In addition to this, Mel DePaoli has spent a better part of the last decade working with companies, schools, on government projects and with individuals on various aspects of how the core of their business directly affects their brand, which in turn affects their bottom line. She has become a catalyst for change providing visual connections to the challenges that often elude businesses the most. And she has three rescued animals in her home.
How are you? I don’t encourage stalking but you share that you live in the Seattle area and I figure you must be up to some cool project with a client.
I’m heading away for a leadership retreat and also about to release my 3rd book: Hiring the Right Contractor.
Let’s talk about your book: Contractors Doing It Right Not Just Getting It Done. This is your 2nd book. Let me ask you a question I ask all my guests. My friend Erika Andersen coined the phrase reasonable aspiration or hoped for future in her book Being Strategic. What was your reasonable aspiration or hoped-for future from writing it?
I wanted brand to mean something. I had a previous business focusing on web and graphic design and I kept hearing from clients that they wanted to market it this way but they didn’t operate their business in the same way. I wanted to show that there are companies out there that do have a strong culture that effects their bottomline.
Are you approaching it? What will tell you that you are getting closer to reaching it?
Yes I am approaching it and yes I’m an optimist. As I hear about people’s experiences and they get more positive and they actually enjoyed the experience is in particular what I’m looking for.
50% of people who have remodeling or construction work done are unsatisfied with what was done. Very few walk away as customer evangelists for those contractors.
There are a bunch of companies out there who have taken the initiative on their own because they understand the value in making their bottomline.
[A great case study is shared. ]
Bruce Springsteen is a favorite artist of mine. He's said to sing every concert to a single fan in the audience. Who did you have in mind as you wrote your book? Describe the reader you had in mind as you typed away. Why did they need it?
I wrote the book for managers and senior leaders in mid-size construction companies. And if one were to leave it would devastate their company. These are the companies that think the more you spend in adv the more customers you have. They are afraid of change. They don’t know where to begin to change.
I’m not here to tell them a how-to but show them other companies who have been in the exact same position they are in now and have been able to move through it.
Which one of these has the biggest impact on preventing their growth?
I would say the biggest is the fear of change. The same thing keeps getting done over and over again even though you know it’s not right.
Why should these corporate leaders believe your book?
The biggest thing with these leaders is time. These leaders like short, easy-to-read, books. I profiled companies and what they learned and how they prevented things from happening again.
Why construction companies? What was it about their cultures that led you to research them, profile them, write about them?
These companies are amazing. They have a hands on approach to leading. They are the basis of our economy. Without them we can’t grow.
Very interesting group. They have deep roots in tradition. They don’t fit into a strict category of manufacturing or service. They fit in-between. A lot of their work you can’t see in the final product.
It’s about the experience of working together for a long time. A lot of the companies with a strong culture describe the relationship with the customer as like a marriage.
You have to have strong communication. You have to give and take.
What do they share in common with every other industry trying to shape a culture of success?
It’s the fear of where to begin. What challenges do we tackle first. Where do we start?
There can be an emotion of fear and not of hope.
That goes for any company in any industry. It goes to how you handle the uncertainty when you begin to change.
You write about turning points and beyond. I can see that this industry has been through many turning points, ups and downs, in the past 2-3 years.
What are three characteristics of those companies who’ve found a way to survive even thrive through these recent turning points?
First of all this is quite an understatement.
Three things they have in common:
They focus on their culture. They make an effort to live it every day.
The next thing they believe is they are open to embracing change. Just because it worked yesterday doesn’t mean it will work today.
That third thing is they understand competition is about cooperation. Sometimes your biggest competition is your best referral source. You have your specialty; I have my specialty. There’s plenty of business to go around.
Were you surprised by this sense of cooperation?
It was a lesson I learned very early in my business. I brought my competition together for a monthly lunch to understand everyone’s specialty.
The companies who are open to embracing it are the companies who are more successful.
What’s the one thing they share? The successful ones.
They recognize they are a construction company and it needs to be maintained and built. But at that same work has to be done ON the business not IN the business.
Why is that so difficult for people to embrace?
Because construction is so task focused and their business is about being in the field and about developing something that is not in the business. The average construction company office is small unless they have a showroom. But the majority of the employees are out in the field in some way.
What’s the one thing in common you found among the companies you surveyed or the industry that was shared among its fatalities?
The biggest thing is not that they failed but they had a big disconnect between management and the remaining employees. Senior management had everything they needed to get. And they assumed everyone in the company knew what they knew.
I surveyed the employees with the company’s wording, not my own, and the wording included The employees should recognize....
Some companies I surveyed came back with these results and said “Whoa we have more work to do.”
What is that turns the light on they say We gotta change?
The day they hire the 15th employees is the day the lightbulb goes on and they realize they have to change how they run their business. Regardless if they go up or down, they have the mentality that culture means something.
You talk fairly openly and directly about employee turnover. A couple statements were:
- Losing employees is often what a company needs to move forward.
- Hiring and firing employees is probably the quickest way to make a cultural change...
I found it refreshing. What’s been the response of your clients, your readers, to these kind of statements?
Yes. I do talk about it very directly because it’s things these leaders need to hear. Retaining the wrong employees can be more detrimental to your company than anything.
The companies with a strong culture are right on board and say the same things. The others are afraid of losing what they have.
[Great company example is shared.]
Tom Rath, co-author of Well-Being: The 5 Essential Elements was a guest last month. He mentioned that a key to building career well-being was the employee having a good friend at work. And that translated into higher levels of enthusiasm, trust, engagement, productivity.
You write Something to consider when hiring friends and family referrals is that you are bringing in to your company a personal aspect of your employees. There may be good, but the bad and the baggage are just around the corner.
At the risk of appearing like a politician I can see both. I’ve experienced both as a leader.
What is the bad and the baggage lurking just around the corner? (This isn’t a trick question. It’s a real issue.)
Where I differ is the balance between work and personal. At some point, the two will influence each other. But people need to be able to draw that line and do what’s best for the business without feeling their friendship is on the line.
What is the trilogy scenario? How will a client recognize its signals and avoid this company? Does this apply to every business?
The trilogy scenario is when there are 3 sides to a recurring problem and each side blames the other without taking any responsibility. It’s common in all industries and often known as CYA.
Clients should never see this. If they do they’ll see finger-pointing and blame dealing. And if they do the company has a big problem.
Gary Harpst talks about creating a culture of learning. You write that when your tribe stops learning your company stops growing. Why is learning so important for a company’s success?
The potential of your company rests in the people who do the work. The employees need to keep learning and growing for your company to keep growing.
Learning is where innovation comes from. It’s important for companies to embrace learning.
You can go as far back in history as you want. When new inventions are created it’s based on a need for learning and something new.
Construction has changed over the last 2 decades. That change comes when the employees and the company find easier ways to do things, better ways to communicate. A company is only as good as their weakest employee.
How did the companies you profile sustain learning in their company? What are the three ways they shared?
3 of the most common ways are:
Reading books. The most common way is senior leadership would read a chapter in between their meetings. And then discuss what they read in the next meeting. It was about how can we take action with what we’ve read.
Company outings. Not all companies took this approach. They would go somewhere and learn something...completely un-construction related. And then they would come back and see how they could apply what they had learned.
Conferences. These companies would take frontline employees to see that these companies are dealing with the same issues. It helps to hear it from other sources.
Now, given the nature of our economy it seems learning within companies stopped growing long ago and on a national basis? What do you think?
Unfortunately many companies have assumed they have the right to raise expectations and the employees are personally responsible to find the tools and resources to meet those expectations.
It shows the company is only willing to take from them, the employees.
When a company shows it is interested in growing the employees then the employees are most likely to take on those extra responsibilities, become engaged...stay loyal....
I think it’s two-fold. It’s not a line item on their balance sheet to build a culture that’s sincere with your employees and customers. Businesses are easier to run when you run them only from reports. Numbers never lie. But they also don’t tell the whole story.
President Obama has called you to the White House. He’s read about you, recognizes you have some good ideas to rejuvenate the construction industry and its huge source of jobs. He asks you Mel, what are three ways we can resume learning among the companies in our national tribe? What do you say to him?
First of all I say thank you and I’m honored. I was surprised and security is a bit complicated.
If you really want to make a difference you have to understand what makes it different. The same philosophies where the government has its hand in an industry will not work here.
Think about what they did with science. They launched a campaign to not only educate about what science is today but how you can have a future in it and how it can change lives. The average American doesn’t know enough about construction. As a result they selected the wrong culture. We can use media to our advantage. Make it easy to find and learn the basics.
[She shares another great company profile to illustrate.]
Let’s talk about social media. You have several blogs, a Facebook page, twitter. How do you use them to convey the right information?
How do I use it? I use it as a sharing tool. "Here’s a great article. Here’s some great tips."
- Twitter, I’m starting to shy away from. It’s not getting me, it’s not worth the time I’ve put into it in the past.
- I am experimenting with FourSquare.
- I like the conversational aspect of Facebook. It’s easy to follow the conversation.
- LinkedIn is a great tool to find people, get the right resource.
You have a new book coming out. This is your third book. Tell us about it.
The title is "Hiring the Right Contractor". And it’s there to help customers find the right contractor. What are the right questions to ask. How do you find out if they have the right things you need. Do they have a license number, the right number? These may be more expensive. If something happens while they are there you are personally held responsible. Check with your homeowner’s insurance to see if you’re covered.
You’re a leader. Jim Rohn said that Leaders are Readers. In all your spare time...what’s been your favorite books this year?
I am constantly reading everything. Books, magazines, I have 20 IE windows open at any time.
I start with magazines. My favorites are Scientific American, Inc and Fast Company.
I’m currently reading Sherlock Holmes.
As far as business books, I’m reading Built to Last: Successful habits of Visionary Companies, with the new forward.
A favorite book of mine is Blue Ocean Strategy. It is not an easy read so do not read it before bed. It’s not a boring book. It’s very theory based and the content is very good and I get ideas going like you wouldn’t believe.
Where can we find you on the web?
Contractors Doing It Right. I’m in the process of launching a new site. Right now it is a NING site with new content. A new construction blog will be launching with that site.
Omicle That is where you can find out more about my business.
I’m also on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and all the regular places.
Tamara Kleinberg, Chief Imaginator at Imaginibbles