My most humbling career experience came during my first electrical construction project where I had to relocate a substation from one area of the plant to another to make room for a new manufacturing assembly line. I spent weeks measuring and designing the system and just before I ordered the equipment ($150,000) I asked the electrician assigned to the job whether or not I had accounted for everything. The electrician asked me if I had built in a 20-25% design factor. I said, “We should be ok. I’ll order an extra 15% of cable”. He said, “Alright but you’re cutting it close”. I thought some more about it and decided to take his advice.
We were down to the last few days of the plant shutdown and today was the day that we were to terminate the cable to the transformer. As the team lowered the high voltage cable from the ceiling, one of the guys said, “We’re not going to have enough cable”!! Man did I pray that it would be enough (for large electrical conductors you do not want to splice the cable because of the failure risks, plus this was BRAND NEW cable). Long story short, we had 5 feet to spare and the plant was still on schedule to start up on Monday. Whew!!
Why was it so close? Well, I didn’t factor in the following,
experience > education.
How should you GROW your professional development?
One relationship at a time.
There are 3 topics that I think are key for a young professional’s development and whenever I partner with a new mentee, we spend most of our time exploring these:
1. Understanding Your Value - the company or organization that hired you is expecting that you can perform a series of tasks. You should invest some time understanding how you create value when completing those tasks.
2. Building Relationships - Your relationships and not talent alone will help you to accelerate your development and how you approach this concept will be a measure of how quickly you gain the respect of your peers.
3. Leveraging Your Strengths - Even though your resume is a work in progress, you have strengths that can be leveraged to harvest some quick wins.
Each of the three concepts are important and the one that has helped me the most is #2, building relationships. I remember many years ago, one of my mentors taking me to visit each of our customers before I was given any projects. He knew that after the first 90 days, I would be engulfed with work and that it would be more difficult to secure these foundational relationships. So as we met many clients over 20+ plants, the key stakeholders knew who I was and what I could offer. I observed him as he spent 20-30 minutes just talking about life outside of the plant before engaging in technical discussions. We would eventually get to the original purpose of why we were there (which he was also very good at) but he understood the importance of having a respectful relationship with his peers and clients.
Because of this, I advise young professionals to learn about the people before they learn about the process and their projects.
#1 is another story for another time however #3 ties directly into #2 because as you work towards establishing relationships, you also have an opportunity to learn about some of your teammates challenges. It’s very likely that you can use your strengths to address some of their needs.
In one job I started, I brought over a Six Sigma skillset and I was able to leverage my knowledge of the tools to help another peer complete a project. In turn, this teammate taught me everything he knew about Electrical Breaker and Switchgear. Even though I had only been there a few months, I developed a new relationship by solving a problem while also learning the technical aspects of my new job. It was a quick, win-win for both of us!
My first lesson in reliability engineering was taught by a now 45 year experienced instrument technologist. He said, “If it was made by man, it will fail one day and our job is to catch it before it does”. I definitely learned a lot from this gentleman over the years and I attribute much of my success to this one fundamental learning. It does not matter if the equipment or asset is at home, work or across the landscapes we travel, I have yet to observe a technology that is 100% reliability without any intervention. The most basic, common activity we can apply to achieve top reliability is our maintenance strategies.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to enjoy dinner with a Fortune 500 CFO. The dinner was for a group of up and coming leaders within the company and we were able to have one on one sessions with this distinguished executive. When it was my turn to converse with him, I of course asked him many questions about some of the fundamentals of leadership and about technology/innovation. He had some great insights into these topics but there was one question that he completely nailed. I asked him, “What are the keys to success for supporting functions of any organization”? His reply was, “There are many factors, but the 2 most important one are 1) Never be smarter than your customer and 2) Be the lowest cost, highest quality provider”.
Simple right? That response has stuck with me throughout my entire career and I recently heard a quote that makes it stick even more. “Customers do not want the trade-off. They want the And…”. As you may know, we like to relate collaborations and insights to imagery at re.engineer, and I found a perfect picture that represents the CFO’s response and the quote I heard.
As service providers, it’s very important that we understand the value triangle, Cost, Speed, and Quality, and we should also take into consideration that our customers do not want just two options, they want the And…
How do you build a sustainable, professional relationship? You have to meet a need.
In my first engineering job I was assigned a mentor who was also my peer. Most people would think that it’s a good approach but in this case my mentor was an awesome engineer but also a LONE WOLF. He had built up a defense system and there was no way anyone would break through it. So I reengineered my relationship with him.
Instead of going to him to learn more about the job, I befriended the operators which in turn they gave me a plant floor perspective. By leaning on the operators, I learned more about the “real” challenges. I was able to leverage my learning experiences to solve some significant problems. It was through this collaboration I gained the respect of my mentor.
It ended up being one of the best career relationships I have ever had. I was also able to lighten his workload because I had built a solid foundation with troubleshooting the equipment. We did some impressive work while we were partnered together and the key learning for me was “meet a need”. He was overloaded and needed additional maintenance and reliability engineering help so he could focus more on projects. It took me some time to understand this complex situation and to not shutdown but in the midst of a bad situation I figured out an alternative solution...flip the script. Instead asking him for help, I met a need.
70% of strategic failures are due to poor ____? What is more important, Strategy or Execution?
I believe strategy and execution are equally important but we tend to fail more within the execution phase. Research suggests that most strategic failures occur because of poor execution. Think about this perspective, in school we are taught how to develop strategy, how to research, and how to interpret theory but we rarely focus on how to execute or on the application of the improvement we are trying to accomplish.
Why is execution so challenging? Some experts in this space have identified that we all are so afraid of failure that we put together robust strategies and even solid execution plans, but we it comes to discipline and accountability, the daily stresses of life and work erodes the energy we have to execute. How do you overcome this problem? FOCUS. There will always be more great ideas than we have the capacity to execute and if we focus on the daily issues and 7-10 goals, we end up accomplishing very little. But if we work on 1-2 goals and focus on quality execution, then we’ll have a higher probability of completing our goals.
So in short, both are important and in order to realize the benefit of the initiative, 1) a strong execution plan must compliment a strong strategy and 2) an intentional cadence of accountability must follow.
Just my thoughts.