Sunday, May 21, 2017

More Thoughts on New Leaders

Last weekend, I wrote about Do-Nothing Leaders. This post will expand on that leadership notion from last weekend by adding some new thoughts from an experience I had this weekend. Many of you know that I was in Boy Scouts growing up and both of my sons are in Boy Scouts now. My oldest son and I are in an honor society of scouting known as The Order of the Arrow. This society is almost as old as scouting itself and is comprised of only those scouts who are elected by the scouts in their troop for their work in living the Scout Oath and the 12 Points of the Scout Law. As OA members, we are committed to living the Scout Oath and Law, providing cheerful service to mankind and taking our ideals and experiences back to our troops to make them stronger. 

My son is currently Chief of our local OA chapter meaning he is our youth leader. He is learning much about leadership in this role. He and I spent this weekend at Conclave which is a gathering of scouts from the Del-Mar-Va region and was held at our local summer camp in northern Maryland. In addition to fun activities, meeting new people and having some great fellowship, Saturday morning was spent in training sessions. Most were for our youth, some were for both youth and adults and one that I attended was tailored just to adult advisers. 

As with all things in scouting, OA activities are meant to be youth planned and youth led. Many "scouters," as adult leaders are referred to, cannot help themselves and take too heavy handed an approach to their leading. In OA, the youth are older as you have to be First Class in rank to be elected and the "youth" designation is extended from 18 in Boy Scouts to 21 in OA. Many of the youth leaders in OA are 17 years old or older. For that reason, the youth who asked the person to lead this training session gave him the message of "OA is youth led so you need to tell the adults in your session to butt out!" That didn't exactly happen, but he did give us some nuggets that dovetail into my message from last week. The italicized phrases are directly from my notes from this training sessions. 

Failure is learning. In CSI, as in scouting, we should provide our new leaders with a controlled environment where failure is okay. We are a non-profit so there are not many financial penalties to failure, other than that which the individual chapter or region invests. In our chapter and region, we primarily rely on our sponsors, so we must always be mindful that it is their investment and they need a minimum return on that investment in terms of access to other construction professionals or advertisement of their brands. However, activites can be structured to allow for well-controlled failure to minimize financial impact. 

Many organizations choose leaders who have failed & test them in no win situations to gauge reactions. A well-known government agency was used to illustrate this point. Whether that is true or not, it is an interesting notion. If you have never failed, you may not know how to act or how you will react to that failure. This is the problem with helicopter parents. They have shielded their children from any adversity to the point where when the children are in high school or college and face real adversity and even failure, some are unable to handle that adversity and the cycle of parental over-involvement is perpetuated. 

The same can be true of new leaders. In Silicone Valley, there is a culture of failure and learning that should be respected, if not replicated. In CSI, our new leaders need to be given the latitude to fail so that when they reach higher positions of authority in their careers, they know what happens when they fail and can control their actions and emotions accordingly. 

The other interesting notion of the previous italicized note is the idea of putting new leaders into no win situations to see how they react. I'm not suggesting that anything as bold be performed on our new leaders in CSI, but by stepping away and perhaps allowing some adversity to occur, seasoned leaders can help new leaders learn and therefore learn how they will react to adversity. These become coaching moments that can be greatly beneficial to the new leader.  

Create an environment where success can happen - but let new leaders lead and ultimately determine level of success or failure. As a parent, I tell my children all the time that my job is to put you into a position to succeed. Whether in school, extra-curricular activities or learning to drive, I must always help you succeed, not put you in situations to fail. The same is true of me as a leader in CSI, in scouting or in my firm. Our new or young leaders need to be put into a position to succeed and then be allowed to determine their level of success or failure through their own actions. 

Don't allow other people to define your role or define your new leader's roles. This may seem a funny thing to say as I'm giving advice on leadership development, but the point made by the trainer is that everyone has an opinion but only you can determine what is right for you and for the leaders that you coach and mentor. I think the unspoken portion of this idea is that you should also not define your new leader's style. There are many kinds of leaders and each person must find their own natural leadership style. Success is determined not so much by style of leader, but by execution of leadership skills. 

Deflect - don't let people or situations have a negative impact on new leaders - no Eeyores. This may be the most important notion and the best continuation of my last post. Those of you who are familiar with the Winnie the Pooh stories know what Eeyore was the donkey with sad face and floppy ears who was always slow and usually had a negative attitude. Eeyore can be of particular concern to new leaders: the sadness, slowness and negativity can be deflating to new leaders. 

If you are developing new leaders, you must deflect the do-nothings to allow only positive people and positive situations to assist your new leaders. That's not to say that new leaders should not be exposed to negative people and negative situations, they should. However, as the seasoned leader, you are in the best position to use that negativity as a teaching moment on how to handle it and also as a moment of positive reinforcement. 

Another point made in this training session was about coaching and mentoring. I've written on those ideas in this blog and on the Baltimore Chapter CSI's blog, Felt Tips. You are never just a coach or just a mentor to young people and new leaders. That role can change as often as the weather. However, by being present, engaged and thoughtful, you can make a difference in the lives and careers of young people and new leaders. That maybe the most important lesson of all. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Leadership: Do Something

Blogger Note: Its been awhile since I posted. I've been busy! Seriously, I did take an intentional step back as I joined the Board of Directors for CSI, but I have 2 ideas in my head and 3 drafts on the dashboard, so look for an onslaught!  

Also, on this Mother's Day, a very Happy Mother's Day and a huge "Thank You" to the moms out there, especially my own mom and the mother of my three wonderful children!

~ MK

I recently retweeted a tweet by Dan Rockwell, The Leadership Freak. He's a great follow on Twitter @leadershipfreak. Dan said, "Do-nothing people tell do-something people to slow down!" My comment on the retweet was, "Volunteer leaders should think on this." I think there are several ideas to unpack from this simple statement on leadership. 

We all run into "do-nothing people" in our daily lives. They are either in jobs that they are not passionate about or their passions lie elsewhere. They float through their days doing just the minimum effort or trying to hide and just get by. That is fine in some instances. I had a boss once who said, "we need worker bees, too!" Every firm cannot be filled with leaders no more than every person can be a leader. In our AEC industry, we need folks to produce the work as well as leaders to lead them. However, when the minimum effort is provided, minimum compensation and limited room for growth follows. Not all do-nothing people get that and they crave more than they are willing deliver in the workplace. 

These "do-nothing people" can come to occupy leadership positions in our volunteer activities. Their "provide minimum effort at work" attitude leaves them behind in the work place so they try to get ahead in their volunteer activities. I've seen it time and time again: the idea that "its my turn" to lead because I'm next in line and I've paid my dues. 

This is a terrible way to pick leaders. It can lead to lack of organizational focus, inability to recruit other leaders and even to recruit or retain members. I recently served a three year term on my church parish council. We were supposed to help our pastoral director lead the parish. I encountered a number of "do-nothing" people on that council and felt they were looking for a social outlet not a strategic leadership opportunity. I spent one year as chair of that council and for the first time in my life, left a leadership position feeling that I accomplished nothing. 

As a leader, anytime you have to use words like "voluntold" to get people to help or "it's time someone stepped up," the leaders of that organization need to take a long look in the mirror. There may be things that you are doing or saying, there may be ways that you conduct your business that are causing smart, passionate and talented individuals to not help out. It does not have to be merely you as a person or a personality; it can be as simple as making new thoughts and ideas unwelcome.  

The biggest harm comes when, as Dan points out, the "do-nothing people" slow down the "do-something people." If your firm does not have an entrepreneurial spirit in its leadership, that is okay. Many firms simply do the work they have always done and do not look to move ahead. If you seek entrepreneurship in business and are a "do-something" person, the "do-nothing" leaders of that firm may cause you to find another firm to work with.  

Similarly, in our volunteer activities, these "do-nothing" people can cause "do-something" people to leave the organization or to certainly not seek other leadership positions. I left our parish council because I was not able to use the resources of that council to make our parish better. They "do-nothing" members did just what they do, nothing, and I could not change that.

As a leader, if your first response to a new idea is "we tried that and it didn't work" or "we don't do things that way" then you are a "do-nothing" leader and you should step back and let others lead your organization. If you feel that no one wants to help you and you have to "voluntell" people to do things, you should probably step back and let others lead. 

I've said a million times that I am in a leadership position in our firm because of CSI. Ten years ago, my chapter needed leadership and me, along with many others, took control and led our chapter out of a very uncertain period of time. I worked hard, I made mistakes, but I learned from those mistakes. CSI offered me a friendly and nurturing avenue to learn how to lead. 

I have sense moved on to lead CSI at the national level but I always try to let our chapter leadership make their own decisions. They value my opinions and input, but I try to make clear that this is their chapter and they should lead it as they believe is best. It is that notion of the friendly and nurturing environment that "do-something" people need. CSI can be great if the "do-something" people are given an environment to test their ideas, make their mistakes but also to learn from those mistakes. We need entrepreneurs in CSI, not obstructionists. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Be a Part of the Solution, Not a Part of the Problem

I use this line frequently with my children: be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. The lesson is to solve problems, not point fingers. Think about this: when pointing your index finger at someone else, your other three fingers are pointing back at you. The other lesson of this message, though not overt, is to communicate to solve problems. Learn from your own shortcomings and work to correct them.

I attended a meeting this week with a client who we designed a building for but they were unable to secure funding for construction once the documents were complete. The project sat for 2-1/2 years and now about 80% of the funding is available, so we are being asked to re-program the building to eliminate about 20% of the square footage. In the room at the meeting were 20 people, some of whom were involved in the original design and some of whom were not.

There was much discussion of what should happen but no offering up of solutions. There was a lot of "cloud talk" with little substance. I find this a lot with design and construction projects: people around the table that either do not understand the design and construction processes or understand a very limited swath of the process. How do we overcome this? Communicate, educate and collaborate.

Nearly every problem in life can be solved by clearly, openly and honestly communicating. We all have sensibilities and needs that we bring to our work and to the projects we are involved in. Guard that those aren't turned into hidden agendas. Trust and communication break down when someone feels they have been wronged or not treated fairly. Be timely in how you communicate with your teammates and always be open and honest. More often than not, that honesty will be reciprocated. 

Since many clients will build maybe one or two buildings in their lifetimes, we should first and foremost educate our clients about the process, the pitfalls and the opportunities for success. There is a trust factor built in here: your clients will only be educated if they trust you and allow themselves to learn. Part of that trust is rooted in believability. Your explanation of process must sound believable and should not include phrases like "this is how it is done" or "because we have always done it that way." Trust is best built when all questions are answered and concerns are eased.   

We are stronger as a group than we are as individuals, so collaborating and utilizing everyone's skills and strengths to the fullest helps ensure success of the group. Collaboration is not easy; it is like any othe relationship: it takes time to develop and it is built on trust. Honesty, confidentiality and accountability are the paving stones that collaboration is built on. Transparency is the glue that holds the collaboration together. 

I'm sure many of you try to practice these things in your dealings in our industry. Writing a blog focused to members of our industry may be a bit like preaching to the choir: if you are out looking for help, you are probably already a part of the solution! Hopefully, this blog gives you some vocabulary to use. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mockups: What's the Big Deal?

On several recent projects in our office, we've had some atypical mockups: discrete pieces of laboratory casework, full room mockups and performance-tested mockups. Even on projects with the more typical aesthetic mockups, there seems to be differing opinions of the purpose, process and approach to making mockups useful and successful. 

Like with all items in construction, the requirements for mockups start in one or two places. The project manual should include the requirements for mockups in Division 01 and in certain technical sections while drawings may also be provided to indicate the extent of the larger mockups required. 

Our firm's project manuals include requirements for mockups in Section 01 40 00 Quality Requirements. Our typical Section 01 40 00 defines mockups this way:

"Mockups:  Full size physical assemblies that are constructed on-site.  Mockups are constructed to verify selections made under sample submittals; to demonstrate aesthetic effects and, where indicated, qualities of materials and execution; to review coordination, testing, or operation; to show interface between dissimilar materials; and to demonstrate compliance with specified installation tolerances.  Mockups are not Samples.  Unless otherwise indicated, approved mockups establish the standard by which the Work will be judged."

I particularly like the sentence "Mockups are not Samples." Our Section 01 40 00 does not contain a definition of "samples" but I think that definition is generally understood: small pieces of the actual material, thickness, color and finish that will be used in the work. While the mockup definition includes the notion of creating an assembly, it is not an assembly of samples, as noted in the sentence referenced above. A measure of each material, in the exact size, thickness, color and finish specified must be used to create the mockup, but not a series of easily and readily available samples. 

The other ideas put forth in the mockup definition that are important are the purposes of the mockup. Note the plural term "purposes." A mockup can used to set the quality, demonstrate the aesthetics and review coordination, testing and operation of the materials. These are all important and legitimate uses for the mockup. I think the commonly misunderstood idea is "to review coordination, testing, or operation."  

We currently have in construction the fourth residence hall renovation for a long time client. The four buildings are similar and have similar systems installed. For the four buildings, we have had three different construction managers and myriad different trade contractors. We have some clear wall framing details that incorporate the window details, fan coil unit and its piping, wall insulation and other items. These details have evolved based on knowledge gained in the early buildings. For the first two renovations, we directed an off-site mockup be built to help all trades understand the coordination needed as the client was seeking to minimize space lost within the room: even 1/2-inches are important. The off-site mockup was also critical because the first three renovations  featured summers only construction so the residence halls could be occupied during the school year. Coordination was critically important as the contractors had 11 weeks to mobilize, demolish, install new, punch out, final clean and demobilize. 

For this fourth renovation, the CM and trade contractors have 12 months. Unfortunately, the CM did not seem interested in the mockup at all. I was unable to convince him of the necessity or utility of it. It is a contract requirement, so he did it, but he did not seem interested in learning from it. I find that to be incredibly short sighted, but as I said, we do have very clear wall framing details. However, at a critical time in the construction schedule, he was directed to remove a significant portion of non-conforming work and replace it. If this had occurred in just the mockup room, it would not be a big deal. However, the trade contractor had installed this non-conforming work across 1-1/2 floors of a 5 floor building. 

This story is played out on project after project and I partially blame us as the architect. Here's how this particular mockup is described in Section 01 40 00: 

"Bedroom Mock Up: In one resident bedroom, install fan coil, exterior wall framing, high impact gypsum board, fan coil enclosure, fan coil control, insulation and vapor barrier."

While this is an apt description of the work result, we should have mentioned the purpose of the mockup and how the client would like to see the work in progress as well as the work result. While out of sequence work is problematic to the CM, is that less costly to he and the trade contractor than removing 1-1/2 floors of installed work?

As with most things, communication is the key. In addition to defining more than just the work result in our specifications, we should have asked that mockups be reviewed in a pre-installation conference and in the progress meetings (Section 01 31 00) and included in the overall construction schedule (Section 01 32 05). 

Another way early communication could have helped is with vapor barrier continuity. In the exterior wall particular detail, designed by an exterior envelope consultant after performing a dew point analysis on the first of the four buildings, the vapor barrier is formed by the facing material on a rigid insulation board adhered to the existing CMU walls. It was to be gapped 1/4-inch between boards and at the room perimeter and that gap filled with a sprayed foam insulation. Not all of that got communicated into the documents, though on the first two buildings with off-site mockups, that work was included based on comments on the mockup. 

So, how can an architect help manage the mockup appropriately? I think it starts with clear direction in the contract documents and better descriptions of what the purpose of the mockup is and how the review of the mockup is expected to proceed. In the bedroom mockup description above, adding a simple statement of "the architect and owner will review the mockup in progress at regular intervals" might have sufficed. Noting that there should be a pre-installation conference or discussion of mockups at progress meetings certainly would have helped.

More importantly than that, interpersonal communication would have made the situation better. The CM was on the project team from the design development phase. The balance of the team was performing their fourth project together and assumed everything was known to all parties. We, owner and architect, should have spent more time discussing the mockups with the CM and reviewing the expectations, especially when the CM experienced a project manager change and when a procurement situation delayed the start of construction. 

If the mockups are important to the owner or to the design professional, more care must be taken in communicating those requirements to the construction team than merely putting the requirements in Division 01 sections and remaining silent in other communications. If the project is design-bid-build, then the mockups should be discussed at the pre-bid meeting so that all bidders are made aware of the requirements and importance of the mockups. 

Conversely, if the mockups are not important or serve little or no purpose, then don't include them in the work. Expecting construction teams to schedule out of sequence work for little good to the project is counterproductive to the overall project goals. It could also foster a sense of being "handled" by an untrusting owner and an unforgiving architect. Worse, it could open the construction team up to expectations beyond the stated or specified goals of the mockup. 

On a recent laboratory project, an overzealous CM directed the laboratory casework bidders to "provide one of each piece of casework in the project" for a mockup. What ensued was a disjointed collection of items that served no relationship to each other or to the completed work. The owner was confused when reviewing the items as they were arranged in a manner that did not match the completed work and the owner nearly rejected the entire mockup. In my mind, this mockup served little purpose and only caused the construction team and design team to expend numerous hours trying to understand the purpose, direction given to the bidders and then educating the owner's team on the true purpose of the mockup. More communication upfront between CM, owner and architect could have helped this mockup come off better. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Because of the CDT, I....

Back on December 8, 2015, Christine Tanner, CSI's Senior Manager for Marketing and Communications, Twitter handle @ChristineLTanne, posed the question on Twitter "Because of the CDT, I...." I quickly answered "I'm a better architect & better able to serve my clients & industry partners." Since then, I've been thinking about that brief response and decided to expand on it here.
I was already a licensed architect when I passed the CDT in 2002. You may ask why I would sit for an additional professional exam after already passing the grueling then-9 part Architect's Registration Exam? The answer is that I was a good architect, but I knew I could get better. I knew a lot about construction documents, but not all there is to know. I had spent nearly 10 years practicing in the public realm and mostly at public universities. I knew from my knowledge of the AIA contract documents that there were other ways to practice architecture and construction. I wanted to see what I was missing.
What I have found since is that I am a better architect. I am not a mindless robot that puts on blinders and follows the "CSI Way" of practicing design and producing documents or doing things the same way because "that's how we've always done it." With the CDT, I have the knowledge of doing things the right way so that I better understand the risks and rewards of deviating from generally accepted standards. I believe that helps me to better serve my clients.
There are no cookie cutter, boiler plate design and construction projects. Or at least there aren't any in our office! We pride ourselves on producing great designs that creatively solve our clients goals while reaching their budgets. That creativity often comes with experimenting in new materials or alternative documentation techniques. To be most efficient, we occasionally try new documentation through our drawings, modeling and specifications to allow us to push the envelope with our designs and give the builders the information they need. The CDT has helped me provide better documentation, thereby mitigating risk for our firm and for our clients.
I also mentioned "industry partners" in my response. That is one of my great joys in my participation in CSI: getting to know all members of the industry from owners, to builders, to manufacturer's reps, to attorneys. We are all in this together and by working together, we can best serve our clients. The CDT taught me that regardless of the contracts in place, all members of the team are responsible to each other, whether contractually or not, to help reach the client's goals and budget.
While preparing to take the CDT exam, I was reminded of projects I had worked on, both good and bad. I began to reflect on what made the good ones good and the bad ones bad. A common thread wound through both: the quality of the team members. Good teams have good projects and bad teams have less successful projects.
I firmly believe that if the percentage of construction professionals that hold the CDT is increased, the number of good projects will also increase. I believe there will be fewer adversarial teams and more collaboration. More owners will have better buildings and spend fewer dollars to build those buildings. If we all hold the CDT, we all do our jobs better, more efficiently and make more money.
The spring exam season is approaching! Early bird registration ends on January 31 and final registration on February 29 for exam dates of March 29 through April 30. Consider signing up to take the exam and earn this important certificate. You'll be better at work and further your career.
Visit for more information.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

CSI Mentoring

I spent some time on Sunday reconnecting with a former classmate and colleague who left Jackson, MS and moved to the west coast about the same time my family left Jackson for the east coast. The recession was not kind to him and after a layoff, some contract work and some other temporary jobs, he landed a position as a manufacturer's rep. He loves the job and has tremendous growth opportunities in that position. 

After talking about common friends, family and other stuff, our discussion turned to CSI. He is familiar with CSI but never saw the need to join because he "wasn't involved in specifications writing." In his current sales position, he sees the need for networking and was interested in learning about CSI and I promised to connect him with the leaders I know in his area. 

I took the conversation a step further. His company is a major player in industrial applications of their materials but are a new player on the side of architectural uses of their materials. I began to sense that while my friend can see a clear growth path ahead for his company, he may need data, metrics and other items to convince his boss of the very necessary expenditures ahead. That sounds to me like a mentoring opportunity for someone in the CSI chapter he should join. 

As an architect, one of the great benefits that I've gained from my involvement in CSI is an understanding and appreciation of what the manufacturer's rep goes through; their every day trials and tribulations. Some of the negative parts of the job are self-inflicted, but others are inflicted by their management or corporate structures. The biggest light bulb lit for me about six years ago when our chapter had a panel discussion on product substitutions. The prodcut reps on that panel all said they hate substitutions because it means they didn't do their job to get in the spec in the first place. That was one of the first times that I realized we are all in this together and should work to help each other rather than be adversarial or simply use each other. 

In the days since my friend and I parted, I've been thinking a lot about that notion of mentoring within the CSI chapter. I am also in the process of resetting my firm's mentoring program for the program year. I gave a presentation at CONSTRUCT in St Louis on mentoring which featured a case study of our firm's program. I touched on some notions of starting a mentoring program in a CSI chapter but, candidly, didn't offer much assistance on that notion. 

What if we used the great manufacturer's reps each chapter has to mentor the next generation of manufacturer's reps? How great could our industry be if each and every rep that entered an architect's or engineer's office or stepped onto a job site held the CCPR certification or at least CDT? How great would CSI be with that sort of involvement? 

Across the last several months, I've been thinking about CSI's position in leadership development and have mentioned to our region leadership the notion of using leadership in CSI to further your careers. That's what I did. I was recently promoted to principal in our firm. I'm not sure I would have earned that promotion if I had not agreed to serve as committee chair, then director, then president of my CSI chapter over 10 years ago. How great could our industry be if all members of the construction team cut their teeth in leadership positions in CSI? 

The challenge that I plan to make to our region leaders and one that I make now to ALL CSI leaders at the chapter and region level is sell two notions about CSI: we will make you better at your current job and we will provide you safe opportunities to hone your leadership skills for your future job. What else can you ask for of a professional organization?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Serving Others

Sunday's mass at our church was offered for my friend, Mark, who passed away in December. I wrote about Mark, his prayer service, funeral and his service to me and to our church here. 

Mark's widow, his daughter, son-in-law, grandson and many friends were at church tonight. This was not announced publicly. In fact, I didn't know the mass was for Mark until I read the Prayer of the Faithful before mass. I was training two young people to be lectors at our mass so we went through the call to worship, the two readings, the Prayer of the Faithful and the announcements. Its fitting that I found out the mass tonight was offered for Mark while I was preparing young people for service in the church.

It also dovetails nicely with some other items from my recent efforts. Last week at CONSTRUCT, I gave a presentation on being a Buddy, Coach and Mentor at work or in our professional organizations. My major theme is that in our work and volunteer activities, we need buddies to make things fun, coaches to help us be better at our current jobs and mentors to help us across our careers. 

I noticed that many of the presentations I attended at CONSTRUCT mentioned mentorship and service to others. In one on developing the next generation of specifiers, the notions of coaching and mentoring specifiers was particularly acute. 

CONSTRUCT also featured the Young Professionals program with I hope grows into an annual event. Chaired by my good friend, Cherise Lakeside, a group of young professionals spent Wednesday learning about various topics and then toured the Hager facility in St Louis. I spent some time Wednesday morning with the group talking about how to network at CONSTRUCT and then in a speed mentoring session. It was a great event and I think the young professionals found it beneficial. 

I've also doing some work thinking and writing about what I enjoy the most about my volunteer activities. In the past, I coached soccer, but now I focus on scouting and working in my church. I'm a member of my son's boy scout troop committee and assist the troop and my other son's cub scout pack in myriad ways. In our parish, I help with confirmation and organizing young people to lector at our 5:30P mass which also features a contemporary music group and progressive message. 

In my work activities, I try to focus on creating the next generation of architects and firm leaders by spending time with our staff making them better at their jobs and helping mentor them for the future that is coming. 

I do a lot of reading about leadership. I follow many people on Twitter who tweet about leadership. These themes of mentorship and service to others are reoccurring in my reading and in my life. I think this is what Mark wanted for me and for all of us: service others, work in your faith, but have a ball doing it! You do that every day and you'll have a rich and rewarding life.