Over the course of years there have been several books and teachings that have helped shape, influence, or otherwise bolster the ideas that make RQ who and what she is today. The Flywheel committee thought it would be interesting to take a few of those books off the shelf, find our notes from some of the key teachings, and put them all together here to examine. In a sense, this issue will allow each reader to play the part of CEO, gauging how the company is doing against these concepts.
THE UPSIDE-DOWN TRIANGLE
RQ’s actual CEO, George Rogers, has taught on the upside-down triangle for years. The idea is this: The world around us popularly sees leadership in business as a pyramid or mountain. The leader is the one who climbs to the top of the pyramid, reaching the summit of the mountaintop. But the world’s popular understanding is wrong. And that is not how RQ views leadership. To get it right, you have to flip the triangle upside-down. Every promotion moves you down further to the base, meaning the greatest becomes the servant of all. Those in leadership hold greater and greater responsibility for the opportunity and well-being of all the families represented in the organization. As Jim Collins puts it in Good to Great (speaking of the best kind of company leaders), “Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.” Aspiring to greater leadership means aspiring to being a bigger servant, with willpower matched by the power of humility; not standing above others, but rather lifting others up. At RQ we can all aspire to become Level 5 leaders and climb down the upside down triangle.
THE FIVE DYSFUNCTIONS OF A TEAM PYRAMID
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
This book became a mainstay on the RQ Onboarding book list ever since it was first picked up and read. The ideas are simple, yet profound. They are compelling, and yet strangely difficult to put into practice. Here’s the concept. At the base of the pyramid is TRUST. It is foundational to any team. Without trust, the house falls down. Ironically, it is also the most common of the dysfunctions. Building on trust is CONFLICT. If a team can trust one another, then they can engage in healthy debate and struggle over the tension of ideas, strategies, directions, etc. When a team can engage in necessary conflict, it can then make a COMMITMENT that means something. Whether it is a task or a schedule, a game plan or you name it… a team that trusts one another can wrestle with each other to the point they can make meaningful commitments. And a team that can make meaningful commitments can experience ACCOUNTABILITY in a positive way precisely because those commitments are meaningful. The whole pyramid has a focus on RESULTS. The team is assembled and works to trust each other in order to achieve something, and that something is the agreed upon results the team seeks to attain. It’s so logical and practical. But people and social dynamics are hard. Trust is hard. So hard is necessary. If RQ wants to achieve its mission to become the first choice of all stakeholders, it is going to require overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team; not only amongst fellow RQers… but with the outside stakeholders we rely on to achieve our results.
THE LEADERSHIP PIPELINE
The Leadership Pipeline by Charan, Drotter, and Noel
When moving from PE to APM or from Job Captain to Project Architect, something that is often not trained is that there is a shift beyond the title and job duty list. Each “turn” in the leadership pipeline demands a change in not only SKILLS required, but also in TIME APPLICATIONS and WORK VALUES. The easiest illustration is that of a player versus a coach. While a good coach may have been a good player in the past, to be a good coach takes different skills than playing skills. They don’t need to spend nearly as much time in fitness but a lot more time in recruiting, watching game film, etc. Their time applications are dramatically different than that of a player. And with that their work values change. So it is that not every great player makes for a great coach; and some mediocre players can become outstanding coaches. To apply these principles to RQ, it does not mean our stated corporate values of Safety or Innovation change. But how one dedicates their energy and effort towards something like Innovation changes dramatically from a Jr Estimator to a Lead Estimator. Like a lot of books, the teachings from this one come across as common sense – and yet that is like most wisdom, isn’t it? It is a great reminder, especially as we are growing. In leadership, and as we grow, RQ’s people cannot just keep doing more and more and more. There are only so many hours in the day. We have to manage and lead differently so that RQ can do more and more and more. We have to develop our skills, but also alter our time applications and work values as we take on more responsibility. We need to remember the lessons of the leadership pipeline.
WRONG THING POORLY TO RIGHT THING WELL BOX
This one is another George favorite. I think we learned it from our friends at MAP along with their world of vital factors, goals and controls. But George uses this so often that I deem it is from him. The “Wrong Thing Poorly” to “Right Thing Well” Box goes like this: With most things in life, you will most likely, unknowingly, start something doing it wrong… and poorly. That is the “Wrong Thing Poorly” quadrant. I think of a right-handed youngster trying to learn how to shoot left-handed layups at basketball practice. Kids typically start off jumping off the wrong foot, their hands are a mess, and, yeah… they miss most of them. But eventually, with practice, you get to the “Wrong Thing Well” quadrant. Your feet and your hands are still all a mess, but you have learned how to use bad technique to still score several of your left-handed layups. You feel pretty good with that success. But then you get a coach that wants to fix you so you can go get a college scholarship one day. Coach knows he has to break you down to fix your technique. So he forces you into the “Right Thing Poorly” quadrant. With a drill sergeant of a coach, now your feet and your hands are all right, but it feels so awkward that you start missing all your left-handed layups again. But you are committed to it (or else your coach is committed to it and so you have to be committed to it whether you want to be or not). So you keep practicing and practicing, humbling yourself with the realization you aren’t very good, but once you can master the right technique you will be the next Michael Jordan (or my favorite with the left hand… Steve Nash). Mastering that technique, you have arrived at the “Right Thing Well” quadrant. Then you continue perfecting doing the right thing so well that you are doing it better than anyone else. You’ve achieved Steve Nash status! The biggest lesson from this diagram is that you have to be willing to go through the various stages, even when it doesn’t feel very successful. If you are not willing to go through the difficult times with limited success, you’ll never get to Steve Nash. To create the Best Build Environment… to be the 1st Choice of All Stakeholders… RQ will continue to have to tackle initiatives like a kid being forced how to shoot left-handed layups. Whether it be something as big as learning to barge across the Atlantic or something as small as learning a new nifty software application, we’ve got to be willing to do the work to get through the stages.
THE THEORY OF CONSTRAINTS
The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt
Assume you have a sequential series of machines that manufacture a widget at the end. The misnomer about process is that to maximize the process (or system), you have to maximize each of the machines. That is false because the machines have different functions. If you run the machines at full capacity, no matter how hard the third machine works, it cannot keep up with the first two machines because the third machine has a more complicated function. That is where the idea of “go slow to go fast” comes in. If you slow down the first two machines to the point the third can keep up, well then you have created steady flow which eliminates inventory and actually increases your productivity and profitability on the widgets. That is a very important lesson about process. But the theory of constraints pushes that lesson further. The theory of constraints suggests every process has a biggest bottleneck. For ongoing improvement, you simply find the biggest bottleneck and alleviate it. Then you find the new biggest bottleneck and alleviate that one. And on and on you go until your sales force can’t keep up with your widgets. Now your sales force is the biggest bottleneck and you have to grow that force which will create a new biggest bottleneck back in your manufacturing process. It can go on forever! The strategies embedded in our design and construction project schedules apply theories of process and constraints every day. And the same could be said for our team, department, and corporate improvement initiatives. The better we can see the big picture of projects, the better we can make decisions about machines. The goal is not to maximize each machine – it’s to maximize the project.
THE IMPACT CURVE
This diagram has benefited RQ greatly. With “Time” on the x-axis, you see that “Impact” is at it’s highest at the very beginning of a project. Not only so, but the ability to have impact drops dramatically in a very short period of time and then steadies off for the duration of the project. Why is that? It is because a job in design has walls that can move, materials that can change, means and methods that can be altered to maximize the project. As the design gains fixity, the walls can’t be moved anymore. Ceilings can’t be raised or lowered. Roof systems are set. Materials cannot be substituted much, if at all. Now, ironically, when projects have their highest “Impact” potential, you also see the fewest “Number of People” associated with the project. As the project goes on after design fixity, you might see 300 workers on site.
Earlier in RQ’s life we recognized an opportunity with the Impact Curve. While we will do not plan on ever having 300 people involved on the pursuit side of a project, we have been intentional about adding a diversity of strong minds to the pursuit side in order to enhance our upfront strategy. While I’d say our hit rate on pursuits has gone up because of this, it would be better to say our strategies have been better. Sometimes that means the multitude of minds recognizing the project is not a good one to win without covering certain risk that might have otherwise been missed. So whether it is in winning or even losing, exploiting bigger brain power according to the Impact Curve has made RQ a better, stronger, smarter, more profitable firm. And that has made a big impact on our company and its potential as a business.
THE HEDGEHOG PRINCIPLE
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Little known trivia: Did you know that Jim Collins early on sat on DPR’s board? How that happened is a really good story, but a story for another day. What is useful in this article is to know that if you understand Collins’ Hedgehog Principle, you largely understand the guiding principles to DPR’s business strategy. And RQ’s. The Hegdehog Principle is simple enough. Three intersecting circles represented by three questions: 1) What can you be the best in the world at? 2) What do you enjoy? 3) What is your economic engine? The intersection of those three circles is what should be your business focus, also known as your Hedgehog. What Collins and his team of researchers found was that great companies are like hedgehogs. Unlike foxes who know many things, hedgehogs know one big thing and they are great at it. This is one category in which I openly invite you to play the part of CEO. What can RQ be the best in the world at? What brings the people of RQ enjoyment in their work? And what is RQ’s economic engine? Put those together and then outline what you believe RQ’s hedgehog is. I’ll give you a hint: Your answers could have subtle but important differences. For example, can RQ be the best in the world at DoD work, or NAVFAC work more specifically, or design/build firm fixed price work? Or something different? Why do you think so? You can see how even a subtle difference in your answer can direct your business focus if you really pay attention. The Hedgehog Principle continues to give RQ business focus.
Good to Great by Jim Collins
You can’t have a newsletter called The Flywheel without pointing out its relevance to the business! For this I’ll quote a lengthy section from Collins:
Picture a huge, heavy flywheel – a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Now imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible.
Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn.
You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Three turns… four… five… six… the flywheel builds up speed… seven… eight… you keep pushing… nine… ten… it builds momentum… eleven… twelve… moving faster with each turn… twenty… thirty… fifty… a hundred.
Then, at some point – breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn… whoosh!… its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort. A thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. The huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum.
Now suppose someone came along and asked, “What was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast?”
You wouldn’t be able to answer; it’s just a nonsensical question. Was it the first push? The second? The fifth? The hundredth? No! It was all of them added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in a consistent direction. Some pushes may have been bigger than others, but any single heave – no matter how large – reflects a small fraction of the entire cumulative effect upon the flywheel.
The flywheel image captures the overall feel of what it was like inside the companies as they went from good to great. No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process – step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel – that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.
So many of the books and teachings noted in this edition of our newsletter really work together and “the flywheel” really brings them all together. Each turn of the flywheel can be represented by the outstanding people we have up and down the Leadership Pipeline, engaging in the continuous improvement identified in the Theory of Constraints. Putting more brain power in pursuits according to the Impact Curve was one such continuous improvement. And it is continuous because we keep working to make it better still. To get to the Right Thing Well, we keep working… pushing… persisting through the Wrong Thing Poorly – to the Wrong Thing Well – to the Right Thing Poorly – to the Right Thing Well. Our goal is never to execute a project just as well as we executed the last one, no matter how fantastic that project went. We always want the next one to be even better! Is RQ’s flywheel spinning a hundred times… a thousand times? I don’t know. We’re not counting. We just keep pushing to make it spin even faster. If anyone ever stops us to ask how we got to be as good as we are, I would pay money to be a fly on the wall listening to your response: “What are you talking about? We’ve been pushing for years and we just keep on pushing… and yeah, I guess we’ve come a pretty long ways… but we’re not done yet! Just wait and see… or better… come join us!”
THE IDEAL TEAM PLAYER
The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni
RQ has six stated values: Safety, Ethics, Teamwork, People, Innovation, and Discipline. Notice how the first four of those six are entirely people-related. So getting the culture right at RQ, and the people that make up that culture, means everything. You can teach someone how to review a submittal, but it is hard to teach them to have good character or work ethic. There have been several authors that have written on finding great people. Jack Welsh comes to mind, or maybe an article by Warren Buffet. Not coincidentally, both those famous businessmen say the same thing as Patrick Lencioni in his book The Ideal Team Player. The book is not only about finding great people that fit a company culture… but finding the kind of people that will work well in a team environment. Since construction is the biggest team sport industry I can think of, its relevance is significant. What does Lencioni say you should look for? Three things: Humble, Hungry, and Smart. Evil cousins of these three that mask themselves as Humble, Hungry, and Smart include: The Pawn, The Bulldozer, and The Charmer. Congratulations if you work for RQ. When going through our interview process, you were considered Humble, Hungry, and Smart. And that’s what we want all of our people to be. There have been a few ex-RQers that turned out to be evil cousins, who tricked us when they interviewed. But RQ is like a living organism. Anything outside of Humble, Hungry, and Smart is like a cancer that the body immediately attacks and tries to rid itself of. It is remarkable to watch. A culture fighting for the right kind of team environment is a kind of flywheel unto itself.
THE 20-MILE MARCH
Great by Choice by Jim Collins
The 20-Mile March principle is all about RQ’s value of Discipline. The story goes that two explorers wanted to be the first to get to the South Pole and back. They set out to be the first at virtually the same time. One team decided that on good days, they’d trek as far as they could. They used stormy days or windy days or especially cold days to hunker in and catch up on their rest. The second team had a different strategy. They would trek 20 miles every single day, snow or shine. The first team had a strategy of opportunism. The second team had a more disciplined systematic approach. To cut to the end of the story, the first team tragically all died on their way back from the Pole. The second team all made it out, making history. It’s a true story, and, although there is a lot more to the story that I encourage you to read, the principle from it is simple enough. Opportunism is attractive, seems to make sense, but is very dangerous (and sometimes even deadly). Discipline is sometimes tougher than it sounds (especially on snow storm days), but it leads to great rewards. In this newsletter, this is the last chance you get to play CEO. If you had to articulate what RQ’s 20-Mile March is or should be, what would you say? Why? What things would threaten or entice the company away from that discipline? I’ll give you a hint: RQ’s 20-Mile March should tie directly to the mission and vision statements. I hope that helps!
10 YEAR BATS
Tina Lane and Patty Cardona
Emily and Quinn Sloan welcomed Peyton Alice Sloan on February 3.
Congratulations, Sloan Family!
Debra Smith’s daughter – Brittany Smith – graduated Cum Laude from James Madison.
What an achievement!
Aireen Lansang and Shauna Campbell held a nutrition seminar for our GTMO employees.
Thanks, Aireen and Shauna for looking out for the overall health of our crew.
Craig Shadle and his wife welcomed their 4th and 5th grandbabies – Emma and Elliot – on April 29th.
Congratulations, Shadle Family!
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