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Earlier this month, I wrote a post offering a few hints for those on the job search. It seems especially pertinent in these times, because we as managers are receiving more resumes than usual.

Not a week goes by that I don’t see between 3 and 5 job applications. I would say the majority of them are from graduating college seniors, folks who have worked their whole lives getting that just right degree. Their diligence from the last four years, combined with extracurricular activities, would have made them worthy candidates in good times.

I feel like I have empathy for this younger generation of job seekers, because at their age, I was in a similar situation.

At the age of 24, my fledgling home building business had gone bust. Aside from feeling depressed I was broke and without a job. I talked with my father who in turn reached out to our preacher who in turn reached out to a large construction company owner in town. I got a job. While those were stressful times, I will never forget this man’s generosity of help. Never.  It’s because of his mentoring and his hands on assistance with my job search that I was able to move on to the career I now enjoy.

I believe that as people established in our businesses, we owe it to the young folks out there to treat their resumes with respect and help them where we can. After all, someone did it for us.

As business owners and hiring managers, these are my recommendations for helping our next class of leaders:

If a letter is sincere, respond.  I tell the applicant that I wish we could make the hire, but unfortunately we cannot.

Give words of encouragement, if they are deserved. If their resume looks solid, and most of the time it does, I tell them there is the just right job out there. They will just have to be patient in finding it.

Make a suggestion for another place to seek work. I suggest they consider modifying their job search. Because of the economic cycle, perhaps they should consider something that may not fit exactly with their degree but will sustain them for the next two or three years until the economy heals.

Make time to meet them. You might be surprised how much it will benefit you as well.

We do this because we care. What if this young person was my son or daughter? How would I like someone else to react to them?

During these times, while we are all looking for those projects that are scarce, we also have an obligation to help those around us do the best that they can. Maybe next time the shoe will be on the other foot. Will you pay it forward?

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There is an old story about a brilliant scientist who boasted that he could examine a book and tell you anything about it–what type of ink was used, the composition of the paper, even details about the molecules that made up the book.

But when the scientist sat down to actually read, he realized the book was written in German. And he couldn’t read German.

To me, the story is a great reminder about the importance of basic communication. If you have great ideas and solving problems skills, but can’t communicate them accurately to those around you, what can you truly accomplish? I remind myself of this balance every time we need to make a hire.

Recently, the college-age daughter of one of my colleagues decided she wanted to major in English. Both of her parents are engineers, and they wondered what she could do with an Liberal Arts degree. But to me, that is one of the best degrees you can have. Even in our modern world of digital technology, it is still crucial to communicate effectively, to have a greater impact on the heart and mind while using fewer words.

Last year I wrote a post titled, “Should You Hire for Technical Skills or Communication Skills” and mentioned one of our project managers who had a Liberal Arts degree and an English background, but a limited amount of technical knowledge. Still, because he was such a skilled communicator, he was able to convey what he knew about the business in a distinct, easy-to-follow manner. He gradually gained the technical knowledge and, combined with his communication skills, became a very strong project manager.

Do you hire Renaissance men and women? How has it made you more successful?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

We recently made a presentation to a prospective customer who had an adaptive reuse project that seemed perfect for us. It involved revitalizing an area of the city, which is exactly the type of project we enjoy. We confidently answered all the questions in the RFI, and the presentation seemed to go flawlessly.

As we left the meeting, I told my two colleagues that we had nailed it. There was no way they would use anybody else. A few days later I received a call from the architect informing us that we were not selected for the project.

This disappointment was a great reminder for me. I realized that despite my optimism, I had not spent enough prep time on the presentation. Yes, I had answered the customer’s questions, but I hadn’t gone beyond that. I let an over-booked schedule get in the way of the dress rehearsal one of our project managers suggested. It might have cost us the project.

I know better. Over the years, these have been my tried and true rules for successful presentations:

Don’t oversell yourself. Owners don’t want to have to spend time weeding through contractors who make lofty promises.

Ask, then listen. A contractor who asks questions, carefully listens to the responses and then makes a reasoned proposal is more believable.

Work for your wins. No matter how many projects you have won in the past, you are not a shoe-in for the opportunities you persue. In the end, it’s good to know that you got the job not off only from past merits, but because you came prepared, then went above and beyond.

Think like an athlete. The pros don’t just practice before games. It’s a year round job.

Every day is an opportunity to practice selling what you do and promoting your services. When the next opportunity comes up, how will you get ready?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

You’ve heard about an idea locker? Well how about an idea freezer?

This post from Jeremiah Owyang talks about one of my favorite ways to enjoy time disconnected from work: The idea freezer.

For him,  it’s a notebook that allows you to jot down ideas and to-dos as they come to you. The thought is that after you write thoughts down, they are safe, frozen for you to thaw out and use later.

I agree that we need a means of cataloging our thoughts. Most days, I have more ideas than I have time to fully process, but I want to ensure I never forget anything.  I used to keep a pad next to my bed, but then I had to turn on the light, wake up and write. If I had ideas while driving, it was unsafe to note them.

Then I discovered my idea freezer: voice recording. Instead of writing the thoughts down, I record them for later reference.

Before I got a smartphone, I carried a digital recorder and a cell phone. Switching to a Blackberry with the “voice notes” application meant I had the two in one place. It also removed another business device that has to be electrically charged (and removed from my pocket in the airport or left in the hotel room by mistake.) The Blackberry simplifies my life.

When I go on vacation, I still may see something that would benefit someone in our company or a customer relationship and do not wish to let the opportunity slip away. When I put the idea in my idea freezer I can forget about it. I have better peace of mind enjoying my time off.

To me, there is confidence in knowing that you’ve preserved your thoughts.

Do you have an idea freezer?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Recently, I came across this post about failures of leadership. To me, Leadership is much more than following a set of rules or what someone has written in a book. Ideally it is instinctual and second-nature for one in the leadership role to not only guide, but also to learn.

Failure is certainly a very good learning experience for all involved. Have been broke financially a couple of times and once near bankruptcy I certainly learned more from these experiences than any successes, small or large. To me, it is all about what one does afterwards, as this is how one is judged in the long run.

My post,”Admitting Mistakes are Keys to Success” discussed this very notion. Abraham Lincoln and Bill Gates both failed at their first business ventures several times and yet they were able to move on and become the leaders that they are now known as.

There is a quote by David Feherty that rings true for these thoughts: “It’s how you deal with failure that determines how you achieve success.”

A few simple things I’ve learned from my challenges and “not so successes”…

  • Stand out: Do what you do best and let the world know. We utilize social media a great deal and simple marketing to differentiate ourselves from the competition.
  • Innovate: Set yourself apart. Have you done something new in your industry? Are you known for certain areas of expertise?
  • Move Faster: To me, erring on the side of being proactive is better than letting your competitor beat you to it. Act so you don’t have to react.
  • Dominate the Field: Focus on what you do and do it better than anyone else.
  • Employees: Show respect and treat your team as you would want to be treated. They are your best assets to your company.
  • Desire Excellence: It can be contagious.

The road to excellence starts with the smallest details. Overlook them to your detriment. Customers would rather deal with a quality company, that’s a fact. Balanced correctly, the two will make you a better company. But as I stated previously, if you don’t do it, someone else will.

What are your thoughts on learning from failures or mistakes? Do any stand out as learning experiences?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials) is an organization that can have a substantial impact on construction projects, yet quite a few folks are not familiar with it. ASTM was founded in 1898 for the development and delivery of voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide variety of materials, systems and services.

ASTM’s construction standards are generally recognized as the benchmark by which materials are tested. They cover basics such as wood, stone, concrete, geotechnical engineering and much more. In many projects, these standards can be the deciding factor in whether the job proceeds, so it’s important to get to know them.

Unfortunately, people do not respect the ASTM standards until it’s too late. Even though the building owner may not ultimately be responsible for low results on strength tests, he or she will be affected if a job is delayed significantly because of it.

We prefer “Design-Build” projects as we can utilize these ASTM standards and are prepared before we reach problems during a project. We work with architects directly on behalf of our client and this helps to alleviate any problems before they arise thanks to our knowledge of ASTM standards and past experiences.

Therefore, it is wise to be respectful of ASTM. These technical committees meet twice a year, so keep track of any changes in standards. It might not seem like the most interesting material to monitor, but it could be the most important.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Imagine attending a conference and being introduced to a prospective client. This person asks about your company and professional background. Instead of replying to the prospect you say, “Let my friend Dave here tell you all about us.” And then you walk away without speaking a word.

It is extremely unlikely that this potential client would end up hiring you. But in a way, that is what many companies try to do when they use canned programs to implement their customer relationship management.

I don’t believe it is possible for anybody else to tell your story the way you can. Others might be able to provide the basic details, but in order to truly explain your company’s character and culture it needs to come directly from you.

There is ample evidence that executives in the commercial construction and design industry are hesitant to enter into unknown business relationships.

According to a nationwide survey I read recently in Construction Executive magazine, 83 percent of respondents said their primary source of business is a combination of repeat clients, referrals and networking. Yet amazingly, 33 percent said they do nothing to nurture existing business relationships.

What’s going to happen if your competition makes the effort to cultivate business relationships with a personal touch, and you simply rely on canned programs? Sure it takes a lot more time and work to do it on your own.

Success is never easy, but if you don’t take the initiative, someone else will.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Few people endure slumps and a downturn in performance as often as professional athletes. Even the greatest sports stars suffer through stretches where seemingly nothing goes right. During his heyday, Michael Jordan had a commercial in which he stated, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.” Then, after a short pause, he said, “And that is why I succeed.”

The point being that we all will go through tough times. To me, The key is how we handle the difficulties, and what we do to maintain a positive attitude and emerge stronger and better.

We have been in an economic slump for the past three years. This downturn has been longer than anything I have ever experienced, and it is not over. But things are improving. Most people expect that 2011 will be better than 2010, and 2012 will be even better than that.

Still, the psychological effects of a bad economy are similar to an athletic slump. Eventually it is difficult to keep your spirits up and you become convinced that the good times will never return. That is precisely when it is vital to visualize success.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stated that golfing legend Jack Nicklaus used to step back and “consciously regain a positive frame of mind” whenever things were going wrong. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz broke out of a lengthy slump by watching a two-minute video of a series of perfect pitches he had made.

Here are a few things I do to try to encourage those around our office to keep their spirits up:

  • We have company lunches from time-to-time. Some of the ladies in our office take advantage of our kitchen and cook some wonderful and tasty full-course meal for everyone.
  • We go on company outings occasionally. Recently, many members of our staff attended a local football game and we invited not only staff, but their family as well.
  • We ensure that all employees have knowledge of our projects and company functions. While not mandatory, their level of involvement is determined by their own interests and time. This increases their own interests and helps create a sense of not only teamwork, but also ownership of the projects.

I am interested to hear how you keep employee moral up in your office or other suggestions you may have on this topic ?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email


Thanks to several social media tools, I have been able to stay connected with increased frequency than before web 2.0.  A couple of years ago we started using several  of these  and the effectiveness of helping with relationships has been very encouraging.  I can count on a brief exchange with someone due to my blog posts, as you see here, on Facebook or on Twitter.  On the other hand, I will say that social media can be a detriment to your time management efforts.

The internet is a large and highly populated space and it is easy to get lost or chasing rabbit trails. I compare it to someone looking into a refrigerator when one is hungry, but not really sure what they want, yet they open the door to see if anything has changed. Some would compare it to insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

But through the use of Social Media, companies can now focus their attention on specific audiences much easier and start topics of conversation with just a sentence.  In addition, you can make people feel more important by personalizing the messages sent.  I enjoy reaching out to old friends to check on their well-being as well as business acquaintances, as I believe that this is a lost aspect of business today.

I believe that the economy is getting better and to me, it more important than ever before to be sure that you’re strengthening and maintaining relationships with your clients and associates in the most efficient ways across multiple platforms.

Listed below are some other blog posts to help you on your way:

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

It’s easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day activities and then add in family and just life in general. We lose contact with those that are an import part of our lives, whether professional or personal. We are then reminded of them by something that we see or hear.

Through the years, I have made many friends and associates. I am as guilty as anyone whenever I forget to return a phone call or an email due to my own duties throughout the day. It is not intentional. But it takes just a few moments to use what I believe to be the simplest contact tools already sitting on my desk.

These tools are a phone and a pen.

It is a very quick process to pick up a pen and write out a quick note on a company post card. But it can be the make or break for your business nowadays. We live in a highly competitive world and a gesture such as remembering someone’s love of the outdoors and sending them an article out of a magazine that you believe they may find interesting touches their mind and heart.

Returning a phone call is something that I find people are not always willing to do. I make every attempt to either answer the phone as I receive calls or to call back as soon as I am able. It may sound old-fashioned and to some it may be, especially in this hectic, fast-paced world today.

Yet, I strongly believe that a very simple phone call or a quick note can do wonders with business relationships as it breaks the monotony of the interactive barrage. This is not to say that I do not use email or one of the other communication tools such as Twitter or Facebook, as well, but the phone call and the pen offer something many of us may have left somewhere along the trail.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Call an old friend or business associate and catch up.
  • Write a 1-3 sentence email to a business associate and recommend a book.
  • Send a brief note a new business contact and include an article from the newspaper or a magazine related to their business.

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email