deep into the conversation, just wanted to ask, are there any associations or affiliations that you’re proud of or that your organization contributes to?

Todd Miller:

Yeah. So as you mentioned, we’re a manufacturer of metal roofing and metal building materials. So the two trade associations that I’ve been heavily involved with over the years, and I am very proud of the work that both of them do. One is Metal Roofing Alliance. Metal Roofing Alliance is more an educational organization that’s geared toward homeowners to help educate them about the benefits and other attributes of metal roofing. So that’s metalroofing.com, and then there’s also Metal Construction Association or MCA, which is metalconstruction.org. That’s much more of a technical organization. They get involved with a lot of the code issues, looking at testing of different systems and so forth, and they do some market development also, but another great organization over the years. So Metal Roofing Alliance and Metal Construction Association.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, that’s great. I know for us, those affiliations with different organizations that do such good work are an important part of our business, and it gives us opportunities to rub shoulders and compare best practices with other vendors in our space. So good to hear that you’re involved and plugged in to those things, and I think… Were you on a board before, or chair, or different levels of involvement?

Todd Miller:

Sure. So both of those organizations, I’ve been on the board, and Metal Construction Association, I chaired for a couple years. I did my stint there as well, but yeah, you’re right. There is so much. One of the things that I think I learned early on in my career was… especially in this little niche we call metal roofing, we really can’t look at each other as our competition. I think that even goes for contractors in their local markets. The lion’s share of the market is still other materials, and so if you can be together, you can be stronger together. As the saying goes, a rising tide raises all ships. So a strong believer in companies working together for the betterment of all and the betterment of their industry.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I love that approach to things. That’s something that we try and do here as well. So great for you. So as far as your background with Isaiah Industries, can you tell us a little bit how that got started and maybe a little bit how you arrived where you’re at today?

Todd Miller:

Sure. So I was born into it. My father had worked for Alcoa Building Products back in the 1970s, left Alcoa in 1980 to start this company. So I was working here summers during high school and college, and that type of stuff. When I came out of college, I was looking at a lot of different opportunities out there. At the end of the day, I’m like, “There’s a business sitting over here that I already know and I already understand. I don’t have to learn. I can hit the ground running.” So my dad was good enough to let me come into the business. He wasn’t sure that that was really the right thing to do, but I think it worked out okay.

But back in the early years, our business has morphed a lot. So in the early ’80s, we were national suppliers to Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen, IHOP, 7/11, Dunkin’ Donuts. All those brightly colored roofs you remember from Americana and traveling down the highway with your parents. Those were a lot of the products we were making, and that was really fueled our business in the early ’80s. But as an example, in the early ’80s, Pizza Hut was building 400 stores here. By about 1988, they were closing about 200 stores a year.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

So we saw that that commercial business wasn’t always going to be something that we could depend upon, and the interesting thing was there were a few contractors out there selling one of our product lines residentially. There were a couple of guys in Texas, and California, and Pennsylvania. So when I got out of college, came into the business full time, I just went out and started spending tons of time with those guys, trying to learn what they were doing, how they were doing it, and then we set about setting up other contractors across the country selling residential metal roofing. 

So we really were pioneers in this in terms of manufactured products. I mean, there were always sheet metal guys out there who would put a sheet metal roof on your home. But as far as manufactured products, we were really a pioneer, and it was just a real blessing to get to know folks who had pioneered all this, and to learn from them, and then to go out and spread it across the country. So today, our company, 90% of what we do is manufacture residential metal roofing. We get involved with… We enjoy working with churches. For us, we see that as very missional and something we enjoy doing. So we do some of that. We do some multifamily, a little bit of light commercial, but the vast majority is reroofing of single-family homes.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. So basically, you’ve come up with a cure for shingles with metal roofing. Is that what I’m hearing?

Todd Miller:

A cure for shingles. Hey, I may have to steal that line.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. I’m the king of the dad jokes. So that tracks.

Todd Miller:

I relinquish my title. Good job.

Mike Merrill:

Good to know. I’ll give you my FedEx account. You can send the trophy my way.

Todd Miller:

There you go. There you go.

Mike Merrill:

So that. Yeah, it is actually fascinating. I know where I live, even residential areas, again, you’re seeing a lot more homes getting reroofed. Rather than the traditional three-tab shingles or even architectural, they’re going metal, and we’re seeing solar. I mean, it’s just a major infrastructure upgrade even in residentials. So it’s interesting to hear you are seeing the same thing.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. It really is, and so we have seen the market share of metal in the residential arena go from about 2% maybe 20 years ago up to 13%, 14% today, which when you consider the size of the market, that’s pretty significant.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Todd Miller:

Metal has also, at this point… Well, a few years ago, surpassed tile as the number two most used product.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

So metal is the second most used, what we call steep slope roofing material. So with the largest being asphalt shingles, of course.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. So I guess to get to the topic of the conversation we wanted to have today, let’s talk about the relationship between a supplier like yourself and the contractors. I know today… I mean, I just saw the other day. At Home Depot, plywood was like 48 bucks a sheet or I mean, just unbelievable for 7/16ths OSB.

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Nuts, right?

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

So when prices are up like that and everybody is busier than ever, it feels like those relationships would be more critical than ever for companies to continue and keeping up with their workload.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. I really think they are, and that’s one of the things. So metal has not been immune to price changes here recently as well. We’ve suffered a lot as an industry from COVID. A lot of the metal mills either shut down or had their capacity diminished because of the virus. So metal became short in supply because as we know, the building industry stayed very robust. A year ago, we all didn’t know that would be the case.

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Miller:

So what we’re seeing is shortages out there. Delays. I don’t think metal has anywhere near the issues that for some reason, the lumber industry does. We’re not seeing that kind of increase of those kinds of shortages, but can’t say that we’re immune to it either, and so a lot of folks are asking me, Todd as a contractor, “How do I protect myself during these price increases and these shortages?” I always have a number of things to suggest, but really, the number one is make sure you’ve got tight supply chain relationships. Realistically, I don’t know that contractors… Most contractors have often thought in terms of supply chain because generally speaking, products were fairly available. Sometimes they would even have two or three sources of products.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Todd Miller:

Then, of course, when the big boxes came on the scene, that opened up a whole new avenue of them to purchase their materials. But now, with things tightening up, I’m saying, “You got to know who that supply chain is and start to make sure that relationship is tight.” I had a contractor call me the other day. A fairly large asphalt shingle contractor out of Denver. He’s genuinely concerned. He’s on allocation from his shingle suppliers. He’s seeing shortages. He’s seeing products being discontinued, colors being discontinued. He said, “If we have a bad storm market this year in any of the hail areas,” he said, “I’m genuinely concerned where I’m going to get product from.” So he had reached out to us because he wanted to talk to metal guys and composite guys, and build his supply chain with those products as well as alternatives to asphalt shingles. I thought, “Kudos to you.” That’s really forward-thinking and was a great move on his part, I thought.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s brilliant. Really, I think in a lot of… and especially when you’re involving insurance companies and other things, a roof… You don’t think too much about it until it starts leaking, so. But once it does, it’s more critical than anything to get that repair before more damage, and more money are lost, and more…

Todd Miller:

You have to do something. Yeah, that’s absolutely right. So, yeah. So these are certainly interesting times.  

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. So in most parts of business, communication is always key. So wh at role are technology solutions and systems playing in having this more efficient communication and collaboration?

Todd Miller:

Yeah. It’s pretty neat because I think that building products manufacturers have always had the reputation of being pretty late adapters in terms of technology and not really knowing even what technology would be of benefit to our customers. So to that extent, I got to put a dig on manufacturers of building materials because we haven’t been the best, but the point is it’s getting much better. One of the areas that we certainly saw it originally was the use of satellite imagery to measure buildings for roofing materials. They can even measure siding and windows, and so a lot of manufacturers have been very proactive in terms of building relationships with some of the satellite imagery companies, and then making sure that their contractors were keyed into that as well

Then, of course, the satellite imagery companies have been saying, “Well, what’s the next step?” So the next step has been for them to build databases of products made by the various manufacturers, which requires the manufacturer to be involved, to have that database built of their products so that it facilitates ordering. So you can’t not only measure the roof, the software can go ahead and tell you all the products it’s going to take to build that roof as an example. Some of them also now will actually place that order direct with your supplier.

Now, here in the metal roofing industry, I mean, that’s been very, very helpful because many of our products have to be… especially if you’re dealing in the vertical seam products, standing seam type products, those are all custom lengths. So the ability to pull those satellite measurements to help you quote the job and even build the order is extremely helpful. It’s funny when satellite measurements first started coming out. I mean, I was the guy sitting there that’s like, “I don’t know if I trust this. How do I know this is accurate?”

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Todd Miller:

Frankly, in the early years, there were issues. Generally, today, I would trust that satellite measurement over most guys with a tape measure.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

Todd Miller:

They really are amazingly accurate. So we use them pretty regularly to even do custom-length panels and things like that. So that was I think the foray maybe of tech, if you will, and the ability to use it to help better serve contractors was through that measuring and ordering piece.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I grew up in the industry as well, and I remember back in the day when it was paper blueprints. If all the sets were lent out, you may have to pull the ladder out and drive 30 miles to the project, and get up on the roof, and pull a tape, and… I mean, that on a steep pitched roof. That’s not always either a safe or easy task. So amazing advancements in so many different ways in technology.

Todd Miller:

Even then, you were still wondering, “Did they build the building to match the plan?”

Mike Merrill:

That’s right. Yeah, or, “That feels like an 8/12. That’s not a 6/12 either.”

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

But yeah, it’s interesting how many advancements we’ve had. I have to wonder. What does drone technology do to affect some of these things as well?

Todd Miller:

So that’s been huge as well. So most contractors at this point have a drone, and they’re using them for roof inspections. They’re using them to go out and capture images to bring back into the home to show the property owner, the homeowner, whoever. “Hey, here’s what’s going on on your roof.” It’s also taken us… Another thing that this all has done is partly safety too. I mean, no longer does that salesperson have to climb up on that roof, which opens you up to a whole new broad group of possible participants in our industry. People who previously said, “Yeah. Roofing interests me, but the same way I’m going to climb up on a roof.” Well, they don’t have to anymore. So drone imagery has been great.

The other great thing that I think was one of the early parts of tech coming into our industry was, of course, visualization software, and so visualization software. A lot of manufacturers have it now, and a lot of contractors, if they tap into the right manufacturer, can actually bring that visualization software directly over to their websites. But that allows the customer to upload a photo, and to play around with different products and colors, and that type of thing. 

Now, we’re getting into the next stage of that. I know our company is working with our supplier on visualization, and our next area is going to be using artificial intelligence so that… It used to be if you wanted to bring in a picture of your house, you had to go in there and pick all the corner points of the roof and tell it where the roof was, and then it would put the product on there. Well, with AI, it automatically does that masking and figures out, “Hey, here’s roof,” figures the right angle, that type of thing. So we’re really excited about bringing that into this as well, which is the cutting edge right now in terms of visualization type things.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. It makes me think as you’re talking about all these advancements. It surely has impacted the sales process also because now, if you’ve got these tools as a sales option instead of the old paper, flip decks, or…

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Then, we had PowerPoints, and now we’re just in a whole different world. So what impact have you seen that have on the sales process?

Todd Miller:

So one of the things that we’re really excited about right now is there’s a platform called Ingage, which is I-N-G-A-G-E. I think there’s some others out there, but I’m really smitten by Ingage right now. But Ingage is working with manufacturers like us to develop very interactive sales presentations. So yes, you’re exactly right. The old way of having a home improvement guy come to your house, he’d brought out the huge three-ring binder, and he’d flip through pages, and every once in a while, you’d catch a glimpse that his script was on the backside, so you knew he was reading through you.

But the cool thing about these new interactive presentations, which of course are typically done on tablets or something, is that they are not so linear. So one of the things you always ran into, if you were doing a flip chart type or just a straight PowerPoint presentation, was the customer would ask you a question, and you’d have to say, “Oh, well, we’ll get to that in a second. Just hold on. We’ll get to it. I promise,” or else you risk having to go down that rabbit trail, and then go down it again when the deck slide showed that. But these new ones, you can flip in and out. They aren’t linear. So if the consumer gets emotional about a particular topic, you can go there rather than delay that emotion and try to come back to it later on.

So I’m just incredibly excited about that, and we’re seeing a lot of manufacturers get on board with that type of an interactive presentation. Also, of course, one of the things that we’ve seen happen so much since COVID is a lot of contractors are doing virtual presentations rather than going into the consumer’s home. So this type of presentation lends itself extremely well to a virtual presentation as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I almost can’t even imagine going all the way back, rewinding the tape to the ’90s and the early 2000s when I was out there swinging the hammer. It’s just a whole different world in every way virtually, and digitally, and technologically.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. It is very exciting stuff, and we love the fact that… Again, we’ve seen that metamorphosis from measuring software and things like that to the visualization, and now to the actual sales presentation and bringing that all together in a way that helps contractors sell more jobs or sell more jobs professionally, or helps the property owner be more involved and emotional about what they’re buying. One of the things that we talk a lot about in sales is most customers buy rather emotionally, but they still got to have the logical end of things for it all to make sense.

So as an example, in our industry, I always tell people that after people have this metal roof installed, the thing that they tell everyone about is how beautiful it is. But by the same token, when they go to work and they’re standing around the coffee pot, they’re not telling people they paid $80,000 for a roof because it was pretty. They’re telling them, “Hey, I bought it because it’s sustainable. It’s energy efficient.” All these types of things. So these new presentations just offer this great marriage of emotion with logic to guide the consumer to the right decision for them, and we know as salespeople, sometimes that decision isn’t going to be our product, and that’s cool, but we have some great tools now because of technology to help them make the right decision.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that, and I think just going back to a couple of comments you made earlier, the fact that we’re doing it safer and more efficiently, we’re not wasting fuel, and time, and resources, and again, risking people being in unsafe environments just to get an estimate together or just to go and double-check something. Then, we can do it digitally. We don’t have to drive to their house. There’s so many efficiencies gained that ultimately in the end, the consumer wins, the supplier wins, the contractor wins. It’s a beautiful thing.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. I agree, and one of the things that we have seen with some of the contractors who have adopted doing virtual presentations, video conferencing type presentations with property owners is some of them are saying, “I’m never going to go back. I’m always going to do it this way.” Just a good example you touched on. I mean, it used to be if a sales person was doing a professional presentation of a product, if he was really lucky, they might be able to do three presentations a day, but probably no more than two. I mean, they almost had to be right next door if you’re going to do more than two. Well, now, someone can sit and do virtual presentations five, six, seven, eight a day and be doing them 200 miles away, 300 miles away to increase the footprint of that business also. So I really see virtual presentations as a great way for companies to expand, expand their businesses.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and in between those presentations, they’re able to zip out 15 emails, put a quote together, answer a couple of voicemails, send some texts out. So everything else is more efficient too.

Todd Miller:

You add this with some of the tech we talked about as far as taking measurements and converting them into quotes. I mean, a lot of times now, that doesn’t have to be done by the salesperson. That can be done by an administrative type person who just knows that software extremely well. So it, again, takes that plate off the sales person, lets the sales person do what they do really well, which is sell.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. So what does a contractor do to make sure that they’re aligning with a supplier that can help them best leverage these types of technologies and ultimately sell more efficiently and effectively?

Todd Miller:

I think that one of the things that we are seeing is for many years, the trend would be for you to have a manufacturer, a distributor, and a contractor, and very little opportunity for the two ends, the contractor and the manufacturer, to connect. I’m really seeing that change. So even if there is still a distributor involved, the manufacturer and the contractor have a relationship as well and know the power of that relationship. So I think the big thing for contractors is don’t be afraid to think, “Okay. Well, I’d buy this product from this distributor, and I can’t ever talk to anyone else.” Don’t be afraid to get some connections made with that manufacturer so that you know what tools they are offering, what tech they are offering. You know what’s coming next around the pike.

Especially, so many manufacturers too are doing webinars and educational type things. We as a manufacturer crave that relationship with contractors. So don’t think… I think the big thing for a contractor is don’t think that just your immediate supplier who is probably a wholesaler, a distributor, a two-stepper, don’t think you can’t go beyond them to build your relationships as well. It doesn’t eliminate the distributor, but it makes your business more effective by having that relationship upstream.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great advice. So one other point I wanted to touch on. Like a lot of different product upgrades, so to speak. I mean, I’ll call it an upgrade because I think it certainly is.

Todd Miller:

Sure.

Mike Merrill:

What return on investment that an end consumer could expect to receive from going metal instead of asphalt or barrel tile, clay, some other options?

Todd Miller:

So one of the things I will always train a contractor if they’re thinking of… Maybe they’re a roofing contractor, and they do a lot of shingle, and they want to get involved in metal. I always tell them, “Well, here’s the way to start that. Make sure that whoever does your appointment setting, whoever that person is on the phone taking calls or going outbound, responding to emails, and things, have them ask this very simple question. ‘Mr. Jones, Mrs. Jones, how long do you intend to live in your home?’ If that homeowner says anything that sounds like 10 years or more or, ‘They’re going to carry me out,’ then you come back and say, ‘Oh, wow. That’s great. I think when you called us, you are talking about maybe an asphalt shingle roof. We have some products that we also find homeowners who are staying in their homes long-term, they really gravitate towards some of these other products. Is it okay if we bring those to your home as well?'”

You get your answer, and if they answer affirmatively, “Well, yeah, that probably makes sense,” then you suddenly have maybe not flipped that lead from asphalt into metal, but at least you’ve nudged the door open a little bit for metal, and so that’s… I forget where we started with this question, but that’s always my advice as far as how you start to build metal into your business as a contractor.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. If it’s 10 years or more, then it sounds like there’s extra value and a reason why. What would that value be possibly, and what are some of the reasons they’d want to go that way?

Todd Miller:

Right. So the metal roofs out today, and there’s a wide range of them in terms of product qualities, but even the lower ones are certainly easily a 35 to 40-year roof. Nice thing about metal roofs is you can usually extend their lives by repainting them at some point, if you want. So it’s not necessarily 35 years and it’s shot. You can probably paint it and get an extra 15, 20 years out of it. So I think the longevity, the sustainability is a big one. Energy efficiency is another big one. We typically hear from homeowners that they save about 20% on their summer utility costs with a metal roof.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

That’s because the metal uses reflective pigments in the paint, and we also take advantage of some thermal breaks and air gaps to keep heat out of the home and keep it out of the attics. So we reduce the AC load and the AC cost. Then, you also have some consumers who rightfully so really care about our environment. So they like the fact that a metal roof is made from recycled material. They like the fact that at the end of its useful life, a metal roof is 100% recyclable. Virtually, all other roofing materials are eventually going to end up in a landfill. I mean, that’s just the hard reality. so metal, of course, is 100% recyclable.

Then, I think the final thing is what they can do in terms of the design and the look of their home. I mean, most houses, you look at them, probably 60% of the house is roof. Yet, we tend a roof with the same materials that all of our neighbors do. So you can individualize, characterize a house, get that curb appeal up, which everyone cares about today. Thanks to HGTV. Everyone cares about what their house looks like, and so we can really help them design it in a way that makes it more appealing to them or appealing to others and probably adds value to it in that process also.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Well, this has been a very fun and insightful conversation. I’ve learned some things about metal roofs today, and some of the technologies that they can leverage, and also enhancements in my utility bill reduction strategy. It’s great and useful information I think for our listeners. So before we wrap up, I just had a couple of questions to end on, and I just wanted to ask you more on a personal level if that’s okay.

Todd Miller:

Sure.

Mike Merrill:

What’s something that you are grateful for in your professional life that you’ve learned over your career?

Todd Miller:

Oh, well, I think absolutely that not being afraid to build relationships with who one would think are my competitors. So that’s happened a lot through those trade associations. I mean, those are folks who, yeah, I’ve learned a lot from. Just the other day, I had a competitor. I was in a pinch for some metal, and I went to a competitor. I said, “Hey, you don’t happen to have any of this?” Today, I placed a PO for 8,000 pounds of metal from him that he did happen to have.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

So I think that that willingness to realize that your competitors can be your friends and you’re not working together in a nefarious way, but you’re working together for the good of your businesses and the good of the industry.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. That’s great advice for any of our listeners, I’m sure. What about, is there a skill, or a superpower, or something that you’ve learned to embody and enjoy as a trait over your career that you could share with others?

Todd Miller:

Well, the thing that comes to mind when you asked me that, and I can’t say that I know exactly what caused this, but I’ve been blessed with a tremendously loyal team. We have about 55 team members, and our average length of employment across the company is I think around 17 years at this point.

Mike Merrill:

Oh my goodness.

Todd Miller:

I’ve got tons of folks who have been here 20, 25 years, 30 years. In fact, the first employee my dad ever hired is still working here 40 years ago. So I don’t know what it is, but I can say that I’m incredibly grateful and feel incredibly blessed by the loyalty of our team, and that really… Our customers are the ones who benefit from that because our customers know that they’ve got years of experience here. So if they have questions or they have problems, they can get those things taken care of because they’ve got skilled, knowledgeable folks here who can do it.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, that’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. What about maybe a challenge you’ve overcome over the years or something that was really difficult and you worked your way through? What was it maybe, and what did you learn? 

Todd Miller:

Oh, goodness. I think one of the challenges has been that as a small manufacturer, we always had to look like a much larger company because realistically, I mean, here we are, this little metal guy, and the guys we’re selling against are the Owens Cornings, and the CertainTeeds, and the GAFs of the world. We’re not only selling against them. We’re selling at a much, much higher price. So I just think that one of our biggest challenges has always been helping our business to be as professional as it possibly can be, realizing who it is that we’re competing with.

Now, another way we have done that though is by being very personal in what we do. Everyone who comes to our company with interest of any sort gets a personal response from me. I had someone the other day say, “Well, I know what I got from you was just an automated email.” I was very pleased to go back to him and say, “I don’t use automated email. What you got was really an email for me.” So we take a very personalized approach to business as well that I think also helps to differentiate us from some of the behemoths out there that we compete with, which are great companies and do very well what they do. I just think being smaller, and more nimble, and having our great team here, we’re able to take things a step further a lot of times.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, I love that personal touch. Good for you.

Todd Miller:

Yeah, we enjoy it.

Mike Merrill:

It obviously served you well.

Todd Miller:

We enjoy it.

Mike Merrill:

All right. The last thing, so what… If there was one takeaway that you wanted our listeners to come away with from the conversation, what would that be?

Todd Miller:

Okay. So I’m going to tell a story on myself. This was probably, I’m guessing, about 1989. I got someone who called me on the phone. They were doing a survey. I don’t know who it was. It doesn’t make any difference, but the question they asked me was, “I’m sure you’ve heard, Todd, about this thing called the internet.” “Yeah. Yeah, I know a little bit. I’ve got a prodigy account or something where I could dial up.” They said, “What do you think the internet is going to bring to your company in the future?” I thought about it a second. I thought, “We’re a manufacturer. We bring metal in. We crunch it up. We put it in boxes. We send it to people.” I’m thinking, “I don’t know possibly what the internet is ever going to do for us.” So that’s what I told them.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Todd Miller:

Of course, in hindsight, nothing has changed has changed our business more than the internet then partly because people could find us and we could be known. So I guess the big thing I’d like to encourage folks as a takeaway is there are so many opportunities out there to use today’s great technology in your business. Don’t be afraid of it. Make sure that you’re using it to its fullest. I mean, the things that you folks do, helping to track people, and track time, and all those types of things that you folks help people with. I mean, that is just really valuable stuff that saves someone time and also brings greater efficiency into what you’re doing. We got to face it. I mean, everyone talks about it. The labor market being tight for skilled trades is not exactly loose for white collar trades either.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Todd Miller:

One of the things we learned last year was this shortage of labor is not because of unemployment. Unemployment was suddenly 30%, and we still couldn’t get enough people or get the people that we needed in our industry. So again, using tech, using what’s available through your suppliers to stream… maybe not streamline your organization, but to make your organization more effective and more efficient. Don’t be afraid of it. That’s probably my biggest advice.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, great. That was a great way to end. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Todd. Had a great time and look forward to keeping up with you here in the future as well.

Todd Miller:

Sounds good. It’s a real pleasure. I greatly enjoyed it, and all the best to you.

Mike Merrill:

Thanks, and you as well. Thank you to the guest for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast. As always, we very much appreciate your listenership, and if you enjoyed the conversation Todd and I had today, please give us a rating and a review, and follow us on LinkedIn or on Instagram, @workmax_. Of course, those five-star ratings and reviews always help us to bring more valuable guests in on course of our goals here. We really want to help you improve not only your business, but your life.

How The LIME Foundation is Closing the Labor Gap

How The LIME Foundation is Closing the Labor Gap

Workforce shortages in the construction industry cause businesses to turn down projects and miss deadlines every single day. And while the competition for experienced workers is fierce, hiring away from competitors and recycling through employees puts a Band-Aid on a bigger problem: the lack of young people choosing construction as a career. Frustrated by this disconnect, ARS Roofing CEO Letitia Hanke decided to take action. She founded The LIME Foundation – a nonprofit that introduces young people in Santa Rosa, California to the trades and connects these prospective workers to construction firms seeking to hire. 

In Part 2 of their conversation, host Mike Merrill and Letitia discuss construction’s dire need for expanding its workforce and how The LIME Foundation is a model for tackling the labor gap. They talk about the foundation’s training programs, why construction companies benefit from investing in young people and showing them the path to long-term careers. They also dive into how others can learn from Letitia’s model and create training programs in their own communities.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Promote career opportunities in the trades industry. Recent generations have been taught there is one path to a good career: graduate high school, graduate college and get a professional job. But not everyone wants to risk going into debt or attending a university. Many others don’t realize the vast opportunities working in construction and trades can offer. Rather than waiting for prospective workers to find you, go to them. Whether it’s job fairs or formal training programs, make recruiting new workers a priority to combat worker shortages.
  2. Invest in training brand new workers. Taking the time to train someone brand new to a trade may sound like a lot of time and money, but it’s well worth the investment. Competing for experienced workers has its limitations, whereas there’s an expansive market for prospective new hires. Another perk? A newbie is highly trainable and less likely to bring shortcuts and bad habits from other job sites.
  3. Seek out trade training programs – or start one yourself. While The LIME Foundation is only in Santa Rosa, California for now, there are still plenty of construction and trade programs throughout the United States to connect with. And if there isn’t one, take a cue from Letitia and explore how you can take action to bring educational programs to your region and attract a new generation of workers to the industry.

 

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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 for part number two with our dear friend, Letitia Hanke. She’s the founder and CEO of ARS Gutters and Roofing and Solar out of Santa Rosa, California. If you haven’t listened to the first episode, we would love to have you go ahead and take a listen there and be excited for you to hear some of the great things that Letitia was able to share there. But for today, we want to talk more about your entrepreneurship.

If you haven’t listened to part one of mine and Letitia’s conversation, I encourage you to give it a listen. We talk about her start in roofing and also advice for up and comers and especially women in construction among other things. So a bit more about Letitia. She’s a celebrated entrepreneur who’s been featured on Mike Rowe’s Returning The Favor, The Kelly Clarkson Show, and was also named residential contractor of the year for 2020 by Roofing Contractor. Good job. But more importantly for the conversation today, Letitia is the founder of the LIME Foundation and it’s a nonprofit organization for young people to learn about the trades and get training in Santa Rosa, California, and discover real-world opportunities in construction. So welcome again, Letitia, let’s dive in.

Letitia Hanke:

Okay, great. Happy to be back.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you. So the construction industry is facing issues with this labor gap. People are busy, there’s a lot of work to do, and there’s not enough people to do the work. What can you tell us about that and what you’re doing?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, first of all, I didn’t realize that the lack of workforce in construction existed everywhere. I thought it was just here in California. And this was about six years ago when I first started thinking about how we need to bridge this gap and start training young people. And before that, we were already having a hard time finding employees to want to go into roofing. So at first it was just about me. I was just like, I need roofers, how do I find roofers? And then as I just started talking to my fellow contractors, general contractors, painters, they all started saying the same thing. Like, “We can’t find workers either. What are we going to do?” And I just said, “Well, how about, if I were to start a nonprofit that trains young people in the trades, would you guys be interested?” And they said yes. And that’s really how it all started.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. And that was in 2015?

Letitia Hanke:

2015 is when I started the nonprofit. And it took a couple of years for me to actually develop the program and actually get, because I needed to have contractor buy-in. Back then, a lot of us were like, it costs a lot of money to train a new person, someone who has no experience whatsoever. We would rather hire someone with a bunch of experience and a bunch of attitude than to just train somebody from scratch. So I really needed that buy-in from the contractors and luckily we were all at our desperation point, so it was pretty easy for me to say, “Okay, are you going to be willing to train them from scratch?” And they said yes. And so it worked out very well.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So, what all is involved? What are the different components of your nonprofit?

Letitia Hanke:

So, the program’s called the NextGen Trades Academy. So we’re training young people, ages 16 and 24, many just right out of high school or maybe they’ve dropped out of high school, went back, got their GED, dropped out of college. Just all the ones that are just not sure what they want to do in life. And our class teaches them about all the different trades that, right now we’re working with 17 different trades in that industry, and simply introducing them to a career in the trades. That’s really all we’re doing, is saying, “Hey, here’s what roofing is all about, here’s what you can make, here’s a contractor telling you a little bit about what it entails. If you’re afraid of heights, you’re probably not going to want to go into roofing. If you don’t like going under these houses, you’re probably not want to go into plumbing.”

So we just introduced to them this new world that literally they’ve never heard of and letting them know that they can go straight into a career making 17 to $22 or more an hour, because it depends on what company or what trade you’re in. They’re starting people at $25 an hour to start with no experience, just none. And, I didn’t know it was going to explode like it did and it did. It just ended up exploding and now we have all these young people learning about these trades and then going straight into a career in construction.

Mike Merrill:

That’s wonderful. Man, that beats the heck out of the fast food joint down the street, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. We’re talking about that often. Sometimes they’re actually working at the fast food joint and taking our class at same time. So, they finish our class, they graduate, they put in their two weeks notice and next thing you know, they’re working for a solar company making $26 an hour. So yeah, it’s pretty nice. Yeah, it’s really…

Mike Merrill:

The more the benefit to the community too, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh my gosh. I have to say, especially to our community here in Santa Rosa. In 2017, we experienced a huge fire, the Tubbs fire, and it burned down 5,500 structures here in our town. And, imagine trying to rebuild all those homes when contractors were already busy, they were already busy before those fires. So, what’s really helped this community is to have a workforce, to have someone to draw from and train so that way, we can get our rebuilding done faster. So it’s been great for the community because we’re getting people back into their homes. So, it’s very exciting.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I know you’re, clearly you’re removing barriers from people to have an opportunity. You’re creating something that didn’t exist before and broadening horizons of somebody who maybe didn’t have a direction, right?

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct. I’m one of them. So I was in college, I mentioned before I think, I was in school and in my junior year I started working for a roofing company. I had just turned 20 years old, I was still in college at the time. Well, by the time I reached my senior year in college, I was in quite a bit of debt because I got student loans to get through college, and I ended up dropping out of college and my senior year, because I ended up getting promoted at the roofing company that I was at. I became the office manager of this business. And now I’m making $50,000 a year, which was huge back then for me. And I’m just like, finish college or… But like I said, I was in debt. I was 20 something years old and all this debt.

So what we’re helping is a lot of these young people that are kind of being taught through life that, you graduate from high school and you go straight to college. Many of them don’t want to go to college. They don’t want to go, some of them can’t afford it, and now we’re just saying, “Okay, here’s another option for you. If you don’t want to do that, here’s a great option for you. And now you’re not getting into debt and now you’re moving directly into a career.”

Mike Merrill:

Wow. And I would imagine because of obviously your company ARS, you’ve got an opportunity to hire some of your graduates. Is that right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, I get first dibs. Really, roofing is not the most, when I asked my students, every class I ask, the first day of class: What industry are you interested in? They usually say electrical. And I think it’s just because they just think that’s like the best industry to be in and they don’t really realize it. But it’s so rare that I get them to say roofing. And I remember I’ve hired four of the graduates and I have one of the graduates with me now and another one moved on to work for a bigger company after working for me for two years. And I remember that that student said roofing the first day in class, and he said roofing the second day, the last day of class, and I literally hired him like on the spot. He was one of our top students in that class, I’m just like, “You’re hired.”

And it’s been great for me because my other, my seasoned, I won’t call them my old employees, but my seasoned employees, they’re seeing how by hiring someone who’s green, we call them green, brand new into the industry, they’re able to train them exactly the way we want them to be trained. They’re learning the skills the way we want them to learn it. They’re not coming in with bad habits. I know many of you listening to this about those bad habits. When we would hire seasoned employees that have been in the industry for 20 years, they think they know everything. You can’t teach them anything. I’m just like, “Well, if you’re going to work here, you’ve got to do the work the way we do it because we’re certified, we’re this and that.” And they come in with attitude and stuff. The difference now is we’re bringing them in and they’re learning quickly, and now we get to train them the way we want them to be trained. And that’s a value. And that’s what my contractors are seeing. They’re just like, “Okay, this is actually working.” So it’s been great.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I’ll bet, they’re not bringing their shortcuts with them, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Exactly.

Mike Merrill:

So, how are you… You talked about one of your students moving on to a different organization. I imagine you’re getting feedback from other contractors that are benefiting from this. What are they saying?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh my gosh. I think the biggest thing that they’ve been saying is just that they didn’t realize it. A lot of us just didn’t want to spend the extra time and the extra money to train someone green, but now they’re seeing the value of doing that. And that’s why they’re referring us to more contractors, they’re hiring more of our students. And they’re not even thinking about hiring a seasoned person because they know that all they have to do is move up some of the employees that they already have, move them up and then train these people to move them up and that’s actually working out better. And it’s just been great to actually just seeing more and more and more con… We started off with 11 contractors and now we have 168 in four years.

Mike Merrill:

Oh my goodness.

Letitia Hanke:

It’s working. It’s been great.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, what a blessing and a benefit to… Talk about a win-win win, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, absolutely. They just needed to see it. Sometimes it was hard for them to see, but as they keep hearing their other contractor friends saying, “Oh yeah, I hired this graduate and now they’re running their own crew after a year.” And that’s all it takes for them to actually see that as happening and working and now they’re going for it.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, that’s incredible. So, the LIME Foundation is primarily in the Santa Rosa area, right? Are there organizations like this or have you collaborated with any other institutions to this point?

Letitia Hanke:

We are mainly in Sonoma County. So we’ve actually been able to do the program throughout Sonoma County, and we’re in talks right now of down in the Bay Area as well, doing the program in that area, in Santa Clara County and also many other areas like Napa county is a lot of different counties and stuff they’ve been contacting us about how to bring the program to their location. And for me, I always tell them the same thing that starts with a… I need contractors first, it has to start with a buy-in of contractors that are willing to hire. So that’s the process, but yeah, we’re definitely working on that expansion for sure.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So you’ve been at this for well, six years since you founded, it sounds like the last three or so plus in action. How many students have gone through this so far?

Letitia Hanke:

So we had 185 go through, 142 have graduated from the program. So they actually made it through in graduation, that means that they’ve got a B at all the classes. They’ve got to participate, do the homework that we have for them, and then they get certified, the Cal-OSHA, which is a safety certification. They’ve got to pass that course, it’s a 10-hour course. So they do have to take quite a few steps to actually graduate from the program, but they also know what’s at the end of that tunnel. They know that they’ve got this great opportunity.

Most of our students get hired within 30 to 60 days. So, we’re now up to 81, as of our last class, we’re up to 81% of our students being hired. We had a class where we had 100% of our students that graduated. They were nine students that graduated, 100% of them got hired within 30 days. Contractors were waiting for them. They’re like, “When are they graduating? What time?” So, I like that a lot actually, but some of them are not work eligible. For instance some don’t have a driver’s license to be able to drive vehicles, so they have to work on getting their driver’s license or they’re still in high school maybe they’re still juniors or seniors and they have to graduate. We do recommend that they graduate first. So once they graduate from the program, then we can get through… Once they graduate from school, then we can get them hired, but we have to make sure that they’ve graduated first.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. What an amazing impact! You must be so proud, honestly.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. Oh my gosh. It’s just my favorite thing. I love it so much and just being so connected to these young people and seeing their journey and just, oh my gosh, it’s just so beautiful. It makes me so happy every day to wake up to continue to do what I’m doing, because I just know that I’m helping to change these young lives. So it’s really…

Mike Merrill:

For generations, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

You’re changing generations.

Letitia Hanke:

My goal is to go full circle where one of my graduates starts their own company and then they hire graduates from the class like I am, and I’m this close to that. One of my graduates has been working for a contractor for four years and he’s been a journeyman now with him for two years. So he’s got another couple years and then he’s able to get his own license. And then one of our female students started her own company. Once she graduated from our program, she actually started one of her own companies as well. So she doesn’t have an employee yet, but I know she’ll pick from our group when she’s ready. So I’m just really looking forward to that day because that’s been on my dream board actually, when I first started, that’s what I wanted to have happen. So I’m looking forward to that day.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So, you mentioned a dream board, is that like a vision board or something?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, my vision board, yes. My vision board is, I look at it every day, it’s in my closet and I have to go in there and to get my shoes. And so I get to look at my vision board.

Mike Merrill:

It’s a good place for it.

Letitia Hanke:

I know I’m in there every day, that’s where I’m going to look at it and I just get to constantly look at those things that I want to see for my future. And I’m always changing, as I achieve the goals, I put up new ones, but it’s just great to be able to see those things come true. And just to keep me going every day, working towards that vision and working towards those goals. It keeps me motivated.

Mike Merrill:

Very inspiring. You probably mentioned, you don’t want to do roofing anymore, you just want to do more of this right?

Letitia Hanke:

I won’t say that out loud, but yeah. That’s my retirement. My nonprofit is definitely my retirement. If I had a chance to spend the rest of my life helping these young people, I would do it in a heartbeat. So yeah, that’s my retirement for sure.

Mike Merrill:

Sounds like you’re well, on the way. And I know we could use one of these in Utah, I know that. Everybody I know is months out.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, months. Months out. Yes, we’re working on it.

Mike Merrill:

Well, we’ll see if we can help plug in a few more contra… We’ve got a lot of great customers that are larger roofing organizations around the country.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s wonderful.

Mike Merrill:

So I’m hoping, I’ll send this episode to many of them, see if we can get some of them to play.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you very much.

Mike Merrill:

So, tell me with how this is working out, what, number one is just like you planned it and then maybe what’s been a pleasant surprise for you about this so far?

Letitia Hanke:

I think, well, I planned out doing this class, helping a few students, but I didn’t expect Mike Rowe to contact me about it. That’s number one. It’s gained this national type, people knowing about it all over the place. I thought I would be confined to little Santa Rosa, Sonoma County. And now from just even that show, people in Kentucky and Florida and Georgia and everywhere, Colorado, even Utah, people contacted us saying, “Hey, how do we get that program here at our place?” And that’s what I wasn’t expecting. I was not expecting that I could do this program around the country and around the world really. So that makes me super excited to know that I can help so many more people with the model that we’ve already built and have put together. So yeah, it excites me everyday every time I think about that. So we have a little list of all these other cities and states that people wanting the program and I’m just like, great, let’s make it happen.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love it. So we’re plugged into our local AGC chapter here in Utah, and they’re just finishing, I think our ribbon cutting ceremony will be in probably late June, maybe early July, and they had a huge training facility and over $4 million of the labor materials for that work donated from the contractors here locally. And it’s a safety and a training facility for something very similar to what you’re doing, train the trades and get more qualified people ready to enter the workforce because there’s such a gap.

Letitia Hanke:

And that’s funny. So, it’s very expensive here in California. So California is very different from other places. So in order for our students to be able to do hands-on training we have to have worker’s comp and it’s very, very expensive. So we said, okay, we’re just going to do this class as an education type piece and without really a lot of hands-on. And it’s been great to know that we can do it, just education, education only, and still get them hired. And the contractors are doing all the hands on training. They’re there working for them. We thought they’ll have an apprenticeship. Nope. They’re just hiring them and then training them right then and there. So, that’s been nice to not have that expense of that. And then knowing that this is just from education, that we’re getting these young people hired for full-time positions. So it’s really great. I would love to do some hands-on with them, but it just costs quite a bit over here in California.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I can imagine.

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

So, for somebody who wants to bring more awareness to the trades and start making an impact in their community, what advice would you have for them?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, number one, you can contact me.

Mike Merrill:

There you go.

Letitia Hanke:

I’ll help you do that. But I realized that people may have a passion just like I did to start their own nonprofit and do their own training, which they absolutely should do. But maybe you don’t feel like doing all the work because there’s a lot of work involved in it. They can contact someone like us or look in their regions where they’re located because most likely there is a training program somewhere where you are and you just have to do a tiny bit of research and find it and just get involved in that because it’s working and it’s working because these are young people that are, they’re ready to go right into the workforce. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s perfectly okay for them to go straight into the workforce and we just need to be teaching that more out of school, at a young age, that there are other options for them. So I’m working on that right now as we speak.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s very inspiring. Again, I can think of probably 10 podcasts that we’ve recorded, at least that breached on this topic at some point, and everybody’s saying the same thing. There’s a gap, there’s not enough skilled labor coming out of high school and colleges, people are not going into the trades like they have been in the past and it’s a lost art, we need to start figuring out how to foster these young boys and girls, young men and women to get involved.

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah, and it’s hard to make up the time because we’ve had this gap for so long I’ve got employees that are aging out and then I have new ones. You know what I mean?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Letitia Hanke:

It’s already there, that gap is already there. So how are we going to make up for that lost time? I still don’t know that answer. I just know that I’m working on it and we need more and more and more people to work on it. And the jobs are there, the opportunities are literally there. We just need to make sure that people know that that opportunity is there, especially our young people. So we can do that, each and every one of us can make that happen. And like I said, feel free to contact me. I would love to help you work your way through it, or if you’re interested in our program, figure out how to have it there.

Mike Merrill:

So, what’s been your secret? You mentioned earlier that they could start their own, or if they didn’t want to do the work, they could call you, but everybody has good ideas. It’s not hard to come up with a good idea, but the execution is where the challenge is. What’s been your secret sauce to help you do that?

Letitia Hanke:

My team. Oh my gosh, I literally surrounded myself with some of the most magnificent people. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. Yes, I always have ideas. There’s always that idea, but to really truly implement that idea, you’ve got to have a great team around you. So number one, my roofing team, they’re so amazing that it gives me that free time to actually be able to spend over here on the non-profit. So they run that company, they make sure everything is going nice and smoothly, so I can have that extra time. So, that’s number one.

But then if you’re going to start a nonprofit, that’s a whole other business. They call it a nonprofit but I’m telling you it’s a whole other business. So, I have a great team over there as well, that they believe in the vision they believe and they have the passion. Remember, I was mentioning that earlier, they share that passion. And so it just makes it that much easier to make it happen. And they want to see it grow, they want to see it build they’re experiencing firsthand what it’s like for these young people. Luckily we stay in touch with a lot of them. So we get to really hear their stories and see how it’s changed their lives. And that’s all we really need to hear is, why don’t you students tell us how much this changed their lives and that’s it for us. So yeah, surrounding yourself with the right people, you can make it happen. That’s all you need.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Which to me, when you say that, I’m thinking people that you can trust and that also trust you, right?

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct. You need to be able to trust them. And you want to make sure that they’re the right people for the job and how it, it’s just how much dedication, how they dedicate themselves to it. And I have luckily found some of the best people I feel in the entire world. So, I’m very blessed, again, very lucky, very blessed to have great people that I’m surrounded by. And your family, my husband, my son, you’ve got to have good people, my parents. They’re all just great security for me and making sure that they are supporting me in every way, because yeah, it’s a lot of time away from your family and your loved ones when you’re building something like this and just to get their buy-in and their understanding of how I’m trying to change the world. They’re like, “Go change the world, we’re here. And so, that means the world to me.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Well, you’re clearly an inspiration and you are to me, but to many others as well, and I can see why.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So speaking of that, who inspired you?

Letitia Hanke:

My mom. Oh my God. I’m not going to cry? Let’s turn this off. My mom, oh my gosh, she means so many sacrifices for me and for my brother. And she’s so smart. And there were things that, and my dad, he’s been in construction, he’s a pipe fitter, retired pipe fitter. So construction’s literally been in my brain for years, as they’ve just brought me up such the right way in life about just having morals and believing in prayer and God and how I can make and change the world if I really want to do it. And my mom, the sacrifice that she made for her career to have me and my brother instead, those are the things that I’m just like, I appreciate that she gave up those things for me and now I get to do the things that she wanted to do in life. And she just really wanted to help others as well. So my parents inspire me every day and my kiddo, my son is a huge inspiration to me as well. So yeah, my family.

Mike Merrill:

All about family. That’s wonderful. Well, you deserve all the goodness you can get your hands on.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you so much for joining us today. I sure enjoyed this conversation, Letitia.

Letitia Hanke:

Me too.

Mike Merrill:

How do people get involved? If they want to donate or get involved with the LIME Foundation, what can they do to help?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, we surely can’t do this for free, so donations are great. We are a nonprofit, we’re a 501(c)(3), so there’s mentorship that’s available. Even if you’re out of area, you’re still able to be a mentor if you’re a contractor, so you can get ahold of us for that. And also donations are always welcome. We need to pay for those tools when we run out of the ones that were donated, we need their uniforms, just the instructors to go through the program. And we’re talking donations from $5 to $50 to $5,000. Everything matters. You’d go to our website, the limefoundation.org and LIME is linen-lime and Lime is my son’s name spelled backwards. My son’s name is Emil, E-M-I-L. And that’s how it became the LIME Foundation.

From my story of when I was younger, I was bullied. I grew up in an area that was predominantly white, and I was pretty much one of six black students in the whole school. So I was severely bullied. And so LIME Foundation kind of came out of what I went through as a kid. And my son started experiencing racism when he was about seven years old. And I started talking to him about what I went through as well, and how music is what really helped me get through those bad times. So you may not know, but part of LIME Foundation is also an arts and music program for disadvantaged youth that have gone through really hard times in their lives. And so when I wanted to name my non-profit something that meant the world to me, it was my son’s name spelled backwards because kids used to bully him and tease him and call him lime and names.

And so LIME is something that makes me always remember how important it is to be able to help others and to get people through their hard times in life. So LIME Foundation, at the limefoundation.org, you can see all of our videos, you can donate to us and help us and connect us with other contractors and people that just want to change lives.

Mike Merrill:

Beautiful, Leticia. Sure appreciate it. And there you are owning it again. You just keep owning stuff, don’t you?

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you so much for this opportunity. And hopefully someone will make contact with me.

Mike Merrill:

They will. I’m going to make sure of it. But we really appreciate the opportunity to shine a light on these important topics and your inspiring and incredible story of perseverance.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Mike Merrill:

All right, well, we’ll have to do it again down the road and check in on your progress, if that’s okay.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you so much.

Mike Merrill:

Great. Thank you. And thank you to listeners for joining Letitia and I today for our important conversation, we appreciate your listenership and we’re excited to bring you these great conversations and especially talk about things that are so important, our industry and the LIME Foundation and all these great and important details about how we can all dig in and help improve our industry. Again, our goal, the podcast is to bring you valuable conversations that can help you not only improve your business, but also your life.

Breaking Barriers and Paving the Way for Women in Construction

Breaking Barriers and Paving the Way for Women in Construction

The construction industry has made positive advancements in recent decades, especially when it comes to technology, engineering and safety. But one area in which the industry continues to lag is the makeup of its workforce. In 2019, women comprised only 10 percent of the construction workforce. And while there is some silver lining – including a growing number of women managers in the field – there’s more work to be done. Fortunately, there are leaders like Letitia Hanke paving the way for women to enter the field of construction and build successful careers.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Letitia talks about her journey starting out in roofing to now being president and CEO of ARS Roofing. She and host Mike Merrill discuss breaking into the business, navigating the industry and why mentorship is imperative for up-and-comers in construction – especially women who need to see themselves represented. They also talk about how construction leaders can ensure a level playing field for all.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Find a mentor (or become a mentor). It can be intimidating to start a new job or navigate a new industry, which is why mentorship is critical. Whether it’s booking time with business coaches or chatting with leaders in other industries, everyone can benefit from having trusted mentors to get advice from on navigating the peaks and valleys that come with a career. Mentorship can be especially valuable for women to build a sense of community in an industry they’re outnumbered by men nine to one in.
  2. Network, network, network. They say if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. Letitia advises networking and building relationships throughout the industry. By sharing best practices with peer groups and sharing notes, everyone can work together on making the industry better across the board.
  3. Prioritize expanding the construction workforce. Like every other industry, the construction space faces worker shortages and is in need of top talent. But leaders can turn this around by broadening who they recruit and conduct outreach to. By being inclusive of women, and workers of all ages and backgrounds, the construction industry will gain a competitive edge.

 

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Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we have a fantastic guests on that we’re really excited about, and that is Mrs. Letitia Hanke. And Letitia is the founder and CEO of ARS Roofing Gutters and Solar out of Santa Rosa, California. Letitia has been featured on Mike Rowe’s show, Returning the Favor. She’s also been on the Kelly Clarkson show. Super cool. And she was named Residential Contractor of the Year in 2020 by Roofing Contractor. But Letitia is a lot more than just a construction entrepreneur. She’s a founder of The LIME Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on helping young people in the Santa Rosa area discover real-world opportunities in the trades. Hello, Letitia and welcome.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Mike Merrill:

That’s good. Well, so how are you doing today?

Letitia Hanke:

Pretty Good. I’m super happy that it’s Friday.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, me too. That makes two of us. So you started ARS Roofing back in 2004. So we’re, gosh, 15, almost 20 years now, quite a while. And you’ve grown the company up to about 24 employees now. So how did you get started in construction and what inspired you to take the leap into business for yourself and especially roofing?

Letitia Hanke:

I wasn’t really expecting to get into roofing. I was in college, I’m a musician. I’m sure you can see the drums in the back. So I was actually in college at the time for music and performing and recording arts, but I was broke all through my college career and I needed a really good paying job. And when I was about 20 years old, I applied for roofing company, simply as the receptionist, answering the phones, filing. And I got connected at this wonderful company and started working there. And then after a few years, my boss decided that he wanted to retire and approached me about possibly buying his company a few years later. And I’m just like, “I’m not a roofer. I don’t run a roofing company, but I’m not a roofer.” And he’s like, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you.” And literally, few years later, after being in the field, I was able to get my own contractor’s license and started my own business.

Mike Merrill:

Every little girl wants to grow up and be a roofer. I know.

Letitia Hanke:

I knew that when I was nine years old, I wanted to be a roofer when I grew up.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. Love it. So now that you’ve been doing this for a while, what would you change or do differently if you could start over? What do you learn now that you maybe didn’t understand when you first got into this?

Letitia Hanke:

I was trying in the very beginning, I didn’t really know a lot what I was doing as far as being a business owner. I didn’t take a business class. I didn’t really know how to hire employees really, because I just, I got kind of thrown into it really. So in the beginning, I feel that if I had taken a few more business classes, learned a little bit more about finances, profit and loss. I learned all that later on in life when I’m just broke. And then I finally started learning a little bit more with my accountant about how to read my numbers, how to be able to do my job costing. And that helped me so much. So finance, learning a little bit about the numbers early on. I think that would have definitely helped me be in a better position years later.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that answer. I hear that a lot. That’s the biggest challenge. We’re blue collar people in the construction industry. And so the business side is often where maybe the gap could be that’s.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s right.

Mike Merrill:

So speaking of that, kind of leads into my next question. If you were going to give advice to somebody who’s listening that may have interest in starting their own business, or maybe they’re newly started, what are, aside from finance and job costing, what are some other tips that you would give those folks?

Letitia Hanke:

Don’t start with your own money. I remember, when I owned my house at the time when I first started, and I took a loan out on the house so I could have the money to get into there. And I’m just like, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing?” And then the market crashed and it was just crazy. And I’m just like, “I’m going to lose all my money.” And so I recommend, and I even tell a lot of people now when I talk to them about starting a businesses, there are different grants available out there for starting a small business. And then there’s other programs, like small business administration, the SBA loan, which is what I got to actually start my company. So it’s great to have that opportunity to actually have some seed money to start off with so that way you can have a little bit of cushion because that cushion becomes very important.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Construction is definitely not for the faint of heart. So I feel your pain. I actually grew up in construction, had a construction business for over a decade also before I helped start our software company. So definitely know the bumps and bruises that you can take along the way.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct. Ups and downs.

Mike Merrill:

So also you don’t fit the typical profile of a roofing contractor, I’ve been to tons of roofing conventions and a little bit different packaging. So what can you tell us about that?

Letitia Hanke:

Well when I first got into roofing, well, I don’t know any other African-American roofers at this time, especially here in California. But it was a big challenge for me, getting started as a female because I go to all these different male-dominated networking events and it’s all men in there and I’m walking in, Miss Roofer. And it was a very interesting experience in the very beginning because they just weren’t really accepting me into the industry because they’re just like, “Who is this lady that thinks she’s a roofer?” So it was challenging in the very, very beginning, but I pushed through.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Yeah. I was doing a little research and I did come up with some statistics. One of the stats was that only 10% of the people working in construction comprised of women.

Letitia Hanke:

Yep.

Mike Merrill:

And that’s overall. 87% of those, so 8.7 of the 10, were working in office positions. And then only two and a half were tradespeople.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s right. Yeah. And there’s 3% are roofers. And then I don’t even know what the percentage of African-American roofers. I haven’t even made it that far to research to see how many are actually women of color that are in this industry as well. So that’s a whole nother set of numbers.

Mike Merrill:

And kudos to you for pushing through whatever those barriers may have been, or may still be. Obviously you’re thriving, which is fantastic.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. It feels good.

Mike Merrill:

You have such a positive energy and a vibe and just a fantastic smile and I can feel your energy even through the monitor. So I appreciate it.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you. I’m excited to be here. Just talking about it makes me really happy.

Mike Merrill:

I could tell. So even within that, so one other statistic that was interesting that I’d to drill down on a little bit, is only 13% of ownership in construction are women. So what can you tell us about that number? And what’s been interesting to you in that experience?

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah, I think it’s just because it is a male-dominated industry that it’s intimidating. You have to have a really thick skin to really push forward and keep going in there, because everyone that you’re working with, most of the contractors that I’m working with are male or were in the very beginning. Now’s a little different, I’ve been encountering so many more women, finally getting into the trades. But in the beginning, it’s just very intimidating.

Letitia Hanke:

So if you’re not ready for that or prepared for that. I had really great mentors that were women that were in other industries like property management, but that’s really male-dominated as well. And those mentors helped me to just prepare myself for it. And they said, “You’re going to get this, this, this, and this, just ignore it and keep going.” And I just always listened to that advice that they gave me and I ignored it and kept going. So that’s what got me through. But some women and people in general just if they can’t handle that extra pressure, it just makes it that much harder for them to focus on what needs to get done. And I just focused, I stayed focused through the whole thing and that’s why we’re where we are today. So it’s been great.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. And I love that you mentioned mentors because I know that I hear that a lot. That’s a critical piece. What would you say about the mentors that helped you through that journey?

Letitia Hanke:

It was just that they’d been through it. So they were able to really kind of prepare me for it. And I have business coaches as well. I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing today without really great coaches. They’re both females that have just really gotten me, even my therapist, I have a life coach, a therapist, and a business coach. And they just really get me through that day to day and just keep me very, very focused. So that’s definitely something I definitely recommend is that, if you’re going to start a business or get into this kind of industry, you need someone that’s going to help hold you accountable, number one, but also someone that you’re going to be able to talk to when those times get really rough because you have peaks and valleys. So just remember that, there’s always those peaks and valleys.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that you mentioned that. I know when we look into the, even the professional sports arena or other areas, everybody has a coach, the best people in the world have that third person perspective that can help guide and direct. And I love that you’re tapping into that, even in business.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. For sure. It’s very important. They give amazing guidance on the time management, helping me with my time management and being able to have family time or just even just my own personal time instead of working all the time. So my coaches have helped me with that these years.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. As an entrepreneur, it’s a slippery slope, right?

Letitia Hanke:

You’re working all the time. My son is 18 and I’m just like, “Oh wait, weren’t you just a baby yesterday?” Because time just went by so fast. And when you’re working a lot, it’s just like, “Oh wow.” Before you know what your kid is 18 years old. So it’s crazy.

Mike Merrill:

As an entrepreneur of the business we’ll gladly take any minute you’ll give it. No question about it.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct.

Mike Merrill:

So one of the other statistics that I was able to dig up, 64% is the increase amounts from 2004 to 2019, of women-owned businesses. So that’s a big number and that’s great to see. Are you witnessing more of that? Are you seeing that in your peer groups or among the associations you’re involved in?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. And it’s so wonderful because I felt so alone. This was 17 years ago when I first started my own company and I felt so alone. The women that I would see at these networking events, they were usually the office … just your statistics said, they were the office managers or the receptionist of those construction companies, but they weren’t actually the contractors. So it was hard for me to really be able to connect. And so definitely over the last 10 years, for sure, so many more women contractors getting into restoration and painting and just all these grueling type industries in the field. And I gravitated right to them. And we connect with each other and talk about all the things that we sometimes can’t talk about to the males and we can relate to each other and really have that, we can rely on each other and help each other through those hard times. And I’ve just been seeing so many more women and I’m trying to get more women too, into construction as well. So it’s important.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. There’s this common theme I keep hearing and that is, networking and other people and associating and comparing notes, helping.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

How important has that been?

Letitia Hanke:

It’s been great because I couldn’t do this alone. If I attempted to do this alone, I would have been gone a long time ago. And networking and talking to other contractors, male or female, just talking to them about best practices. We’re not enemies. Even other roofers, I have other roofers that are my friends and we talk about best practices and how’s it going for you? And those things are very helpful for all of us. We don’t have to be enemies. We can work together and be able to create something even better if we’re actually working together to make the industry a little better. So that’s been very valuable for me to have that networking.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I absolutely love that. So it sounds things are really moving the right direction, which is just fantastic.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

There’s still probably some barriers and some challenges. Have you had some experiences where you feel you didn’t get the job or you didn’t get something because of these other unique things about you compared to the typical roofer?

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah. I touched on it a little bit, number one, being a female already is just one of those things where sometimes other contractors have disparaged me. They don’t even know who I am and they’re telling customers, “Oh, you don’t want to go with her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” But I’ve had to deal with it as being, not only a female, but also being African-American. As a female, when I first got into the industry, my very first encounter at a networking function, and back in the day when I first started 17 years ago, I just wanted to be one of the guys. I would wear my jeans and my boots. And I’m walking in, just try to be one of the guys.

Letitia Hanke:

And I was wearing this polo shirt with my logo on it. And we were at this networking event and one of the general contractors was hanging out with his buddies at the bar and I just kind of walk up and they see my logo and he’s like, “Oh, you worked for ARS roofing?” I’m like, “Oh no, I’m actually the CEO.” And he’s like, “From the kitchen to the rooftop, huh?” That’s what it was like for me in the very beginning, was that. That was my very first networking event, by the way, the first time I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. But being Black, experiencing the racism part of it, customers that don’t want to shake my hand.

Letitia Hanke:

I used to hide a lot in the very beginning. I would sign my name L.R. Hanke so they would think that I’m a man. I didn’t have my face on anything. And I remember a couple that I encountered, I went to their home to sign the contract, they didn’t know I was Black. And the wife just jumps when she answers the door. And I’m about to come in and her husband comes over and I’m just like, “Hey, great to see you.” And I put my hand out and he looks down at my hand, looks back at me and down in my hand again and he walked away. And I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, do I go inside this home or not?” And I go in, ready to sign the contract. And she’s like, “Oh, I think we’re not going to do the roof. We appreciate you coming by.”

Letitia Hanke:

And I’m just like, “Well, I’ve got the sample boards here you like asked for, to look at colors.” “Let’s just do that on your way out.” And I’m like, “Fine, no problem.” And I’m walking out the door and the homeowner guy, he comes back over and he says, “I just want to let you know, we have an alarm system on our house. And if anyone tries to break in, it’s going to go off really loud.” And that’s what he said to me as I’m walking out the door. And that’s the kind of stuff that I’ve had to overcome and get through.

Letitia Hanke:

But that day when that happened, that was about eight years ago. That changed my life forever because I literally went back to my office. And by the way, I told him, thank you very much for that information. I went back to my office, took his contract, put it through the shredder and then I completely rebranded my business. I put my face literally on everything. If you go to my website, my face is everywhere. And then I changed my name to Letitia Hanke and I kind of came out and in so many ways, because it was my way of being able to say, “Okay, I’m not going to hide anymore.” And my business literally catapulted from that day. Because now people wanted to support a Black-owned business and they wanted to support a woman-owned business. And that’s how we’ve climbed to the top. So I should be thanking them for that. But that’s what I’ve dealt with over the years.

Mike Merrill:

What a difficult, yet incredible experience. Good for you for being strong, doubling down.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, for sure.

Mike Merrill:

And owning it. I absolutely love that. I’m very inspired by that. What advice would you give to other construction leaders, especially women, that are trying to break into this? What can they do to be proud upfront and own that earlier?

Letitia Hanke:

It’s a great industry to be in. Construction, in general, but I love roofing. I think it’s just a really beautiful art form and anyone who wants to break into construction, you just need to believe that you can do it. I was 20-something years old when I first started training in roofing. And I didn’t think that that was something I would ever do. It was never on my mind to actually own a roofing company. I knew I wanted to own a business. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a business owner, I was a little entrepreneur when I was younger. But I just took that chance and took that risk. And then it all paid off in the long run. So it’s really just being willing to take that chance and that risk and trying it out. And if it fails, it’s okay. Being okay with failure is all right. And what if it doesn’t fail? What if it ends up being a multimillion dollar company? Just take that chance and that risk and go for it.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I love it. Good for you. I love how you, again, have continued to just buckle down and persevere and push through even among such ugliness and divisiveness that I can’t believe, even whether it was seven or eight years ago, or I can’t believe in the last 20 years that that could even happen.

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah. I know. It’s hard. You’re still there, but now it’s different because everyone knows I’m Black. So it’s great. I don’t really have that many issues anymore and they know I’m female right off. I think that was just a great decision to make. And now I don’t have that trouble. They know who I am when they call me. So it’s been great. It’s actually been a blessing. So again, I should be knocking on their door and thanking them for that.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. I love that. I hope they listen to this.

Letitia Hanke:

If you’re listening.

Mike Merrill:

So what advice would you give to companies that want to hire a more diverse workforce and want to help to improve those areas that we clearly still have room for improvement, as a country and as an industry?

Letitia Hanke:

I think it’s about changing your mindset. I know when I’m talking to contractors or talking about a contractor, a lot of times they say he, he, he, instead of they. It’s just starting to be more inclusive. There are a lot of females and young females that simply don’t know that they can be in this type of industry because we’re not telling them that. They’re not hearing that. And so we’ve got to change ourselves into always thinking that it’s a ‘he’ thing. It’s not a ‘he’ thing, it’s a ‘they’ thing. And if you want to have more diversity, you need to do more outreach. So diversity is in many different levels… 

As far as diversity goes, diversity is in many different ways. It’s not just your color or your race, but it’s also whether you’re hiring women, people young and old LGBTQ community, diversity is a big whole thing. And unless you’re reaching out to those communities to join your team, you’re going to always be seeing the same people. So I just always make a little extra effort to make sure that I have a very well diverse team at my company.

Mike Merrill:

Well, you’re a great example to many of the rest of us. And I appreciate you sharing that.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So many great efforts. You’re doing so much good work. I don’t know how you … Do you ever even sleep?

Letitia Hanke:

No.

Mike Merrill:

Doesn’t sound like it.

Letitia Hanke:

My coach helped me get sleep. My business coach. She’s like, “Okay. So at this time you go to bed and at this time you wake up in the morning and start work all over again.” Yeah. She helped me be able to actually go to bed at a regular normal people’s time so yeah, I have good work and home life balance now that I’ve had some really good coaches in my life.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. So with ARS, tell me, in 2021, what are you excited about? What’s next? What’s new?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh, 2021. What’s next is just getting through this pandemic, number one. I’m looking for that. I’m looking forward to getting back at my company, my team, we do quarterly events. So we do team camping trips and bowling nights. So I’m actually really looking forward to being able to do that again with my team, because I hope to just be able to be a family together. I have a really fun speaking engagement coming up for the 2020 Roofer of the Year. That’s coming up in Texas in September. Key note speaker, and that’s a really big thing for me because I’m actually going to be talking to my peers of roofers around the country. And that is huge for me through all these years to be able to do that. So I’m looking forward to it. I’m very nervous, at the same time, and like I said, just getting through this year is going to be a really great thing and definitely a goal of mine. So yeah, lots of good stuff happening this year, though.

Mike Merrill:

That’s exciting. This is ironic, but I was on with our marketing director earlier this morning. We are just signing up for that same event. So I’m planning on speaking as well.

Letitia Hanke:

Well, I will see you there.

Mike Merrill:

Maybe I can give you a post-COVID hug, we’ll see.

Letitia Hanke:

That would be so exciting. I do miss hugs.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, me too.

Letitia Hanke:

I’m a hugger. I’m sure the contractors are like, “Wait, she’s hugging me. What’s happening?”

Mike Merrill:

Right! You’re a hugger, a roofer…I see in the back, you’re also a drummer. It looks, or somebody is. What’s the deal with that?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. I come from a long line of musicians in my family. I mean, literally since I was nine, I’ve been playing drums since I was nine. I started off playing the trumpet when I was seven, piano since I was 12. It’s definitely my way of getting away. The stress that I endure on a daily basis, my getaway is writing music. Being able to, I play my drums up in church and I’ve been growing up in the church, playing the drums since I was really young. So it’s definitely something that I love to do. And music is a big part of my heart.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. That’s awesome. So is that the set that Mike Rowe gave to you?

Letitia Hanke:

The set that Mike Rowe gave to me is actually at the church still, because it’s huge. It’s a huge kit and I can’t fit it in this little room. This is my practice kit. But no, I left it there at the church, the way he presented them to me. So I get to play them when I’m there. So it was a huge surprise. Mike really just made me and my day it was a great thing that happened.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That was really, that was a tearjerker to watch, actually. I enjoyed watching that too.

Letitia Hanke:

Oh, I cry still. Every time I hand one of my students the tools, because at the end you saw all those tools that he gave to us and now we get to give them to our students from our academy. And it’s just, I cry every time. So yeah, it’s definitely one of my favorites.

Mike Merrill:

It’s awesome. It’s a DeWalt tool kit. And it looked, if I remember, it was about $65,000 worth of tools that he donated to your school?

Letitia Hanke:

Yep. And now they’re not having to spend 500, $600 for tools and it’s been really great.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, fantastic. Love to hear that.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So kind of wrapping up the conversation side of things, I wanted to ask you a few more personal questions. Nothing too crazy.

Letitia Hanke:

Okay.

Mike Merrill:

So in your life, your work-life balance, whatever it is, what’s been one of the key differentiators that’s helped you find success? I feel you’re successful. What do you think?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, prayer. Prayer has gotten me through some of the worst and the best times of my life through this career. But again, earlier I mentioned, I know I said it already, but it’s really been all my mentors. It’s been having someone to speak to and talk to about the business part and the life part and figuring out how to be able to have that fun and persevered through the best and the worst times.

Letitia Hanke:

Here, where I live in Santa Rosa, we’ve had so many fires, so many huge fires and just different opportunities for us to not persevere through it. And yet we kept getting through it. And my mentors and my coaches have really helped me be able to stay focused. It’s just about staying focused and having your mind on the prize. And for me, it’s just being able to keep my employees working and helping them take care of their families. And so that’s been the greatest thing that I can say right now, is just being able to have my prayer nights and talking, and listening and implementing the things that my coaches tell me to do. So that’s been definitely my saving grace.

Mike Merrill:

Ah, good for you. I’m a person of faith and prayers. Very helpful and necessary for me, too.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. Yes.

Mike Merrill:

I appreciate your sharing that. And really, again, being honest, you don’t think of, oh the roofer, what a blessing in my life, but when your roof’s leaking and somebody has to fix it, so you can get back to normalcy.

Letitia Hanke:

That is correct.

Mike Merrill:

Fires or-

Letitia Hanke:

Exactly, exactly. Wind storms, the list goes on. Yes. I mean, we come to their rescue and we’re there to take care of them and keep them, I say safe and dry. And that’s literally what we do. So yeah, we’re a very important part of construction, keeping that roof over their heads.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Well, speaking of, also another, I guess question that I ask everybody is, what is Letitia’s superpower? When you put your cape on.

Letitia Hanke:

Oh my gosh. I think it’s my passion. I have to say, I have passion for life, passion for people. That’s really, I think that, I know for sure, that’s the thing that keeps me going. If you’re going to call that my superpower. I genuinely care for others and want to see others succeed. I’ve had people that have come to my rescue and have passion to helped me through my hard times. And I just to pay that forward. And I think that’s really one of the, if you ask my friends and family, they would say that my passion is definitely, I would say my superpower. Because it’s what keeps me going and making sure that I can always help others whenever I can. So yeah, I would say that.

Mike Merrill:

You clearly have a kind heart to plug that passion into because that shows also.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you very much.

Mike Merrill:

All right. So, to wrap up, what would you hope that the listeners come away within our conversation today?

Letitia Hanke:

I’ve said a lot of stuff. I think the one thing is, and I may have mentioned it earlier, is just, don’t be afraid to take chances. In my life the risks and the chances that I’ve taken to just try it, to give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? That’s literally what I’ve been doing through this whole journey. And just listening to my gut and saying, “Okay, this is something that I could do.” And I really feel that if you just are willing to take that risk and take that chance, it could turn out to be something absolutely amazing. Absolutely amazing. And I can literally say that’s what’s happened for me.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Well, thank you, Letitia. You are such an inspiration and I just appreciate the opportunity to kindle a friendship. I hope we can see each other in September, and get a chance to talk again before that.

Letitia Hanke:

We will, for sure. 100%. I’m looking forward to it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. In fact, we’ve talked about this before. We’re going to record a second episode about Letitia’s foundation called The LIME Foundation.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

So stay tuned for that. We’re going to do that next and release that in a second episode so we can focus more on the great work she’s doing there.

Letitia Hanke:

Yay, thank you.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Thanks again, Letitia. We’ll talk to you again very soon.

Letitia Hanke:

Bye bye. Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

And thank you to the listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Letitia and I had today, please follow us on Instagram, @WorkMax_ and on LinkedIn @WorkMax. And give us a five-star rating and review on the podcast platform that you listened to this episode on. Those ratings and reviews are very helpful for us to continue to bring valued guests and these valuable conversations, to not only help you improve your business, but improve your life.

Driving Experimentation in Construction Through Creativity

Driving Experimentation in Construction Through Creativity

Experimental projects encourage creativity in the construction industry. At the forefront of this is Alfonso Oliva, Director of LERA+ – a spinoff of structural-engineering firm LERA. LERA+ pushes the boundaries of creativity with the principles of engineering by way of design optimization, software development, simulation and 3D modeling. The result? A jaw-dropping portfolio that includes some of the most iconic buildings and structural art in the world. 

As exciting as these projects may be, most construction firms don’t require such high levels of experimentation. However, there’s a thing or two to be learned about introducing new levels of creativity to projects and optimizing projects through technology, such as computational design and digital fabrication.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Oliva breaks down how structural optimization technologies are being utilized in construction projects across the country and how construction firms can incorporate creativity and artwork into their projects. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Experimental projects begin with research. There’s no shortage of cut-and-dry construction projects. But on the occasion a firm is allowed to think outside the box and experiment with new possibilities, the process begins with a big question mark: why not? From ideation, a team should analyze their concept as if they were in school, questioning and researching to determine what’s possible and understand the boundaries they can work within.
  2. Technology, creativity and engineering go hand-in-hand. According to Oliva, most anything is possible when seen through the lens of these three factors. A creative idea relies on engineering principles to understand its boundaries, while technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) solutions enable construction firms and consultancies to streamline projects and move them forward.
  3. Technology will always be second to human judgement. There’s no question technologies speed projects along and eliminate repetitive tasks, but what solutions like AI can never replace is human judgement. Whether it’s from an engineer, fabricator, architect or client, technologies help guide the way, but people will always understand the beauty and feel of a project in a way technology could never replace.

 

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Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime technologies and WorkMax. I am your host, Mike Merrill. And we have the opportunity today to have a wonderful guest, Alfonso Oliva, director at LERA Plus and an adjunct professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Alfonso is a highly regarded expert in structural engineering, as well as an installation artist and a skilled sculptor. Today, we’re talking about structural optimization technologies and how these things are being used today in construction projects across the country. Also, how construction firms are bringing a new level of creativity to structures around the globe. Hello Alfonso, thank you for joining us and welcome.

Alfonso Oliva:

Hi Mike, thanks for having me first of all and hello everybody to all the listeners.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, before we get too deep into the conversation part of the podcast, can you tell us a little bit about your background and share some of your history?

Alfonso Oliva:

Sure. I’m originally from Italy. I was born in the south of Italy, close to Naples and that’s where I started my studies. I started with surveying engineering, that is somehow related to what we’re talking about today. It’s still in the engineering field. Did a lot of that and then that’s where my engineering path that brought me here started. I signed up for civil engineering in my university in Cassino and I took my bachelor there. And then while when I signed up for the master, I had the opportunity to basically apply for a scholarship. That is what brought me here in New York. I applied for the scholarship. I won the scholarship and I came to New York and I basically started a mastery thing where you instruct engineering with a focus in structural engineering. Finished that master, went back to Italy to finish my other master in civil engineering. And then I came back to New York to start working.

And that’s when I started working on tall buildings. Doing that, I found a lot of processes that were repetitive in my opinion and I wanted to cut down and that’s where the optimization starts kicking in. I got interested in that. I started another master in computational design with focus on optimizations at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Completed that while I was working. I was applying those concepts there. I moved to another company, it’s LERA, where I’m working today, started the LERA Plus group, thanks with the support of the partnership. And then while at LERA, since we are a research group and I’m passionate about research, I started a PhD in computational design with focus on sculpture design. As matter of fact, LERA Plus today focuses on the arts. We’ve talk more about that but of course also works very closely with LERA on tall buildings, museums and all the likes.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, you must love school.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes. Research and learning more about processes is one of my passions.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s amazing. I was looking on your LinkedIn profile and it just kept reading education, education, more education. You’re working on a doctorate degree now, is that correct?

Alfonso Oliva:

I actually completed my doctoral degree in January this year.

Mike Merrill:

I didn’t see that congratulations! 

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. Maybe I didn’t update my LinkedIn profile but that’s done. And I think I’m done with school for now, I think.

Mike Merrill:

Congratulations. You still have long black flowing hair. There’s no gray, so you’ve done something right.

Alfonso Oliva:

There are some, I’m not going to get close to the camera but there are some.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well again, thank you for joining us today. You’re certainly very, very experienced in some pretty exciting projects. I know that LERA Plus has worked on such buildings as the world trade center, freedom tower, buildings, two, three and four in New York City and a lot of other iconic structures. What projects are most fascinating to you that you’ve worked on to date?

Alfonso Oliva:

Oh, very good question. A difficult question, honestly because LERA works on a lot of interesting projects and I think that’s what I love about the company. It’s very diversified. We work from anything that goes from super tall buildings all the way down to the design of a chair. We span across all of that. It’s a very interesting question. I must say that one of the projects that was the most fascinating in terms of complexity yet simplicity, is definitely the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. It was a very interesting project. We went through many different phases. It was actually supposed to happen in Chicago and then the project was relocated but the complexity technically was definitely due to the geometry itself, right. It was a big challenge for us but also a big, exciting moment. We were able finally to put everything together, to put all the research effort and the computational processes, with the longstanding experience of LERA into engineering. What we did here is that we developed new systems. We developed new piece of softwares or extension for software to support three different processes.

One was the engineering processes. One was the beam process. And the other one of course, was the computational process. The computational process was sometimes bridging across these two. Sometimes it was bridging across the architectural and the engineering and sometimes was bridging across the engineering and the construction. It was a complete process, a complete optimization of the process. And I must say that the final result was very exciting for the whole team. You need of course, in this kind of projects and in this kind of advanced workflows … That’s how I like to decide to define them. You need highly trained people. And that’s exactly what made this successful. The highly trained people are not only within the LERA Plus group but they extend within LERA. We have experts. The engineering side understands what we are doing at LERA Plus. The people in the beam department understand what we are doing in the LERA Plus department. And that’s what makes that optimization of the workflow successful.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s very fascinating. I can’t help but think when I hear you speak about this, the details and the level of involvement of so many parties, it sounds like very little happens on accident in these types of structures that LERA Plus is working on. Is that right?

Alfonso Oliva:

Definitely, definitely. That’s one of the main benefits, I will believe. You cannot blindly rely on what the computer is doing, if we want to define it like that. Meaning, you cannot just drop an algorithm in the process and hope that the algorithm is actually doing something for you but you need to closely monitor what’s happening and have your engineering judgment applied to it. If you do that, then what happens is that you are actually benefiting from that process and you get to a closer level of detail, just to get to your question, right because all the sudden, you save all the time that you would have put into what the algorithm is doing and you can focus even more on the detail. You can be, “Okay. Now, I can trust this algorithm. I’ll keep monitoring. I’ll make sure that it’s doing what I want but I can also look closely at what it’s doing at another detail because I have more time.”

Mike Merrill:

What I’m hearing is the creative genius, as well as the applied understanding of that design, is always a critical or secret part of the equation. Would that be correct?

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly. There is always a mix of that, the engineering judgements will never be left alone or it will never be taken off from this. It’s actually a very strong integral part of it. And that’s why we were able to create all these processes and melt all these different group of people together.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it’s amazing. I’ve traveled the world in different places and seen many of the buildings actually that LERA Plus has been involved in. When I go to the website, I think I probably saw at least a hundred and would lose count. And many of them are familiar and very infamous buildings and structures. What aside from just working on these types of projects, sets LERA Plus apart from other companies?

Alfonso Oliva:

Oh, interesting question, Mike. I think I should probably say collaboration and I know that this word might sound a little bit simple for such a complex question but it’s exactly what it is. And allow me to mention a couple of examples here, LERA Plus … Basically, I am not LERA Plus, right. What LERA Pluses is, is a set of people coming together and creating that research environment. We have a lot of internal collaboration.

I’ll give you an example. One of the co-founder of LERA Plus, Nidhi Sekhar, she’s been with me since the very beginning of everything. It’s accomplished a whole other series of tasks, right but that joins very much with what I’m doing. And then there are people in the engineering field. One of them being Antonio Rodriguez that has been leading our virtual reality research platform that also plugs in into what we are doing very tightly and keeps reinforcing that group. That’s one of the reasons why LERA Plus today, it’s still alive and it’s actually expanding. As I mentioned before, now we are heavily involved into the arts and we are designing … We are expanding our business into sculpture design, both for the engineering optimizations and computational design.

Mike Merrill:

Alfonso, tell us, how do experimental projects encourage creativity throughout the construction industry as a whole?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. Experimental projects are the key. This ties directly back to the first observation that you made on me basically being constantly in school since I was born. And the reason for that is because I had … This was like more like 10 years ago or 12 years ago I should say, when I started working in New York. I felt that it’s very difficult to do your job, meaning design your structures and at the same time, keep that research going, right. That was my reason to continue my studies back then, right.

All I’m trying to say here is that experimental projects are nothing else than an extension of the projects that we do in school, right. It’s basically our need for basically feeling that something is new, that something it has not been done. And it’s also a big question mark. Why not? Most of the research that we do, they … Some of them actually, I should say, I don’t want to say most of them but some of them, they actually do not have an aim, right. We are shooting in the dark. The reason for that is because we want to also consider things that over the years has been considered not good, impossible, not efficient in the field. We try with a small percentage or with a bit of the percentage of our research, to basically try to reinvent processes. Expand the projects that are … I would say, they are part of the foundations of the whole innovation process.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. We’re at a software company here at WorkMax and I know that from time to time, we’ll have what we call a no bad ideas meeting, just to reset the stage and to get the creative juices flowing again. And it sounds like you learned that from your studies and in school but that actually gets applied practically when you are out in the field, working on these real projects.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, definitely. Everything that basically goes into the research projects. All the effort that goes there, it is not wasted. And we actually get that or part of that, that’s the beauty of all the different process that we develop. And we basically apply that in a project that actually gets built at the end of the day.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I keep thinking of the … I don’t know the exact quote but Albert Einstein basically talking about the thousand times of failing was learning a thousand times it wasn’t going to work. He was that much closer to the actual end result that he was after.

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly. Yeah. Failing is also always going to happen. And it’s a good thing. I think having that emotional roller coaster through a research project to a design process makes everything more interesting, right. At the end of the day, we are humans and we want to be connected also with the human side of feelings. And that’s what motivates us the most.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. What’s fascinating about what you’re saying to me, is I’m thinking of the fashion industry and we’ve all probably seen these shows where there’s people in these extravagant costumes or outfits walking across the catwalk and I’m thinking, “There’s no way on earth anyone’s ever going to wear that in public.” It looks crazy, it doesn’t look beautiful maybe, right.

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

The art industry and the comparison there, maybe with what you’re doing.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah, definitely. It’s exactly what you were mentioning before, your no bad idea meeting, right. Nothing is a bad idea, as long as you think it’s a good idea. And the reason for that is because over the years, we’ve built all these barriers. We built all these barriers that we are living within, especially in our industry. And the processes that we have to date, they don’t allow you to look beyond those because you need to move fast through that path but if you break out of that path for a little bit, just to explore what’s out there … And maybe it’s a jungle, maybe it’s difficult to see what’s going on because it’s unexplored. And it has been that for many years but if you start looking through, poking through, looking at all the beautiful trees and all the things that are around, you understand that there is way more. And then eventually, you can reconnect that to the original path and integrate it within the design process. I think that’s what’s beautiful about innovation.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I agree. And even on the technology front, when I think back to when we started in business back in 2003, they had PDAs that were PalmPilots and that was a smart device. That was the smartest device that existed. And then Blackberry came on and now iPhone and Androids and the iPads. And I’m so thankful for these innovators that have pushed technology to where they’re able to land today. And I feel like in your line of work, it’s a very similar situation.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes. We hope very much so and we have done … To date, I believe we have brought a lot of contributions to many different fields within our industry, that of course made me and all the people in the group and other people in the company very happy, even about contributing in a different way to a project or to a solution, to a design solution or anything like that. And we always strive to make things very, very perfect and processes even more complex, to then deliver something that is more optimized the next time and then more optimized and more optimized.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I’m sure there are many firms that have learned from designs and approaches to solving challenges that LERA Plus has undertaken but also at the same time, I’m sure that LERA Plus has learned from other engineering and design firms to again, move the greater good further down the innovation path.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, that’s a very good point. I also believe that there has been … Of course, as in any other business, a little bit of a lack of cross collaboration between different firms. Of course, I do understand the business point of that but I must say that at least in the last … Probably more in the last five to six years, there are many groups and many collaboration groups. I’ve collaborated with other engineering firms and what brings everything together, is actually the computational side, that I think it’s a beautiful thing because I would love to see more engineering firms collaborating together, more architectural firms collaborating together in order to advance the whole industry as a whole. And I think that happened somehow in the tech industry. That’s why they moved way faster than of course, what we are moving. We’ve been in a period of stall for a long time. And now, we are moving a little bit faster but we are still beyond, I believe.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And you’re mentioning on the technical side, it makes me think of artificial intelligence or AI. I know LERA Plus is doing some exploration in that area. What exactly is going on there with LERA Plus and also the industry with AI?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. As we mentioned before, we’re always up to some research project, this being one of them. This is a research project that is led by Nidhi Sekhar. She’s been doing a great job at it. It’s of course in the early stages. It’s tough to say where it’s going but we see potential applications within the fields. What we are very hardcore about in terms of artificial intelligence, is that we strongly believe that it will not replace humans, right. That’s something that people have been mentioning in the past and everything. We are not on that train of thought.

The way in which we want to use artificial intelligence, is to basically overcome or even implement those tasks that now are impossible, right. For instance, if you have to do 3000 iterations of a process to match something, you wouldn’t do that. You will then basically get a human go through that pain for such a … Let’s say, little reward. That will be a common applications and actually, one of the research projects as we say, that we are releasing in our new newsletter, where Nidhi Sekhar has been working on recognizing a sketch, literally enhanced sketch and then going to a data set of thousands of different sculptures and matching that sketch with existing sculptures. The reason for that is because we want to motivate people in understanding that anything is doable. Anything has value. Your sketch, your scribble that you have here, could be something. Get inspired from these other sculptures that have been built in the past and keep going.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Repurposing the work that somebody already did.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

That’s brilliant. When we talk about AI, one of those areas in design engineering is of course 3D modeling. What are the benefits of 3D modeling versus 2D and how is the industry utilizing that today?

Alfonso Oliva:

Big topic here. I feel like we historically and up-to-date actually, believe it or not, that it’s still a lot of 2D going on, right. We build things out of 2D drawings but the fabrication process, it’s actually … It has advanced way more, right. We are using robotic arms. We are using all sorts of beautiful machinery that think in 3D, right. What’s going on? Where is the missing link? Why are we not advancing? If you look at the complete workflow from the design, all the way to the publication, what it’s missing in the middle. And that is something that actually I’ve been tackling with a group at Autodesk.

I’m part of the executive North America committee with Autodesk, with another series of brilliant engineers in the field, from all the different companies. And that’s where I’m talking about cross collaborations and seeing that happening more and more and we recently actually released a white paper on this topic. How do we go in the middle of the workflow and we change how things are done? For instance, if the engineer carries their design in 3D up until it hands that over to the fabricators, how do we transfer that 3D knowledge and all that data, right because that’s all there is, it’s a bunch of numbers. How do we transfer that directly to the fabricator without going through 2D drawings and the fabricators having to rebuild a 3D out of that. It sounds like a very simple task but it’s not that simple. And it’s something that as a committee, we are very strongly pushing in the field and we hope it’s going to be implemented soon.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I had a chance to read through that white paper and it was fascinating to underscore, like you said earlier in the conversation, that human element is still a critical part to the design process.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, definitely. The human element, as I mentioned, even before … For instance, in the case of AI, it’s always going to be there. You need that engineering judgment, you need that fabricator judgment and all of that. That’s the integral part. All that you want to do, is to basically automate those repetitive tasks or as I used to call them and I still called them, boring tasks that nobody wants to do of course.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I understand that. And I’m sure again, a lot of the things that you’re sharing are very technical but when you go and see a beautiful building that has unique or almost seemingly impossible characteristics from an engineering standpoint, how can this structure be? And yet it is so beautiful. And I know that there is a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes. You’re talking about maybe even hundreds of people to bring a project like that to life and allow us to have the opportunity to enjoy those beautiful structures.

Alfonso Oliva:

Definitely, definitely a lot of people behind that and a lot of coordination.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think that’s the other point with … I used to run track in junior high school or you’re on a relay and you’re handing the baton off from one person to the next and you have to have a proper handoff in order to continue to execute and achieve your destination or your goal. Kudos to you and your team at LERA Plus for continuing to collaborate in that way so successfully to bring these buildings to life.

Alfonso Oliva:

Thanks. Thanks for that.

Mike Merrill:

One of the things that I keep thinking also, is where can the listeners learn more about some of these topics? Are there any publications or forums or places that you can point them to understand more about what you’re talking about?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes. Well, the first place, it’s our website of course, LERAPlus.com or LERA.com. You’ll find a mix of information there. I’ve done a lot of speaking and talks in the past that are available online. One of them that I did for the center for architecture, it’s an interesting one because it talks about the intersection of engineering technology. How to live in between the works and how to apply one field to the other and vice versa. If you go … Yeah, on the center for architecture website, you’ll definitely find the talk. And of course, we are also on social media, like Instagram and Facebook. Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Beautiful. What are some speaking engagements or opportunities you have coming up where you’re sharing more of your insights?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. As I mentioned, over the years I have been speaking a little bit in many different venues. I’m very thankful for people inviting me to that, both in the US but also internationally in Europe and in Asia. And this year of course, it’s a little bit different because everything is online. We might resume maybe towards the end of the year. Some people have been contacting me and they’re planning an in-person event. That will be very nice.

Yes, there are different opportunities in Europe that we are still working on in consolidating. There is one that is set in place here in the United States. In November, there is going to be the CODA Summit it’s called, it’s a conference that is focused heavily on art and the CODAworx group. It’s a very interesting group because they aim on connecting designers, artists in this case, people that are in charge of public works and then technical people, so engineering and fabricators and so forth. It’s a venue that has it all, this event is going to be in November. If you look for CODA Summit November, you’ll find it. And we are speaking there. We’ve been speaking there for the past two years. It has been a great experience and you meet a lot of interesting people.

Mike Merrill:

That’s wonderful. We’ll be sure to link that in the show notes so that the listeners can have a chance to check that out. I have to also wonder, what … I know that you work with different software products or solutions companies like Autodesk and other software vendors. What are some of the tools that you utilize in order to accomplish the great work that you’re doing at LERA Plus?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. We work with many different software in the company. Part of the workflow or the … Let’s call it the typical workflow, even though we do not have a typical workflow. I just want to stress that out. A lot of the companies that we work with, of course, they are McNeel, that is on the Rhino and Grasshopper side. And then of course Autodesk, very heavily involved on a lot of their softwares. The ones that we use the most are Revit and Dynamo. And the reason why I’m mentioning these softwares is because we’ve done a lot of custom development for plugins for the softwares or external softwares that link to it. And these wouldn’t have been completely doable without the collaboration with them, meaning getting in touch with people at Autodesk, getting in touch with people at McNeil and understanding how to do all of that. They’ve been helping us a lot on that enabling new features for us to expand our tools.

And then on the structural side, we basically use a lot of different products. We use CSI products that are the standards in the US, like SAP2000 and ETABS. And then we also use other softwares that are more common in Europe, like SOFiSTiK and all of that but the idea behind it is to always expand on it, right. There is some limitations that come with the softwares. The reason for that is because the developers cannot, of course, put in a software every single function that any company might need, right. They have a foundation, a super strong foundation that you can start from but then the key is to be able to expand and branch off and create your little workflow from it.

And that’s what we do. We’ve been doing that internally. Three years ago, we actually started a software developer company within LERA, it’s called Supple Technologies. The partnership and I’m also a partner of it, Antonio is also partner of it and with that, we’ve been actually serving clients. We’ve been developing software, we’ve been developing plugins for clients to streamline their workflows. It has been very interesting because we served architects, engineers, artists, you name it.

Mike Merrill:

What I’m hearing from all of this and what I love is that I’m getting a very clear sense that the arts are alive and well, they are not dead. Despite all this incredible technology and algorithms and integrations and 3D modeling and AI and all these things, the human element is still present in every aspect of the design and engineering process. And it shows, it shows.

Alfonso Oliva:

Definitely, yes.

Mike Merrill:

Rounding out just on more of a personal level. I just wanted to ask a few questions. What’s one of the processes or skills that you’ve developed over the years that has served you well in your experience?

Alfonso Oliva:

Oh, very interesting questions. And since we are in the personal one and I’m very much of a person I should say, I learned over time to actually believe in my ideas. I think that’s a good answer to this question. I must say that at the beginning of my career, I was a little bit intimidated by that because of that part I was talking about before. I was confined within those two worlds. And I was like, “No, I need to do this in order to get there.”

And then at some point, I just naturally diverged and I went into the jungle that I was talking about before I got lost but I had a lot of fun in that jungle. And then eventually, I got back on the path with a lot of new things. Yeah, I think believing in yourself is the best tool.

Mike Merrill:

Wonderful. And I was just going to ask what’s your personal super power for Alfonso? Is that the same thing or is there something else?

Alfonso Oliva:

Well, part of it it’s to basically keep your interests alive. I’m also an artist, as you mentioned before. My gallery represents me. It’s not my gallery but the gallery that represents me is in Chelsea. I make sure to keep my art alive, my own art of course, it’s all computational art. It’s a bunch of algorithms creating things. And that’s definitely what keeps me motivated and keeps me going and also gives me ideas for my work at LERA.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. What’s a challenge that you overcame earlier on in your career that you’ve been able to work past and build into become a strength?

Alfonso Oliva:

Huh. A big challenge, it has been to … I must say because a lot of people are going to relate to this, a big challenge it has been, “How do I keep doing things differently when I have to complete this task, right?”

And the easy way to answer that is through an example. When I started working in New York City, I was working on tall buildings. And as I mentioned, I was doing a lot of repetitive tasks and I was like, “I want to automate this but I have no time.” … Because the time that I have is the time to accomplish that task and the way in which I overcome that challenge, that I invested into something, right. I started creating a list little by little, all these algorithms that while I was working on my machine, would run on another machine and accomplish the same task over and over again and starting optimizing it. That’s how I started basically understanding and trying to overcome that, right. The way I should answer your questions is through validation. Meaning, you have to invest some time. Nothing comes with nothing. The first part is going to be an investment to validate something but then in order to overcome the little gap that you want to fill, you can basically validate your option and step over and keep going.

Mike Merrill:

You literally cloned yourself, is that right?

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly, exactly but the other version was smarter than me. That’s what I found out. And that’s why then I kept going with the other version.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. That’s great. Well, the other version won’t get gray hair either, right.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

Well, that’s awesome. To wrap up, what is one takeaway that you would hope the listeners would have at the end of our conversation today?

Alfonso Oliva:

I think one of the takeaways is that remember … Always remember that at the end of the day, no matter which kind of task you are completing, if it’s for work or for a project or for research or anything, we are humans. And we need to respect ourselves for that. Don’t stress too much if things are not working because some things are meant not to be working, right, for you to teach something. And keep believing in what you’re doing somehow down the path is going to bring you some gain, even research that you consider dead, believe it or not, after three years, you’re going to be able to take a little piece of that research and apply it to something that you’re doing. At the end of the day, just keep believing in yourself, keep believing in your knowledge and in your ideas. And eventually, they will lead to something down the road.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. Never give up and learn to pivot, is what I’m hearing.

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly, yes.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, thank you, Alfonso. This has been a treasure for me to spend some time with you today. I really appreciate having you on the podcast.

Alfonso Oliva:

Thank you very much for having me and I’ll see you soon.

Mike Merrill:

All right, thank you. And thank you to the guests also, for listening to the Mobile Workforce Podcast today. If you enjoyed the conversation that Alfonso and I had, we ask you to please give us a rating and a review and also share the podcast episode. If you want to learn more about what we’re doing here at WORKMAX, you can follow us on LinkedIn at WORKMAX and also on Instagram, @WORKMAX_. And again, we sure appreciate the five star rating and reviews and the sharing of these episodes with your colleagues and friends. We, of course in the end, want to help you not only improve your business but your life.

Why Construction Safety and Mental Health Go Hand-in-Hand

Why Construction Safety and Mental Health Go Hand-in-Hand

Mental health is a subject that isn’t broached often in the world of construction, but according to Stuart Binstock, CEO and President of CFMA, it needs to be. Binstock is on the board of trustees for the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP). CIASP’s goal is making people aware that the problem exists in the United States and around the world with groups similar to CIASP. Based on recent trends, the group’s work has never been more critical. 

In 2018, the Center for Disease Control found that construction had the highest suicide rate of any industry in the United States. During one presentation Binstock gave, he asked a group of construction companies, “How many of you have had a suicide on the job or are aware of an employee who has died by suicide?” Two thirds of attendees raised their hands. This is an alarming reality, but it’s one the construction industry can change.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Binstock shares why people need to talk about mental health, how the construction industry can prioritize mental health in their company cultures and where to find the resources to educate employees on these matters. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Construction workers are highly susceptible to mental health struggles. In the construction industry, the majority of the workforce is caucasian men between the ages of 20 and 50 – a group considered at high risk for suicides. This correlation demonstrates why more construction companies need to recognize the problem so they may take steps to protect their employees.
  2. It’s time to invest in a culture of caring and well-being. The construction industry’s “Macho Man” stereotypes are destructive and detrimental. These include things like perpetuating the tough guy mentality and ignoring alcohol and substance abuse. The most critical assets a construction company has are its people. Investing in safety tools such as needs analysis, integration checklists and toolbox talks are steps in the right direction to keep everyone safe – but it’s also important to allow space for people to open up if they’re struggling with something.
  3. There are free resources to navigate mental health concerns in the workplace. Construction workers are not mental health experts but they can learn to notice the warning signs and take steps to help colleagues who are having a hard time. CIASP’s website, www.preventconstructionsuicide.com, provides free resources on how to navigate mental health concerns in the workplace.

 

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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 president and CEO of CFMA, Stuart Binstock. And Stuart is highly regarded as an expert in construction finance. I’ve known Stewart for many years, and we’ve worked together within the CFMA organization. I’m really excited to have him on today. But we’re going to take a little bit different spin on things, and shine a light on a topic that’s a little bit different from construction finance today.

Mike Merrill:

We’re going to talk about a topic that Stuart and I both feel like is probably under-discussed, or not discussed often enough, and that is mental health. So Stuart actually leads the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. So, we’re grateful to have him on today to have this important conversation and discussion. And welcome today, Stuart. We’re excited to have you.

Stuart Binstock:

Thank you, Mike. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. Before we get into the deeper part of the conversation, could you just share with the listeners a little bit about your background and what CFMA is?

Stuart Binstock:

Sure. So, CFMA is a national organization. We’re an individual member association. We have somewhere right now between 8,500 and 9,000 members, in 99 chapters around the country. Our membership is composed primarily about 65% of folks on the finance side of construction companies, and about 35% of companies, folks like sureties, CPAs, software companies that want to work for those companies. So, it’s a very powerful synergy that we bring everybody in the construction industry together to talk about construction finance.

Stuart Binstock:

I’ve been with CFMA now for about 10 years. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over those last 10 years. We’ve gotten… probably increased membership by about 20 to 30%, and probably, in terms of revenue, about the same. But perhaps something I’m most proud of is that we’ve increased member value, I think significantly, over the last 10 years, through a myriad of things that we’ve done. But I think our members get a lot of value for spending less than $500 for being a member of both the national organization and a local chapter.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great, Stuart. Thank you for that Matt ground. And we, as an organization, at About Time Technologies and Work Max, we are involved every year. And we go to the events. We plug in. We rub elbows and talk to folks that are members of CFMA, and just a lot of value that the members get and come away with. And I notice they always come back every year. Nobody ever seems to leave CFMA. They just seem to keep coming.

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I think folks like you have really… We are kind of the sweet spot for companies like yours, that you… I mean, you essentially… I hear this from companies all the time. We need to be at the CFMA annual conference. It’s the most important event of the year for us. Because that’s where the decision-makers that will decide on our particular product, we can find them all in one place.

Stuart Binstock:

And yes, we have a very dedicated group of members, Mike. It always kind of amazes me. Our founder, David Casey just did an interview with our chair, Pam Hepburn. And he said… She asked him, she said, “What is the one thing that kind of surprises you still to this day?” And he poignantly said, “I think it’s the passion of the leadership, the volunteer leadership of CFMA, that has never waned. And in fact, it almost seems to have increased over the years.”

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I can attest to that. I see it, like you said. Every year, at the national conference, we go to the local chapter conferences. And we just… We do get excited every time we get to get involved with the CFMA event. The biggest surprise to me is how plugged in, like you said, the passion, but also how companies are willing to share best practices with one another. Even though they may be competitive in some environments, they still work together and try and raise the level of everyone’s performance together.

Stuart Binstock:

Well, the best example I can give you of that, Mike, is something we… on our website, we call the Connection Cafe. And it’s an opportunity for members to raise questions to members and get them asked… answered by the 8,500 to 9,000 members. It’s incredible the amount of information that our members share with one another. They are competitors, and they’re not going to tell them the secret sauce and any thing that makes their company particularly different, but they will share information for instance, on ERP systems.

Stuart Binstock:

I got to tell you, our members can be brutally honest and make comments that I’m sure makes some of the ERP whince a little bit, but it’s a very open and honest conversation. I think it’s… By itself, its worth the CFMA membership is just plugging in and looking at the connection cafe on a daily basis. And I think you’d get just… It’s kind of like a CFO one-on-one on that listserv.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I can attest to that. I’ve been in some of the chat threads where there’s 50 or a hundred or more comments back and forth. And you got people from Ohio locking arms with somebody in California, and Virginia, and Florida. And people are weighing in from everywhere and, again, sharing what they’ve learned so that everybody doesn’t have to go through those speed bumps all the time.

Stuart Binstock:

Yep. Yep.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well again, highly encourage everybody to check out CFMA. That’s Construction Financial Management Association. The annual conference is amazing. They’ve got a lot of online events, monthly webinars. We love being involved. But more importantly for today, as much as we love CFMA, and I’m sure you get to talk about it all the time, we really wanted to shine a brighter light on something that is a little bit more important and a challenge in our society today. And I think my question is, how did Stuart Benstock, this financial guy, get involved in suicide prevention?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, first of all, let me make a minor correction. I think you may have said something about me leading the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. CFMA started CIASP, but we are very pleased that we have joined in with many other organizations to now create an entity that’s separate and apart from CFMA. I’m on the board of trustees of the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. So I don’t want to take credit from leading it, nor do I want to get the blame in case we did something wrong. So, I just want to clarify that. But the answer to how a finance guy got involved in suicide prevention, I think it comes with just one simple phrase, and that’s people make a difference. And about five years ago, one of our members, a very beloved and cherished member, a guy named Cal Byer, came forward and penned an article with a doctor who deals with this issue, Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, and they wrote an article about suicide prevention.

Stuart Binstock:

Our publisher of our magazine, Kristy Domboski, came into me. And Kristy said, “Stuart, we just got this article on suicide prevention. What do we do about that?” Kristy and I looked at each other quizzically. We usually talk about tax loss, succession planning. Suicide prevention is not in our wheelhouse. And we both decided, “Well, let’s give it a whirl and see what happens.” And we had no idea what was going to happen from that article. But from that article, there was just an incredible outpouring, particularly on the Connection Cafe, I might add, of members who were impacted by suicide, by a family member, or a friend, or a coworker. And we found out that this issue was very real and resonated with our members in ways we never envisioned.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, that is very profound. And I can only imagine. I think in society today, we’re doing a better job of raising awareness. But I think this impacts all industries. But in construction, specifically, it’s really a lot of stress and pressure. And just because me as an individual may not be going through something doesn’t mean that your crew member to the right or to the left of you isn’t.

Stuart Binstock:

Well, that’s true. And I will say, first of all, and I think it’s important to say, this is not just a nationwide problem. This is a worldwide problem. We’ve talked to folks in Australia and the UK who have programs like CIASP in the construction industry. Frankly, they’ve done a better job than we have in focusing on this. And that’s really our mission in CIASP is awareness, is making people aware that this problem exists. And of course, it exists nationwide way beyond the construction industry.

Stuart Binstock:

It is a problem that youth have. I’ve been told… The quote I’ve been given many times as 132 veterans die by suicide every day…

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Stuart Binstock:

… which is a startling and very overwhelming and awful number. But it is a nationwide problem. The problem for us in construction is that… The CDC did a report… Center for Disease Control did a report in 2016, and later in 2018, and found out that construction had the highest suicide rate of any industry in the United States. That was a real punch in the gut for all of us. And I think that it was only a punch in the gut, but it made us realize how important this initial initiative was and how important it was to carry it on.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Well, I know CFMA is always involved in good causes, charities, other things, but it’s really very… I mean, I just have reverence for the fact that they have put this organization together and taking this initiative, because I do know… I come from the industry. And I do know and understand that this is a real problem. And it makes me wonder, I don’t know if you know the answer, but who seems to be the most at risk of this plague, really, is what it is?

Stuart Binstock:

We look at the workforce, the labor workforce. And that’s really where this lies. By the way, I want to just mention one thing before I forget. I do have a opportunity to go out and speak to an awful lot of groups. And one of the groups I spoke to a year or two ago now… Given COVID, I forget when it was, probably close to a year and a half ago now. And it was the largest construction companies in the United States and all of their safety directors. They have their own kind of particular small group, about 30 to 50 of the largest construction companies in the United States. And I am a lawyer by training. And you’re always taught never to ask a question that you don’t know the answer to. But I went out on that plank and I decided to go ahead and ask the question.

Stuart Binstock:

So, at the beginning of my presentation, I asked them, “How many of you have had a suicide on the job or are aware of an employee who has died by suicide?” Two thirds of those companies raised their hands. Once again, that was also just an incredible punch in the gut to see how prevalent this is. But let me get back to answering your question. So, white men from the ages of 20 to 50 are kind of the group that died by suicide the most. And if you know anything about the workforce, the construction industry, it is largely white men ages 20 to 50. So, male dominated industries tend to have more suicides. And Caucasians die by suicide more than others. And we are unfortunately, primarily, and hopefully this will change, but largely a Caucasian workforce. But there’s also kind of the nature of the work that has impacted this and explains, in part, why suicide is so high in the construction industry.

Stuart Binstock:

First of all, there’s this kind of tough guy mentality, kind of stoic. I’m not going to tell you if anything’s bothering me there. And because of that… There are a fair number of injuries on work sites. This is not sitting at your desk. You all know that. And so, people have pain issues. And unfortunately, sometimes, they use opioids. Sometimes, they get in problems with opioids. And opioids and suicide are very, very much related. There’s also kind of the isolation when… Sometimes, a company has a project and it’s out of town, so people will travel. And they’ll be out of town. And they’ll be alone for months on end. And that’s not good for anybody’s mental health. There’s project layoffs, the end of the season kind of way offs. So, there’s kind of the financial stress that, that causes. There’s sleep deprivation due to shift work.

Stuart Binstock:

Unfortunately, there’s a tolerant culture for alcohol and substance abuse. And then, probably, some people say the biggest impact is access to lethal means. I’m not sure it’s fair to say there’s a gun culture in the construction industry, but it might be an accurate statement to make. And the more access you have to lethal means, the more able people are… What experts tell me is sometimes this is a spur of the moment decision that somebody makes.      And in that spur of the moment, if you have access to lethal means, you’re probably going to be more successful in doing and dying by suicide than others that don’t have access to those lethal means. That’s kind of a weird way to think about it. But if you think about it, it’s true.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. It’s very eye opening and difficult to even think about. I mean, even talking about it’s a challenge. It feels heavy. No question about it. How do companies create a culture that helps avoid or improve people that are struggling with these things? Do you have any insights to that?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, we talk about that. And I really encourage people, after listening to this, to go to preventconstructionsuicide.com. That’s the website for the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. And we have a fair number of tools. We have an assessment tool that a company can take. I encourage companies to look at this. And it is called… I want to just make sure I get the name right, so you understand what we’re talking about… a needs analysis and implementation tool. So, it really goes through a company. And it helps you determine if you have addressed some of the issues that might negate this from happening.

Stuart Binstock:

So, you create a healthy and wellbeing kind of culture, a caring culture in your organization. That’s one of the ways in which you can do this. I encourage folks to look at this needs analysis and integration checklist. And I think, if a company goes through that, they’ll probably learn some things along the way that they can do better to support their people. Because at the outset, and let me be very clear about this… The most important asset of construction company has are its people. And if you’re not going to invest in your people, then you’re missing out on the most valuable resource, then you’re missing out on the place where you can probably make the biggest difference.

Mike Merrill:

Hmm, wow. Profound statement. Yeah. Equipment and machines don’t have a heart or a brain.

Stuart Binstock:

Not that I know of. I mean, maybe they will in a few years, as I watch it on different shows might, but not now.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Yeah. So, I know in construction, obviously, we do toolbox talks, or safety trainings, and requirements for OSHA and other things. Are those some areas that you’re seeing companies take advantage of an opportunity to communicate more clearly about these issues?

Stuart Binstock:

Absolutely, Mike. Absolutely. Yes. So, we have some toolbox talks on our website. I think another element that’s important is to have an effective employee assistance program. A lot of companies have EAPs, but they… What I’ve been told is they vary substantially. So, you really might want to look at your EAP and determine whether it will bring value to members, whether employees will really consider using it, and whether it helps them address some of the mental health problems.

Stuart Binstock:

It’s that whole building a caring culture of support. Those two things, building a caring culture and the construction industry, don’t exactly go hand in hand. Those two words don’t usually coincide. But it’s something to consider and think about doing if you want to have everyone come home at the end of the day, safe and sound.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I know. I mean, here in our organization, one thing we do is regularly we’ll have book clubs. And not that I necessarily know that construction companies are going to do something like that, but I can tell you firsthand that, that is a wonderful experience to get to know people personally, and to be more vulnerable in ways where you can communicate about some of these things that are not easy to talk about out on a job site necessarily.

Stuart Binstock:

You’re absolutely right, Mike. I mean, this is not the conversation you have on the work site. You don’t walk up to Joe and go, “You look a little bummed out today. Joe. Are you thinking of dying by suicide?” And by the way, you’ll note, I use the expression “die by suicide”. I don’t say “commit suicide”. And that’s because people who kind of work in this field don’t really believe someone can commit to suicide. It’s… There’s got to be an underlying mental health issue for someone to die by suicide. So, you won’t hear people knowledgeable in this area talk about someone committing suicide. You still heard it on TV. But it’s interesting. Every once in a while, I’ll hear somebody on the news talk about this issue and say they died by suicide. That’s really the proper phrasiology to use.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I heard a statistic. And maybe I’m speaking out of turn here. I don’t have the exact reference. But I did hear and read a story. And they talked about survivors of that attempt. And in a hundred percent of the cases that they interviewed, they all had regretted making that choice.

Stuart Binstock:

And that’s why I mentioned lethal means and spur of the moment, because that’s exactly right. A lot of this does happen kind of in that spur of the moment, and someone has access to lethal means. They can accomplish what they probably would regret afterwards, but it’s too late. So, you’re absolutely right, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I know… So, we’ve talked about… I mean, I brought up the book club idea. You talked about toolbox talks. Are there some other tips, or tricks, or ways that companies can bring this subject up more comfortably?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, we have… Within the website, we do have Living Works training. So, it’s a group called Living Works. And they’ve created some training programs. You could start off and have your supervisors trained through this Living Works program. It’s really a nominal fee through our website. But every once in a while, I’m not sure where we are right now, but sometimes we even offer the training for free. But if it’s not for free, it’s for a nominal fee. And you could get maybe your supervisory staff trained and go through that program. It’s not very long. And that would, I think, help… There’s another expression that people in this area talk about, and Cal Byer used to talk about, and still does, which is remove the stigma, remove the stigma of having this conversation. And I would say that’s probably the most important thing you can do as a company. The single most important thing you can do is remove the stigma, because… I gave a speech on a association that has safety and health conference, and I kind of leveled them a little bit.

Stuart Binstock:

And I said, “I know you’re going to talk about safety. I’m not sure how much you’re going to talk about health during this two day conference, but I can well almost guarantee you will not be talking about mental health.” And that’s because people are afraid to talk about it. It’s not an easy topic to talk about, but you’ve got to start the conversation. And that’s… Part of our message is do something. Start the conversation somehow. Go have some folks in your company go through training. Have an EAP. Do a toolbox talk. There are a myriad of ways. Go through the integration checklist. There are a myriad of things you can do to start in this area.

Mike Merrill:

I know, just statistically speaking, I’m, I’m a hundred percent confident that we have somebody listening to this right now that’s either contemplated this action, or they know somebody who has. What would you tell that person that is dealing with that right now that might be listening?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I mean, one of the dilemmas in this area, particularly for construction companies, is we are not mental health experts. And so, thinking that you are, and you’re going to be able to provide mental health expertise to someone, I think is a mistake. And so, you need to get them in touch with something like the suicide prevention hotline. We have, on the website, the warning signs to look for, for someone who might be thinking… having suicidal thoughts. Either someone in your company, or even if someone’s listening today, who has this, they should contact the suicide prevention line, and immediately.

Stuart Binstock:

And they will get some kind of assistance. If you are talking to someone who has suicidal thoughts, and they admit to those suicidal thoughts to you, it’s probably important to not leave them alone. You probably want to initiate getting them some help. And then, you can leave somebody alone. But you probably should not leave somebody alone who has expressed some of these thoughts. If that’s you, or someone who’s listening, or someone in your company, you want to help let them get some help before you leave them alone. I think that’s just a basic important premise.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think, like you said earlier, these things are often a spur of the moment, or they may come on quickly. And so, it would be urgent that we don’t leave anybody in that moment.

Stuart Binstock:

The other thing I’ll tell you, Mike… This isn’t coming from me, but it comes from mental health experts, and it’s in our Living Works training. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone if they have suicidal thoughts. I know, when I first went through the training, I thought, “Why would I ask somebody that? What if I spurred them to do something that they weren’t already thinking of?” Mental health experts tell us, “If you ask someone that, and they said yes, it’s not like you put it in their head. They were already thinking of it.” So, you shouldn’t be shy about asking that if you see someone that you think has some signs of this. It’s important to actually get that out. And sometimes, just talking to somebody can make somebody feel better. This is kind of a labor intensive kind of issue.

Stuart Binstock:

You can’t have a process in place, and have someone go through four steps, and feel like they’re going to be great at the end of the tunnel. This is one-to-one kind of personal contact that you need to make, and connect with somebody, and take them aside, and ask them how they’re doing. I did a webinar yesterday for a group. And somebody asked the question, “I’m a female supervisor. And I think it would be really hard for me to approach one of my older laborers and ask them. And I don’t think they’d be that receptive.” And I think a good response to that is, “Well, find someone who they value, find someone who they look up to or see as an equal peer, and have that person do the work for you. But don’t not do it because you think you’re the wrong person. Find somebody else to have that conversation.”

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. And I love how you said earlier, this is a process, and it’s not just like four quick steps. I mean, it’s not like pulling a sliver out or something. I mean, there’s… This is a deeper seated issue that probably requires some professional help and direction by those that know how to best help that person. But in the absence of that, or before that can happen, talking about it, raising awareness, normalizing it to a degree that you understand that it’s okay.

Stuart Binstock:

Yeah. That’s the whole notion of removing the stigma. Yep. That’s exactly right.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. So, obviously very heavy subject, and not easy to talk about or even think about, but I think it’s important. And I’m so thankful that you’re able to share this with us today. Is there a website URL? Obviously, we’ll link it in the show notes and elsewhere, but can you tell us where to this information easily?

Stuart Binstock:

Preventconstructionsuicide.com. That’s the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s website. It has a whole host of things. One of the things we would like people to do is stand up to suicide prevention. So, that’s an acronym that stands for five different things. And we want people to kind of take the pledge to stand up for suicide prevention. And we’d love companies to do that. We run this organization on a shoestring budget. If anyone has the wherewithal, and feels compelled to support this, we would love that kind of support. We get it periodically from some big construction companies.

Stuart Binstock:

And we very much appreciate the support that we get. Anything you can do to help support that. Here at CFMA, every year at our conference, we have a run, a fund run. And it’s for charity. And every year, over the last couple of years, we’ve made all of the funds that we’ve been able to accumulate go to CIASP. I think, last year, we were able to give CIASP $17,000. So, anyone who feels compelled to do that, we’d love to hear from you as well.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. And do you have like a donate now button on the website or is there…

Stuart Binstock:

Yep. Yep. There is.

Mike Merrill:

Fantastic. And I will certainly raise awareness to this as I am able, and use our platform to do the same. We’re heavily involved in our local AGC chapter also. And so, I will bring this to the attention of local group here as well.

Stuart Binstock:

AGC, and actually ABC, are both very involved in this initiative. The current chair of CIASP is actually a staff member of ABC. But the problem that we find, and this is true of CFMA, is we have this national initiative and we believe in it very much from the headquarters level, but it doesn’t always get filtered down to the chapter level. So, anything somebody can do to help grow this initiative, and grow the interest at a local level, is really important. The grassroots is where it’s really happening.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. And that’s… CFMA is definitely a grassroots organization. How many years have CFMA been in existence?

Stuart Binstock:

This is our 40th anniversary. So, you’re… Good question, Mike, the perfect timing for me to plug CFMA’s 40th anniversary.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Yeah, I was going to say, it’s got to be the high thirties, at least. So, 40, that’s that’s a big deal.

Stuart Binstock:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. So, before we wrap up.. And again, thank you for having that difficult heavier conversation, because I think it is very important, and I appreciate the opportunity to help you get the word out on that. I do have a few personal questions for you.

Stuart Binstock:

Uh-oh.

Mike Merrill:

Not too personal.

Stuart Binstock:

Okay.

Mike Merrill:

I’ve been to a few cocktail mixers with you here and there.

Stuart Binstock:

We’re going down…. We’re going down a rabbit hole here.

Mike Merrill:

Just kidding. CFMA does have a lot of fun. They do find some time to let loose a little bit.

Stuart Binstock:

They do, absolutely do.

Mike Merrill:

So…

Stuart Binstock:

Love that about our members.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great time. So, thanks again for helping us learn more about this important organization. Just to wrap up, what is one thing that you are grateful for in your professional life?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I’m grateful for, I’d certainly say, my family. But my professional life, the last 10 years, CFMA has been the highlight of my career, no question about it. I’ve dealt with an amazing group of volunteers. As I talked about before, we have really passionate leaders as part of our organization. And they are so dedicated to this organization. If I was heading down a wrong path, they would correct me very quickly.

Stuart Binstock:

I try not to go down any wrong paths. But if I was, trust me, I’d get yanked back into reality. We really have some tremendous volunteers. We have folks who volunteer on our committees. We have an executive committee. We have an officer group. They’re all super, super dedicated to this organization.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Well, I love that. And I know it’s clear, you love CFMA and I know that CFMA certainly loves you, Stuart.

Stuart Binstock:

Thank you very much.

Mike Merrill:

What about a skill or a superpower, something you’ve kind of developed or learned over the years, and honed, that’s been a blessing to you and in your pursuits?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I guess I’m someone, I believe… I’m not… This is not a superpower. I was going to say two separate things. First of all, I do believe physical health is connected to mental health. And so, I do pretty religiously walk 10,000 steps a day. You can’t see it in my physique because that hasn’t changed all that much, but it does make me feel good. And I think it’s really important to get out there. And so, I do walk 10,000 steps, which is about five miles every day. At the end of the day, if I haven’t walked my five miles, I’ll walk around in my house, walk up the stairs and down the stairs.

Stuart Binstock:

It looks kind of silly, but I’m pretty committed to my 10,000 steps. The other thing I would just say from a business standpoint, I’ve really been a firm believer in, keep your head down, and do your job, and you’ll be recognized. Once again, that’s not a super power, but that is kind of a belief that I have. Too many people, I think, worry about, “Did I get credit for that? Did I get credit for this?” trust me. You get noticed when you do something well in an organization. You don’t have to tell it yourself.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. There is absolutely no substitute for activity, getting things done, right?

Stuart Binstock:

Hard work.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. So, what about in your career earlier on, are there some things that you worked through, that you’ve improved upon, and you wish your younger self would have known earlier? Anything you could share with our listeners?

Stuart Binstock:

I would say yeah. I certainly… yes, under that category. And I think one of those is, if you’re going to leave an organization, make sure you better look behind to make sure you got people supporting you, and they’re behind you, instead of knifing you in the back. And that can happen. You get knifed in the back if you’re too far out front. You have to… There’s a delicate balance, in leading an organization, to lead and yet follow the lead of those that you’re trying to lead.

Stuart Binstock:

And sometimes, I would say, in my career, I just forged ahead. And I was going like blockbusters, gangbusters. And I turned around and I went, “Oh. Now, is there that really anybody supporting this?”

Mike Merrill:

Where is everybody?

Stuart Binstock:

“I think I better look backwards before I look forwards, and make sure I have the support of people.” You don’t get the support of people when they think you’re a little too out front, and you’re trying to do things that are not supported by the whole group.

Mike Merrill:

That’s an interesting insight. I think that’s not what I’ve heard before on the podcast. So, thank you for bringing that up. It’s important to make sure your team’s still with you.

Stuart Binstock:

Yep.

Mike Merrill:

Leadership means you’re still there having an effect on them, not out ahead, too far of the curve… the group. Love that. What about… Is there one challenge, or something really that was difficult, that you overcame? And what did you learn from that experience?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I think, over the years, I’ve learned that it’s really important to collaborate. When I came on board with the staff, I inherited a staff. And I’m not sure I would have hired every single person that was on the staff. But I think, over the years, we’ve built a team here. And you don’t do this by yourself. And collaborating with my team. And giving them the power to do things on their own, I think. Has been very, very freeing to them, and I think important to our success.

Stuart Binstock:

I think they really appreciate having the freedom, within certain parameters of the organization, to do the right thing for the organization, and then collaborate together. I think no one is an island. No one does it on their own. And I’ve learned… I think I really have learned how important collaboration is. And the thing I’ve learned is I don’t always have the best ideas. There are other people in the room that have better ideas. And so, you really elevate the organization the more you get input from everybody in the company.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I heard a quote the other day. They said, “If you’re the smartest one in the room all the time, you need to find another room.”

Stuart Binstock:

Right. That’s good advice.

Mike Merrill:

So. Thank you. Boy, I can’t add much to what you just said there. I love your advice. You’re clearly a veteran leader, and a great individual, and we really have enjoyed having this discussion. I guess finally, just for the listeners, what’s the one takeaway that you would leave them with here at the end of our discussion?

Stuart Binstock:

Thanks for asking that question, Mike. Do something. I made a comment at the outset, or during the middle of my presentation. Have a conversation. Do a toolbox talk. Have an overall conversation with your folks, maybe the… When a construction company… Maybe you have a… You bring everyone in and you talk about this issue collectively. And you’ll be shocked at some of the comments you’ll get from people. Do something.

Stuart Binstock:

And if you do something, you will lead to removing the stigma. And if you remove the stigma, and you create awareness, we can actually make a difference when it comes to this topic. I think we have made a difference so far, but there is a long way to go. There are still way too many people who die by suicide. Mental health is really not discussed enough in our society. It’s too difficult a conversation, and we need to remove the stigma.

Mike Merrill:

There you have it folks. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Stuart. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation, and always get to know you better when we have these opportunities. I appreciate them.

Stuart Binstock:

Thank you, Mike. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this important subject. Thanks for your organization and your leadership.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. All right. We’ll look forward to connecting again soon.

Stuart Binstock:

Thanks, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Thank you to the listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce podcast. If you enjoyed the conversation that Stuart and I had today, and have an opportunity to share that out with your coworkers, or associates, or other contacts that you have in the industry, we feel like this is a very important topic and something that cannot be overstated, or discussed enough.

Mike Merrill:

Again, thank you again for your listenership. We always love those five star ratings and reviews on the podcast. Give us a review. Let us know how we’re doing, what you liked. And make sure to share this episode with others. Again, we appreciate the opportunity to bring these valuable conversations to you. After all, our goal is to help you improve not only your business, but your life.

Compliance with OSHA: How Technology Can Help Get You Ready

Compliance with OSHA: How Technology Can Help Get You Ready

Construction management teams prioritize the safety of their workers, but rules and regulations can be confusing to keep up with. On top of that, visits and surprise inspections from OSHA and its state-level affiliates can cause anxiety among even the most diligent of construction firms. So how can contractors ensure their job sites are safe and issue-free? According to Cotney Attorneys & ConsultantsTrent Cotney, preparedness is key.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Trent shares why an OSHA inspection doesn’t have to spell trouble. He shares advice on employing the right strategies, documentation and training to ensure your business is safe and compliant with current laws.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Most OSHA violations are business failures: Many times when there is a safety issue that OSHA would issue a write-up for, it is tied to a business failure such as not knowing what the process is for an inspection or not knowing your rights during the inspection. Trent says these can be avoided by knowing what OSHA is looking for, being honest, and being cooperative. 
  2. Technology doesn’t replace real-world safety training: The job site is changing rapidly. While toolbox talks are helpful in training workers on processes, procedures and safety regulations, they do not replace the need for real-world training. Make sure that the topics – especially those around safety – that require hands on training are given priority away from the screens. 
  3. Proactively manage your safety program: Don’t wait until an inspection is scheduled to get a clear picture of your safety program. This leaves you little time to make improvements where they’re needed. Keep in mind there are situations in which OSHA shows up to job sites unannounced. In this case, there’s no time to prepare and you risk violations. Make it a priority to know the status of your safety program at all times. By being proactive, you’ll be able to take action in advance and avoid costly violations. 

 

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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 sitting down with Trent Cotney, the CEO of Cotney Attorneys & Consultants, and also the author of a great book on OSHA Defense for the Construction Industry. Today, we’re talking about safety regulations and how to make sure that your job sites are safe and ready for those OSHA inspections. Trent’s a highly regarded expert, and I’m also looking forward to digging into not only his background and experience, but also some of the stories that he has to share from the industry with us. Hello, Trent, and thanks for joining us on the podcast today.

Trent Cotney:

Hey, thanks so much for having me. I’m looking forward to today’s talk.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well before we get into the conversation, if you could just share a little bit of your background with our listeners, that would be awesome.

Trent Cotney:

Sure. So I come from a background where my family did construction. I grew up in that. I’ve been practicing for about 22 years now solely and representing the construction industry. I started down in South Florida and then moved up to the Tampa area in the late 90s. And I started this from my company about 10 years ago where we, focused solely on representing the construction industry, primarily contractors and trades.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So you’ve been around the block a few times and literally written the book on how to pre-prepared for OSHA. 

Trent Cotney:

Right.

Mike Merrill:

So getting into that a little bit what should a company do to be prepared for an OSHA inspection if somebody was aware that that was about to go down?

Trent Cotney:

Yes, that’s a really good question and what I always tell contractors out there and if you’re like me, I’d much rather hang out with contractors and lawyers. So I spend most of my time around them, it’s about having a good game plan in advance of an inspection occurring. So you want to understand what the process is. You want to know what your rights are, you want to make sure that the people out in the field understand that, and that you’re communicating that effectively. Because that’s where I see the majority of the problems happen is just not understanding how an inspection goes, right? 

By the time you actually get a citation, yes, we can work some magic, there’s a lot of different defenses into the things that you’ve got at your fingertips. But the best word that you can do is at the start of the inspection, by making sure that you understand what exactly is that OSHA is looking for, that you’re putting your best foot forward. Obviously you’re always telling the truth and being cooperative, but understanding where those boundaries are, right? Being civil and professional, but knowing your rights and that’s what we preach.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a great point. I think, a great advice for the listeners. So obviously your inspiration came from somewhere to write this book. What was it that spurred you to do that?

Trent Cotney:

Sure. So we represent a lot of trades, specifically roofing contractors, HPAC, et cetera. And they were getting cited a bunch by OSHA. So on a granular level, we were defending them, on a daily basis and multiple states, fighting OSHA and seeing what their tactics and techniques were. And oftentimes, what we see is, if it’s a failure from a legal standpoint, it’s usually a business failure, it’s a process failure. And that’s what a few years ago, I started thinking about this and I was like, you know what? I need to write a very simple book that you can read in four or five hours that summarizes what your rights are. There’s no case sites, it’s not written for lawyers. It’s a very easy digestible book that anybody can pick up and understand this is what I can do and what I can’t do, because what I’ve seen is unlike a criminal case where the police come on to your home or your office, or it might be, they’ve got to read your rights to you, OSHA doesn’t have to do that.

Okay. Even though you could potentially have some criminal ramifications depending on what’s happening. So, that’s what I want to do is I really wanted to educate, and I wanted to write a down to earth message that resonated with the contractor base so that they understood what that line was.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. So it’s making me think back to, For Dummies books that they used to come out. It’s kind of like OSHA regulations for dummies.

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. I mean, it’s designed, look, it’s the kind of book I would want to read. You know what I mean? 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Trent Cotney:

I want something that’s just going to get to the point. I don’t need a lot of puffery, and case sites and other stuff. Just tell me what I got to do. And if you’re like me, I’m assuming, most of our listeners are the same way. Just get to the point. That’s what this book does. It’s from start to finish. It just tells you, “Hey, this is how to go about doing it. It talks about things like the walk around inspection.” When OSHA comes out, you want to make sure that you are asking them, “Why are you here?” Normally they will show you their credentials. They’ll say, “Hey, I was just driving by I saw four people on a roof without fall protection, or I saw the scaffolding issue.” But that puts that inspection in a box.

And that’s what you want to do is you want to start it off by understanding why they are here, because, if they say, “Hey, look, I want to go inside and inspect your electrical outlets.” That’s not part of their inspection. So it’s very important that you set the tone and you start off with that box so you know where things are going.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I know in researching a little bit about your background on my own, I have noticed that we have a lot of common connections in the industry, a lot of roofing contractors, some of the larger roofers. Obviously, you’re doing something right, because it’s resonating with these folks and they’re very connected to what you’re doing in the industry.

Trent Cotney:

Mike, I’ve been blessed, I have a little bit of a background in roofing. My grandfather was a roofer, but it’s something that has really kind of always, they always say, once it gets in your blood, you can never get rid of it. So I am very fortunate and I work with a lot of great contractors, I serve as general counsel for the national association. So it’s something I take a lot of pride in and obviously advocacy is part of that.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. We love the roofing industry and all the trades that we serve as well, so great people and they need some help, there’s no question about it.

Trent Cotney:

Absolutely. 

Mike Merrill:

So tell me this. I know obviously with the new White House the Biden administration, we’ve got some different regulations and rules and different changes that typically happen when there’s a change out in The White House. What types of things should people expect to come down the pipe because of that?

Trent Cotney:

Interesting question, Mike. And it’s something that I was just talking to a general contractor last week about the Biden administration, from my perspective, it’s going to bring a lot of change. We, as an industry, benefited a lot from the Trump administration, and the approach that Secretary Scalia took with regard to OSHA, the Biden administration is going to change things up. So what I’ve told contractors and trades, I said, “Look, you need to expect that there’s going to be more rulemaking, there’s going to be more inspections, there’s going to be more citations. It’s absolutely going to happen. The department of labor is going to be very aggressive under the Biden administration. And here are some things that I would watch out for just briefly, if I’m a contractor or trade I can almost guarantee within the next month or so, there’s going to be some emergency temporary standard for COVID 19 and infectious diseases.”

So we have a lot of contractors. We were just talking to a mechanical contractor on California that had a Cal/OSHA violation for COVID-19. A lot of these state plans are already very aggressive. This is going to be the federal standard. So they are going to apply to any state that does not actively have a state plan. There’s a due, it’s going to trickle down to that. Something else to look out for Mike is the heat injury and illness standards I anticipated they’re going to redo those probably towards the end of the summer. I expect that they’re going to see some changes to the silica standard. I would absolutely anticipate there are going to be a lot more inspections once the hierarchy within OSHA becomes solidified, okay? And it tends to take a little bit of time, but by this time, fourth quarter or next year, you’re going to start seeing a big uptick in OSHA inspections and citations.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I, as a former contractor myself, I’m grateful for OSHA and that organization. I’m grateful to make sure that employees are safe, but as a contractor, I definitely don’t want the regulations coming down on my project, right? And I think most people feel the same way they want to operate safely, but they don’t necessarily like the idea of somebody breathing down their neck so to speak. That sounds like there might be a bit more of that coming down the pike.

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. I think that’s a great point. I firmly believe that every penny you spend on safety is a penny will spend and OSHA does a great job with training, it’s not to say I’m not trying to paint OSHA in a bad light, but my concern is, is that you always have to balance regulation with the reality of doing construction, right? There’s a happy medium. And oftentimes I feel like some of these regulations come out without a lot of thought or foresight into what actual job site hazards there are. They’re written on a desk somewhere without a true understanding of what contractors and trades experience on a daily basis. So I would love OSHA to focus on safety, less on citations. I love to see retraining, I would love to see a lot more invested in that because I do think that it serves a great role. I do think there’s an opportunity for education out there. But it’s just finding that correct balance.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great point, I guess, as you’re talking through this, I’m also starting to wonder what role does technology play in this process from your perspective?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. Technology, I mean, look how we’re communicating now, this has become how the world exists now. I was telling somebody the other day I rarely do I have a conference call anymore. It’s Zoom or go to webinar Teams or whatever it might be. There are a lot of technology based apps out there that can assist with safety that can make data collection easier for you, okay? So for example, your safety director, let’s say you’re an electrical contractor and you’ve got a safety director and you send them out to a job site. They can assess the job site, take photos, whatever it might be, get it back to the home office. And that way you’ve done an audit and you can notify all the people that need to be notified and then turn around and make sure that you’re correcting whatever it needs to be corrected.

Along those lines though, you also want to make sure someone’s monitoring stuff because a lot of times what we’ll see is, that safety director, that safety person that’s taking photos via the app may be showing an unsafe condition. And if somebody doesn’t catch that and correct that OSHA can get that, right? And that could potentially be a no-no because you’ve got a supervisory level employee not properly identifying and correcting a safety violation. So you want to balance technology with the potential for liability, but I do think that there is a heightened role for technology. Not just from an app standpoint, but from cameras out in the field, from all the different technologies from drone technology, other things that we’re starting to see pop up with regard to safety and safety planning.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So you mentioned safety trainings and some areas there that maybe OSHA can focus more on what types of technologies are acceptable for safety training? Are there options to do some of that remotely or digitally?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, absolutely. There are a variety of ways you can obtain safety training digitally. I have an OSHA 10 and OSHA 30, I’ve taken the OSHA 24. All of that was over a laptop. You can have toolbox talks and engage in weekly or monthly safety trainings on a variety of topics, everything from signs of impairment, to opioid abuse, to heat illness, and injury, to whatever the issues of the day might be, you know COVID-19 training. So there are certain things that can be done that way. There are other things in my opinion, may require some, at least in-person access or the possibility of using VR or augmented reality to maybe supplement that or change to that so that you have the capability of being immersed in a real world situation. There is some necessity for that, but I do see technology playing a bigger and bigger role within safety train, just because of ease of access and just efficiency ability to access it whenever you want.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great point. I know you’re mentioning apps quite a bit, obviously the technologies and the cloud systems that are now available, are a far cry better than anything I ever had 15, 20 years ago when I was heavy in the industry, it was a whole different world, everything had to be in person, so.

Trent Cotney:

Oh, yes.

Mike Merrill:

So with the issues that contractors are facing related to COVID and some of these other, just more recent developments, have you witnessed companies, number one, being successful with those and being able to refute challenges that maybe came from OSHA and maybe when did somebody get stuck as well? You have a couple of different examples that you could share?

Trent Cotney:

Sure, absolutely. I mean, this is something that we deal with on a daily basis and the companies that are most successful during informal conferences, which is the conference that you have after the citations issued, it’s an opportunity for you to potentially resolve your case, possibly gain some additional facts before you go on to contesting it, if that’s what you want to do. The companies that come prepared, the companies that show that they have a culture of safety and oftentimes, technology or paper or whatever it might be, that’s going to make the difference. If you show up to a conference and you’ve got a nice binder or an app that’s organized with thousands of audits and pages in there, that’s a big difference than you’ve shown up with a folder with a bunch of random stuff in it.

You got to be able to convey that message properly. So I can give you a couple of examples. We had one where we were representing a contractor that engaged in historical restoration work. In particular, this was some storm damage that they come in to fix, and they were cited for a lift violation. We were able to show that this was unpreventable employee misconduct because of a variety of toolbox talks and training that this person had, the job site plan, there was just three inches worth of documentation that I could present on this job. And the investigating officer had to look at it and be like, “What can we do?” Now on the other hand we had one where a new contractor carpenter just getting started, didn’t have much anything, by the time he got to us, we’re helping them after the fact we’re getting him the safety manual, we’re getting him, all those things that he needs.

But it’s a lot of, well, I said this, I didn’t say this. So you got to go in there with a little bit different game plan. And we were able to help him, but at the end of the day, we could have helped him a lot more had he had better paper to back it up, the party with the best paper always wins the day that’s really. And whether it’s electronic or physical, that tends to be the case in almost every aspect of construction.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. We always say, “He who has the most data typically wins.” And that sounds like you’re you’re on the same track there.

Trent Cotney:

Right on. That’s it. 

Mike Merrill:

So how often should contractors expect to see other changes? Is it quarterly? Is it someone annually? Is it a yearly thing? How often do big changes usually come down the pike?

Trent Cotney:

So for our listeners in California, while we were talking, they probably just had another major change. But generally speaking, what I suggest is take a look at your safety manual and your toolbox talks every six months. And the reason I say that is that you may have a local or state legislation that’s come out, has changed things, there may be significant changes that have been caused by the pandemic. So you just want to take it and then at least once a year, you want to do an audit of it and just make sure that everything that you have in there is up to date that you’ve got the current regulations

Every time OSHA comes out with a new regulation, you want to make sure there’s another toolbox talk on it, that you have it in your manual, if it is applicable to the type of work that you do. So obviously if they come out with, something that deals with electrical and you don’t touch electrical, you don’t need to worry about it. But if it’s something that’s right in your wheelhouse that you touch every single day, definitely update your employees, show that training and update your manual.

Mike Merrill:

And I would imagine these manuals, are they most commonly digital or are they printed or are they both? Is there a requirement?

Trent Cotney:

We see both, digital tends to be an easier way to convey it because a lot of times these manuals are thick. There’s a lot of stuff in there. And the key is, is that a couple of things about this mike that I want to hit home to the listeners is you want to get sign-off. You want to make sure your employees have signed off on it, okay? You want to make sure that they’ve got access, have whether it’s digitally or hard, copy one should be in every single work truck. And the reason I say that is a lot of times, OSHA will come up to a job site and the last superintendent say, “Okay, well, what’s the swing radius here.” If you don’t know the answer, it’s very easy to say, “Look, I can’t tell you, I have it in my head, but I keep my manual in my truck. I look at that. And then I call the home office to get whatever the answer is.” Okay?

Another thing that you want to do, Mike, is you want to make sure that if you’ve got a Spanish crew or a crew that doesn’t speak English, you want to have that translator in whatever language that is because OSHA’s, they’re going to look to see that you have provided that message in a way that they can understand it, right? So you might have the most beautiful four-color, spiral-bound safety manual in English, but all of your labor only speaks Spanish and reads in Spanish. You’re not doing them a favor, right? So spend the extra money to get that translation it’ll come in handy and OSHA will definitely ask for it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. And I think that’s not what I’ve heard commonly. So I really like that. What kind of contractor do to expand their current safety program? Obviously there’s a range of people that have little to nothing in place and they really need to get on the stick. And then there’s other companies that probably do a pretty good job of this, but how do they expand it and improve from wherever they’re at best?

Trent Cotney:

So we always like to approach everything in a phase by phase approach. So let’s start from nothing, if you have absolutely nothing. The first thing that you need to do is create the base of your safety program. The base of your safety program is the safety manual. So your safety manual wants to account for certain things that all contractors experience like signs of impairment or heat exhaustion, that kind of stuff, but also wants to really hone in on the type of stuff that you do on a daily basis, okay? From that safety manual, you then branch out and create the system with toolbox talks that really hits that home, right? The key thing is you want to make sure that, well, I always said, you do it when that paycheck is coming, right? So they’re sitting there waiting for that paycheck, you do a toolbox talk, you get the sign off that way you know they’re paying attention.

So that’s a great way to do it. You want to engage in safety audits, okay? You want to do unannounced job site audits where you can go out, you can see where the problems are. A lot of times I get asked Mike, it’s like, “Well, Trent, why would I want to go out to a job site and identify problems in writing? Isn’t that going to be bad for me?” It’s not, if you correct them, right? If you go out and not only punish those that didn’t do what they were supposed to do but retrain, that shows OSHA that you care about those employees, okay? And the last point I really want to make Mike is, is the biggest thing that I see contractors failing to do is they have a great safety manual, great toolbox talks, they do these audits, they engage in outside consultants, all the kind of stuff that we like to see, but they don’t follow their disciplinary program.

So I’ll give you a classic contractor example. You’ve got your number one superintendent or foreman producer. He makes money for you left and right, right? But not a big fan of safety. So are you going to fire that guy? Probably not, right? So you need to make sure that whatever disciplinary program you have in place, you can enforce it because disparate treatment, meaning that you’re treating your number one producer different than the guy you just heard off the street, that is going to eliminate any, a lot of the defenses that you would have to an OSHA citation. So be consistent it doesn’t matter whether it’s your Uncle Larry, your best producer, or the guy you just hired from work release at the end of the day, it’s got to be the same treatment throughout.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s great advice as well. I think why there’s been a lot of great nuggets here. You started off the conversation talking about some of the don’ts from a do’s and don’ts perspective. Let’s say, I know that I have an OSHA inspection coming up. What can I do to best prepare my crews or that job site for that inspector to show up?

Trent Cotney:

So the one thing I’ll give you. So this was in 2001 I’m dating myself a little bit. I represented a underground utility contractor on an OSHA violation. And what happened is OSHA came out, they did the inspection, there was a trench box violation, there was sloping violation, standard stuff you see in underground. And as the inspector was giving the closing conference, one of the crew wearing tennis shoes and no hardhat jumped into the ditch to get his lunch pail and then skirt and climb back out, that cost that contractor, another $5,000. So one piece of common sense advice is so do you really want your crew continuing to work while OSHA is on a job site? It’s a lot like inviting a cop out to a meth lab at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good your safety program is, I’ve had inspectors and area directors pull me aside and said, “Trent, you put me on any job site long enough, I’m going to find a violation.” Right?

So the idea behind it is you want to make sure that you are doing what you can to control the situation. If OSHA asked to come out, have them come to your office or better yet go to the area office, don’t invite them back out to the job site, because at the end of the day, you can’t necessarily control a hundred percent of what’s going on all the time. And obviously everyone wants a safe workplace that’s the goal, but you want to be very careful and cautious about how you go about doing that. So I would say that’s something to watch out for. Another nugget that I can throw out there is don’t forget that if you are a supervisor and officer or director, you do not need to talk to OSHA, unless you are welcome to have counsel present and a member of management, okay? You are free to talk to them, but you can also request having counsel present.

And there is a big difference there because it gives you the opportunity to really think about your training. Obviously, always tell the truth, always be cooperative. But at the end of the day, it’s about having that clear mindset and making sure that you are remembering your training, remembering what you did, how you did it and not being scared and anxious about the process.

Mike Merrill:

More great tips. You mentioned some do’s and don’ts, what are some common mistakes you see people make out there in the field?

Trent Cotney:

So one of the biggest things is when OSHA comes out, oftentimes they have the ability to talk to crew without management or council present, okay? And we see this a lot in Florida and Texas and Arizona, Mexico, California, if your crew only speaks Spanish and they only read or write in Spanish, oftentimes the inspector that has come out knows broken Spanish or isn’t fluent, okay? I like to insist on having someone that is capable of translating. And the reason I say that is I witnessed this firsthand, okay? We had an OSHA, OSHA said, “Hey, I want to come out to your job site.” We said, “No, why don’t you come to our office?” So they came to our office, they sat down, I had management present and they were interviewing a superintendent. Superintendent was from Mexico, okay?

The OSHA investigator was Puerto Rico and they were discussing a tile, okay? And I know enough Spanish to get around, and the manager was fluent. So as the superintendent was providing testimony, it became apparent that the inspector was misinterpreting what this individual said, and it would have been catastrophic had I not caught it and the manager caught it. That is a great example, the terms of art change. So you can be in Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Puerto Rico, wherever. And the same term is, there’s 20 different terms for it. So you want to make sure that if they are asking to speak to someone that does not speak English, make sure that they are capable of accurately translating that information to get that statement.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s very interesting as an example, I never would have imagined, but yeah, the Spanish side of this is probably a great takeaway for a lot of the companies that are listening right now.

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s one of the things, we have a lot of situations where there are crew members that are illiterate in Spanish and English, and they’re asked OSHA normally what they do federal OSHA is they write out a written witness statement and they ask you to sign it, okay? And there’s never anything great on there that I’ve seen. It’s never, hey, you got the best safety policies ever. It’s always, all the things that you should have done. And most of the crew, when they get that, they see that and they just sign it without even really looking at it. And obviously you don’t ever want to tell your crew members what to do, what not to do, it’s their choice, okay? Always tell the truth. That’s what you want to tell them. But from a supervisor standpoint, if I’m involved representing a supervisor, a manager, a director, I don’t want them to sign a written witness statement.

I really don’t see a lot of value in that because you can provide your testimony without doing that. And rarely does it tell the whole story. So that’s one of the things, when I say, knowing your rights, if you understand what the context is, you’re going to be in so much better position to be able to put your best foot forward. Again, everybody wants to be safe. You want, I want, we all want our employees to go home safe and sound every single night. That’s not what this is about. What it’s about is understanding what those rules, boundaries, and limitations are when it comes to a government inspection.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s great. From a technology perspective, are there things that can help somebody in that situation? Are there technology tools they can rely on when they’re put on the spot like that?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. Having an SOP in place, a standard operating procedure that dictates what you should do and how you should do it. There should absolutely be one for if you have an OSHA inspection. So your a superintendent of OSHA gets to the job, they should know they need to immediately call management, call the safety director, see if the inspector will wait for that in that member of management or safety director to get out there in the field with them. And then go through the process. They need a similar one for if there’s a serious injury, and then they need another one if there’s a fatality, it’s a different set of rules for each one, right? So you want to understand what the rules and the guidelines are for that. There’s a variety of technology management, software tools, that it can be useful to do that.

Here in the office and for a lot of our consulting customers, we utilize Smartsheet, which is a publicly traded company that acts as an operating system and provides I’m not an Excel spreadsheet kind of guy. I’m a show me pretty colors on a graph and I get it. It does that, but it also allows you to go in deeper in, if you are an Excel spreadsheet guy, you can look at, I’m looking if I can count on my finger. It’s a collaborative software tool that acts as an operating system for your business. And it integrates with almost every single app out there.

So it’s been very useful as a management tool to drill down SOP is it’s sort of like a playbook that you would go to. So that’s one that I know that I’m aware of. There’s a variety of other tools out there that people can use, but the key is make sure, you know that gameplay, it’s here’s the SOP, let’s get rid of the anxiety. Let’s go to page five. This is what I have to do, follow the checklist. That’s the key because when people get nervous and they get anxious, that’s when mistakes are made, they’re not understanding what they should be doing.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So you mentioned some technology options, which sound great. What about even basic email, phone calls, voicemails, what roles do those play in? How to companies make sure they’re using those properly?

Trent Cotney:

So a good rule of thumb is if it’s good for you, put it in writing, if it’s bad for you pick up the phone. And that includes text messages, instant messages, Facebook groups, whatever it might be. So I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had, a social media post of, hey, another great job finished by ABC contractor. And it shows, 10 people on a roof without fall protection. I’m going, “Hopefully these are actors, it’s hard to refute that. So there’s often a disconnect between marketing and safety. That’s one thing, if you recognize that anything that you put down OSHA logs is a great example. So you’ve got to report, as a contractor, you know this you report your safety, injury and illness on a variety of OSHA, 300 logs put just enough detail, I’ve looked at plenty of OSHA logs that go way too much into detail. I fell off scaffolding because I didn’t build it right.

Why would you put that? I mean, I get it, but you don’t need to say that much. Be very careful when you’re communicating with your insurers. All of that is discoverable. If you have a fatality or a serious injury and you talk to the Sheriff’s department, that’s exhibit A, in any OSHA inspection. So make sure that you recognize that you must always tell the truth, I didn’t hit that home. That’s the key thing is, is it’s not worth a investigation because you told one investigating authority one thing, and I know there’s something else. So consistency and just always having that awareness of liability hat on is going to pay dividends, not just in OSHA, but in all aspects of construction.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And it’s, I mean, there’s a lot to keep track of here and obviously companies are standing out, I’m just trying to put this roof on, or I just wanted to frame this wall up, or I’m just trying to pour concrete. Maybe these things aren’t second nature to them, but what I’m hearing is consistent training, regular training, regimented training is the key to help make sure that you’re taking care of these things in the best light so that you don’t get stuck in a mess.

Trent Cotney:

Absolutely. Yeah. You’re a hundred percent spot on, that’s exactly what it is. And one of the things I should mention is for the listeners that are doing commercial jobs, if you’re doing a daily report, that’s a great opportunity for you to put your best foot forward safety wise, did job site audit, checked all the equipment, everything looked great, took this harness out because the rope was frayed. All of those self-serving statements, you can use to show that you are actively checking your job site for safety. Why not use it?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that point. So what you’re saying document every correction or improvement or every step taken to be safer so that you’re showing that you’re putting forth that effort?

Trent Cotney:

Absolutely. Yeah. That’s key and party with the best paper once a day. That’s always the truth.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And they say photos don’t lie, and I guess that can go both ways, right?

Trent Cotney:

Oh yeah. You don’t want to be taking a photo of, a guy with a frayed electrical cord, using it as a harness or a tie off that’s not what you want. You want to be smart about what you’re doing, you want to be able to know exactly the stuff that you’re going through and make sure that your safety directors are actively auditing these images. If you are engaging in that it’s great, it’s a great way for you to gain that information, get it, and figure out what’s going on. But at the end of the day, yeah it all depends on that follow-up. It doesn’t matter how good your technology is, if you don’t have that follow-up, if you’re not tracking what’s out there in the field, that’s what’s going to get you.

Mike Merrill:

So from a workflow standpoint, how often are companies required to have toolbox talks or to have safety trainings? Is there a general rule of thumb that people can take away from the conversation?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. So unless it’s a brand new rule or an emergency or a retraining, I like to see at least every month I would prefer probably every other week, if I can do it. And there’s nothing wrong with doing it every week. And at some point you run out of topics, do you have 52 topics you could talk about? I don’t know, okay? But at a minimum you want to make sure that people are taking a knee and you’re talking about potential issues on job sites. If you’ve got a hairy job site that you know that there’s some potential safety issues, you want to talk to the crew about that, identify that in advance, you can have what I call informal toolbox talks. And then it’s as simple as documenting that as a memo to file.

I’ll have phone calls all the time where I just pull up an email said to talk someone so did this and send myself an email, that way it’s a current understanding recollection of what that conversation was. So that’s something that’s potentially useful, anything that you can do to engage your crew and a mentality in that culture of safety is paramount.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. So is there a recommended duration of time to hold those trainings for 10 minutes, 15 at a certain point? Is it too long and you’re actually diluting what they need to know?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. We live in a Twitter world now, so Facebook or Instagram or whatever. So, people’s attention spans are very short lengthy training sessions, unless it’s like an OSHA 10 or something where you’re going to get an actual certification afterwards, it’s hard for your crew to pay attention. You want to keep them short, sweet to the point. I would say most effective is 30 minutes or less. You’ve got to be able if it requires demos where you’ve got to actually physically show things, I can understand a little bit more, but at the end of the day, less tends to be more. You convey your point, you get the point across and you move on.

Mike Merrill:

Great. Lots of great tips and rules of thumb, for sure. Let’s say on a given day there’s an injury or an accident or some type of a problem, is there a hierarchy of how that reporting needs to be documented? I mean what’s the first step somebody should take when something occurs, they have an incident?

Trent Cotney:

Sure. So here’s normally what happens. And unfortunately we handle a lot of fatalities and that’s when you have, you got the press involved, you got the Sheriff’s office, there’s all these different things that you have to navigate, not dimension, customer concerns, and family concerns and all this other stuff. So really what you want to do is the people on that job site, ultimately, it needs to get in the hands of the crew leader, the superintendent, the foreman, whoever is manning that job, right? That person needs to understand that they need to call the home office. And there needs to be a go-to person that if you don’t have a safety director, then it’s a member of management. That member manager that needs to understand that if they can’t get up to the job site, they need to provide that superintendent with strict instructions if they haven’t already been trained.

Mike I want to tell you a brief story, because I think this will hit it home to our listeners. My dad was a very patient man. I’ll just put it that way. And I grew up on the Westside of Jacksonville, Florida. For those of you that have been there, you know what I’m talking about. My dad taught me how to drive. Like most fathers have, and he took me out to a lot and he taught me how to three-point turn. And he taught me how to parallel park. And the last thing that he told me, and he always called me their son or boy. And he said, “Son, what I want to do is I want to pretend I’m a police officer and I’m going to pull you over. And when I pull you over what I want to do is see how you’re going to react.”

Okay. And he did this because he knew I was a punk kid and he knew that, at some point I am going to speed and take it or something else. And he didn’t want me to do something stupid, right? So we sat there, we went through the process, I showed him my insurance, my driver’s license, my registration. And sure enough, six months later, I got a speeding ticket and he whooped my, you know what. But the moral of that story is it’s not the listeners that are problematic, okay? It’s those people out there in the field, it’s the superintendent, it’s the crew.

If you train them on the inspection process itself on what to expect, that takes that anxiety away that’s what training does, right? It doesn’t matter what kind of training you get, if you learn how to do something, then you’re not scared to do it, right? So if you understand what the process is, if you train in advance of that process, then just like my dad did with me, you’re not going to do something stupid, right? And that’s the key thing is you want to have that game face on, you want to make sure that you are doing whatever you can to stay active and involved so that you’re focused on the mission at hand.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. What a great story to end the main part of the conversation on, I think that definitely paints a picture and preparation, right? You got to practice ahead of time so that when you’re in the real game, you’re you’re in the real game your ready

Trent Cotney:

Right? Absolutely failure to prepare is preparing to fail, so.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, love it. So just to wrap things up here in the conversation, what’s one business process or a skill that you’ve developed over the years that have really made the most impact on your success?

Trent Cotney:

So I think the key thing is top down organization, right? It’s oftentimes, the business owners that are listening to this, you’ve got the vision, it’s all on your back, I get it. I’m the same way, I’m a business owner. But at the end of the day, you got to be able to drill down your vision, your mission, your process, to the lowest common denominator. So that is done through great technology and through great process and through great people. And it takes a while to accomplish all of that. So as you continue to grow and if you’re scaling your business, you’ll see oftentimes we’ve been blessed with growth and we’ll start off one year with a great game plan. By the end of the year, we’re already trying to up our technology, up our admin, up our everything, because we’ve outgrown the previous system. So that’s part of the process is as a business owner, especially in construction, you always have to be able to improvise, adapt and overcome. It is the key to being able to be successful.

So the other thing that I do is I listen, I remain humble if you remain humble, it was beaten into me to remain humble. If you remain humble, you remain hungry and I don’t ever, rest on any laurels to the extent that I’ve got any, I always say, “Okay, what’s next? What can I do next?” And if you check that ego, that’s always going to keep you razor sharp.

Mike Merrill:

I love that, yeah that’s great. I guess one other question I’ve got, what’s something that you have learned over the years that you wish you would’ve known at the very beginning when you first started practicing law?

Trent Cotney:

So my role has changed a lot over the years. I went from being a typical lawyer, to use contractor terms I was in production, okay? I was in production and that’s what I did. Over the years, I’ve switched operations, and obviously there’s a business development component to that. I have learned more about myself through operating this business than I ever did by not doing it. In the last 10 years your business is a reflection of you, and that is a painful experience, it is a humbling experience. So if there is a failure in your business, it is your failure and you have to own that. So learning those lessons, that any business owners had to learn it makes you tougher, and I know I’m very thankful for all the different, not necessarily legal things I’ve learned, which I’m very appreciative of I consider myself an expert in various things, and I’m proud to do that.

But from a business perspective, learning those lessons and improving upon them, that’s what makes you a better business owner and in construction, that’s the key. Construction is a fabulous industry, I have made lifelong friends through this industry and feel very grateful and give back routinely because of it. But I can tell you that those that continue to thrive are the ones that take those lessons and use them as learning opportunities. Again I’m just very blessed and fortunate that the good Lord has found plenty of things for me to overcome, so.

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. Absolutely love it. So, very last thing. So what is the key takeaway that you want listeners to have today? Once they get done listening to this they’re to remember one thing, what would that be?

Trent Cotney:

Be proactive and not reactive. Okay. Now’s the time take some of the nuggets that we talked about, look at your safety program, nobody wants to look at their safety program because it’s like a will, right? By the time you look at your will, it’s too late. So, if OSHA shows up to your job site, you’re stuck with what you got. So take the time now to really buttress and fortify your safety program, think about some of the things that we talked about. And hopefully my goal is to never have you call a lawyer, I’d prefer that your success ultimately is as success for the industry. So that’s the goal, but definitely take the time to be proactive, get those SOPs in place. Make sure you’ve got some top-down command that drills all the way down to the crew.

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. Very insightful Trent, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m sure the listeners gained a whole lot that they can put into practice.

Trent Cotney:

Thank you. It’s my pleasure. 

Mike Merrill:

All right. Thank you to the listeners. And again, if you enjoyed this conversation with Trent Cotney and I, I encourage you strongly to follow Trent or reach out to him on LinkedIn and also check out his book, OSHA Defense for the Construction Industry. Also, if you enjoyed the podcast, please give us a rating and review. We love the five star ones the most. So encourage you to rate us well and continue to listen and share this podcast with your friends and associates in the industry. We want to continue to bring these valuable guests and conversations to you to help you improve your business and your life.