What you need to do today – strategic planning for a post COVID-19 world

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have felt like your business has been in a tailspin. You’ve tried to move your workforce to a remote footing, stay engaged with your customers, and find new ways to market products and services to a population that’s staying at home more and spending less.

But you must keep looking to the future and have your plans ready for a strong launch into 2021. 

Next year, you need to be off and running before the competition even realizes the bell has rung. 

A good plan takes time to develop, communicate, and get the input and buy-in needed to be highly successful. Start immediately!

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan defines how to turn the vision for your company into a reality that is consistent with your values.

You must keep looking to the future and have your plans ready for a strong launch into 2021.

A strategic plan is a road map for your business to get from where you are now to where you want to be. This plan looks at all the assets and tools you have at your disposal now, as well as the challenges you’re facing. It also focuses on where you want your business to be at the end of a certain period of time – three months, a year, three years, and so on into the future.

Once you know where you are and where you want to be, your strategic plan will drive the specific steps you’ll take to get there. This must include crystal clear and important objectives (goals) and clearly-defined actions that your team will take to accomplish those objectives.

A strategic plan is a living document, not a hardened relic. 

As your business grows, changes, and faces new challenges, your strategic plan must change with it. 

Importance of a strategic plan

Having an effective strategic plan is crucial to growing your small business in the way you want. Without a strategic plan, your business wanders and can spin out of control, becoming something you don’t want it to be – or it can stagnate, going nowhere for years while you waste resources on failed growth efforts.

Having an effective strategic plan is crucial to growing your small business in the way you want.

Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Don’t let that be your approach.

A strategic plan gives your business a clear and directed way to prioritize addressing the most important things first. It’s your compass, a strong sense of direction, helping you to grow in productive ways that propel you toward realizing your vision and values. 

A strategic plan gives employees day-to-day tasks that are laser focused on moving your company forward. 

And when you run into unexpected challenges – a global pandemic, for instance – your strategic plan can serve as a framework to effectively respond to the crisis.

Set your company vision

You start with why. Why are you doing all this work, taking all this risk? What do you want the end result to be when it’s time to hang up your spurs? What is your vision for your company five, 10, 15 years out?

Take time to decide what you want your business to be. Start with more abstract, broader concepts. Maybe you want your business to become an industry leader, find cures that help people get over diseases like COVID-19, or be able to support initiatives in your community.

Once you’ve got a broad ideal pinned down, start getting more specific. What kind of company culture do you want, and how do you want to interact with your customers? What sort of atmosphere do you want your business to have, and what legacy do you want to leave?

Speaking of COVID-19

Take a long look at all the ways COVID-19 has changed the way you do business.

This pandemic has changed everything about how we run our lives, from where employees work to how our children attend school. Many businesses have had to shut down for months or find new ways to engage with your customers.

Begin by sitting down and taking a long look at all the ways COVID-19 has changed the way you do business. Look at the financial impact, the toll it’s taken on your employee morale and company culture, and the way it’s affected your customer relations.

As you’re making a plan going forward, remember to plan for how COVID-19 will continue to impact your business and consider the aftershocks that will come from economic impact, societal change, the way businesses interact, and more.

Complete a SWOT Analysis

How the pandemic has changed your business is an example of just one threat (and opportunity) that you must take into account. You do this by conducting a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis examines the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats your business faces.

Complete a SWOT analysis – evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats your business faces. 

Take a look at what strengths your business has had that have helped it through the course of the pandemic, as well as the areas where it has faltered and been weaker. Explore what sort of opportunities the new market offers your business. Be sure to work out what sort of threats – pandemic aside – your business will face short and longer term.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Every threat is also a great opportunity so consider how you can turn a problem to your advantage. Can you invest in building employee skills or improve your sales team by training or replacing low performers with highly-skilled sales people who may have been let go by another company?

Where is your company weakest, most vulnerable? Plan precisely how you will turn your greatest weakness into your greatest strength. (Tip: keep doing that again and again until you work your way through all your weaknesses and you’ll build an astoundingly robust and successful company…life too, if you stop to think about it.)

It is not just you doing the thinking, this must be a team effort if it is to succeed. That means you absolutely must involve all your key staff and top managers in developing and implementing “our” plan. You’ll find better solutions than you ever could have alone when you take advantage of the knowledge of those closest to your customers. Amazingly, you’ll come up with great ways to cut costs, be more effective, and have happier, more engaged employees in the process.

Create a plan that everyone lives by – and can use

Once you know where you want your business to go, you and your planning team can start laying out your road map to get there. Creating the plan is the process of working backwards from the key objectives you want to accomplish this year, to breaking down how you are going to make those happen.

Create a brief, usable plan that everyone on your team can work with and use. 

This is a process of deconstructing the year’s key objectives into successively smaller objectives for divisions, groups, departments, teams, and sometimes even individuals. Part of making this successful is that it is an incredibly open process so everyone understands how they fit in helping their team, group, division and the company reach your key objectives.

A great strategic plan that is left unused and fails to serve as a daily guide to what every department should be focused on is almost worthless. The plan must be something you can use.

Most plans lack two things: brevity and extreme actionability. Better than a 1,200-page doorstop is a one-page strategic plan that serves as a compass for your company to follow. It fits in one hand and almost anyone can understand it easily with just a little instruction. Just follow where it points.

In preparation for doing the deconstruction and writing the objectives, let’s review the foundational concepts of how to set SMART Objectives (goals). This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. If you set goals that meet all of these standards, you’ll have a much easier time writing your key objectives.

Start with key objectives

There is a right way to word key objectives.

Work one key objective at a time, starting with where you are and deciding what are the steps that must be accomplished to achieve that objective. To be useful, it must be something that anyone can look at and definitively say “Done” or “Not Done.” That’s the Measurable part. 

Specific should mean it is uber important. Remember, you cannot do everything – time and resources are not infinite! You need to establish a deadline within which the objective will be accomplished. Being both Attainable and Relevant means that there should not be a mystery about why they are included!

Anything is possible, everything is not. Not all objectives are created equal, some are far more important than others. Time-based means keeping in mind that a company can take on and accomplish only three to seven key strategic objectives in a year, and any group within the company can achieve only three to five major objectives in a year. What will those be?

This forces you to pick; everything is not possible. Pick the big ones and get them done. If you finish early, take on the next most important objective.

Track your progress 

When your strategic plan is complete, it may feel like the work is done. But in fact, it’s only just beginning; making your plan is only half the job. Now you will need to implement it in your day-to-day operations and keep track of your progress.

Track your progress.

Build in procedures to check your progress during your daily operations. Set up reporting, establish helpful metrics, and make plans to check on your goals on a regular basis. If you notice you’re not meeting certain goals on schedule, sit down with your team to make new plans for tackling those goals.

This has always been a huge problem and frustration in business. Progress reports are home to some very creative writing. Lip service, whining, and complaints of wasting time abound. Too many progress reports go into the great black hole at the center of every company, never to be seen again.

Until, of course, that eagerly awaited year-end evaluation. You know, that exercise in blame shifting, artful turning of phrase and creativity to explain how failing to get something done was thwarted by agents of Satan, asteroid strikes, and other departments.

There is a far better strategy and that is to use a system that breaks down key objectives into concrete measurable blocks of work that we call Key Results that must be accomplished every quarter, every month, and even every week to accomplish a key objective. 

This breaks things down so you can measure what matters and immediately know where teams are running into problems and help them get progress back on track. 

That same strategy eliminates the creative writing because it unambiguously measures progress toward accomplishing Key Results each week, month, and quarter in such a way that anyone can tell if they were either completed or not completed. The same thing occurs at the end of the year. You’ll know you accomplished your most important objectives and moved the business forward.

Build a strong strategic plan

Having a strong strategic plan for your business is a good idea at any time, but it’s especially critical in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the societal and economic aftershocks that are sure to follow. Your plan will guide your business in how you respond to this crisis and help you come out the other side stronger than ever. Take a long look at where you want to go and develop a plan to get there…ahead of the other guys.

If you’d like help developing and putting your strategic plan into practice this year and to discover more great ways to strengthen your business, check out the FocalPoint Coaching website or get in touch, and set up a time to talk. Contact Luca Setti – Business Coach and Trainer 863-398-2477, email [email protected], or the web: lucasetti.focalpointcoaching.com

Does construction have a culture?

We read so much these days about the importance of corporate culture. This is a standard subject in my many recent interviews with “Top Contractors to Work For.” We know that working in an elementary school is different from working on a job site, but what does the data say? And what are the implications of that data for you? Is construction different? 

For the sake of simplicity, I define culture as “an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior.” Narrowing our focus for this conversation, we will consider behavior. Although it is dynamic, it is also observable, and elements can be measured. A simple tool for measuring behavioral preferences is the DISC model. Based on the work of psychologist William Marston in the 1920s, it is a popular, straightforward, standardized, and relatively easy way to assess behavioral styles and preferences. 

Defining DISC

The DISC classifies people’s behavior into four types (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness) by looking at their preferences on two scales: Task versus People, and Fast-paced versus Moderate-paced. This tool is used in many leadership-development programs and is a wonderful entry-level assessment that many construction pros are familiar with. 

Since 2003, FireStarter administered DISC assessments to nearly 10,000 construction professionals. All trades, all areas of the country, and all levels of the organization are in the sample. I chose to divide my sample in half, and this got me to 2012. Running the analysis, I had my suspicions that there would be a difference pre- and post-2012. See for yourself:

Before you comment that this is more than 100%, I am looking at people who score with any of these dimensions as high. So, a person could be High D and High I, for example. I wasn’t looking for the highest score; I was looking for evidence and preference of a behavior. 

The consistency between the two samples was a surprise. It certainly felt like the industry was seeing less of the D behavior, but maybe that was just the clients I was working for. There was some truth to that influencing my perception, as a closer review showed two newer clients are heavily S and C with nowhere near as much D as in the general industry. So, yes, the industry does have a D and C (Dominance and Conscientiousness) culture. With this confirmation, let’s discuss implications for you. 

What the findings mean

First, play the odds. The odds are very high that the person sitting across from you has either Dominance or Conscientiousness as their dominant profile. They may even have both. This means that starting the conversation with relationship-building and unsolicited small talk will annoy them. They may be quite blunt, but it isn’t personal! 

The D/Dominance Culture – Hallmarks of the D culture are quick decisions, direct answers, and a competitive atmosphere. Results matter, and trust is given to those who are direct and straight-forward. People who thrive in this culture are hard-driving individuals who relish challenges and the thrill of victory. Reading is a contact sport for them! Interpersonal communication will suffer in this culture, and those who are less assertive may feel overwhelmed and under-appreciated. The closer we get to the field, the more D we see. 

The C/Conscientiousness Culture – The C culture is known for quality, order, and accuracy. High standards, diligent analysis, and diplomacy come first; all else is secondary. Perfect results are the expectation. Cynical to new ideas, you earn trust with this group by doing the job right, in their eyes. If one decimal point is good, then three must be better! This group can miss opportunities as they get mired in detail, and growth may suffer for fear of lowered execution during the growth phase. Many engineers are high in the C dimension. 

The I/Influence Culture – Although we don’t see as many I’s in construction, let’s consider what this culture would look like. Creativity, enthusiasm and optimism are key attributes of this group. They never met a person they didn’t like, nor an idea they didn’t embrace. Life is an opportunity to express and High I’s will do that in a big way. These folks are extroverts and can be quite annoying to the High C and High D note above! They also can be wonderful leaders as they engage with people all the time. Sometimes light on details, like the High D, these people are positive and inspiring.

The S/Steadiness Culture – Perhaps one of the most misunderstood, the S’s get a bad rap. They are methodical and caring. They dot their i’s and cross their t’s but also deeply care about the team. Loyal, great listeners, they are the glue that holds a team together. However, because they are methodical, the High D and High I can push them to go faster and this will cause them to withdraw. 

Another consideration is diversity of thought and behavior. Too many contractor organizations are peopled by clones who think the same way. The nature of the work does reward the D and C behaviors, but leaders have an opportunity here. This task-focused group-think leads to less-than-optimal decisions and outcomes. It may also create culture where people are not the most important asset. 

Conflict is more likely with the D and C approach as the relationship is secondary. Understanding, listening, and collaboration are important for successful team development and project execution. But we all see unnecessary conflict on jobs all the time. Much of this is simply a default reaction based on personality rather than a thoughtful response based on self-awareness. 

Knowing the industry culture, you are now able to calibrate your expectations as you deal with people. But shaping your team and company culture is where you gain competitive advantage. There is no one best style. All can lead, all can learn, all can make money. The key is to bring people together, in whatever proportion you are faced with, and set goals and expectations that all commit to.

Importance of accurate record keeping during construction

We see it all too frequently. When our firm is tendered to assist with flooring or other construction-related problems that arise during the build or shortly after the project is turned over, we often discover during the information-gathering process that little or no quality records exist. Keeping accurate quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) records during and after construction can frequently save time and money and prevent the project from giving you nightmares.

Good quality control record keeping starts during the bidding process and pre-construction phase. It is essential to address any potential conflicts or problems before vendors or subcontractors begin to procure materials. An understanding of architect/engineer (A/E) drawings and specifications is the critical first step for the project team. Ask questions and aim to have good verbal communication, followed up by good written communication, between the owner, architect/engineer, and general contractor (GC) or construction manager (CM) in the initial project meetings. This will help clarify issues and should smooth out potential problems early enough to enable changes and adjustments to occur without significantly impacting the project schedule or budget. Looking for errors and omissions in the specifications may identify materials that have conflicting requirements. 

The role of the GC or CM

The GC or CM is an integral part of the project team. Although the drawings and specifications are developed by the design professional, it is the GC or CM, – along with their subcontractors – that are relied upon for their expertise and knowledge of means and methods in construction to create the final building product. If, upon review of the design and specifications, conflicting or questionable issues are evident, it is the GC or CM’s duty to inform the project team so resolution can be reached before work begins. This process also requires careful documentation to ensure that an accurate record is kept of all changes to the project documents and/or work scope. Don’t blindly follow the specifications if you suspect there is a problem or conflict; these issues need to be addressed prior to the start of construction.

Often the A/E specifications direct the GC or CM to install products “…in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.” If there is knowingly a conflict with the specification and the manufacturer’s recommendations, which do you follow? For example, will moisture in a concrete slab be a problem for a specified flooring product? Are there allowances for installing a moisture mitigation system if the construction timeline becomes compressed near the end of the project? Knowing this information and thoroughly documenting along the way via requests for information (RFIs), emails, and stamped approved submittals is critical should problems arise during and/or after construction. Relying on verbal acceptance can later be a recipe for disaster. Take the time to document.

Documentation is essential

Once construction commences, it is usually inevitable that some revisions and adjustments will be made, so it’s important to keep accurate records of these changes. Having a designated QA/QC person who knows the “ins and outs” of the requirements of the project is essential. Documentation serves as a digital memory of the project. People’s memory tends to fade over time – whether due to reality or convenience – so these records can be remarkable in refreshing everyone’s recollection. 

If you are the GC or CM, don’t rely solely on your subcontractors to document their work; it may not be adequate when it comes time to resolving issues. While your subcontractors are the experts you have retained to perform particular job tasks, it is also good practice to document the different processes that they are involved with in each task. Take as many photos as you can to record important steps. Disk space is cheap, and having lots of photos to look back on a year or so later can help jog your – and your subcontractor’s – memory. It is also good practice to retain copies of subcontractors’ daily log sheets with task descriptions and have these scanned/saved as a digital record. Having a record of the subcontractor’s schedule, submittals, completion milestones, etc., will not only allow the GC or CM to manage different crafts and multiple projects within the main overall schedule, but also stores information that will assist in avoiding potential delays or conflicts.

Having all the information and documentation is a good start. Effectively managing that data over the course of the project, however, can be daunting. There are many software tools and programs available to help manage and organize the information you receive. This will also help you to easily retrieve these records long after your construction trailer has been hauled away.

Take responsibility

When problems arise, all eyes are usually on the GC or CM to solve them because they are first in line contractually. Trying to pass blame to the subcontractor, even though this happens often, doesn’t help solve the problem. It also will not help you get hired for the next project because the owner or stakeholders have entrusted you as the GC or CM to see the project from drawings to completion, and that includes mitigating any bumps or potholes along the way. They are relying on your expertise to properly manage expectations versus reality, and to know how to manage situations as they happen so it doesn’t turn into a crisis. As the saying goes, “Bad news doesn’t get better with age.” Communication both up and down the chain of command is essential. Emails and memos sent out documenting the observation of potential hang-ups followed by confirmation of receiving that communication is important. It is one thing to point out there is a potential problem, and another matter that the potential problem is recognized, communicated and understood by the project team. Having a plan in place for troubleshooting those potential problems as they become known can help save time, money, and your sanity. Failing to do so can and will reflect upon you and your company poorly for not being able to effectively manage those situations.

If a failure does happen, identify the source of the problem before doing any repairs. When there is a doubt about the root cause, call in the experts. Trying to solve problems outside your area of expertise can only make the problem worse. It could be as simple as a phone call to confirm or refute information you have in front of you. In other cases, you may need to have someone visit your jobsite to gather information and data to help you better understand what your problem entails. If you have documented all aspects of the construction process through your organized quality records, it will give the expert a better understanding of the process that led you to where you are now. This can save time in the discovering process, leading to quicker and more efficient problem-solving. Going through these valuable steps can seem frivolous until you need the information. Whether the project duration is three weeks or three years, having the information a few clicks away, should you need it, is sometimes as valuable as completing the job on time and under budget.

Attracting young artisans to the craft of tile

In our March issue, NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga interviewed Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works in Grafton, Wis., and Joshua Nordstrom from Tierra Tile in Homer, Alaska, for his One-to-One story. 

Amidst all the wisdom shared by these stellar artisans was some advice on recruiting young people into the trade, and how to emphasize the artistic aspects of tile setting to attract creative young people interested in making enduring art with their work. Here are Callewaert’s and Nordstrom’s suggestions and observations. – Lesley Goddin, Editor

Bettiga: What advice would you give to small business owners on how to recruit young people into the trade and encourage them to come work for them? On that same note, you are both artists. How can we reach out to people with an artistic background to make them aware of the opportunities in our industry and what tools should we develop to tell that story?

Callewaert: I think it’s about your mindset. I think of our trade as an artisan craft and project that in my work and in my discussions with customers, suppliers, trade partners, fellow installers, and potential employees. We need to lose the “Tile Guy” perception/image and regain the historic reputation as artisans and craftspeople. The more we project the professionalism of our craft and its place as an artisan trade, the more we will attract young workers. And I see every well-executed and detail-oriented installation as “art.” It doesn’t need to be the large artistic mosaic or cut stone features. I teach my apprentices the importance of every detail and the visual impact it has on any installation. 

When we talk about the skills and attributes we are looking for in an employee, artistic sensibility and background are always highlighted as preferred. Young people don’t just want “work.” They want to feel like they are part of something important and stimulating. Our employees have come to us through various channels but usually because they have heard about the quality of our work and that we do “cool stuff.” One simply responded to an ad after browsing our website. He has artistic skills and was drawn to that aspect of our work. Another heard about us from a trade partner we have worked with. She started her college career in art studies but wasn’t sure where she wanted to take that. This trade partner recognized a potential fit, sent her to our website, and introduced her to us. But in all cases, none were just looking for a “job.” They were attracted because of our reputation and the artistic nature of our work, and yes, the “cool factor.” 

Maybe we need a campaign to “Make Tile Work Cool Again?” We will be adding this hashtag to our social media posts: #youngartisticskillsneededinthetrades!

We should continue to reach out to high schools, trade schools, art schools, and other organizations where young people are considering their career options. Maybe there could be a presentation template that any of us could use to present to these audiences. Maybe some tips on how to approach them. Incentivizing our younger employees to conduct these orientations or work the job fairs is one idea. They are fresh and new and can relate to the audience. It’s the time and organization that might make this more difficult. 

Nordstrom: I have little advice to offer of how small businesses can recruit young people into the trade to come and work for them. I can say with the qualified knowledge of being a tile installer, this is a trade that can be taken with you wherever you choose to be in life and not have a problem finding work. You can make as much or even more in some cases than your college-bound friends, have the freedom of choosing your own schedule, who to work for, and not have the burden of paying off a college loan. 

With or without an artistic background, there are ample opportunities for every job to add something creative. I find that people are always willing to pay a little extra for something that they might not know exists especially if you can make it personal to them and their tastes. We all work every day with a broad palette of textures and colors. You can experiment with a variety of colors or just stay with one and accentuate the grout lines for a tone-on-tone effect. You need to be willing to step out of the square grid of grout lines to push your limits and challenge yourself. 

It’s also useful to be observant of current trends and colors, what kinds of things your client seems to collect or be into, their color schemes, and be aware of what the water-jet guys are producing. People will pay more for something that they can have a part of creating, knowing that it was hand made by an artist. If you are capable of cutting a radius, then the sky is the limit. I found myself starting out cutting stained glass designs. These come already patterned out and just need to be blown up to size. They come in many different varieties. 

Adding artistry into the skill set of being a tile setter will set you apart from your competitors and further your chances of being a successful tile contractor.

6 Questions for Evaluating Your Leadership and Achieving Your Mission

Many years ago, I regularly met up with a group of friends at a local breakfast joint for coffee. It was a bonding ritual for our bunch of diverse, young, high-achieving business types to relax and debrief. Whoever was in town would show up at our usual table, where we would discuss our successes and failures, new interests, and heartbreaks. We offered advice, stories, and, most of all, a safe place to be with a like-minded group of professionals. We bonded over earthy, soothing, and fragrant coffee that smelled like chocolate and promise. 

As much as I enjoyed it, our meetup for coffee was wrecking the one day of the week I had to catch up on my personal to-do list. The coffee caused me to speed up momentarily but crash later, leaving me with little energy to do much of anything. My stomach churned and my nerves were on edge. 

While this time was sacred to me, I had to reevaluate the coffee meetup to get back on track in my personal life. I realized I had to stop drinking coffee to maintain my energy and keep me at my best. The gathering was not about coffee anyway; it was about camaraderie and mutual support.

This is an example of how evaluation serves a critical role in even the simplest parts of our lives. As leaders, evaluation should be a major player in everything you do. Now more than ever, it is strategic to do an assessment of your organization’s, and your own, leadership skills, effectiveness, and style. When you have a full overview of the assets and opportunities for growth for you and your organization, you will be able to lead with clarity, confidence, and commitment. 

There are a few steps to accessing the data for you to be more effective and aligned with your goals. Take some time to review each point listed below. Ask the questions, collate the answers, and use them to advise both your strategic planning and your professional and personal development. 

1. Are your goals helping you achieve your mission? Before any goal is adopted, it should align with the organization’s mission and purpose. Review your goals — what purpose do they serve in accomplishing the mission for you or the organization? If it is a personal goal, have you determined your life purpose, and will this goal align with accomplishing it? Determine first the goal’s coherence with the overall mission before proceeding. 

2. Are your organizational goals clear, well-communicated, and actionable? Are all relevant parties aware, coordinated, and bought into the goals? Are the goals structured so that people know how they relate to their work and how it contributes to the mission?

3. Have you surveyed and gathered input from all pertinent sources, internal and external? In any evaluation, it is important to seek feedback from everyone involved. Each group or individual may have a different perspective, and with the full picture, you can proceed with confidence. Make these assessments a regular process. 

4. Establish an honest evaluation of the culture, systems, and operations of the organization and your leadership. Evaluations are only as good as the accuracy of the data. Ensure that the survey/analysis is done with confidentiality and as minimal bias as possible. If this is your personal evaluation, exercise the same caution, and care in the exercise.

5. How are you applying what you learned to improve your leadership style, strategy, and relationships? The actual applied use of the data to improve soft skills and practical operation is how the gathered information becomes meaningful. This is crucial to not only the organization’s success but also for ongoing credibility, morale, and ability to conduct further evaluations. This same concept applies if this is your personal evaluation, you will only be encouraged to make evaluations a routine procedure if you experience results from previous ones.

6. Upon review of the evaluation, are you comfortable and happy with where you are and where you are going? One key benefit of an evaluation is that you are able to assess your current career and life path. Use this valuable exercise to reappraise what the process showed you. Do you need to adjust your strategy and/or course? Your personal leadership style? Do you need additional training? 

Stepping back to do an overall analysis is very helpful in clarifying the assumptions, basis of operation, and the direction. A clear understanding of the many facets of the business, culture, strategic, financial, marketing, sales, operations, personnel, and customer and community relations will empower and guide everyone involved to work in alignment and harmony enthusiastically.

With proper evaluation, planning, and application of what you’ve learned, you will grow as a leader to better lead the team and your organization to greater success with improved morale and positive community impact.

Green building health and wellness – ceramic tile in a post-pandemic era

Over the past decade, the focus of “green building” has broadened from environmental issues to issues that also incorporate human health and wellness. From the start, green building codes (such as the International Green Construction Code, powered by ASHRAE A189.1), standards (such as ANSI/GBI 01), and rating systems (such as LEED) had in-depth provisions addressing resource conservation, climate change, and bio-diversity. Increasingly, provisions for occupant health, productivity, and overall well-being have been added. How will technical criteria continue to evolve in light of COVID-19? Much remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that health considerations – particularly related to finishing product selection and use – will continue to be a widely-discussed topic in green building. 

Ceramic tile provides an inherent thermal mass that facilitates the moderation of indoor temperature swings and—in some cases—the possibility of natural conditioning to create more stable and comfortable indoor environments.

Up to now, what role have ceramic tile floors, walls, and countertops played in green building health and wellness initiatives? 

Initial industry efforts focused on educating designers about the inapplicability of various green building VOC emission criteria to ceramic tile. The argument was simple – it was impossible for an inherently-inorganic building product to emit organic compounds (much less, volatile organic compounds) into the air we breathe. Slowly, but surely, LEED, building codes, and major green school and office green construction programs implemented VOC testing exemptions for mineral-based inorganic surface coverings. Now, many of these programs acknowledge products such as ceramic tile as positive contributors to VOC-free interior spaces. 

Green building specifications for eco-friendly cleaning are also relevant to the tile industry. Ceramic tile is stain-resistant and easy to maintain. Often just water alone is an effective cleaner for tile but when more is needed, the ability to use mild, VOC-free cleaners for tile eliminates introducing harsh chemicals into daily living areas, contributing to a healthier environment. 

Ceramic tile provides an inherent thermal mass that facilitates the moderation of indoor temperature swings and – in some cases – the possibility of natural conditioning to create more stable and comfortable indoor environments. ASHRAE criteria addressing thermal comfort conditions for human occupancy, as well as ISO and CEN standards for ergonomics of thermal environments (both referenced by LEED), include compliance paths for natural conditioning through which the use of tile can help meet pertinent requirements. 

TCNA has announced a transformative collaboration to provide an industry-wide Material Ingredient Guide that can be used by representative products for compliance to LEED and other green building criteria. 

Green building’s focus on indoor comfort doesn’t only pertain to air quality; lighting conditions are also commonly referenced by green building standards. For example, a LEED criterion for interior lighting “to promote occupants’ productivity, comfort and well-being by providing high-quality lighting” quantifies light reflectance criteria for interior surfaces, and ceramic tile test methods and standards are often specified by designers.

The emergence of material ingredient reporting demands has become front and center in the green building conversation. Currently, green building health criteria are heavily focused on manufacturer transparency regarding the chemical makeup of products, including associated toxicological ramifications, and special attention is given to interior finishes and furnishings. The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) recently announced a transformative collaboration to provide an industry-wide Material Ingredient Guide. The guide will highlight ingredients broadly used by the tile industry, most of which are inert and naturally occurring – materials that construction workers and building occupants can feel comfortable using and living with day after day. The guide will also contain validated and industry-supported data, which can be used by representative products for compliance with LEED and other green building criteria. 

As can be deduced from the points above, early green building concepts of health and indoor “air” quality quickly transformed to indoor “environmental” quality. This way of thinking became more broadly described as “wellness,” with productivity and happiness as major pillars. Green building has come full circle back to toxicological considerations of products through material ingredient reporting criteria and human health remains as the most significant pillar of green building wellness.

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic 

Human health is already integral to the overall green building wellness discussion and feasibly, that discussion will continue to grow with much attention being given to the antiviral properties of building interior surfaces. In anticipation of this direction, there is much to learn regarding the technical aspects of COVID-19 before criteria can be developed for products such as floors, walls, countertops, and other surfaces with which we regularly come in contact. 

Besides the surfaces themselves, disinfectants are also likely to be widely discussed. Previously, the main focus on cleaners involved their toxicological ramifications, but that focus could be compounded with questions of disinfecting efficacy when considering a cleaner’s overall “greenness.” 

Furthermore, in the spirit of wellness, anything that can be done to alleviate building occupancy anxiety related to COVID-19 (and viruses in general) will be in demand. Some possibilities might involve using psychologically uplifting colors, incorporating natural ambiances, designing open spaces, and integrating surfaces that can be wiped down and easily maintained per guidelines of health officials. 

The next evolution in green building codes, standards, and rating systems contains a broad range of possibilities. The inherent green properties and design aspects of ceramic tile provide endless opportunities to answer these challenges.

Efforts to alleviate building occupancy anxiety related to COVID-19 (and viruses in general) will be in demand, including using uplifting colors, open spaces, and integrating surfaces that can be wiped down and easily maintained per guidelines of health officials.

TCNA lab adds antiviral testing 

To that end, TCNA remains heavily involved in green building initiatives and committed to keeping the North American ceramic tile industry-relevant as sustainability considerations continue to evolve. One specific example is that TCNA’s Product Performance Testing Laboratory recently expanded testing and research capabilities in response to global health concerns. New services include antiviral testing to determine the survival rates/durations of a host of viruses on different surfacing materials, including SARS-CoV-2, as well as the efficacy of common household cleaners to disinfect these surfaces. 

New TCNA lab services include antiviral testing to determine the survival rates/durations of a host of viruses on different surfacing materials, including SARS-CoV-2, as well as the efficacy of common household cleaners to disinfect these surfaces.

TCNA’s laboratory is already the only laboratory in the U.S. specializing in microbiological testing of floor, wall, and countertop surfaces; this recent expansion makes the lab uniquely positioned to provide testing on ceramic tile and other materials used in public and residential spaces. These tests and additional research will be helpful toward manufacturers’ product design efforts and could contribute toward the future development of standards to protect individuals against contracting and/or spreading viruses from contaminated interior surfaces. 

Today’s green building discussion is dominated by health-related issues. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, human wellness had risen to be equally as important as environmental stewardship. Long after a vaccine for COVID-19 is created and available, it is likely that heightened health concerns will continue to be the new normal, and green building will inevitably evolve to incorporate new codes, standards, and rating systems. Given the inherent properties of ceramic tile and tile’s limitless design potential, the industry can be optimistic as we embark on a post-pandemic era in green building supported by the research of TCNA. 

Who will replace China – and what will be the damage of COVID-19?

The imposition of countervailing and antidumping duties on Chinese tiles

On May 4, the U.S. International Trade Commission confirmed that Chinese exports of ceramic tile are causing injury to U.S. ceramic tile manufacturers. As a result of this decision, U.S. Customs offices were to begin collecting tariffs ranging from 562.52% to 689.5% for countervailing and antidumping duties. 

In effect, we can expect that U.S. Customs will not collect tariffs from Chinese tile imports because with such high tariffs no importer will consider buying ceramic tiles from China.

In 2018, tile imports from China to the United States were about 690 million square feet, 31.5% of total imports (2,197 million square feet). In June 2019 the U.S. Department of Commerce announced preliminary duties on Chinese tile imports, and by October 2019 such imports were down almost to nothing. As a result of these actions in 2019, tile imports from China were 434 million square feet, 37% less than in 2018. Chinese imports made up 21.2% of total U.S. tile imports by volume in 2019. This was down from 31.5% in 2018, and represented China’s lowest share of U.S. imports since 2008, as shown in the chart on the previous page, produced by Tile Council of North America (TCNA).

Prior to COVID-19 – projecting tile consumption in the U.S. in 2020 at the same level as in 2019 – we expected that the exit of Chinese tile imports from the American market would generate a supply shortage of about 690 million square feet of tiles.

U.S. shipments vs. imports

About 30% of tiles entering distribution channels in the United States are shipped by local factories, while 70% are imported, according to the U.S Consumption of Ceramic Tile chart, compiled by TCNA, below.

In 2019, U.S. manufacturers operated at about 75%-80% capacity, supplying 864 million square feet of tiles to the American market. We expected that working at full capacity these factories would have been able to ship an additional 275 million square feet of tiles, leaving a shortage in the market of 415 million square feet. Such a large amount of tiles would have to be replaced by imports.

In the United States, there are over 600 companies that import tiles. As a result of the tariffs on Chinese tiles, many importers who bought in China began increasing their imports from countries that already sell large quantities of tile to the United States, such as Spain, Italy, Brazil and Turkey. The largest importers from China began looking for tile among low-price countries such as India, Taiwan and Malaysia with the potential of making up the shortage of tiles in the U.S.

Due to the fact that finding foreign suppliers with the right products takes time, prior to COVID-19, we expected shortages of supplies, price increases, and loss of market share to competing flooring products such as LVT, which is not affected by tariffs and quite popular among consumers. 

The effect of COVID-19

COVID-19 destroyed all previous projections. Both new residential housing construction and residential remodeling are in sharp decline. In normal times, about two-thirds of ceramic tile shipments are directed to these two sectors of the tile market. In the first quarter of 2020, due to the lack of imports from China, imports of ceramic tile were 422 million square feet, almost 15% lower than in the first quarter of 2019 (496 million square feet). This was before the impact of COVID-19. 

In 2020, the effect of COVID-19 may reduce the demand of ceramic tile by over 30%, leaving many importers and distributors with large quantities of unsold tiles in stock. Many will try to sell at discounted prices. Hopefully, construction will fully resume in most states in remaining quarters of 2020, but the damage to the economy will be felt in 2021. 

At this time, there is a lot of uncertainty, and we will have to wait until the present emergency ends to be able to have a clearer view of the market. 

How to Manage and Motivate Telecommuting Workers

7 Leadership tools to inspire and supervise a remote and local team

Globally, over 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week according to International Workplace Group, IWG. In the US, 40% of all workers toil away from the organization’s sites some of the time on a regular basis, an increase of 173% since 2005 (Global Workplace Analytics). The current coronavirus contagion concerns have significantly increased this statistic. How do you keep your widespread team collaborating, motivated and productive? Having managed business in 120 countries at the same time, I’ve learned much about how to lead, collaborate, and coordinate with a diverse and remote team.

The tools and skills needed to lead a combined local and remote team productively and happily are easily and economically accessible now. The technological tools have significantly improved since I first started managing workers in different locations and time zones, but the most important factor is still the same — you as the leader.

Ultimately people work for their manager and then secondly for the organization. If you establish clear goals, treat people equitably, ethically and have a meaningful product/service, your team will be more likely be effective, motivated and loyal. Below are 7 tools that have proven to be useful in managing a mixed local and remote team.

1. Establish clear goals. Share the project, division and company’s goals in clear and consistent ways. The entire team need to know what the targets are. They should have an understanding of why the goals are important and how they relate to organization’s mission and purpose. Equally consequential is sharing how how they and their work fit in the goals and mission.

2. Maintain regular virtual face to face communication. There is no substitute for face to face meetings. Schedule electronic individual and team meetings where the participants can see and interact with each other. The members have to feel that they are part of a team. Virtual face to face meetings provides the nonverbal cues that more fully express what words often leave out. The bonus of visual meetings is that they minimize the multi-tasking and reduced attention that may occur in a non-visual event.

3. Develop mentors/mentorship relationships. A powerful way to strengthen cross connections, knowledge and accountability is to develop a mentorship program for workers. Everyone can benefit from a mentoring program. The mentees learn, are inspired by people who have gone before them, and feel seen. Mentors also learn from teaching/mentoring, they are rewarded by being able to share their experience and wisdom, and gain insight into the perspective of the newer entrants into the business.

4. Share information and files. A crucial aspect of any organization, especially one in which some members are not able to gather relevant information in person, is to communicate well. Maintain an online system of sharing of files, updates, news and any tweaks in strategy. There are many private and public virtual networks that a company can use to ensure that every member has access to the information they need to accomplish their tasks well and feel engaged.

5. Respect each other’s time. When time zones and different schedules are involved, it is easy to forget that some team members may have other commitments when you are working, like sleeping. Plan meetings and call times to minimize disruptions. Send out a clear agenda in advance and request each member come to the meetings prepared so that the meetings are time and productively effective.

6. Copy relevant parties only. Virtual teams grow easily with a number of people being copied on matters that may not concern them. Include parties involved in the specific project and leave off people who are not working on the aspects being discussed. Otherwise the mass of electronic communication reduces the effectiveness of the messages and buries people in unneeded mail.

7. Show them that you care. Everyone wants to feel that they have a purpose and are valued. How you communicate, listen and follow through with your team sets the stage for how they feel about their work, the team, the company, themselves and of course you, as their manager/leader. Have regular touch base sessions with each team member; acknowledge their accomplishments, coach them on how they may improve, and share your higher perspective about the project(s) and organization. Pay attention. Be real, honest and human. When people work remotely, they need human connection and one to one communication to feel involved and to know how they are performing.

Working remotely is a rapidly growing trend. As a leader it’s your privilege and responsibility to guide and manage your team so that they are performing to their potential, and to feel fully engaged so that you and your team are happily aligned and creating the best functioning organization for today and the future. Happy telecommuting!

Virtual meeting tools, prompted by shelter-in-place rulings, become the future norm for business interaction

As part of their normal business practices, commercial contractors are required to attend weekly status meetings, contract reviews, change orders, etc., but with the advent of COVID-19, an increasing number are now going to the airwaves, so to speak, to communicate with their colleagues and employees. 

What aspects of this video meeting process can be carried forward into the future, after the pandemic is over? In what ways are contracting and industry executives currently using video conferencing and online connection services such as Zoom, BombBomb, GoToMeeting, Google and Microsoft 365 Teams, and what are their thoughts on utilizing these services moving forward?

Shannon Huffstickler, Schluter Systems

According to Shannon Huffstickler, social media community liaison, Schluter Systems, using video conferencing (VC) has currently become a key part of doing business. “I typically communicate with our customers in the online forums or private messages, but with everyone feeling a little isolated currently, I’ve been using VC to create a space where we can have an intimate, live interaction that allows for an even more connected feeling than usual.”

Before the current situation, Huffstickler noted, virtual meetings were usually one-on-one. “I haven’t had need to do much beyond a video call with a single customer in the past, although Schluter has always used VC for internal meetings where face-to-face is not efficient or practical.”

The advantages, she noted, include the aforementioned intimate interaction, which is more productive because the conversation occurs efficiently in real time rather than awaiting return replies. “The disadvantages: not all customers understand or can use the technology easily,” she said. “Also, many are uncomfortable being on camera and don’t participate freely as a result.”

Christopher Walker David Allen Company

Christopher Walker, Vice President, Northeast Region, David Allen Co., and current NTCA President, has said his company has relied on Microsoft Teams as its go-to for intra-company meetings, “This service was always available to us but it has found a new and increased following,” he said. “I’m conducting some phone interviews this week to eliminate exposure or people coming into our ‘closed’ environments. I’ve asked the potential candidates to download the Teams App on their devices.”

Like Huffstickler, Walker did not rely heavily on these types of services in the past. “I would traditionally use conference calls or short person-to-person contact,” he explained. “Now we have people from the same location conferencing from their office most significantly so that we can share screens and update/present information to the group without violating the social distancing standard.”

Martin Brookes, Heritage Marble & Tile

At Heritage Marble & Tile in Mill Valley, Calif., the company has adopted Google Duo to communicate as a company. Martin Brookes, founder and president, has been attending many webinars regarding the Paycheck Protection Program and felt that they have given, for the most part, “sufficient information to guide me through the process.” 

He noted he recently attended an NTCA webinar that had record attendance. “I see this continuing for the foreseeable future,” he said. “This is good news in the uncertain times we are living in. Social distancing has its challenges and people are just looking for ways to keep social given that their regular channels have broken down. It’s important for mental health to do this and feel connected to a community of some kind. I believe NTCA provided this. I posted a video in the NTCA Members Only Facebook group when the PPP was released and pointed members toward the paperwork to try to fill out as quickly as possible.”

Dan Welch, Welch Tile & Marble

Dan Welch, CEO, Welch Tile & Marble in Kent City, Mich., said the company has been using Zoom for over two years with consultants from out of the country, while BombBomb is new to the firm. “We’ve had it for two weeks and we’re just starting to get the hang of it,” he said. “I have been using Microsoft to finalize our apprenticeship program for six months. All work well and take some time to get used to, and all are being used at a larger level after the COVID-19 outbreak. Zoom and Microsoft are great to record the meeting and make notes when the meeting is over. Both are much better forms of communication because you can see the body language.”

As for the future, Brookes believes we are entering into a new era of how we do work and business, as the “situation has forced us into being creative and making use of tools that we hadn’t adopted previously. Because we are creatures of habit, I believe we will continue to use these tools in one form or another moving forward.

“I’ve come to realize that I can be more productive on my office side of the business and fewer site visits are required when using services such as Google Duo, which is also a free service,” he added. “The roll out of 5G will make these services much faster and will be a game changer, in my opinion. Once quantum computing becomes mainstream, I think we all will be conducting business differently than we have in the past. This COVID-19 situation has forced us into this way of doing business rather than it being a natural progression of technology.”

Christi Williams, demand generation manager, Managed Solution, noted, “As a Microsoft partner, we have been using Teams at our organization for quite some time. The difference now is people are using video more than they used to. Teams has been great, especially for company-wide communication and information sharing. With email, it can get buried or overwhelming. Teams makes it easy for us to share updates, announcements, files, and more.”

Moving forward, she noted, the company has employees at different sites, plus it works with many people outside of the organization, so video conferencing is a great way to stay connected. “Many were not using video on calls previously, but I think this isolation is pushing people a bit out of their comfort zone,” she added. “I hope to continue seeing more people and companies utilize it, especially those that have multiple headquarters or employees partially remote.”

Schluter’s Huffstickler also sees a future that features increased video conferencing. “I fully expect that this format will continue to be the norm in the future,” she concluded. “I presume that remote work – and even shared office meetings – will be conducted on a regular basis in this format.”

Shannon Huffstickler, Schluter Systems, uses VC to stay connected with colleagues and contacts during social distancing restrictions. 

Turning Negative Emotions and Thoughts into Positive Actions

Millions of people out of work.  Family members concerned for loved ones, especially those vulnerable or at risk to COVID-19. Employees fearful of working with co-workers in close proximity of each other, for obvious reasons.  

It is no wonder that an alarming number of people are experiencing increased stress and anxiety, and even in extreme cases, are suffering from depression.  There is so much negative energy circulating that you just simply can’t avoid it.  

As NTCA Executive Director, I have been on the phone with many members and peers. We all have tried to support each other in different ways. At first, I tried to tell myself that I mustn’t let people see how this situation was affecting me personally and professionally.  But as time has progressed, and more people have been transparent with me and opened up and shared with me how they are really doing, I began to feel it was okay to do the same.  

I have to admit that the situation has at times gotten under my skin. You just flat out get tired from the negative commercials, social media, phone calls, etc. Business starts to become affected. The money dries up. The first thought is that you just want to curl up in a ball, put your hands over your ears, and simply pretend that this stuff is just simply not happening.  

I tried it. It doesn’t work.  

So I started trying to find sources of positive mindsets. People who weren’t surviving in these times, but actually thriving in this environment.  

One video podcast I watched really rang true with me. Stress doesn’t always have to be negative. In fact, stress can be positive. I think about times I played sports when I was young, or when I had to prepare for a large presentation in a big crowd, etc. These were stressful times, but overall they became positive experiences. This has helped me to realize that these times can be the same.  

For instance, I joined some peer groups of other association leaders in both the construction industry and outside it  This was extremely helpful because I gained some empathy and also was able to feed off of their enthusiasm and energy.  

My goal is to turn this negative energy around immediately.  I want to use this time where I am not traveling and really assess changes that need to take place in both my personal and professional life. I want to to instill this energy into those that I work with and interact with. I am excited about it and admittedly a little fearful too. But fear can be a motivating factor, if you channel this the right way.  

I’m looking forward to working with all of you on many of these initiatives.  

1 2