I have never been one to accept the status quo or be okay with coasting. Even when relaxing or spending time with my family, I find myself looking for ways to be productive or researching the next best way to improve myself or the well-being of my family and friends. I do not say this to act superior in any way. This insatiable characteristic has often led to exploring bad habits or has taken my attention away from what is truly important. In small doses, this persistence does come in handy when owning a company. It allows me to think about the future and all of the positives that could come from doing things with trustworthiness and forward-thinking. With nearly a decade under my belt of owning a paving and pavement maintenance company in Louisville, Kentucky, I have learned that the reason this industry is so far behind is that very few paving companies (and even contractors in general) look to secure their future through integrity, and even fewer through innovation.
After winning a bid, performing exceptional work is hardly a requirement for paving contractors. Most contracting industries fall under this umbrella. You can get away with performing low quality work while hoping the client will not notice the difference. If they identify problems, you can chase paychecks all day and, in today’s age, hope they do not leave a bad review. If this happens while you are in the growth stages, it is okay. You can get better. I have found, though, there is no way for me to grow a company based on that type of foundation.
To someone working in a traditional blue-collar setting, change and forward-thinking can often be met with some confusion and denial. When you walk into a meeting and aim to provide your first pep talk to your crew that things will be different going forward, you will hear murmuring and see inattentive eye-rolls. (Most of those people are no longer with us… the company… they are still alive.) The shift from rude behavior, routinely lazy and late employees, and subpar standards to a values-based approach focusing on Passion, Respect, Integrity, Dedication, and Excellence will be undermined in the whispers behind your back. I have always been one to give second chances, but once you decide to change your culture, it is truly for the best that you uphold these standards in both your work and crew. One cannot work without the other. There are plenty of companies that will take a physically-abled body with lackluster standards.
“Working smarter, not harder.” Has always been a bit of an awkward balancing act for me. In my first years owning and operating ADC Paving, I took on every job that called our office and went hunting for more in my spare breaths. We completed jobs at a blistering pace while eroding morale and spending significant time correcting our mistakes. As painful as the transition was, stepping back and analyzing what was wrong with our approach and looking at the industry as a whole was the catalyst for changing the trajectory of ADC Paving. Not to mention improving my quality of life and the lives of our crew and staff.
The first thing I did was to look at how the process for the customer works. I want to take this time to remind you that, when I started as President of ADC Paving, we were operating by all of the traditional standards, the ones I have been seeking to change now for the last three years. When I was starting out, I would stop to ask, “Why are things done this way?” and then never give the question a second thought. Finally, I did stop to ask the following questions:
~ Does the attitude of an employee really matter on-site in the paving industry?
~ Does a good culture really mean a better experience for the customer?
~ Is there a point in improving our brand and competing when the top local paving companies own a quarry?
~ Are properties managers, facilities managers, and business owners sitting down with five quotes on paper in front of them and simply choosing the cheapest one?
~ Would improving our marketing really help get better, higher dollar customers?
There were many ways for me to self-inspire when looking into why and if I wanted the answers to these questions. When I needed a push, I turned to Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and Shackelton’s Incredible Voyage (still my favorite book of all time). However, most of my energy relates back to that insatiable characteristic I talked about at the beginning. The motivation was high, but I was not doing was taking a moment to stop, step back, and be brutally honest. I eventually realized that there was simply no way to achieve my goals if they were not based on an attainable future and an honest evaluation of where I am right now.
Whether or not any of these goals come to fruition, I have determined that they are guiding principles. If followed, they would help me create a company I am proud of, an environment worth working in, and opportunities otherwise unavailable:
~ Establish a base of men and women who take pride in their work and actively provide and assist them with opportunity
~ Make it easy for decision-makers to find and approach ADC Paving
~ Provide decision-makers with quality work and become their full-time partner in Paving and Pavement Maintenance
~ Stand by my words and guarantees
~ Create a company and culture that I would be proud to hand to my sons
It is not my goal to change an industry, but without change, this is an industry I would not want to be a part of. If I don’t challenge the standards and stop to ask, “Why?”, what are we as a company really working towards?
President ADC Paving