One of the more enjoyable things about running a national business is the opportunity I have to travel around the country. Travel really does broaden the mind. You move out of your normal environment and leave your comfort zone. It gives you a chance to see how other people do things…and how so often they do the same thing totally differently.
I find that when I return from a convention or visiting customers in faraway places, I have new ideas and a new way of looking at the same old things. Sometimes the ideas are good, sometimes not, but it always gives me ideas to investigate about how we might do things better.
Sometimes I see things that get me thinking not just about improving some small thing but about how to run the whole business better. It’s great to find ways to improve our already high quality walls and related products, but even better when I find ways to improve the entire business…which, of course, leads to even better results for our customers.
On a recent trip I noticed this sign in a restaurant:
When I first noticed it I was amused. I wondered what the odds are of finding a good piano player who also happens to be good at opening clams. Beyond that, what are the odds of finding a good piano player who wants to open clams?
Then I took a close look at the wording of the sign and realized it doesn’t actually say they want a piano player to open clams, just a piano player with knowledge of opening clams. Quite a different thing.
This got me thinking about language and how I use it, am I clear or confusing? Since the sign was about a job opening, I wondered how clearly we post job openings. One thought led to another and soon I was thinking about the wide implication of clarity in language and its impact on quality and accurate understanding of customer requirements.
How about our communication in general, written as well as spoken? Are some of the things that don’t seem to go as planned because the communication about them was poorly worded? How clear are our procedures, advertisements, emails, specifications?
If we’re unclear or ambiguous in our language, probably our customers and prospects, vendors and contractors, and others we deal with have the same problem. Lack of clarity everywhere.
Not a happy thought. But a very useful thought as it has led me to look at Transwall communication with a more critical eye. I’m working to ensure everything we say means exactly what we intend it to mean. It also has me making sure right at the beginning we fully understand what we hear from those who communicate with us…like customers and prospects.
We’re already the best at what we do – walls. With our new understanding about ensuring absolute clarity in all our communication, we’re expecting to get even better.
As for that restaurant in need of music and kitchen help, I keep wondering if they would rather have a mediocre piano player who is great at opening clams or a great piano player who eventually manages to expose the meat inside the shell.
In my quest to continue to keep Transwall a step or two ahead in the demountable wall world I’m always alert for new ideas. We all hear about “out of the box” thinking and how it leads to new ideas which hopefully lead to better results. It always made sense to me but I found that getting people to leave their box was hard to do.
Last week I was invited to be a ‘Devil’ at the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum (GCP) ‘Devils Advocate’ day. It sounded like great fun so I spent a cold, gray Sunday in Philly. The GCP program finds global strategic marketing projects and then uses MBA and Executive MBA teams to work on these projects over six or seven months. It’s a great way for companies and NGOs to get exceptional advice for a modest fee while the students get to work with senior executives on a project of strategic importance to the future of their organization.
Devils Advocate occurs in about the middle of the project. Wharton gathers together a diverse collection of senior executives, most with extensive international experience, and turns them loose on the students.
Each project team of five Wharton and Five partner school members gets 20 minutes to share information about the project and then the Devils get 40 minutes to ask questions and offer advice, suggestions, and ideas for how the team can make the results even better.
The wild thing is that the projects cover all different industries, countries, and issues while the Devils have no knowledge about the projects except for the 20 minute overview. The 40 minutes of discussion is amazing. Ideas flow freely. Devils critique and offer advice based on their extensive experience.
I was fascinated. Here was a true example of “out of the box thinking.” Each team received a tremendous amount of information and suggestions. No doubt some of the ideas will turn out to be useless but some will lead the team to new places that turn out to improve the project recommendations.
As for me? I offered a few questions and ideas. But, with thoughts of Transwall’s future always somewhere in mind, mostly I contemplated what I heard, both from the team presentations and from the other Devils. I found myself daydreaming as to how new ideas are received at Transwall. Where are they embraced and nurtured, where might they be considered a distraction, or worse? More so, I noticed there wasn’t so much a lack of ideas. To the contrary, we heard many ideas. I also couldn’t help notice how quickly an idea came wrapped in someone’s personal experience. This often led to complex dialogue, which frankly, led to me getting lost…thus the daydreaming.
The takeaway? Listen, be open, be careful.
There are new ideas and the makings of good ideas everywhere. In a super-lean, fast-paced, distraction-filled world I am hyper-sensitive to bandwidth. Bandwidth inside the grey matter of myself, our people, and other stakeholders.
Meaning, even the best ideas are at risk of withering on the vine if they can’t be presented in the right context, to the right people, at the right time.
It seems that the role of leaders in an organization is to be aware of this critical role they can and should play; be the person in the tower, scanning the horizon and the field for changes, patterns, noises, flashes. Note, compare, and contrast this steady flow of observations and somehow work it into a process where the seeds of great ideas don’t get ignored, or the opposite, get sucked into a sea of complexity.
Yes. One more things for leaders to do. But wow, how important is that?
Back at school it was clear that I came away from the day hungry for more. It was like a day at the mind-gym; interacting with a group of sharp, knowledgeable, experienced people, possessing little information about the specific project and thinking hard and throwing around great ideas. It’s an interesting way to expand your horizons, broaden your thinking, and get out of your company and industry box.
I highly recommended finding similar places to do the Devil’s work.
I watched the Super Bowl. Probably quite a few of you did too. It was a great time as the game was exciting and quite a few bizarre and quirky things occurred.. Even the commercials were mostly interesting and gave me some ideas about how, and how not, to catch prospect’s attention and interest. Then there was that halftime show. I have already reserved my dancing shark costume for next Halloween.
As usual, in addition to enjoying the game I was looking for ideas to improve how Transwall operates. Often my best ideas come from closely observing and thinking about how organizations completely unlike us work. Getting inbred is a problem for all of us as we spend so much of our time with people from the same industry.
I found myself paying particular attention to the backgrounds of the players. Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback, won the MVP award. This is the third time he has been picked as Super Bowl MVP.
Tom Brady is surely one of the best football players ever and probably one of the most famous athletes in the world. A whole team rides on his back, legions of fans revere him, and he gets paid around 14 million dollars a year…which will go up next season.
Not bad for a 6th round draft pick from the University of Michigan.
Then there was Malcom Butler, an undrafted, little known rookie player from Division II University of West Alabama, a community college dropout, and a player who wasn’t even part of the team’s game plan. You remember him, the player Patriot’s coaching staff inserted into the game at the last minute. The player who intercepted the pass on the one yard line with 26 seconds to go and saved the game for the Patriots.
Neither one a first round draft pick. Neither one picked to be a rare talent who would turn into a star. Yet someone saw something in both of them, gave them a chance, and they outplayed all the first round draft picks in the league.
It got me thinking about how we hire people. How many first round draft picks do we chase instead of really looking at people and noticing their character, their passion, their drive to succeed and do a good job? All too often managers get caught up in the glitter and the expectations and forget what really makes a good employee.
At Transwall we’ve had more success, had more fun, and optimized our precious hiring budget over the years keeping a keen eye out for the Malcom Butlers of the world.
You know Butler was the happiest guy just to be there. He was hoping for a chance and ready to prove his worth. And then they put him in the game!
When Balfour Beatty Investments sought to outfit their new US headquarters at 1 Country View Road in Malvern, PA they turned to the talented architects and designers at L2Partridge.
Working closely with the project team, Transwall delivered and installed the ONE LP system. Featured on the project are over 285 feet of butt-glazed storefronts including frameless glass pivot doors.
Balfour Beatty Investments is a leading investor, developer and operator of public infrastructure across the globe. Balfour’s Malvern office is conveniently located 8 miles from Transwall’s headquarters in West Chester, PA.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Shaun Mannix Steve Friedberg
Transwall MMI Communications
ACOUSTICAP, NOISE REDUCING TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, ANNOUNCES DISTRIBUTOR DISCOUNT PROGRAM
AcoustiCAP to provide rebates based on quantity, saving HVAC, building systems distributors thousands of dollars
CHICAGO, January 26, 2015 — A new program, being introduced today, will financially reward HVAC and business systems distributors who market and sell a low-cost, proven solution for reducing ambient noise throughout buildings.
The announcement was made at the start of the AHR conference, the world’s largest HVACR marketplace. AcoustiCAP™ is being exhibited at booth #7327. The company said it is launching the program in a focused effort to attract additional distributors who can market the AcoustiCAP product nationwide.
The Distributor Discount Program (DDP) is designed to reward distributors who sell AcoustiCAP in bulk quantity to their contractors, who in turn sell the product to end-user customers. The rebates range up to five percent at the program’s platinum level, which can save distributors thousands of dollars.
AcoustiCAP is the result of a Federal Government research project, which sought to reduce the ambient, unwanted speech traveling from office to office in government facilities. Scientific studies show that offices outfitted with AcoustiCAP devices demonstrated a reduction of 33 percent in high-frequency office-to-office ambient noise, compared with offices that did not have the devices installed. That is especially important at companies where privacy is a prime concern, in key vertical markets such as financial services, healthcare, government and more.
“We recommend the AcoustiCAP to our contractors and their customers, because it is simple, effective and proven,” said Pete Lancaster at J-K Mechanical Products, a distributor based in Baltimore. “It is easy to install, and unlike bulky lined sheet metal elbows, AcoustiCAP offers significant noise reduction with faster installation and a significantly smaller footprint.”
“Companies are looking for a proven way to significantly lower the amount of noise in their workplaces, but do not want to install high-cost, complicated systems,” said Shaun Mannix, principal at Transwall, which markets and sells AcoustiCAP throughout the United States. “AcoustiCAP is specifically designed to answer their needs. Unlike other products in this sector, the product does not have to be monitored or upgraded, allowing end-users to take a ‘set it and forget it’ approach to solving their noise challenges.”
AcoustiCAP devices are also easy to install, with no itch or skin irritation or formaldehyde. They also offer a Class A fire rating, and resist microbial growth. More information about AcoustiCAP is available from the company’s website, www.AcoustiCAP.net.
Founded in 1963 and based in suburban Philadelphia, Transwall is a developer and manufacturer of moveable floor-to-ceiling and architectural wall systems. Transwall offers a broad array of product and solutions, including movable architectural walls, glass wall systems, sound management and office cubicle systems.
Clients include architects, designers, contractors, builders, business owners, General Services Administration (GSA) and government agencies. Transwall solutions have been installed at the Pentagon in Washington, Morgan Stanley’s offices in New York, and TD Ameritrade’s headquarters in Omaha. More information is available at www.transwall.com.
Sales of relatively low mpg SUVs and light trucks are way up now that gas prices are plummeting with no end to the falling prices in sight. As I write this, such vehicles are now more than 50% of new vehicle sales. This seems to show that people have no memory of how gas prices fluctuate. They’ve forgotten that what goes down rapidly has risen just as rapidly in years past.
This got me thinking about how such an event leads to immediate behavior without any thought about what might happen in years, or perhaps even months, to come. It provoked me to look at some information about vehicle ownership and its implications for future fuel costs.
The average age of a car on the road today is over 10 years. The majority of people own a car for over 4 years. As cars continue to improve while car owners continue to be nervous about their economic prospects, they keep their cars even longer.
I have no more idea of how low gas prices will go or the likelihood of these low prices continuing for years to come than you, or these new vehicle buyers, do. What I do know, as do you and all these new vehicle buyers, is that prices fluctuate wildly and often rapidly based on many things beyond anyone’s control. Oil prices are particularly dependent on unplanned and unforeseen events.
Think of the impact if the current fighting in the Middle East turns into a full scale regional war drawing in the numerous oil producing countries of the area. On a smaller scale, what if one of the major US refineries catches fire as has happened in the past, and is out of commission for an extended time? And what if these two things happen at the same time?
Without any long term thinking a large number of people have rushed out to use some of their savings from low gas prices to buy vehicles that use more fuel. In other words, they’ve taken some of their gas savings and put it into…buying more gas for the same number of miles.
If two years from now gas prices have returned more or less to where they were before the drop began, they’ve just bought a vehicle that will cause them to use more gas and so spend even more of their income on fuel than with their previous more fuel efficient vehicle.
Two years, less than half the time most people own their car. Two years, 20% of the time of average age of cars on the road age.
Car purchase: a decision made with short term views begging for long term considerations.
The implications of this type of decision making don’t worry me much when we’re talking about someone buying a car. What does worry me is that these are the same people making business decisions on a regular basis. Do they carry this short term decision making over into issues requiring long term considerations where the decision will impact both their organizations and ours? What are the implications for our business and how do I incorporate my knowledge of this into my thinking and planning?
The ability to delay gratification is at the core of successful long-term thinking. It’s at the core of a lot of things which increase the odds of success. We all wrestle with this at work and at home.
Our company’s structure has provided fertile ground for some good long-term thinking over the years. Sure, we track sales, operational and financial data weekly and monthly. But decisions which occasionally drive unhappy numbers at the quarterly level have often led to much happier results a year or two later.
There is no silver bullet here. But we do remain alert to the trappings of in-the-moment decisions. It’s hard to do but we just completed our 51st year of business. On towards 100.
Thanks to those of you who have shared our experiment in blogging this year.
We finally got going with this initiative and I am thinking it is worth the effort.
For anyone reading this considering taking a shot at writing a blog, I encourage you to do so. Nothing bad has happened as result. Yet.
We are now in our third year of double-digit growth at Transwall.
We had our annual holiday lunch with our employees yesterday. It was great to personally extend accolades and thanks to our team.
As I said during a toast at the sales team dinner the night before, I have never worked with a group of people who exceed my expectations more.
This sentiment extends through to clients and vendors alike. We have some wonderful stakeholders.
So, Thanks and Warm Holiday Greetings all around.
I look forward to blogging in 2015, and I hope I can meet or exceed your expectations for some thought-provoking reading.
I have been doing a lot of math in my head lately.
My son has reached the age where we are visiting colleges. My wife Lisa and I enjoying the time we’re spending together as we travel to and wander around various campuses. Like all parents, I’m not enjoying the math. Breaking it down into monthly payments still leads to angina.
The experience has me thinking about creative destruction. US higher education is ripe for it. I am convinced that higher education will undergo massive, radical, market driven changes. Among other things, there is no way they can continue with 5+ % tuition increases year after year.
Mitch Daniels, former Governor of Indiana and now President of Purdue University has taken an aggressive step in addressing the tuition problem. He simply mandated a cap on tuition increases and, in effect, told faculty and staff to “figure it out.” He put everyone on notice that the current way of operating was untenable and they were not just the problem but had to also be the solution.
Creative destruction at work.
Transwall is a small/mid-sized wall manufacturing company. We’re the best at what we do, but still, customers want us to provide our top quality products at a reasonable price while meeting all our contract terms for design, manufacturing, delivery, and installation. We need to figure out how to do this by finding creative ways to pay our bills, stay on the cutting edge of design, grow our business, and do all the other things we need to do to maintain our quality and reputation.
No “let’s just jack up the price” for us. We were following the Mitch Daniels model before Mitch took his seat at Purdue. I hope that soon the entire college and university world will follow his model. Those that don’t…will not be around.
It’s hard work but with good leadership and an engaged workforce it’s doable. We got started really thinking about and working on this soon after the economy tanked a few years ago. It rapidly became clear that the commercial construction industry was going to slow down, a lot.
I’d like to tell you that we rapidly changed our business model but it took time. Like most, for years we’d been a factory in search of orders. Build a factory, develop good products, hire a sales force and grow distribution, sell product. When your industry is expanding and client’s budgets are flush, this model works quite well.
But no more.
We’ve worked hard to ensure not only our survival but our ability to grow and thrive. Creative destruction led to our moving to a branded offering of multiple options and resources bundled into a turn-key process. We’ve created auxiliary products we never thought of before, although we knew the need was there. We’ve completely revamped and integrated absolutely everything into a single unified company operating system.
The result? We’re bigger and better than we’ve ever been and growth continues. We receive unsolicited rave client reviews. Everyone is happier: employees, dealers, vendors, and, of course, clients. And the bottom line? Let’s just say I smile thinking about it.