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Vulnerability: A Critical Path to Communicating & Problem-solving

Vulnerability

I recently watched a Ted Talk by Brene Brown titled The Power of Vulnerability. Brene starts her talk about connection and how it is difficult for individuals to connect due to their fear of disconnection. This fear can result in individuals putting up walls around themselves to prevent others from seeing their true self because they think that if truly seen, others would not like them. However, as Brene stated in her talk, “in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” In other words, we must be vulnerable.  

As I reflected on this talk about connection and vulnerability along with Austin’s core focus, “To be the most trusted partner for complex and challenging projects,” I thought of how intertwined these ideas are and how we can’t be the most trusted partner if we don’t connect with our clients and other project stakeholders. Being vulnerable is being our true and authentic selves. We cannot connect if we are not first vulnerable.  

I never thought that being vulnerable was essential to building trusted partnerships. But when I think of some of the lessons, I’ve learned about relationship building over the past 30 years with Austin, vulnerability was indeed a key, if not the primary, ingredient.  

Vulnerability and People New to Their Roles

We’ve collaborated with many clients who assign first-time managers to our projects, whose only prior experience with construction may have been a home renovation or perhaps a new home – quite different than a multi-million-dollar industrial project. It’s important to build a relationship with client representatives. They should be able share their fears without judgment and be confident that you will not only get the job done but help them be successful in their new role.  

These first-time managers don’t always have the field experience to know that it isn’t if a project hits a roadblock, but when. It is in those moments when excitement is building, and tension is high that it is important to have a calming presence in the face of such obstacles.  

Our clients place a tremendous amount of trust in us. They want to know we will get to the bottom of an issue and deliver results. Rather than diving right into the muck of the situation, take a deep breath, have everyone take a deep breath. We should reassure the team that we will get through whatever the issue is. Worry will not solve the problem. Instead, talk through the issue, develop a plan, and then work that plan.  

Vulnerability and Delivering Tough News

At another point in my career, I had some particularly bad news to deliver to a client. I knew that it was not going to be a pleasant conversation. I was wringing my hands, trying to figure out how I would go about sharing this information. I knew what I had to do, but I wanted to make it as positive as possible. I called my boss at the time, former Austin President Pat Flanagan. I said, “I don’t know quite how to lay this out. Can you help me think through how to present this?” Pat asked me one question, “Matt, why don’t you use the old truth scam – it works practically every time?” That was the end of the conversation. The message was delivered, and it wasn’t as bad as I had thought because today, I can’t recall what the issue was. But I will never forget the vulnerability lesson I learned that day. 

Vulnerability and Admitting Weakness

Vulnerability is also about owning it. You must be willing to admit what you don’t know or are unsure of. Find answers and create results, not excuses.  

Early in my career, I recall interviewing subcontractors to install metal siding on a large rocket manufacturing facility we were constructing. The schedule was extremely aggressive, and the durations that we had allowed for the siding installation were ridiculously short. After four interviews and hearing from everyone that what we were asking was impossible and unachievable, I interviewed Clarence. We talked for a while about what we needed to be done, and Clarence didn’t say much – just listened. Toward the end of the interview, I asked, can you meet the schedule? I’ll never forget his answer, “It’ll be hard” – not impossible, not unachievable. There was hope. Clarence wasn’t a salesman painting a rosy picture or a negative one, claiming it couldn’t be done. He was someone who knew it was a tall order but was willing to work together to figure it out.  

We ended up giving his company the work, and they did a fantastic job and met the schedule. I learned a lot from his approach, and it continues to influence me to this day. I learned how to carefully evaluate a situation, admit I might not have all the answers, and share my opinions openly and honestly. I got others to do the same, to work together, as trusted partners.  

Around the world, there are a lot of buildings built every day in a very transactional relationship. Many of these projects are successful, but I wonder how the relationships between the stakeholders are? I’ve never thought of myself as a transactional type of person. I much prefer connecting with and building a close relationship with the people I work with. I’m glad that Austin has this as a core focus as well. Every day, as we interact with others, we choose to be vulnerable or not. When we are vulnerable, we open the gateway for others to do the same. Standing in our truth is to be authentic, and authenticity builds trust. Like the foundations we construct, our client relationships need to stand the test of time, pressure, and vulnerability. When they do, we will have a partnership for life. 

The Next Big Earthquake

aftermath of an earthquake

What are the chances? 

About 50,000 earthquakes large enough to be noticed without seismic equipment occur annually across the globe. Of these, approximately 100 (0.2%) are significant enough to produce substantial damage.  

Whether you experience a moderate to large earthquake depends on the seismicity of your location. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) compiles all known earthquake sources in the National Seismic Hazard Maps (NSHMs). These maps serve as the basis for determining site-specific seismic design forces for structures. The ground accelerations noted in the NSHMs are entered into algorithms that output project-specific design accelerations that account for characteristics such as building shaking frequency and site soil classification. The NSHMs (and underlying model) are updated every six years to provide the basis for earthquake provisions in building codes. Regular updates ensure that engineers can access the most accurate information about potentially damaging earthquakes throughout the United States. 

The time between earthquakes is also essential in determining the magnitude of an earthquake. The longer the forces build up along a fault, the more energy is released when the fault ruptures, creating a more significant quake.  

Magnitude Chart

Located in a lower-risk area? Why you could still face risks. 

The West Coast is the most active area in the United States for earthquakes due to two tectonic plates, the Pacific and the North American Plate. However, this does not mean the other parts of the country do not experience earthquakes.  

The largest earthquake recorded in North America took place on the New Madrid Fault in Missouri in 1811. The Charleston, South Carolina region has also experienced significant earthquakes in the past hundred years.  

Practices like fracking are making low-risk areas more susceptible to disturbances. Structures in these areas are not built to the same stringent seismic codes as those in California. This increases the risk of significant structural damage if seismic forces occur.  

What’s the cost? 

The most significant risk from an earthquake is that of life safety. Structural building collapses, and failure of non-structural components such as heavy furniture and hanging elements can cause substantial loss of life during seismic events. Modern building code requirements are intended to protect people. While the building may be damaged beyond repair, building codes aim to ensure safe evacuation at a minimum. 

A serious problem facing society today is that many buildings were designed and constructed in the infancy of seismic design methodologies. We gain tremendous knowledge with each major earthquake. Construction techniques and details that have not performed well under seismic force stress are identified and refined. This insight is incorporated into Building Codes, allowing for the construction of more resilient buildings. Some buildings built before the 1970s have an increased likelihood of suffering significant structural damage because they were constructed using obsolete detailing and methodologies. Such buildings pose a substantial risk to life safety in the event of a major earthquake. For example, older unreinforced masonry buildings are among the most vulnerable types of structures, and many occur in the high-seismic and densely populated region of Southern California.  

Earthquakes are estimated to cost the nation $6.1 billion annually in building stock losses, according to an updated report published by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2017. Assessment and repair can cause production to stop and create a financial strain on a company.  

What you can do. 

The path towards seismically resilient cities starts with informed owners. Owners should understand the seismicity of the regions where their properties are located and be aware of their buildings’ seismic vulnerabilities. Here are the critical questions for every owner: 

Critical Questions

If owners do not know the answers to these questions or need to understand the impact seismic disturbances have on their building, they should contact a licensed structural engineer proficient in seismic design. If appropriately designed, both existing and new buildings can survive severe earthquakes and significantly reduce risk to life-safety, property damage, and lost-time production.   

Conclusion

Although earthquakes remain a deadly threat, today’s buildings are more resilient than ever, thanks to seismic research and technology advancements. Yet, there is still a great deal to learn.  Until we can tame mother nature, designers and engineers will continue to explore ways to minimize damage from seismic disturbances.  

The Austin Company has a great legacy of seismic design projects across the world.  Our parent company, Kajima, is located in Japan and is a leader in advanced seismic design research.   

Jeff Deel Promoted to Vice President

Reaching the Stars

The Austin Company has promoted Jeff Deel to Vice President of Human Resources. Deel formerly served as Director of Human Resources and has dedicated more than 15 years to Austin, serving the last seven years on Austin’s executive leadership team.

Deel was awarded the Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award for Organizational Development in 2017. He is a member of the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) and serves on the Engineering and Construction Compensation Forum Survey (ECCF) steering committee. ECCF is an annual study conducted among member companies providing a confidential, reliable, and valid evaluation of base salaries, other compensation, and human resource practices in the engineering and construction industry.

“Jeff’s contribution has expanded as Austin has continued to grow. He is a valued member of the executive leadership team providing great support and counsel. He has clearly earned the opportunity to serve as an officer of the company and the position of Vice President. I congratulate him on his promotion and thank him for all his hard work,” said Mike Pierce, President of The Austin Company.

“My day-to-day tasks will not change significantly. However, I will be taking on greater responsibility for strategic planning, and as Austin continues to grow, so will the breadth of my role,” said Deel. “I look forward to the role we will all play in Austin’s success in the coming years.”

Deel continues to be responsible for all human resource functions, including talent acquisition, organizational development, performance management, coaching, succession planning, policy and procedure, compliance, benefits, employee relations, and compensation. His contribution to helping drive the company’s vision, identify, and initiatives to improve the organization’s operations will continue to expand.

Revit Templates

scientists working in lab

Innovation Defined

Thomas Edison said, “There is a better way – find it.” There are aspects of engineering that have stayed the same for hundreds of years, and then there is a new wave of technology allowing us to work in very different ways. Advanced technology has its challenges. Exploring the transition from old to new begs the question, “When the tools of the past no longer work, what does the solution look like?”

It looks a lot like what Austin has done to streamline our Revit templates. Project templates provide a starting point and standards for new projects. The design and implementation of these templates have reduced set-up and modeling time for our designers and engineers.

The ever-evolving process

The most significant benefit of Revit templates is how much time they can save. The downside is how much time they take to develop. The refinement of our templates is an ongoing process that is continuously improving. It can be challenging to find time to refine when billable projects await and deadlines loom. Fortunately, investing in this ongoing process yields long-term gains.  

Once you finish the template, how often do you review it and keep it updated? What if you have a project that’s a new building-type? Does your template still work for that kind of building? What if you need to follow an owner’s BIM standard? Can you modify your template to fit their requirements? 

We continue to learn more about best practices with each project and as product updates are released. It takes discipline to continually implement these tools and keep ahead of the maintenance required. Our goal is to find a simple, effective, and easy-to-maintain solution to every challenge we encounter.  

We use a spreadsheet within Microsoft TEAMS to log issues as they arise. Then we systematically address each one by crowd-sourcing answers within our team and through industry resources.  

Time and Money: two limitations to innovation. 

Solutions require professionals who understand the engineering process. They must be knowledgeable regarding the inner workings of Revit, the projects, and teams.  

User input critical to success. 

End-users play a critical role in the design process. Reminders of this can come in the most unlikely of places. For example, I went on a USS Midway tour, a retired aircraft carrier in San Diego. On the flight deck was a jet that stood out to me. The tour guide claimed it was the best jet ever designed because pilots were consulted throughout the design and manufacturing process. The pilot never had to take their eyes off the sky to operate the plane. It was a good reminder to me of the importance of user input in solving design problems.  

Applicable across disciplines

Any discipline can look inward and address efficiencies. For example, architecture is usually going to include floors and walls on any given project. Mechanical will commonly have diffusers. Taking the time to pre-define these types of reoccurring items in a project template is a wise strategy. When information is well defined and pre-loaded, a template can save a lot of time by automating repetitive tasks.   

The demands of today’s design–build industry are too great to believe there is no room left for innovation. We look to do more, better, and faster. Leveraging technology gives us a greater ability to master time. So, what repetitive tasks do you do? Maybe the next technological advancement lies there! 

Celebrating Women in Construction 2021

Austin Michigan Female Team

In 2007 just days before Christmas, I accepted a position with a Cleveland-based construction company and began my passion for—and career in—the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) industry. 

Design and construction are noble professions that deliver tangible results. There is a sense of pride when a successful project stands the test of time. This type of accomplishment is unmatched in most industries. It is a powerful differentiator that we neglected to promote within our communities, schools, and clubs. As a result, the industry is facing epic shortages of skilled workers at all levels.

Women in Construction 

While construction is a historically male-dominated industry, it is vital to the industry’s long-term growth to build the pipeline that attracts more women to this great profession. This is where organizations like NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) play a crucial role. NAWIC generates awareness and promotes opportunities for women to build their careers in construction.

According to NAWIC, on average, women in the U.S. earn 81.1% of what men make. In contrast, women in construction occupations make 99.1% of men. There was only one other industry where the gender pay gap for women was lower than 10%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018). 

Yes, we have improved the gender differential, confirmed by the 64% growth in the number of female-owned construction firms from 2014 to 2019. Yet, there is still room for women in the construction industry.  

  • As of 2019, only 13% of construction firms are female-owned.  
  • Women account for only 10% of construction industry employment.  
  • And, only 2.5% of those women are in the construction trades. 

Add to the mix the shortages of skilled workers, and women’s opportunities to find their careers in the construction industry are greater than ever before. A quick look at NAWIC’s website shows 5,202 career opportunities for women in construction, including: preconstruction, estimators, controllers, supervisors, superintendents, project managers, auditors, engineers, schedulers, construction managers, administration, safety and inspections, drivers, construction foremen, educators, and many more.

In celebration of NAWIC’s Women in Construction Week (March 7-13, 2021), I tip my hard hat to all the women who have played a role in the built environment. I have met some amazing women in construction. I no longer work with some of these professionals but continue to feel connected to them; others I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with every day at The Austin Company. These women inspire me with their leadership and dedication to their craft. My passion continues.

To learn about opportunities for women in construction with The Austin Company, please visit our Careers page. 

Change of Plans

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Every project starts with a plan. But, as the translated Scottish poem goes, the best-laid plans often go awry. This holds true for design-build projects.

Project success relies on complex teams of owners, architects, engineers, construction managers, and trade contractors. Coordination takes on new meaning when changes occur. Whether due to client requests, scope development, code requirements, or existing conditions, how the team responds is vital to a successful outcome.

What-if Options

While the team goes to great lengths to design the perfect building right out of the gate, there are things that can’t be anticipated. To remain prepared, the design and construction team must constantly consider alternative design solutions throughout the project and keep options on the table for what-if scenarios when required.

Collaboration

Because changes can have a ripple effect throughout the project, it is crucial to have a strong leader and collaborate not only on the solution but during its implementation. Solutions should integrate the integrity of the design team’s original intent and our client’s desired outcome. The Austin Company values collaboration so highly that we have incorporated it into our core values.

Early Engagement

Identifying potential changes as early in the process as possible is critical. Transparency with all stakeholders is the foundation of a trusted partnership. Communicating early and often with the client and design-build team avoids costly delays.

Expertise in Problem Solving

Problem solving is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. Every time the team faces a challenge, the process of developing a solution adds to their knowledge bank. The resulting stockpile of information is an invaluable resource. Assembling a strong team, including resources that bring a fresh set of eyes to problem-solving, is essential to achieving a viable solution.

It is not a matter of if your project will undergo a change of plan – but when. Up-front planning, generating options, ongoing collaboration, early engagement, and a strong problem-solving team can help reduce cost overruns and time delays. From site selection through project closeout, planning is key to meeting critical milestones and achieving overall success.

The Origin of Our Company Values

hands stacked together to show unity

Over my career, it has become commonplace for companies to create Mission, Vision, and Values Statements. A Mission Statement should be aspirational and motivating but should also reflect what the employees believe in or buy into.

The word “mission” speaks to a higher purpose of the organization – the WHY. Mission is about the essence of the organization that inspires people to commit to it, sacrifice for it, and seek to make that mission part of their own personal purpose.

Similarly, vision communicates where the company intends to go while fulfilling its Mission. These two parts must be in sync. If the journey and destination don’t have a relation to the Mission, why are you on the journey in the first place?

Mission and vision are more forward-looking and immediate, addressing where a company wants to go and why. Values, on the other hand, are not time-sensitive. They speak to the soul and culture of the company.

Noted management consultant, Peter Lencioni, authored a great article on company values for the Harvard Business Review in 2002. He defines four different types of Values: Core Values, Aspirational Values, Permission-to-Play Values and Accidental Values. Of all, Core Values are the intrinsic cultural cornerstones.

Admittedly, the first time Austin’s leadership team set out to establish our Core Values, we wound up with Permission-to-Play Values such as Honesty, Integrity, and Respect. Nice. Important. But they are not uniquely Austin.

Enter EOS.

Entrepreneurial Operating System was devised by Gino Wickman and inspired by the works of Patrick Lencioni and Jim Collins (of Good to Great fame) and others. For us and thousands of other firms, EOS is a powerful tool to get a company’s leadership aligned and working toward the same goals together. EOS shows company leaders how to process issues with those goals in mind, and ultimately drive their teams toward the same goals.

It begins with an EOS process that shows company leaders how to define Core Values. The beauty and power of the process is that it is organic; it comes from within the organization. Start by making a list of those employees who embody the company culture each day and define what it is about them that caused you to add them to the list. Categorize those definitions into groups with similar themes and name each group. Congratulations, you have just defined your Core Values organically. They weren’t made up with the hope of being relevant. They are intrinsically relevant.

Within Austin, we identified people who were the problem solvers. They figured out ways of taking obstacles and developing new ways of getting past them. They carry our Innovation DNA, sending a message to their coworkers that we don’t let problems stop us.

Others seemed to always be there to pitch in. No matter what the issue is, these employees are there to help. There is a strong Commitment to Service among many employees who came to mind as true Austinites. Similarly, there were many examples of employees who, no matter what the project, task, assignment, or request can always be counted on to Get it Done.

We identified many co-workers with an unmistakable and contagious Passion for our clients and the important work they entrust to us, and our duty to earn that trust every day. For many, an assigned project or task is a personal challenge with which they exhibit an unrelenting drive to succeed, and failures are a personal affront. When given a project, they Own It!

Finally, we identified many people who had an innate ability to act as a catalyst, bringing teams together and making them successful. These employees are our Team Builders.

The authenticity of these values is that they were always there, making up the soul of Austin without ever having been examined or codified. These six Core Values are now part of our everyday work. They are branded throughout the organization. We have developed a Microsoft Dynamics app where co-workers can give a Shout Out anytime a colleague exhibits one of these Core Values in the course of their work.

Core Values have become an important part of our discussion in recruiting and evaluations. We sometimes find an employee who is competent but doesn’t seem to fit our culture. They tend not to demonstrate some of these Core Values. They also do not tend to stay around long.

On the other hand, many of the people named in this process have 20, 30 even 50 years with the company. We have consistent client relationships with major companies that span 40, 50, even 75 years. The thread that ties this all together is our culture, and the foundation of our culture is our Core Values. It is not surprising, then to read about our founders, Samuel Austin, and his son, Wilbert, and readily see these values describe who they were and how they built the company. These values have been unique to Austin from the start. It is our organizational DNA. It makes us a family. Taken as a whole, these Core Values define the essence of a career at Austin: the kind of people who work alongside you, your mentors, your work family. As business author Joe D. Batten put it, “Our value is the sum of our values.”

In the Rear-view Mirror and on the Horizon – 2020 & 2021

road through dessert landscape

“Looking back on 2020… let’s not!” so read an ad I saw in a magazine.

I do not recall a year discussed, explored, dissected, and analyzed more than 2020.  It seems it is drowning out the look ahead to 2021 and what the New Year will bring. Most of what you hear is gloom and doom, despair, and fear. Yes, it has been a tough year, especially if you are a healthcare provider or work in the travel/hospitality – related industries.

And that is where the media is focused. What’s missing is the rest of the story – the ingenuity and perseverance for large and small businesses alike to forge ahead in the face of a global pandemic. When I speak with neighbors and friends in manufacturing and the companies that serve them, the consensus is that business isn’t good – it’s great! Orders are up, the backlog is strong, and they can’t find enough workers.

We keep moving forward

Despite how I started this piece, I believe it is healthy and necessary to look back on 2020, as we tend to do every New Year. This year can be a powerful reference point for personal reflection and growth as an organization, business, and society.

I recently participated in a panel discussion where a food industry executive suggested: “that we not let the ‘new normal’ be too much like the old normal.” It caused me to consider what about the old normal do we want to keep?  What have we learned this year that should serve as a springboard for our future?

We have learned to video conference like never before. It is no longer a skill that is dependent on IT or administrative support. But what to make of it?  We no longer have to be in the office, travel, or meet in-person.

I think we find we need to be in-person, at least more than we thought we might. We have come to appreciate the everyday things that we have taken for granted. A handshake, a hug, a meeting in a crowded room. There is a real need to be in-person. I think we acknowledge that there is more to be gained from a meeting with eight people in a room than eight people on Zoom.

We have learned resilience

We have tested our ability to work together under extraordinary circumstances and not only survive but thrive.

There is an old adage; what doesn’t break us makes us stronger. Innovators are resilient, embrace change, and get in front of challenges. One of Austin’s Core Values is innovation.  Our Core Values developed organically. We named people who embody what Austin is and then described them. When we consolidated all of the descriptors, innovation was one of the most frequently used.

We often think of innovation in terms of technology. But many people innovate their processes, ways of thinking, and approach to problem-solving. How do you organize tasks on a construction project to maximize social distancing practices? How do you schedule office work to minimize in-person contact and still maintain productivity and efficiency? How do you develop relationships based on trust in a virtual setting? To innovate, you have to believe that there is a better way and dare to embrace the changes necessary.  Our founder, Samuel Austin, and his son Wilbert believed there was a better way of delivering projects for clients and innovated The Austin Method circa 1904.  Their passion for serving our clients in a better way than the status quo drove them to innovate.

A crisis also drives innovation. In a global pandemic, traditional priorities and conventions get challenged. Conventional thinking said we would not have a vaccine for at least a couple of years. Priorities got rearranged. Typical means of development and testing were challenged and changed.

Think about that! If twelve months ago, you told someone in the pharmaceutical industry that a new injectable drug was developed, tested, and approved in about ten months, they’d say you were dreaming.  Due to innovative thinking, the dream became a reality.

We are more nimble

Communication among team members has gotten wider. Technology is allowing more people to be a part of discussions. But has the availability and convenience of technology caused communication to become shallow? Do we have fewer one-on-one, face-to-face conversations where we ask more questions, probe for more insights, and gain a greater understanding?

I believe the new normal in communications will be a hybrid. It will incorporate both broader and more in-depth discussions because we can and want to. Virtual meetings allow more people exposure to how others think. It is a fruitful platform for presenting and debating ideas. Let’s challenge ourselves to have meaningful dialogs – to probe, discuss, and understand because we now know what it’s like when we cannot do that.

The pandemic has made us more skillful at scheduling and planning. Our resources and teams working in the same space had to shrink. We figured out how to do it and thrive. Let’s remember what we did and how we came up with those solutions and take this thinking with us into 2021 and beyond.

Supply chains got disrupted, but we figured it out in partnership with all stakeholders. Let’s build on that and look at obstacles as an opportunity to grow and become better.

In this 2020 journey we have all been on, we discovered we could do more. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla discussed Pfizer’s leadership through the vaccine’s development. “I’m a true believer that people, they don’t really know their limits. And usually, they have the tendency to underestimate what they can produce.”

We can do more

Perhaps that is the most important lesson we can take from 2020. That we can do more. Let’s not hesitate to dream of what we might be able to do. Let’s take stock of our conventions and priorities and be more willing to make changes.

Let’s continue to dream, believe, and innovate. And remember that it was a crisis that taught us a new normal – a better normal.

Austin – Working to Brighten the Holidays for Some Veterans Across North Eastern Ohio

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What a blessing it was today to join some of my teammates in the delivery of food, products, and gifts to veterans and their families in need. With so many veterans in need during these trying times, it means so much to our team to be able to give back.

One of the blessings we have at Austin is that we get to design and build the industrial landscape that helps society function. The work we do for manufacturers across North America directly impacts our everyday lives. Nearly any grocery aisle we walk down contains products produced or processed in a facility Austin built. We take comfort in knowing that the planes and cars we travel in this holiday season were manufactured in whole or part (i.e.. tier one and two type suppliers) in factories designed and constructed by Austin. When we purchase medicine at the drug store or receive that critical COVID vaccine, we take pride in the small part we had in developing the manufacturing infrastructure needed to deliver these products.

For several years, we have sent out holiday baskets that included a few of our “favorite things.” From sweet treats, to home and personal care goods, to medicine, to toy cars and planes, these gift baskets were brimming with our client’s products (or representations of our client’s products – as it’s kind of hard and expensive to put a vehicle into a gift basket – hence the toy cars and planes). Products we were happy to be a small part of bringing to the world by designing and building the factories that produce them. Assembled with care, each basket was created with the recipient in mind filled with brands we all know and love.

With so many folks working remotely and such a tremendous need in our communities, we decided to expand our normal giving this year by partnering with Northeast Ohio Foundation for Patriotism (NEOPAT).  NEOPAT is a great organization that works to meet local military and veteran families’ needs.

Working with NEOPAT we fulfilled veteran families’ Christmas lists and stocked NEOPAT’s food pantry. Austin was able to support the Christmas lists of three veteran families with children’s needs, two of them currently without a permanent home. Also, in the spirit of our “favorite things” tradition and to honor our clients, we supplied NEOPAT’s pantry with items produced in facilities designed or built by Austin.

Austin’s connection to veterans, the American military mission, and the American cause in general, runs deep and spans nearly 142-years. Our relationship with the defense industry includes defense equipment manufacturing plants from WWI through today’s high-tech defense facilities. We have had a part to play in building manufacturing plants for companies who support the military, such as the food and beverage and consumer products factories. And for many years we seek to hire veterans – helping them transition from “helmets to hardhats.”

As Americans and American businesses, we operate under a blanket of freedom and protection. This comfort is provided by those who have served and those who continue to serve our country. We make these donations in a spirit of gratitude for our veterans’ sacrifices.

Thank you to all our teammates, customers, partners in business, friends, and communities for helping to position us in a way that we can support the communities we work in. These donations (and so many more throughout the year and North America) are made thanks to you and in your honor.

Special thanks to all the Austinites who helped coordinate this, and to those that helped make the deliveries including – Mike Pierce (President), Jamie Hullman (VP of Finance, USMC veteran), Nicole Rosario (Special Projects Manager), Megan Bishop (Executive Assistant and Legal Coordinator), and Tremaine Thompson (Construction Field Engineer, US Army veteran).

Austin Consulting Poised for Continued Growth

matt poreba and katie riegelman headshots

Austin Consulting, the site selection and consulting arm of The Austin Company, continues to expand with two new strategic hires.

About Austin Consulting

Austin Consulting, the site selection and consulting arm of The Austin Company, provides a value-add dimension to the design-build industry. Austin Consulting offers both independent and integrated services focused on the value of identifying the optimal locations for new plants and facilities, completing more than 1,750 studies for clients throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

The Austin Company was founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1878. Its headquarters remain in Cleveland, with regional offices in Atlanta, Georgia; Irvine, California; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Mexico City, Mexico, and San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Learn more at www.theaustin.com.

Is Listening a Lost Art?

two people talking laptop on table

The International Listening Association estimates that the human brain listens at a rate of 125 to 250 words per minute, but the brain processes at 1,000 to 3,000 words per minute.

Think about that. You are on the mental input highway, and listening is going 25 mph in a 200 mph processing zone! To be an intentional listener, you have to slow your mind down to 25mph to accept all that is communicated.

Competing priorities and distractions make it hard to commit to fully listening and focused engagement. Remote working doesn’t help. While the advent of Teams and Zoom make video conferencing much more accessible, I find these calls to be mostly transactional. There is little chance to key into the non-verbal communication clues you get when meeting in person. A critical non-verbal communication element is eye-to-eye contact. That doesn’t happen with video conferencing. Some researchers say that non-verbal communication accounts for about two-thirds of all communications.

As one senior architect said, “if I am redlining drawings with my team at a table together, I can sense if they understand the nuances of why the design doesn’t work. That doesn’t happen as easily if we are on a video call with four or five of us on the screen.” And the social conversations that happen before and after an in-person meeting do not occur as readily.

How many times have you gotten an email that you interpreted negatively, but when you talked to the sender, the negativism was lessened or mitigated? Just the effort of verbal communications, especially in-person communications, lets the person know you respect them and commit your time and focus to hearing their issues. There is so much more to listening than merely hearing the words. It is about seeking to understand and process what is said and why.

And when we do, the interactions we have with people are much richer and deeper.

I know that my wife is one person I listen to most intently (and she knows when I am not!) I am easily motivated to listen to her because I am invested in her. What she says is important to me, and I place a priority on fully understanding what her thoughts are. For example, our family’s absolute house rule is we eat together as much as we can, and when we do, there is no TV. It is time to talk and learn from each other.

And that is a crucial point to consider. There is so much competition in our daily environment for our attention and focus. To listen with the necessary focus and purpose, there is a lot of noise that needs to be filtered out or turned off. Much is lost when we are not listening intently (i.e., with intention and purpose). As Stephen Covey observed, most people listen not with the intent to understand but to reply.

Purposeful, intentional listening requires full commitment and engagement. I recently read a book called the Trillion Dollar Coach about Bill Campbell, who became a very close advisor to many of the tech world’s biggest names at Google, Apple, SAP, and more. Campbell excelled at strategy and business, but there are countless executives out there that do as well. What made him different? The authors noted that trust is essential in business relationships along with other factors, but for Campbell, “trust was always first and foremost, it was his superpower.” He did this through purposeful listening, undistracted, and fully committed to the time spent with someone. He earned the trust and admiration of everyone with whom he engaged. He genuinely cared. He prioritized them, and they knew it.

Indeed, it is easier to listen intently to the people you care about the most, such as spouses, family members, BFFs, etc. To create those relationships that drive a successful business, you must be intentional in listening to teammates at work just as we do with loved ones at home.

The importance of intentional listening is critical to successful business relationships, as Bill Campbell demonstrated. This intentionality is fundamental to my opening question: Is listening a lost art? Listening with intention speaks to establishing priorities, staying focused, and being committed.

Prioritization. Is the time we are spending in a conversation a priority for both parties? Often not, but that comes with significant consequences at times. The often-cited statistics that employees leave a company not for money but because of their boss, saying, “He won’t listen to me.” The boss may be distracted and not fully engaged. It is not a priority for him at that time. However, when the resignation letter hits his desk, it indeed becomes a priority.

I know when I am on a video call, I typically have two monitors open. The meeting is on one side, but what is on the other monitor? When it is Outlook, I find that a big distraction. I have recently gotten into the habit that if I do not need the other monitor for the call’s purpose, I turn it off. Doing so is a conscious action to prioritize my commitment to the person I’m communicating with, and an added benefit is that my recollection of the discussion improves.

Focus takes energy. Whether it is driven by adrenaline or a mental decision to concentrate on the task at hand, focus requires energy. The execution of every task can benefit from the added focus. If the speaker sees you focused, they will appreciate that you care enough and are interested enough to listen to and consider what they have to say. It shows respect.

Commitment. It is easier to listen intently to someone we care about because we have an emotional connection that comes with caring for the person. Because you care, you are naturally motivated to understand their perspective, rather than what your reply might be. Organizations whose employees are committed to one another indeed care about one another as well. As a result, those organizations tend to be healthier and more successful.

So to my original question, in today’s society, we have so many things competing for our attention, how often are we listening? A work colleague once commented that today, “common sense is in such short supply it could be considered a secret weapon.”

So too, could this be said about intentional and focused listening.

As we dive headlong into the “new normal,” let’s make sure that normal includes enough time, opportunity, and awareness to listen. Let’s make it our superpower. It’s that important.

RELATED THOUGHTS

Campbell was said to practice “Free Form Listening.” The authors define it as “Listen to people with your full and undivided attention. Don’t think ahead to what you’re going to say next and ask questions to get to the real answer.”

Austin and Cockram Form Alliance to Support Bio/Pharma Capital Projects in North America

scientists working in lab

CLEVELAND, OHIO October 8, 2020 — The Austin Company (Austin) and Cockram Construction (Cockram), both subsidiaries of Kajima Corporation of Japan, anticipate substantial investment in capital projects for research and manufacturing in the life science sector due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Pairing resources and expertise in delivering world-class projects, Austin and Cockram have allied to bring bio/pharma production back to North America.

Austin continues its long history serving the North American life sciences market through site location, design, engineering, and construction services.  Cockram brings global experience constructing life science research and manufacturing centers in Asia, Australia, and North America.

Austin and Cockram both take an a-la-carte approach to providing services. “We can provide complete bundled services—from site location through design, construction and finally commissioning and validation—or unbundle to meet a client’s specific requirements for a project,” said Mike Pierce, President of The Austin Company.

“That fits our model quite well”, added Malcolm Batten, Managing Director of Cockram Construction. “Cockram has built these very complex projects globally by being a resource to our clients.  We provide planning, preconstruction, and construction services both as a contractor and secondment services provider.  We match up quite well with Austin’s true partnering philosophy when it comes to serving clients.”

Bio/pharma projects often have speed-to-market drivers, and Austin and Cockram have the experience to quickly mobilize for fast-track— sometimes even flash-track—projects.  For example, Austin and Cockram are partnering with a client to rapidly convert an existing facility into a manufacturing space to produce a COVID vaccine. Concurrently, Austin and Cockram are teamed to build a new multistory modular aseptic processing facility at a pharmaceutical plant in Portage, Michigan, expanding the site initially constructed by Austin in the 1940s.

“Austin and Cockram are looking forward to continuing our partnership by bringing bio/pharmaceutical manufacturing and research facilities back to North America,” says Pierce.

About The Austin Company (theaustin.com) is a 142-year-old design-builder providing design, engineering, and construction solutions for pharmaceutical, biotech, laboratory, and medical device facilities since the 1940s.

Austin understands that pharmaceutical and biotech R&D and manufacturing facilities each have their own specific requirements and needs. We utilize state-of-the-art methodologies and practices to design and build these facilities to meet the latest U.S. and international GMP requirements and the client’s objectives most efficiently and cost-effectively.

From biological, chemical and equipment labs, to “scale up” and manufacturing facilities, Austin has the experience and in-house expertise to successfully deliver even the most complex projects.

About Cockram Construction (cockram.com) offers a range of specialist skills and proven expertise in the areas of project management, design management, construction management, building contracting services, and project controls.

A heritage of over 160 years is augmented by a commitment to excellence and to achieving the highest possible standards of professional competence and innovation in the development and application of project methods and techniques. Our people are selected based on their capabilities and experience and are supported by effective management systems and resources. From this highly resourced platform, we are able to provide tailored project services and systems to meet your individual requirements. While we are substantial operators in the niche market of complex pharmaceutical, laboratory and medical/health facilities for the past 27 years, we bring the same professional approach to every environment in which we work.

From our Australian HQ in Melbourne, we have expanded into the international arena with successfully completed projects in China, India, Malaysia, Dubai, USA and Puerto Rico.

Celebrating Our Resilience

a dead tree next to a healthy tree resilience

There is no doubt of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on mental health. Crisis hotlines have seen call volumes increase by 40%-60%. Similarly, work from home requirements have caused an organizational mental health crisis for many companies. To survive and gauge the long-range implications of this societal challenge, organizations must pay attention to those things that build resilience. Some sources recommend building personal resilience to strengthen organizational resilience by encouraging employees to get enough rest, eat healthy, and exercise.

What is resilience exactly? Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; it is one’s ability to show strength and confidence in the face of uncertainty. For organizations, resilience depends on its leadership’s confidence and the ability to think, plan, and believe in a positive outcome.

Let’s break resilience down even further.

Confidence is earned by merit. Certainly, an organization loses confidence in itself when it is stressed financially. Nothing threatens the team’s confidence as much as the inability to make payroll, pay vendors and subcontractors, and cut essential benefits to the bone. Financial stress is one of the impacts some organizations may be feeling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Complementary to confidence is leadership’s ability to think clearly and not panic the team. The phrase “unchartered territory” has probably been used more in the first half of 2020 than by Christopher Columbus’ crew when they discovered America in 1492. Questions plague us: What do we do now? When will we get back to something resembling normalcy? It is in this space of unchartered territory where frequent and clear communication is so important. In times of stress, employees are looking for reassurance and confidence in their leadership. 

The best way to demonstrate clear thinking is through frequent, open, and honest communication with all employees. And so, it was on the first workday of 2019 that I started a Monday morning email to all employees called Monday Morning Coffee (MMC). 

In most cases, it is the first email employees see when they log on to start the week. Usually kept to three paragraphs, it announces new employees, brings to light current issues, and notes upcoming events. Little did I know that these emails I write every Sunday night would become an important tool for discussing where we are in the COVID crisis and what we are doing to navigate this unchartered territory.

It feels reassuring to know that in the face of a crisis, all our employees receive a little weekly message from Austin’s President that helps them understand where Austin is overall. This type of consistency breeds confidence. Confidence breeds resilience.

And yet, believing in what we do and accomplish as a team to design and build the future might be the most significant factor contributing to resilience. Belief is a flame that is carried individually but burns the brightest in the collective. 

At its core, it is knowing we will be okay, that we will get through this as a team, and that we can do whatever is necessary to move beyond today. Belief in our work, in the importance of what we do, what the company does, its vision and our purpose all support resilience.

Austin has weathered two World Wars, multiple plagues, a Great Depression, recessions, leadership changes, and the rapid evolution in technologies shaping our industry and society. Looking back at Austin’s history, I believe there is an inherent expectation of resilience from each of our employees, which becomes self-fulfilling for the organization overall. Over 140 years in business is proof of this resilience. 

We have built legacies and developed traditions that feed our resilience. These create Austin’s strong foundation and reinforce the purpose of our work. We continue to draw upon our legacies and traditions to continue to be part of the solution during each of these global upheavals, whether they be wars or pandemics. It is comforting to remember that our client base has similar legacies. We are not alone in this.  

Today, as we navigate the unchartered territory of COVID 19, we stand on the shoulders of giants who weathered the Spanish Flu, multiple recessions, a great depression, two World Wars, and came out stronger. In doing so, we are creating our legacies and traditions. 

New strengths emerge because of our core values and our ongoing confidence that our work is unique, impactful, and has great purpose. 

Austin is resilient.

The Austin Company Is a 2020 NorthCoast 99 Award Winner

2020 Winner Facebook 1200 x 630

The Austin Company is proud to be recognized by ERC as one of 99 great Northeast Ohio workplaces for top talent. This is the first time that our organization has received the NorthCoast 99 Award.

NorthCoast 99 is an annual recognition program and event in its 22nd year that honors 99 great Northeast Ohio workplaces for top talent. “More than a business award or event, NorthCoast 99 is a yearlong research project that ERC established to help employers make a notable difference not only in the lives of their employees, but also in the economic vitality of their communities,” said Samantha Marx, ERC director of client service, who oversees the program.

NorthCoast 99 winners participated in a rigorous application process that asked for detailed information on how their organization addresses top-performer attraction, development, and retention in the following areas: organizational strategy, policies, and benefits; talent attraction, acquisition, and onboarding; employee well-being; employee engagement and talent development; total rewards; and diversity and inclusion.

Brandon Davis, Vice President and General Manager says, “By focusing on building people, teams, partnerships, communities, we attract, grow, support, and work to ensure the success of some of the most amazing and talented people in the world.”

“Especially during these unprecedented times, we’re thrilled to recognize and celebrate this year’s NorthCoast 99 award winners! Winning organizations are elevating the employee experience with increasingly progressive and innovative HR practices and benefits that are critical in today’s market. We look forward to sharing the success stories of our esteemed winners,” said Kelly Keefe, president of ERC.

The 2020 NorthCoast 99 Awards program is sponsored by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield; CareerCurve; Cleveland Magazine; ERChealth; Gino’s Awards; Impact Architects; Maloney + Novotny; Wayfind Creative; Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis; Oswald Companies; Staffing Solutions Enterprises; and Ultimate Software.

About ERC

Founded in 1920, ERC makes workplaces great by providing training, HR consulting and support, coaching and assessments, and research services. ERC also sponsors the ERChealth insurance program in Ohio. Additional information about ERC and its services can be found at www.yourERC.com.

The Powerful Influence of Organizational Story Makers

Coffee Cup with Napkin and Pen

I was thinking about this quote after the surprise virtual happy hour on my 40th anniversary with Austin. An amazing number of well-wishers were on the Teams call which demonstrated how much technology has benefited our human interactions over the past few months. Trying to greet the huge number of people lining up on my small computer screen got to be a bit awkward, so I shared a few stories about my 40 years with Austin. The fact that many were still on after more than an hour of reminiscing hinted that telling a few stories might have been a good way to connect with everyone.

The aspect of my history with Austin that I think is of greatest value and interest to most employees is made up of stories. Stories about projects.  Stories about people. Stories about mistakes and achievements. Before the internet, before printing presses, before the written word, stories were passed on from one generation to the next because they were important.  They had value.  Simply, they gave directions and a basis for living better lives from one generation to the next.

In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek likens businesses to the brain.  The  “why” a company exists correlates with the limbic brain, that part of the brain that controls emotions, feelings, and decision making, but it has no capacity for language, which is why some say, “it felt right” or “my gut instinct”.

The following is an excerpt from the book:

“Put bluntly, the struggle that so many companies have to differentiate or communicate their true value to the outside world is not a business problem, it’s a biology problem. And just like a person struggling to put her emotions into words, we rely on metaphors, imagery and analogies in an attempt to communicate how we feel. Absent the proper language to share our deep emotions, our purpose, cause or belief, we tell stories. We use symbols. We create tangible things for those who believe what we believe to point to and say, “That’s why I’m inspired.”

Austin has more than 140 years of stories.   These stories are what make up our corporate values of Team Building, Innovation, Passion, Get it Done, Own It, and Committed to Service, which are all distilled from stories told about great Austinites past and present.

Consider this:  we are 142 years old this year and we have a handful of employees who have worked for Austin for more than one-third of the company’s existence. How does that happen? Think of the people they worked with, the projects they were involved in, the achievements and the failures they have witnessed.  Think of the stories they can tell. Exactly!

After our virtual happy hour, I spent much of the evening thinking about the people who most influenced Austin’s reputation and culture as I was coming up.  Wally Edwards went from Houston to Irvine and built a powerhouse of a business unit.  Bob Leishman, Ralph Luke, and Jim Peterson were instrumental in the design and construction of most of Boeing’s facilities in Everett.

Norman Vincent led our UK subsidiary to become a leading pharma/life science design builder in the UK. Art Kage opened the office in Kansas City in 1973- a very creative and innovative leader.   I worked with Art for 11 years and learned a lot from him.  It wasn’t until he died that I learned he was in the Army in WWII and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Floyd “Brownie” Higgs, a Texas born Native American who was a great architect, musician, and eternal optimist.  Brownie took on some of the toughest assignments Austin had, and nailed each one of them.  He was also the strongest advocate for The Austin Method and was passionate that the Austin Method and aesthetic design were not just able to co-exist but were interdependent.

Bob Spangler was our laboratory architect.  He was one of the most passionate architects I ever worked with.  He insisted on “living” with the client’s user groups while he did his planning and design, and sharing ideas and layouts with the users and facilities teams to achieve a design everyone felt was optimal. Bob might be gone for eight to ten weeks for major projects. Needless to say, when Bob was planning the laboratory client satisfaction was never an issue.

Coming up, these men were giants. They, and many others, were impressive in what they had to offer me in terms of business, technique, managing clients and people, and really being genuine. It was a gift to have exposure to them.  Exposure to them, in retrospect, gave me exposure to the stories they told about the giants who influenced their careers.

Why does Austin have so many long tenured employees?  What occurred to me   thinking through these stories and histories was that none of them were about Company presidents. The president’s   job was—and continues to be—to give the opportunity to the story makers to create stories, memories, and legends that are true, teach values, and sustain Austin. The opportunity to create stories, to be part of them, gives meaning to your work.  It is motivating.

Importantly, we exist to do great projects for great clients. Projects, project teams, and the experience gained by working together is the backdrop for these stories and legacies and is in the character shown by these giants.  It is serving clients that brought us together to experience each other, mentor, teach, and model how it should be done.

From Samuel Austin’s humble confidence in starting this company, it was never about him.  It was about the customers and finding a better way to serve them.  It was about allowing employees to exercise ingenuity and innovation to achieve that goal. It allowed employees to create their personal legacy within the context of the Austin legacy. These legacies are interconnected and interdependent. They are interwoven.  They are a fundamental part of our WHY.

In years to come, many of you will be the subject of stories in one way or another.  Each story adds its own innate value to the organization.  That value builds company value over time, day by day.  It is who we are. Personal legacies and Company legacies interwoven into the fabric of a culture.

What will your story be?