The Labor Issue Is NOT Going Away

August 28th, 2019

2006 or 2019: Somethings are not changing…


Front page news! ENR May 8, 2006 stated, “firms seek new solutions to keep employees in place.” This critically important issue has been with us for over TWO DECADES. We should not be surprised it is getting worse. During the lean times of the past we were warned. Warned that job-hopping would increase once the economy picked up. Employees were fed up with being overworked, under-appreciated, under-paid, and taken for granted. Now, more than ever, good employees are moving on and firms are dismayed. Those facing higher-than-normal turnover today are getting what they deserve. They are paying the price for continuing to use a management style and philosophy that is better left in the last century. Author Steven Covey, in The 8th Habit, says that this is the century of release, not control.

Turnover is an indirect cost and, because it is not directly measurable, it is often discounted. Construction executives would rather operate in the tangible world of cost reports and bids won and lost than in the intangible world of taking care of people. I must clarify that simply providing a paycheck is not “taking care of people.” Management must develop employees to step into positions of increased responsibility and impact. Enlightened firms instill a strong sense of corporate culture, through open and honest communication—not by decree.

In fact, the number one antidote to turnover is hard to measure also. It is leadership. Unfortunately, that ENR article never mentioned the word. And only once in three pages is the concept of employee development mentioned. Yet, many times, pay and benefits issues are discussed. Once again, the default position is to the tangible subject of money, away from the abstract idea of developing people. But the last sentence, from a man who had been with the same firm for 55 years, speaks loudly: “If you’re happy and content, you don’t look for other avenues.” It’s not high pay that makes workers happy and keeps them fulfilled.

Leadership is not the only solution to the labor crunch, but it is where the primary fight needs to be waged. Firms often make the mistake of sending people to development programs expecting them to come back… different. The reality is that change only begins in development programs. It must be reinforced by executives back on the job–executives who probably need the same leadership program they are sending their people to.

As a speaker and consultant on leadership, I am often told by managers I work with, “This is great! But the person who really needs to hear it isn’t here.” Too many bosses in construction are, quite simply, poor leaders. The personality profile of many of these managers is that of a task-driven, detail-oriented individual. They are hard-wired against building relationships. But leadership, at its heart, is a relationship. And relationship-building can be learned. Integrity and core values are what cement employee loyalty–not a 1% match to their 401K.

Look at Fortune magazine’s Top 100 Companies to Work For in America and you will see examples of well-led firms across all industries, including construction. Many of these firms don’t pay the best, yet they enjoy best-of-class turnover and employee satisfaction. How do they do it? My research, experience and consulting work points primarily to leadership–leadership that anticipates change and encourages open, even sometimes messy, dialogue about difficult issues. Leadership that fundamentally trusts, respects and values people. Leadership that engages people. Why? Because people who feel valued don’t look for new jobs. They look for ways to do their current jobs better. People who are engaged eagerly come to work with not only their hands, but their head and their heart as well.

Good leadership is not passive. It is proactive and looks for opportunities to engage people. Think of your all your employees as the teeth on a large gear. The gear is just sitting there, doing nothing. Your people are also doing nothing. To get this gear to move, we need a stimulus–another gear to engage the idle one. Leadership is that necessary drive gear. Until leaders engage them, the workers will remain idle. But once we take action, the gears mesh and forward progress begins.

Leadership is all about engagement, and it is the foremost antidote to spiraling, out-of-control labor costs and turnover. Yes, market rates must be paid. But bidding wars for talent still leave employees wanting more. What they want is to be trusted, respected, engaged, and challenged at work. They want to be led.


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Ghosting at Work: What is it and What can you do?

February 1st, 2019

A peek at the dictionary shows two definitions of ghosting:

  1. The appearance of a ghost or secondary image on a television or other display screen.
  2. The practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

But as so often happens these days, a new definition is entering the urban dictionary, and it expands the meaning from ending a personal relationship to include ending a business relationship.

Ghosting is becoming a real horror story for employers, reports The Washington Post. If an employee has left you with a “no show, no call,” and you are unable to get in touch with them to find out the deal, you have been ghosted. Recruiters at global staffing firm Robert Half have noticed a 10-20% increase in ghosting over the past year. And the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago noted in December’s Beige Book, which tracks employment trends, “A number of contacts said that they had been ‘ghosted,’ a situation in which a worker stops coming to work without notice and then is impossible to contact.”

From “just bad manners” to “not wanting to have a difficult conversation,” the reasons for ghosting vary. There are many psychological explanations as to why someone ghosts, but at its core, ghosting is avoidance and often stems from fear of conflict. So, at its heart, ghosting is about wanting to avoid confrontation, avoid difficult conversations, avoid hurting someone’s feelings. There is no doubt that technology has decreased the ability of many people to engage in legitimate conversations and the confrontations that sometimes arise in work settings. Using tech, they can simply choose not to respond and, therefore, “avoid the whole mess.”

Part of me hopes that karma kicks in at some point, and people who have ghosted will eventually get ghosted, although that doesn’t solve your problem as an employer. But let’s be honest here: Employers probably started the trend with the Friday pink slip and the escort out the door. Maybe the employer created such a bad environment for the employee that they simply felt no need to say good-bye. Research continues to show there are way too many jerks in supervisory roles.

The rules today are that there are no rules. Temple University thought they had a new head football coach in Manny Diaz. But days after taking the job, Diaz bolted for the University of Miami, leaving Temple without a coach. We see players transferring to different schools at unprecedented rates. On the one hand, we admire people for pursing their dreams–but on the other hand, we question commitment and resilience. This new normal for employee mobility is real and you need to adjust.

It is very challenging to combat the trend with new hires or candidates. You haven’t had time to show you care, to do a stay interview, to show you train and develop. You haven’t had a chance to demonstrate trust and respect. Some emerging strategies are to assign a running mate for the new employee on day one, so they can start building relationships right out of the gate. Another idea is for the boss to out brief each day to give real feedback. In other words, work really hard to get effective communication started as quickly as you can. People do want to feel like they are part of things. Do what you can here. They may not understand everything you’re saying, but they will feel included.

I recognize these steps are imperfect, but they are a start. You cannot change rude behavior, and you probably will not make someone who is conflict-averse want to fight–but you may at least get the phone call back.

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What If? Three Questions You Must Answer Today to Protect Your Company in the Economy Tomorrow

February 1st, 2019

The sky is falling. The sky is not falling. We are doomed. We are fine. Confused? You are not alone. The economic roller coaster of today presents unique challenges. We simply do not know what exactly is going to happen and that uncertainly is paralyzing our economy. It is also paralyzing managers. Politicians campaign for change; you need to campaign for a plan–a plan that answers the question, “What if?”

Businesses all over the world are worrying about what might happen. But, now is not the time to worry; now is the time to develop a plan. In the Marines, we did contingency planning. We would pick the three most-likely scenarios for a situation we were facing, and then develop plans for each one. Our job was to execute at a moment’s notice. We planned while we had time, and then implemented one of those plans based on the situation we finally did face.  Rather than agonizing about impending doom, I suggest you gather your team and answer the following three questions:

  • What if the economy recovers and business is great for us in the next 6 months?
  • What if the economy stalls and our business revenue significantly decreases in the next 6 months?
  • What if our business remains stable despite the external fluctuations in the economy?

Planning and answering these questions will help you in the following important ways:

First, it will give your team confidence. Inaction breeds fear. Action creates energy and gives people a sense of control over their destiny.  You will be exercising leadership, and that is exactly what your employees want. When the House of Representatives failed to pass the bailout bill on September 29, citizens nationwide decried the lack of leadership in Washington. You need to lead today. More than ever, your people want to know the score, and they want you to tell them about it.

Second, answering the above questions will allow you to be more flexible and able to respond quicker to your clients. When it comes time to act, you will be ready. Other firms will be just beginning their planning, while you will already have a plan in place. You will get the “first movers” advantage. This can put new money in your pocket or allow you to keep the money you already have.

The process is what matters. These contingency conversations are not lunchroom chatter or filler at a staff meeting. They are written plans that you create, refine, record, and store for use. They’re like the fire extinguisher in the glass case: ready when you need it.

One of the axioms of military combat is, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”  Some would use that as an excuse to not plan. “Why bother? It is going to change anyway.” But, the smarter business leader knows that the power is in the planning, not in the plan. That’s where you learn, where you think ahead, brace for the worst, and work together to achieve a goal. The plan will change but you will be ready for whatever you face because you asked the question, “What if?”


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Lean Failures: 6 Critical Components to Successful Lean Implementation

September 18th, 2018

The Lean Construction Institute says the industry is broken. You know it has its challenges. Construction labor productivity has decreased, while efficiency in other industries has doubled over the past generation. More than 70% of projects are completed late and over-budget. Fatalities are not isolated events. In the face of these issues, lean project delivery is an attempt to improve this chaos.

Many contractors have thrown countless time and dollars at lean initiatives. Some have made modest progress in the short-term. More have discarded the effort as it waned over time. A precious few have embedded it in their DNA and are realizing significant benefits for the effort. In my observations over the past few years, I have detected 6 common reactions that will derail your efforts:

The first and, perhaps most prevalent, response to a Lean initiative is, “I already do a good job; now you’re telling me I’m not doing it right?” The reply to that is, while there was nothing wrong with the way the work was being done, it might be time to do it differently.

Even with that gentle redirect, people can still have a hard time looking objectively at their behavior and the processes that have served them well for so long. As a professor of mine once said, “Ideas become actions, actions become habits, habits become processes, processes become religions, and religions die hard.” Your lean initiative must be accompanied committed leadership and maybe a credible internal marketing campaign to rally the troops and assure them that this is not about cutting labor.

The second-most-often heard reply comes from those in the “It’s not my job” camp. These folks view process improvement as the work of somebody else. This group thinks that, as long as they get a certain amount of work done every day, they’re fine; anything that might hinder that is bad.

To get this group on board, you might need to address job description and compensation. More important, you must demonstrate the value of process improvement so they can see for themselves that it is worth it. Run a test project and cite the gains, or get these naysayers involved in planning.

For the third reaction, fill in the blank: “Anything worth doing is worth doing _______.” Most of you will say well. I say poorly—at first. If something is worth doing, then it is worth taking the time to do it right. When you learn something new, you probably won’t be good at it right away. Knowing that stumbles are to be expected makes it easier to stay the course. In fact, production might go down initially as you try new things, but if you keep at it, you will see improvements.

Regarding response #4: We all know that what gets measured gets done, and lean needs data and metrics to make a real impact. Unfortunately, many contractor organizations do a very poor job in this area. I have often seen the benefit of a proposed lean initiative described in such vague terms as “improved production” or “better customer service.” Those phrases don’t have much meaning.

The lack of real metrics in the first place will make it very hard to quantify measurable impact and remain committed to the change. This gets us into a Six Sigma conversation, and I often hear the term “lean six sigma.” Is that redundant? Maybe, but maybe not. Villanova University puts it this way:

Six Sigma and Lean systems have the same goal. They both seek to eliminate waste and create the most efficient system possible, but they take different approaches toward achieving this goal. In simplest terms, the main difference between Lean and Six Sigma is that they identify the root cause of waste differently.

Lean practitioners believe that waste comes from unnecessary steps in the production process that do not add value to the finished product, while Six Sigma proponents assert that waste results from variation within the process.

Of course, there is truth in both of these assessments, which is why both Lean and Six Sigma been so successful in improving overall business performance in a variety of fields. In fact, these two disciplines have proven to be especially successful when working in tandem – hence the creation of Lean Six Sigma.

My initial point remains: measurement is the key to a successful initiative.

In reaction #5, we discuss that lean is a collaborative process, whereby teams work to discover better ways of doing things. The key here is that the teams work together. That takes time, and time is money. Leaders are tempted to steer the conversation for the sake of time; they should not. Leaders also need to remain silent during brainstorming and other team exercises. I learned in the Marines that the wishes of a superior should be taken as an order. When my boss said, “I think we should do X,” that meant, “We should do X.” In a lean process, if the leader offers their opinion, it might well stifle the conversation. Leaders need to learn how to facilitate, and not direct, a conversation. They must guide, not mandate. If the leader wants to decide and mandate, that is fine–just don’t do it in a lean situation.

Reaction #6 mirrors our first when an employee resists a lean initiative because they think they are pretty good at what they do. This happens at the company level too. People have hard time changing. Organizations have a really hard time changing. Too many firms think they are doing well because net profit is good. But is it really that good compared to their competitor? Or merely good compared to the poor year they had last year? Further, what about ROI? ROA? And other deeper financial measures. If you are running dead last in the race, so far from your next competitor that you cannot see them, you might think you are in the lead.

We know the industry is broken. As part of the industry, your projects may not be broken but they might be cracked. Lean is a worthy effort that can pay handsomely on the bottom-line. It can help create friction-free teams and processes that excel at doing the work and adding value. I encourage you to consider this profit strategy, but I also caution you that these six responses can cause your initiative to fail. That need not be the case.

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Adamchik To Speak at NSA Convention

May 30th, 2018

I am a member of NSA – the National Speakers Association. The ones who speak – not the government NSA, the ones who listen! It is always cool for me when clients get recognized by their associations for contributions to industry and for building excellence.  Whether it is project of the year recognition or an innovative approach to recruiting and marketing, this peer recognition confirms they are doing something right.

In July I will be delivering a session at my national convention. Not my first time, but it has been a few years. I will be talking with fellow speakers about the importance of a peer group; at NSA we call it a mastermind. Life and business is hard, you really cannot do it alone. We all need partners, collaborators, advisors and support. (Do you have these in your life?) The selection process is rigorous and only a small percentage of those who want to speak are selected. I am proud to be selected and eager to make a contribution to the trade. Speaking at NSA is a bit like being a Marine watching a parade. Everyone in the stands is looking to make sure everyone in the parade is in step. There will be those in my audience who will critique every move, gesture and volume change. So be it. I would rather be the man in the arena. The words of Teddy Roosevelt from early in the 20th century remain inspirational today.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Social media provides plenty of opportunity to criticize and share outrage over some perceived insult or behavior. Don’t get sucked up in that. Unsubscribe if you have too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your team. Your people want positive and inspired leadership. Surveys show our nation is more anxious and uncertain than ever. This means you have an opportunity at work to create an environment where trust is a given and consistency a certainty. Leading means you are already in the arena. There will be some tough days but the rewards far outweigh the downside. Stay Inspired..

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Full Speed Ahead: Go Fast, Train Less?

May 30th, 2018

In 2017, just after 5 o’clock in the morning on the 21st of August, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC.  Berthing areas were immediately flooded and a total of 10 sailors lost their lives. Two months earlier, the USS Fitzgerald was struck by the merchant vessel Crystal at approximately 1:30 in the morning. Again, several sailors sleeping or working below decks were imperiled. This time, the toll turned out to be seven dead and three injured.

Although you aren’t sailing ships through crowded sea lanes, the lessons learned from these two fatal incidents are relevant to commercial contractors. Poor training, understaffing, and overworked crews contribute to the challenges you face every day.  In an effort to be more streamlined, to rely more on technology, and “do more with less,” sailors were put at risk. Sound familiar?

Let’s start with workload. In a twist of words we could only expect from the government, we read that “optimal manning” considers a 70-hour week to be the standard.  It should be noted that “optimal” sounded better than the original “minimal” manning. This was deemed the lowest staffing level possible to make a ship work. Great idea. However, what happened when someone fell ill, was in training, wasn’t proficient, or was otherwise not available? A classic case of theory versus reality, where what was intended isn’t really what was gained. Think about your staffing. I know it’s lean. Smaller and smaller crews try to do more with less.  There is an unfortunate tendency to dodge training in favor of project work that seems more critical at the time.  It’s a downward spiral that manifests in lower safety and productivity.

Construction unemployment is at the lowest level it has been in ten years. It is hard to find people. From an overworked estimating department to project teams that are at the outer edge of capacity, it is a recipe for failure. You tell yourself that the turnover you are having has nothing to do with staffing, but the employees who are leaving tell us differently. The government accounting office (GAO) reports the Navy is having a hard time finding people. The Navy agrees. So do you. But that doesn’t make the problem go away. There is no single solution.  A combination of recruiting and retaining strategies is required to add people.

Xbox and PlayStation are no substitute for real world training. For three decades prior to 2003, the U.S. Navy sent all of its new officers, whatever their commissioning source, to the Surface Warfare Officer’s School (SWOS) in Newport, Rhode Island. There, the officers underwent extensive simulator training featuring a variety of military vessels, and they worked through numerous courses that emphasized the practicalities of navigation and seamanship.

“But all that changed fifteen years ago,” says Capt. Kevin Eyer, a retired Navy skipper who served aboard seven cruisers and commanded three during his Navy career. “Instead of going through the rigorous training at SWOS for several months before reporting to their first ship, these young people went directly to the new ship with nothing more by way of training than a box of CDs the Navy termed CBT, or Computer-Based Training.”

CBT was not an especially popular replacement for SWOS. Often, it was humorously dismissed as “SWOS in a box” by the new officers who attempted to wade through its content—content which, according to its developers, would generate “higher professional satisfaction, increase the return on investment during the first division officer tour, and free up more career time downstream.”

“But what SWOS in a box really meant,” reveals Eyer, “was that the skipper of the ship that the new officer was assigned to was now expected to stand in for all the training that had once been provided by the school. And trust me—the skipper and everyone else on board already had plenty of other things to do.” Sounds like a field issue.

With the shuttering of SWOS in Newport, the Navy’s emphasis on training across the board began to falter and continues to do so. “We don’t let people fly airplanes without sending them off to a ground school to learn the basics,” says retired Navy Capt. Rich Hoffman. “Why are we assigning our sailors to ships before they understand the fundamentals… Some of them apparently don’t even understand the importance of looking out the damn window!”

If the stakes weren’t so high, this would almost be comical. While the risks on your jobsite and in your office may be somewhat less than the unforgiving ocean, they do remain. And let’s not blame the new employee for the skills gap they bring to the job. Training our operational managers at all levels–from foreman to president–to be more effective leaders should be top priority. Training must include classroom and on-the-job application. And we must incorporate technology that will truly optimize our teams.

These challenges will persist. A weak economy might lessen the labor shortage, but the skills gap and the focus on project execution rather than team development will never go away. We know that the best firms in industry are finding ways to overcome these challenges. Daily efforts to create trust, pride, and camaraderie, are required.



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It’s Complicated: Why You Do What You Do

February 26th, 2018

“What a jerk,” you remark to yourself as you walk away from your latest disagreement with That Guy. ‘Pretty safe to say he is thinking the same thing about you. You might even move from thinking about his behavior to wondering, “What is with that guy?”

Why do we do what we do? If we can gain some insights into this seemingly simple question, perhaps we can be a better leader, coworker, or spouse. The good news is those insights are available and make sense when you start looking.

How about a test? Is there a test we can give someone to determine why they do what they do? Consider, for a moment, going to the doctor for your annual physical. What test would they run to determine your health? Of course, there is no single test: height and weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, EKG, EEG and the list goes on. The tests depend on what you want to know and when you want to know it. It is a very similar concept when we try to answer why you do what you do. There are many psychometric assessments that can give some insights. Psycho what? Psychometric tests are designed to measure someone’s personality characteristics and aptitude (or natural abilities). They identify the extent to which personality and natural abilities compare to others. Ideally, when hiring, we would match people with the right abilities to the right position.

Myers-Briggs, DiSC, FIRO, Human Patterns, Emotional Intelligence, and many others might be part of the equation that explains why you do what you do. And, like at your annual physical, some tests tell more than others, depending on the situation. In fact, anytime someone asks you to take a test/assessment, you are entitled to know what they are looking for, its relevance to the situation, and its statistical validity. This last part is especially important. You want an assessment that has been widely validated, to insure the results are accurate. The one that some consultant created on a spreadsheet and gave to fifty-two people on Survey Monkey is not the one you want. Sure, it’s a great revenue stream for him. But it’s absolute schlock for you.

Assessments can point to your skills, competencies, preferences, aptitudes, etc. (depending on what we are looking for), but they don’t tell us why you are the way you are. For that, we need to think about a bullseye. In the middle is that black spot, the ten ring, the bull. Then, there are concentric circles. You are the way you are because of two things at the center of the bullseye: your DNA and your upbringing. To use a computer example, DNA is your hardware. Your upbringing is your software. In ways we don’t even know yet, DNA combines to form the incredibly unique creature called a human being. I have two kids. They are as different as night and day. ‘Same DNA, but one is male, one female; one is introverted, the other, extraverted. One is a sensitive artist; the other, a loud, brash football player.

The software is the programming you received from your environment. Some was intentional, such as how you were raised and educated as a child. Some unintentional, such as how you learned about relationships by the way the parents communicated (or didn’t). Other programming comes from what society has told you is right or wrong, possible or impossible. In the words of Dr. Lanny Hass, PhD, “You didn’t grow up in my mama’s house…and I didn’t grow up in your mama’s house.”

Let’s take the programming analogy further. Lanny grew up on a farm in Iredell County, North Carolina. I grew up in the suburbs of Long Island. That geographic contrast alone has given us different perspectives on economics, politics, race, perspective, hobbies, and so much more.

But the programming doesn’t end there. Lanny and I are both Baby Boomers. Our kids aren’t. This brings on the whole “Generations in the Workplace” conversation. Maybe throw in some Birth Order, too. As you can see, this is complicated. But it isn’t a mystery. You can measure some of these hardware and software aspects. You can certainly think about them and begin to connect the dots.

And, in connecting those dots, we begin to move out from the center of the bullseye. In the next ring is what we think and believe. It is where we begin to identify motivations and desires. The problem with this ring, though, is I cannot see it. All I see from you is your behavior. And behavior is the outermost ring on our bullseye. This is where we started this conversation, with you wondering why That Guy is behaving like a jerk. At this point, I don’t know. But upon further thought, investigation, and getting to know him, we may find out that he grew up in a hostile, conflict-ridden environment. He learned to relate to people in a fight-or-flight manner; to attack before they attack him. So, when you ping, he pongs. It is a natural response, developed and practiced over decades, and it worked for him back then. With this understanding of his programming, we now have options and “being a jerk back” is only one of them.

The best place to start is to think about you. Self-awareness is one of the hallmarks of great leadership. You probably aren’t a jerk. But do you hold people as accountable as you might? Maybe you are reluctant to fire someone because you remember how rough it was in your house when your dad got fired. It’s a complicated jigsaw puzzle. You will not solve the puzzle until you take the pieces out of the box, and look at them one at a time. When you do, you may have some frustrations. But you will have breakthroughs, too. It’s worth it.

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Olympic Lessons

February 26th, 2018

HERE COMES DIGGINS…HERE COMES DIGGINS!!”…..and with that call, the US Women’s Cross-Country Ski team notched its first medal in 30 years—and even more shocking, it was gold! In other words, it wasn’t supposed to happen.

Over on the alpine slopes, it was a different story. Mikaela Shiffren was to go for five golds, and Lindsey Vonn was to easily claim the gold in downhill. Neither of these things happened. Such is life; such is sport. That’s the Olympics.

What if Diggins was your project manager? Solid, but never elite. Would you keep her on? Or in that continuous search for better talent, would you let her go? Maybe she’s not an A Player, but she’s certainly a strong B. We need B players. And as you can see, B players can turn in A performances.

What if Vonn was your superintendent? Has always done excellent work, but stumbled on the last few project? You wonder if something is wrong. You know she’s costing you money, so you cut your losses, thinking she just doesn’t have it anymore.

In our Advanced Leadership Program we often have sixteen students. Good class size for maximum interaction and peer coaching. Often we hear a client say I am not sure about this sixteenth guy. I am sure about the fifteen but this one, not so sure. Then the US Mens Curling Team shows up and wins gold. Not supposed to happen. But that questionable sixteenth student, when given some extra attention and training turns into a star. We have seen this many times. People who were perceived as B Minus players emerging as A players. And yes, sometimes those slam dunk students turn out to be pretty mediocre when put under the development spotlight.

The commentators and analysts who study sports were so wrong in their predictions on the performances noted above. How can you be so sure you are right, when you’re not an expert on people? I am often asked for advice on how to handle “people situations.” When I offer some ideas, my clients say, “Hmm… I never thought of that.” This isn’t about me being right; it’s about certainty and range.

It’s helpful to remember that we can never truly be certain when it comes to people. (After all, Lindsey was “supposed to” win the downhill.) But we can be pretty sure. We can make decisions based on track record and history, but we can’t really know for sure. In fact, certainty is a problem because we begin to think we’ve got it figured out, and we make decisions that are not as good as they could be. We don’t allow for other options. We don’t see how a situation might be, only how we want it to be. We might even get complacent.

By range, I mean flexibility of response. Good leaders have good range; great leaders have great range. But increasing your range isn’t easy. You are successful. You know what works and what doesn’t work. Increasing your range might increase your risks as you try things you haven’t tried before. And at first, some of those efforts might not go smoothly, thereby nudging back into your smaller range. Not a good move.

The variability you face on the job today is greater than you have ever faced. Diversity, new means and methods, customer demands, and technology all conspire to challenge you as you have never been challenged before. To succeed into the future, you must increase your range and that means you must prepare yourself. One of the best ways you can prepare is to know that you don’t know. Uncertainty is unsettling. You need people to work through it. This means you need to lead people. How will you do that better tomorrow than you did yesterday? You may be an excellent leader, but what are you doing to remain excellent? Do nothing, and you will slowly lose ground. Do something and it might not go well–at first. But remember these wise words: anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. With effort and time, you almost can’t help but improve! Strive to become a black belt in people.

Every couple of years we watch the Olympics, and we see examples of excellence and despair. Don’t wait for the Olympics. Every single day, there are people working with you and for you who are reaching for excellence. Some days they make it. Some days they don’t. Some days are filled with despair. Don’t be a spectator. Be a leader who helps them excel and supports them when they’re down. You may not win a gold medal, but your team will sprint towards the finish, just like Diggins. Then again, you just may win gold.

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In One Word…

January 4th, 2018

“Describe your 2017 in one word.”

As 2017 rolled to an end, I saw a post on Facebook asking that very thing. The answers were predictably upbeat and encouraging for the most part. Of course, that is part of the problem with Facebook–people posting about their vacation, and the great meal they cooked or the fun date they went on, but not much about the fight with their kids and the challenge of paying bills. So, Rule #1 with Facebook asking you to describe your 2017 in one word is: don’t fall for it.

But I fell for it. I wondered what my word would be. No deaths in my immediate family so that was a win. On the plus side, we had one child graduate high school and start college. Another child made straight A’s while playing football. On the minus side, there was my continued personal challenge to lose weight and we needed to buy a new car. Then again, we started with a nice vacation! And so my assessment of 2017 went. I looked at it from all angles. A record year for the business! On the one hand I was disappointed, on the other hand I was pretty pleased and overall it was….normal. I loved, I laughed, I cried, I worried. It was a normal year.

I am guessing yours was, well, normal, also. That is the nature of life and the danger of comparisons. We too easily look at what others have, and envy rises in us. We look at those less fortunate, and don’t take the time to fully appreciate what we have. Facebook is not the real world. All those smiling faces are part of the real world–just as the sad stories of loss and challenge that we don’t see on social media are part of the real world. The real world is where life happens in all its splendor and squalor. I have always been amazed at the fascination with reality television, as people watch the unscripted but heavily-edited, made-for-mass consumption packages while missing the fascination in their own lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying challenges don’t happen or that reality doesn’t suck sometimes. But that is what being normal is all about, and why using “one word” to describe 2017 is such a trap. You are too complex. Life has too many layers. It is not possible for most of us to describe a year in one word, and to attempt to do so trivializes the day-to-day frustrations and achievements that make up our existence. Okay, if you cure cancer and win the Nobel Prize while celebrating your 40th wedding anniversary, etc., etc., that might rate an Excellent. Then again, those things would probably not qualify as “normal.” And still, you would be overlooking the negative things that happened.

One of the best things you can to do help make 2018 a good year is to cultivate gratitude. I am confident that, at the end of each day, you can tally up your pluses and minuses, and find things to be thankful for. By the way, in doing this you are rewiring your brain to enable positivity and optimism. At first, this might be difficult. For me, most of my days are…you guessed it… normal. But I have learned to appreciate an on-time flight and no traffic on my way home. I appreciate the health care we have as we make almost-weekly visits to the orthopedist during football season.

There are plenty of things I want to make happen in 2018. You probably feel the same. But we must remember to live along the way–to enjoy the big (and small) when we can, and to face the bad when we must. I hope 2018 is normal for me. Maybe even normal plus. I hope yours is too.

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What Do You Do for a Living?

October 27th, 2017

It has been quite some time… my daughter was in first grade and I was often able to be in the classroom to help out. It was me and the moms! Midway through the year, her teacher approached me with a request: could she ask a personal question. Of course.


“Mr. Adamchik, what do you do for a living??” I smiled and gave the easy answer, “I am a professional speaker. Why?”


She replied that I was often the only dad at daytime school events. And when she asked my daughter about my job, the answer she got was, “He talks.”


Funny, I get the same question from folks today. To be clear: I speak and consult on leadership and leadership-related issues in the construction industry and in industries that support construction. There you have it, but that might still leave some blanks to fill in. So, to clarify:


·        I do keynote speeches for annual meetings and conventions.

·        I conduct longer workshops and trainings for firms and associations.

·        I work with companies to create multi-day leadership training. These are aimed at the front line as well as emerging leader/ executive level. For the highest level, I collaborate with some really smart folks—Ph.Ds, from NC State.

·        I deliver one-on-one executive coaching.

·        I facilitate team planning sessions.

·        I conduct job benchmarking to create optimal hiring profiles

·        I consult on human capital issues

·        I offer virtual, online interactive leadership learning

·        I have written two books and am always writing articles. You can use these in your publications, newsletters, etc.

·        I have a great team who supports on all these.

·        Etc!!


In other words, there are a full range of services and offerings available to you from FireStarter Speaking and Consulting. If you are curious, or if you think I might be able to help, contact me and we can talk it over. If I can’t support you, maybe I know someone who can. Spending 99% of my time in the construction world for nearly the past twenty years enables me to fully understand your challenges and work with you to solve them.


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"Unbelievable, surprising, entertaining… What a great example to have the speaker use actual comments from the President's monthly letter to the membership to drive home his point…"

David A. Bass
Director of Monthly Programs –
New Jersey MPI