Cool, Not Cool.
I guess everyone who has had to preside over many meetings has some hokey way of bringing the “table” into the meeting, a way to get audience participation, if you will. I have mine. When we have leadership meetings at Z6 Coltzer I will randomly (and without warning) call on someone to tell me something cool that is going on at our companies. Immediately after that, I will call on someone else and ask them to tell me about something that is ABSOLUTELY not cool. Sometimes we will go around the entire table until everyone has had a chance to “play.” We call it playing the “Cool, Not Cool” game, and the idea is all about preserving a culture at our companies that is really…well, cool.
The bad news is that I am really not sure how we ended up with such a cool place, and I am ultra-paranoid that I do not have the skill set to maintain our Redneck Camelot. So, I ask questions to learn what is working (or cool), so we can nurture whatever it is. I also want to know what is toxic (not cool) so we can snuff it out before it impacts morale. It is a modern-day version of Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative, and it works for us. Does anyone remember Bing Crosby’s version?… google it. That song will stick in your head worse than “Muskrat Love.”
Supply chain woes and the war in Ukraine, leading a company into 2022, I found myself playing “Cool, Not Cool” (by myself) a lot. How do you lead a team of people confidently when there are so many things beyond even the best leader’s control? The team knows it is beyond your control. In any bad news/good news situation, I want the bad news first, thinking I can end on a high note. That is sort of nonsense because once I hear the bad news, it will keep me awake until I (we) have a plan to resolve the bad news; so, it really does not matter when I hear the bad news. It is all I hear.
1st quarter of 2022 has really provided some good debates between cool me and not cool me. If I had to pick the top three concerns, I would say vaccination requirements, fuel costs, and material availability are at the top of the mix. All three had obvious bad news associated with them, but there were some silver linings with all three as well.
The people that comprise Z6/Coltzer are talented, problem-solving sons of guns. They are Wicked Bad, and they have my back. That said, they are independent thinkers who will not be strong-armed into doing things they do not believe in…like, maybe vaccine mandates. The percentage of the vaccinated population at Z6 Coltzer looks just like that of the country; we are not 100% vaccinated. When a large percentage of a company’s work is in health care facilities, this (really) is not cool if you are trying to meet contractual obligations (and send out invoices). But healthcare is only about half of our business, and (at the moment) we have the vaccinated staff to maintain those projects. We also have enough private (or otherwise exempt) work to keep the non-vaccinated folks employed; keeping people employed is really cool. Additionally, as a vaccinated team member, I am an “alternate” player who occasionally gets drafted into the field when we need an extra vaxxer. It gets me out of the office and in touch with the field operations. Both cool.
A very large portion of our business is a roadshow, so the cost of fuel has seen our transportation costs double. Many (most of the large) projects we are servicing were proposed months ago when fuel was priced more reasonably. Not cool. But in all honesty, fuel is not the major cost in a mobilization; the cost of fuel will not put us out of business. Moving forward, we will allow more budget for fuel, and our clientele is of the caliber that they will understand and fund the increase. It is cool to have great clients. At the same time, the fuel cost has made me think about travel in general. Travel is hard on people, equipment and a waste of time. One way to avoid travel is to have boots on the ground closer to the work. In 2022, you will see our companies expand our geographic footprint in areas where we have had some success. Sounds like growth, and that can be cool as well.
The testing side of Z6 has experienced what can best be described as collateral damage from the supply chain dilemma that is impacting the world. Although the Z6 Cx Team does not really buy much with regard to building materials, we test a whole lot of systems that are constructed of building materials. During the first quarter of 2022, many testing mobilizations were canceled because the glass for a window system or some other product was MIA. These cancelations leave three to four men on the payroll (but not billable) and idle equipment in the shop. Although we do save on fuel these weeks, crews sitting idle when there could be work to do is not cool. The good news is that testing is not all we do, and the consultant side, along with litigation support work, has kept us busy; having diverse services is cool.
Although I cannot say that it has directly impacted business, the Russia conflict keeps me up at night. In the year 2022, how can war possibly be a way to resolve a conflict? To say that this is not cool is the understatement of all understatements. I hope by the next quarter, we can say that something cool has come out of that conflict, but I don’t know what that will be other than it ending. I am hopefully optimistic.
In short, Q1 2022 has been the most challenging time period for our companies since March of 2020, and you can say we created some of those challenges “in-house.” Based on the way 2021 ended, we knew that vaccinations, fuel, and the supply chain would create challenges. We also knew that as a company, we were going into a forecasted valley between completed projects and backlogged projects. The environment for uncool was rich, and there were pretty good arguments for conservative corporate behavior. But apparently, that is not how we roll. In the middle of a period with minimum ROI, we decided to renovate the building envelope of our Galveston Headquarters (yes, the cobbler’s kid got shoes!) and move forward with building a brand-new training/testing laboratory at the Rellis Campus of the Texas A & M University System! The public/private partnership that we now have with A&M is one of, if not the, coolest ventures that I have been part of, and it all went down in Q1, 2022. Z6 is officially in the teaching business. Note that I have been working with Texas A&M on this idea since 2012.
So even though there have been some obvious uncool challenges in 2022, we had some cool opportunities to improve our facilities and develop new services. Old challenges will likely linger, and new ones will surely present themselves, but we came out of Q1 stronger than ever and the second quarter had better take note. We are ready to fight like that third monkey waiting to get on the ark when the rain starts to fall. It is what small businesses do.
I hope you folks came out of Q1 strong with a stiff wind at your backs, and we will see you next quarter or online on our social media accounts.