In this episode of Solving Problems with Technology, hear from culture innovators Corbins Electric and how they transformed their organisation’s success by changing to a culture and people-first mindset as the starting point of their digital transformation journey.
JC: Well, hello, and thank you for tuning in to this episode of Solving Problems with Technology on HxGN Radio. I’m your host, Josh Cranfill. In this episode, we’ll be talking about culture, one of our favourite topics, and how that applies to problem solving in technology in general. So, with me again, JD Martin from Corbins Electric; Nate Unruh from NOX Innovations. How’s it going, guys?
Both: Pretty good. Thanks for having us.
JC: All right. So, one of the things that we’re always struck about and I think profoundly impacted by is every time we visit, it’s clear that your culture has been given major emphasis, and I honestly would go so far as to say that it’s your unfair advantage besides, of course, your expertise and your ability to execute and install things and build things and all that. You’ve somehow created this culture, and we want to put our finger on that today. Right. So, question one, you know, part one, what is your culture? What’s your philosophy, specifically, and your vision behind culture? JD, I know this has kind of been your baby within the organisation, and we’re just really excited to hear your thoughts. So, what’s your philosophy? What’s your vision behind your culture?
JDM: Yeah. Before I talk about that, what’s interesting is this podcast is all about solving problems with technology. And today we’re going to talk about culture, which actually has nothing to do with technology. But it is the bedrock foundation for any change implementation in any organisation, technology or otherwise. Right?
Yeah, this is my baby. Culture has been something that’s been super near and dear to me. I’ve been at Corbins Electric since 2013, June 2013. So how long has it been? Eight years? Okay. I was brought on specifically to help with culture, I mean, besides some of the operational stuff like purchasing and things like that. My background, I have a bachelor’s in marketing, but I have a master’s in organisational leadership, specifically servant leadership, which has really helped me in this aspect. Our culture that we have at Corbins Electric today is not what it was eight years ago. It’s changed. It’s evolved, as it should. Fortunately for us, it’s changed for the better. And I say fortunately, but it’s really by design.
So, yeah, we really focused on creating an awesome place where great people could earn a good living, and we kind of wanted to maintain that, so we really started out as kind of a grassroots effort. It was a core group of kind of some middle managers who got together and said, hey, are we doing this? Is this really a thing that we want to do? Because it wasn’t exactly a fun working environment at that time. We said, hey, is this something that we want to do? We looked at each other and said, man, yeah. I really like working with you and I like working with you, and I think we have something good here. We got some talented people. How do we get to a point where work doesn’t feel like work? I know that’s cliché to say, and there’s all this stuff on LinkedIn and social media about loving what you do or doing what you love and finding your passion and all that stuff. We kind of look at that as saying, hey, why can’t I love the thing that I’m doing? Why do I have to go out, change the thing I’m doing to love it? Why can’t I make the thing that I’m doing, the thing that I love?
And so, we said, All right. Well, what does that work environment seem like to us? What does that look like? We said collectively, what it came down to was we want to work in a place where we’re working with our friends. And you notice, at the time, what we weren’t talking about were the tasks because the task don’t matter. When you’re working with somebody that you love and respect, you could be in a trench, you know, mucking out a trench. It really doesn’t matter if you’re doing it with people that you love, right?
So, I said, okay, yeah, I want to work with my friends. Okay, great. I want to work with people that I love, that I have friendships with. I was like, okay, great. How do we do that? Well, you can’t get people to love each other unless they like each other. Okay, well, you can’t get people to like each other until they know each other. Okay, good. If you can’t get—and how do you get people to know each other? You’ve got to get them in the same place at the same time, relatively frequently, right?
And so, then we started our daily huddles, which was everybody in the main office, every day at eight o’clock. We still do that. Get together and we run through people news and business news. And I can go on a whole thing about what we do in huddle and why we do it and all that stuff. But that huddle really was the beginning of the transformation for us because it got people together in the same place. They got to see each other’s face. A different person led huddle every day, so we got to see their personality, a bit about them.
And then what we did—so Aaron, who’s one of my partners, how the huddle came about is we were reading a book by Paul Akers, 2 Second Lean. I think we mentioned this on a previous podcast. I know Geoff here is smiling because it’s a book you know about. And in his book, he went through all the eight wastes and all the lean thinking, all that stuff, which is great. But the biggest thing that we took out of that entire thing was this chapter wasn’t even related to the eight ways. It was about communication. And he mentioned that there’s no such thing as over communication in his organisation and how he gets people together every day to talk about what’s going on. And Aaron and I were reading that book as like a little book study. I said, Yeah, why don’t we do that, right? And this is at the same time we’re going through this cultural revolution. So that was the start of huddle, and kind of blew up from there.
It ended up being a great opportunity since we had everybody at the same place at the same time to go through some educating. So, we train people on lean and eight wastes. It was an opportunity to educate our people on departments, updates, what they do, new people. It kind of grew from there organically, like, hey, what are we missing? Is that something we can include in huddle?
And this is something we’ve been able to sustain from, at the time, we were like two hundred employees, and now we’re closer to eight hundred right now. They don’t all show up. You know, I mean, a lot of those guys are field guys. They have their own little huddle and stuff. But from the office, it grew from like twenty-five people showing up to huddle every day to now, I mean, we were before COVID, it was close to 100 people showing up.
But what a great way to talk about even little simple things that we take for granted, housekeeping stuff, IT related things, accounting will mention when it’s time to get your expense reports in and things like that. Oh, break room. Hey, there’s bagels in the break room. What’s funny is what that did is that reduced the number of company-wide emails for stupid things like parking and that paper towels need to be replaced in the bathroom and things like that. Right. Okay, so really, really menial things that actually have, it’s actually a win for us because it creates a community of communication and people get to know each other.
So anyway, that’s how the culture started. It’s definitely gotten stronger from there. The biggest risk from there is as we’ve grown from 200 people to 800 people is cultural dilution. You add people who come from different backgrounds, they have different world views, they’re not bought into the culture yet because they’re just barely getting, you know, they get exposed to a minimal amount during the interview process and the vetting process. And we hope that they assimilate, right? And some people, most people do, have, and some people don’t.
JC: So, philosophy, kind of repeating back to you, friendship is really important. Communication is really important. Getting together, so on and so forth. Being on the same page, running the same place. It sounds like to be honest, and I think we have this same view, it doesn’t matter if you’re an electrical contractor, you’d be trying to do the same thing if you were selling Chromebooks or, you know, widgets on the street, right? It’s the same thing. Let’s develop a culture of trust. I know trust is huge for you guys. Friendship, communication, and let’s get it done type of stuff. One of the—
NU: Yeah. And Josh, I want to add one more word in there. Clarity is another one that we’ve really, especially over the last two or three years, has been clarity.
JDM: Clarity, just to jump in. Sorry to interrupt you.
NU: No, you’re good.
JDM: Clarity and context, right?
NU: Yeah, yeah.
JDM: Both of those things, yeah.
NU: Right. And what we realised is, no matter what level you’re at in the business, if you have the clarity of what your role is and how that and how you’re supposed to be and what success looks like for your role and the context that you need to achieve that success, all of a sudden, if everybody has that for each role in the business, all of a sudden we’re moving at a thousand miles an hour because when I need this issue, I know exactly who to go to. I know that in order to get this information, I can go to my manager, or he’ll find somewhere else to go get that, right? And this kind of comes down to a lot of things, right. Org charts a big part of that. Having a well-structured org chart where you understand where the areas of your business are, where you need to make decisions, right? So, for us, that meant adding a project executive vice president level that our project managers report to. So, they’re making decisions on a geographical division level that we can now standardise processes through them and we’re not working with all the individual managers throughout our business.
So that was something we learnt, especially with scale, where before we knew we had, you know, the leaders of the company and then we had the next level and we all could get together and do that. But since that was no longer an option for scaling, we had to continuously look at our org chart and say, Hey, at each level, who’s responsible for what? What does that mean? And one of the things it does is it helps us find the gaps in there as well, right? When we’re saying, okay, this is what our 150-million-dollar company looks like, what does that 200-million-dollar company looks like?
And while this is business organisation and other things like that, has a huge impact on our culture, because when individuals and I’m going to include myself in that, when you get up and you go to work in the morning and you have a clear goal and you know what success looks like for your role, all of a sudden? you feel that, okay, I’m moving towards something. I know what I’m doing. I know how I’m affecting the company and how I’m contributing to that. And if I want to increase my value to the company, I know what success looks like in my role. And not only that, but it takes you from that silo of trying to figure out everything yourself and knowing that the resources are available for field support, for this, for this, for this, and there’s an applicable individual. And so that clarity of how the business works, who’s who in the business, and what role each individual plays is a big part in—we talk about that trust, but you have to have clarity before you have trust of understanding exactly hey, when you’re communicating with me, this is the questions I can answer, these are the questions somebody else can answer. And so that’s been a big kind of revelation for us over the last little bit in order to scale our culture was we really needed to make sure that we are communicating on the same page with clarity.
JDM: I don’t think—could some companies accidentally have a good culture? Yes. Yeah. We had to be very, very, very intentional about the culture and what we are expecting. Our culture, so one thing that we did also early on is we read this book called Level Headed. It was written by two of the founders of Sundt. That’s a general contractor who started out in Tucson, Arizona, so they happened to be in our backyard. But very good book. And they talked about their cultural revolution in this book. And it’s great because at the end of every chapter, it actually has questions for you to self-assess like you and your company and where you’re at. And one of the questions it was talking about our core values, and it said, one of the questions was, are your core values something that your employees live and breathe every day? Or are they collecting dust, hanging on a wall somewhere in your building? Right? And we kind of, we got to that in this book study we were doing, there’s 10 of us, kind of looking at each other going, Oh, man. Yeah. I couldn’t even tell you what our core values were at that time. This is 2014. Because it was written by, you know, our old owner back in 2001. And he hired FMI, a think tank consultant company for contractors to help come up with the thing. And they sat in a room in some resort in Sedona somewhere probably, you know, thinking of using catchy, kitschy words that might inspire some people. Anyway, we looked at them and said, oh man, we got to redo our core values. So, we went to the drawing board collectively. But most of the inspiration really came from Justin, our CEO now and president. And these core values, our whole point of having core values was these were going to be the beacon, these were the behavioural expectations of our employees and how they operate.
So, we’ve actually changed them since then. We did kind of a rebrand in 2019 and changed our colours and our logo and things like that. And we modified our core values. But right now, they are, in a one word, passion. And the sentence that goes along with that is we love to build projects and provide leadership in construction. Then comes relationships. We build trust by interacting with authenticity and mutual respect. We have innovation. We create and implement technology and put ideas into action. Development, we cultivate our skills and discipline individually and collectively as we work towards our purpose. And then excellence. We deliver superior safety solutions and sustainability to our team and customers.
Now, these actually do mean something to us. And when you take the first letter of each of those key words—passion, relationship, innovation, development, excellence—it spells pride. Our logo, if no one has looked us up yet, you go to our website, we have iconography. We have a lion as our mascot. So, a pride of lions and thinking about a group of people who come together to live their core values. I mean, that’s a pride of lions. So, something very important to us.
Now we’ve expanded that since then. So, beyond core values and our purpose statement, which is empowered thought leaders boldly changing the construction industry, we also have our alliance code. And our alliance code applies to everybody. We have, there’s nine statements, but they’re broken up into three sections. There’s as a lion. I won’t read through them. I’ll let you guys go to our website and find them. But there’s as a lion. These are some behavioural expectations representing the—sorry. As a lion to other lions. Okay? That’s as a lion. A lion is an individual. These are individual responsibilities. Like, for example, I vigorously educate myself to improve my skills to increase my contribution, which lends itself to the development piece in our core values. And then there’s another section, which is as a member of the pride. So, this is the behavioural expectations from one member of the pride to another member of the pride. Right? So, amongst your peers. And then there’s a group of behavioural expectations whereas a representative of the pride. So that’s inside the pride, you know, facing out. Okay? What we expect. For example, I remove constraints for our customers to achieve their purpose. Okay?
So, then we take it a little more granular than that. I know this sounds like a lot, but this has been over the last six, seven years. We take it one step further. We’ve created top 10 responsibilities, not a job description, but responsibilities, the top 10 for each role, each job description that we have. And these are the responsibilities of that individual. They’re not task based, the responsibility. So now we get very clear on what every person responsible for as their piece of the puzzle in the organisation, the thing that they do to contribute to the success or the value. So, all of these things lend to, you know, having an environment where people have clarity, context, understanding, vision.
We also talk about in our organisation about driving a stake in the ground. Whatever the thing is that we’re caring about as an organisation, we drive the stake in the ground, and we want our organisation to be like a circle and everyone’s facing the stake, right? Everyone’s looking at the stake. If somebody’s looking away from the stake, then we must go correct those behaviours.
Now there may be people who are at different distances away from the stake, right? The perimeter might be large, but as long as people are facing towards the stake, then that’s something we can work with and we’re all going towards that same common goal.
JC: Yeah. That’s really good. Thanks.
All right. We’ll move into—I want to go tactical, so we’ll go rapid fire. I have, I don’t know, six different topics, some of which you’ve already covered already. And so, I want to hear how these things help specifically with culture. It could be tactical. It could be theoretical, whatever. But whatever comes to mind on the following six topics. And I’ll give them to you beforehand so that you can know what’s coming. But marketing, branding, interactions and huddles, which we already covered a little bit. Coaching, celebrations, which a little bit of is in huddle and then I’m sure there’s some other things, which by the way, I really enjoy when I go to your place seeing somebody give one of those pride coins out to somebody else who did a good job and everybody’s clapping and everybody’s actually into it. Nobody’s rolling their eyes in those meetings. And it is unique. Then you look around, you walk around in the prefab area, everything’s clean and organised. The signs that have your core values up on the walls are clean. They’re bright. And so that takes a big effort. And I know it was concerted, so I’m going to go rapid fire. How do these things help with your culture? And it might be, here’s what our previous state was, here’s what our current state is now, here’s where we’re going with it, or here’s why we made those decisions. Number one, marketing.
JDM: Yeah, marketing. Our people are our marketers. Of course, we have a social media presence, and we have new colours and we have all that stuff, but that kind of lends itself more to the branding side. Our people are our best marketers period, and our customers are next, okay? But yeah, marketing, it lends for our culture because we do the things that we talk about, like how we are, our personality, being bold, being disruptive. I mean, all the other cliche things you can think of. Being unapologetic. Yeah, those are things that are a little disruptive in our marketplace. Yeah. Self-branding you mentioned, right, which is the next thing.
JC: Yeah, branding is number two. So go straight into that.
JDM: Yeah, so, branding. Here’s something. When we rebranded in early 2019 and we changed our iconography, our logo, our colours to fit more of what our culture was, you know, with the lion. A lot of contractors just use the letters. And this is no offence to any contractors out there, but they use letters. You know. We did C and E write for Corbins Electric. That was our logo, in a particular font and a particular colour palette. We said, no, we have to change that a little bit more. So, we went with the line. We went through a whole brand journey to get our branding and our colours. Our colours are copper and steel, the colours of the materials that we install mostly. And branding comes down to like the hats our guys wear and the shirts that they wear and wrapping our vehicles. That’s all-cool outward stuff, but we did say, hey guys, we want to actually, we want our people to want to wear their Corbins Electric shirt and hats on the weekends to their kid’s soccer game because we want it to be cool that they wear it. Okay? And not just because they have to because it’s part of their uniform or like, it’s a Monday through Friday thing. And so, we put a lot of stock because we want to make cool stuff. So, we put our logo on cool hats and things like that.
And that actually helps with things like attracting talent. Believe it or not, I mean, it may sound shallow, but people get attracted not just to the iconography and the logos and the colours themselves, but as they get to know the company a little bit more, the branding helps solidify their interest in going further in the process of coming to work for us. Right? And that’s important. I’m sure there’s people out there who were like, I want to work for that company because of their branding, and that’s cool and that’s cutting edge and all that good stuff. But then hopefully we really sell them on the culture and our people and the things that we’re trying to do.
JC: All right. Third topic is interactions and huddles. We’ve already talked about it, so I’ll reframe it in this way. What are you noticing? And this could be a KPI. Our staff are sticking better, or it could be something a little bit softer and more fluid. But before interactions and huddles I’ve been part of, I don’t know. I’ve probably been there for 10 of them, they’re amazing and everybody is involved. What was the before and after true effect and outcome of those?
JDM: Yeah, let me give you—I can throw out some stats because we do keep track of this. Before we started our cultural revolution, we had—just professional staff in the office was a 60 percent attrition rate annually. I know, Geoff, your eyes are—I know our listeners can’t see that, but like, they’re like, wow, okay. So, lots of things attribute to that. Most of it, I think, was cultural. There was the 2008 recession thing in there. That didn’t help. But like, for the 15 years leading up to the cultural revolution, it was on average like 60 percent attrition. Okay, so that’s not good.
Now it’s a lot lower. We have like a 90 percent retention rate over 12 months. Now if we go in general in our company, those who make it to three years, our retention rate at three years or longer is phenomenal. I mean, it’s exponentially larger. And that’s not to say like if you stick it out three years here, you’ll be good. No. What I’m saying is our culture isn’t for everybody.
JC: Yeah, yeah. Good point.
JDM: You know, just like with any organisation that’s growing, you have people who aren’t cutting it or aren’t contributing or aren’t adding value. And we certainly want to, you know, we don’t want detractors to stick around. So sometimes we exit people and sometimes they exit themselves, but that’s okay. We have an acceptable attrition rate right now. I wish our attrition rate was a little bit better in the field. We have a 40 percent turnover rate in the first 12 months for our field. But that’s mostly, this is really a construction thing. Anybody who’s a contractor knows what I’m talking about. You have zero skilled people, zero experienced people, and this work doesn’t end up working out for them. It’s not the thing that they are passionate about and want to do, so they exit the business. And I’m sure some of that we need to get better at too about helping ease into that.
And there’s other things we’re doing even pre-employment. Like we’re getting involved in schools. We have a Build Your Future Arizona, which is a marketing campaign for the construction industry, to educate students and parents about careers in construction. So, it’s not such a surprise for them. But yeah, things like that.
NU: I’m actually, yeah, I’m going to call an audible here and say, so you showed us your, you know, your workout facility, your training room, all that cool stuff, which I sent my boss a video of. But part of the thing that you do when you’re bringing people on is assessing who they are, their personality types. You’re assessing their skills, right, to find out maybe, you know, pay rates, whatever, fit. How does that process affect culture?
JDM: Yeah, great question. Nate can talk a little bit about this because let me tee it up for Nate here. We are slow to hire. That’s not a bad thing. We take our time. We go a little bit slower, maybe even slower than some candidates want and certainly slower than some of our hiring managers want, right? Because when you need talent, you need talent. But the reason why we go slow is so unlike hiring fast and firing fast, we hire. So, we want to make sure above skill, technical skill is cultural fit. We can actually train anybody to do anything, I think, reasonably, right? But having somebody who’s bought in and gets excited about what we’re doing as a culture and working with people in a dynamic industry, and sure, the gym helps, I guess. I don’t know. It’s not really something we advertise. But it’s like, yeah, it’s a perk. We are slow to hire. We’re also slower to fire, okay? That means we spend more time. We invest more in our people. And Nate can talk about it because he’s had, you know, you’ve had to hire eight people over the last three years.
NU: Yeah. Well, and I guess especially focused on the culture piece, right? I mean, obviously, the people you’re bringing into the culture, that’s always the biggest challenge, right? If you’re at the point where you have a culture that you are happy with, and it’s doing the things that you want to do, that saturation point, and as you add more people, that can easily get diluted. And so, when we’re talking about scalability, the biggest thing of that is adding people and with that ensuring that the culture continues to kind of permeate no matter who we’re hiring and other things like that. So, part of that’s on the talent acquisition side of those individuals that we’re bringing on. And so, a lot of those conversations, we always start with a behavioural. Obviously, you have to have these skills to qualify for the position. But outside of that, we start with the behavioural because it doesn’t matter how much technical expertise you have if, and it’s not even just you working with the manager, right? It’s also can you work with other individuals in our organisation because like we talked about that communication and why in our culture is so important is because that you need to be able to work with other individuals and you need to be able to understand your role and embrace it and understand what success looks like in there.
And so, when we’re going through this hiring process and we’re looking at, are you a cultural fit, almost every company looks and says, hey, are you a fit for this company? We look at that at a different point. And the easiest way, speaking personally for when I’m looking at individuals, a lot of times it’s what they get excited about, right? Because everyone can say the right things. Everyone can, you know, say the right words. Use the right words. I mean, when you’re interviewing, right, you’re asking a question and trying to figure out what the answer is. And I’m never looking for answers to the question. Like sometimes I get weird answers that are cool and made me think about things differently. But when we say, hey, you’re going to have this responsibility, right, there’s kind of two responses to that. One of them, it’s scary, but I’m ready for it. The other one is, eh, that seems like a lot of work, right? So those interactions of Hey, man, that sounds exciting or, well, that sounds kind of weird. I don’t really know what that is, but hey, if I’ve got people to support me, let’s go into it.
And the questions that individuals ask as well, right? That’s a big thing, too. When we’re interviewing individuals, but they’re also interviewing us at the same time. And so, if the only thing they care about is the perks of the job and, you know, all this kind of stuff and how much there, you know, —we might not be the best place for that individual because if they don’t value, that relationship and working with people that you trust and they’d rather, work in a silo, do their own thing and, forget it at the end of the day, then it’s not the same working environment. And so, when we look in that and really focus on that and it can be tough to really get a sense for that in, and that’s why I said I really look for that passion. What do you really care about, right? When you see yourself in this position, what is that? What do you see yourself kind of aspiring towards and other things like that? Because that’s really where we keep that culture of excited people that want to do something different.
And it’s kind of interesting because a lot of the people that we RR, what we call our A players, are usually people that came from other companies where they had a really rough culture, right? And they were high performers, but they weren’t able to perform and be successful because of the restrictions that were put on them from a communication standpoint or from a clarity standpoint or a contact standpoint or anything like that. And so, like JD said, if you have that passion and that part and we put you in our organisation, that’s the goal of the culture is that we make successful people successful, right? So, we provide an environment where successful people can exceed even their own expectations and really accomplish something. And if we’re able to keep that environment up, then we’ve succeeded in the intent of the culture. And so, we run into a lot of different companies that have a, hey, we work really hard and we accomplish a lot of things. And that comes with a lot of the passion of wanting to do things and other things like that. And so, turning that on its head and saying, hey, we’re not like, our culture is not that we’re a loving family and everyone can do what they want and all that. There’s that kind of turn of we want people that are passionate about the people, the relationships and going after that. And a lot of times that ends up building super strong relationships in going through that process. But if you’re not ready to work and kind of be in that environment, then it won’t work as well.
JC: Yeah. I think you’ll talk to some people. You know, I’m kind of into the tech scene here locally and in the Bay Area and stuff. And you’ll certainly find people that say our culture is so great. Nobody’s telling me what to do, which is kind of like, wait a minute. That’s got a shelf life. So how does it apply when you—because I don’t know if those guys ever get anything done, right? Yeah, we’re chatting a lot and everything.
JC: So how does it apply when you’re specifically, and maybe this is tactical advice, or again, it’s just a general feeling, but what about how does that apply to coaching? So, somebody, you’ve created this environment where people have clarity. They have context. They’re empowered to do their best and to bring their value. When you have to coach somebody, how does that play in? Is it, and what advice do you have?
NU: Yeah, well, I mean, I guess if you ever managed and been a manager in a company with a bad culture, it’s actually difficult. It’s really difficult because a lot of times that culture probably means all they look at is results, right? And they can ignore bad behaviours. Or the other way around where good behaviours are the only one, right? And so, finding that kind of middle area -one of the coolest things about our culture is it actually makes it really easy to coach. We have core values where we say, hey, this is the behaviour that’s not leading up to expectations. Or hey, this is the clear expectations for your role. This is how you’re not meeting those expectations. And so, a lot of those conversations, a lot of really, I guess, difficult coaching sessions happen when there is not a clear understanding between the manager and the individual that they’re coaching, right? The individual that they’re coaching thinks they’re doing a great job. It’s awesome. And the manager is now telling them that it’s not. Those are the tough conversations when the employee knows and is able to understand that. Hey, I’m not doing a great job and stuff. That’s a much easier conversation than if we’re not on the same page of what success looks like. And so, if you can get past that part of the conversation and jump right to, hey, let’s work on what that looks like or hey, if this doesn’t continue, that’s where that ends that conversation becomes so much more simple. So, I would actually say the culture and being very clear and well defining what that looks like and the expectations for both the role and your cultural involvement in the company makes it really easy as a manager and as an employee to be able to lean back on that and say, hey, these are the things that I’m doing and so I’m well grounded. And hopefully, like JD said, I’m at least heading towards that stake. No matter where I am on the map, at least I’m pointing towards the right direction. And so, we’re having the same conversation about the same goals.
JDM: Yeah. This goes to all of the things that I mentioned earlier: our purpose statement, our core values, our lions code, down to the individual top 10 responsibilities for each role. All of those are their own individual stakes for whatever audience is applicable. And it’s easy. It brings clarity. No one has to guess, right? There’re expectations for up from the company or the managers to the individual employee and from the individual to other individuals or back up to the manager or the company in general. So, coaching, it’s not all “difficult conversations.” “Difficult conversations” probably aren’t nearly as difficult as a lot of people have to deal with.
NU: Yeah, I mean, we still do. We do monthly one on ones where we go over lion’s code and core values and things like that. And, you know, we have a system for that, and that’s good. It’s an opportunity. Basically, it’s forcing conversation between a manager and employee on some of these things, right? So that helps.
JDM: Good. Yeah. It goes easy when you got a good culture with full trust and people that like each other.
JC: All right. Last two questions so that we can give this a wrap. But how does technology, I know you guys use Xalt for everything. You use Power BI for some things. I know you even use Xalt to find out T-shirt sizes and things like that. But how does technology apply to culture as well? I know they go hand in hand in your company. What would you say there?
JDM: Yeah, so I think one of the things that—so listen, right now, we’re kind of in this mode of like attracting talent because talent is the most constrained resource in our industry across the country. I don’t care whether you’re in electrical or heavy civil, talent is an issue. So, we’ve been hyper focused on attracting talent. And technology has actually helped with our culture when it comes to attracting talent, retaining talent because we have a lot more younger people who are tech savvy, and they want to be part of something that feels like the 21st century. And now we’re hiring 30-year-olds who basically grew up with a cell phone in their hand. You know what I mean?
JDM: And 20 somethings that grew up with an iPad in their house. So, this isn’t new to them. I mean, I can’t imagine what they would do if they went to a company that was still putting pen to paper. Right?
JDM: So, yeah, technology lends itself to the things that contribute to our culture. But also having a culture of continuous improvement and lean where we’re able to do process improvement, whether it utilises technology or not. If it does utilise technology, then it’s for the purpose of automation or data collecting or analysis and reporting. Those help because a human doesn’t end up having to do sitting at a computer, hammering out, creating a bunch of reports for weeks on end. Or add value in other ways.
NU: We’re taking my least favourite thing in all of the industry, which is taking something that’s on a piece of paper and then putting it into an Excel sheet and then finding its way into a reporting system, right? It’s just, ah.
JDM: I know. I cringe every time I talk to other contractors who are trying to process improve and use technology. And it’s like, yeah, they’re using technology as in like they’re moving information from one database, from one platform to another, right? Or, you know, across devices and you’re like, oh, there’s so many better ways to do that.
So, our culture, people are thinking because it’s part of our culture that lean thinking of continuous improvement, our people are asking, hey, is this a thing that can be automated? I mean, that’s something that comes up in conversation. It doesn’t take a C-suite executive level person to go, hey, we need to automate that thing. I mean, the basic people are doing that. So, it’s a reciprocal, right? Employees like being part of a technologically advanced company and vice versa. The technology is only as good as the people who are implementing the processes and coming up with the processes and refining the processes, right?
JC: Yep. That’s awesome. All right. Last question for you, JD, before we let you go for the day. This has been super good so far. Have there been any, I guess, hard decisions that have applied to culture? Or maybe what was the hardest that comes to mind that was either hard to decide or hard to implement? Obviously, you’re in the desired state or you’re moving towards a desired state right now. But what from then to now might have been difficult about that? And I’m sure everything was, right? This all took work. But were there any hard decisions that come to mind?
JDM: Hard decisions? No. I mean, we spent two hundred thousand dollars building out a wellness centre, not just a gym, but like a whole wellness centre. You know, yoga and a bunch of other stuff, weights and things like that. Basketball court. Okay, that’s easy. Throwing money at problems is easy, okay, but that doesn’t resonate with everybody.
Now I’m going to answer your question with COVID aside, because there’s a whole bunch of other weird stuff that happens because of COVID—
JC: For sure.
JDM: —and having people feel, be physically separated but still be part of the culture that was super important to us that people get together, right? So that aside, that’s a whole other issue, and it’s almost ad nauseum at this point. But let me tell you the thing that we’ve had a hard time with as a contractor is bridging the gap between how professional staff communicate who work in the same building most of the time, or maybe a couple of different buildings, but have a different interaction than our field does. It’s easy to communicate with professional staff because they have, most of them have Corbins Electric phone numbers, you know, cell phones, which means we can text them. They have email addresses so we can email them, right? We can post things in the break room, in common areas, that everyone would see. How do we communicate just basic information like benefits enrolment is coming up? How do we communicate that to the field when we may not have good phone numbers for them, or they may have changed their email address since they got hired? And we communicate to the project managers, to the superintendents, to the foreman, like how much is that getting filtered down to the to the newest guy? Right? So, decisions haven’t been hard, but communication in general has been.
We’ve come up with a tool. We’re using technology. It’s not necessarily Xalt. It’s a platform we found for like an intranet to work with a work vivo. It’s very, it’s kind of like social media, which I know turn some people off, even myself. I don’t have Facebook. I can’t stand it. But what it does, because it’s insular, it’s just employees. It’s a way for us to share information at fingertips. Now the hardest part has been communicating to individuals that we already have a hard time communicating with to go download the thing.
NU: To go on it.
JDM: Yeah. But once they get in there, then it’s like, okay, no big deal. They have the app now. But, yeah, it’s app based. They can get it on the web. But anybody can communicate, just like social media, they can post, people post funny memes on Fridays and things like that. But it also is a way for us to—it is our single source of truth for documentation like our actual, like our employee handbook lives there. It’s equitable because everyone has access to it as opposed to putting it on our network drive, which only professionals have access to, right? So that’s an example of things we’re trying to overcome with communication that also have cultural implications.
JC: Okay. Well, perfect. I think that’s a good place to wrap. I think we could also have this conversation for the next eight hours and not actually run out of…
JDM: I love talking about culture, guys. And anybody who’s listening, if you want to talk about it, ping me. Find me on LinkedIn. My contact information’s on our website, corbinselectric.com. We have people who come and visit us just to talk about culture stuff. I’m open to that. We have people coming to our place. They want to talk about lean in general or implementation or how we do HR stuff. I don’t know. We’re here as our purpose statement, empowered thought leaders boldly changing the construction industry. That’s really what we’re about. We’re helping to change the industry. We want to change industry for the better because that’s the only way we’re going to move forward collectively as an industry. You can’t have a bunch of everyone kind of doing their own thing. We’ve got to move towards—as an industry, we’ve got to drive a stake in the ground and everybody moving towards that same thing. So, we’re here to help. And that’s all free. It really just comes down to time. So anyway, hit us up. I know Josh mentioned, and Geoff, they’ve both come to visit a couple times. We’re happy to have visitors, so just hit me up if you want to see that stuff.
JC: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much. As always, it’s a pleasure. Honestly, I love these conversations and I know we’ll have more. For all the listeners, be sure to check out all of the latest podcasts from across Hexagon at hxgnspotlight.com or on Soundcloud and Spotify. Thank you very much for tuning in. Take care.