Monday, January 9, 2012

I was wearing their shoes

I posted yesterday about recognizing my perspective in other people. Today, I want to discuss seeing other people’s perspective. I talked about how I had been put into this unfamiliar role working on the side of the road monitoring tree crews trying to make right of ways safe.
The first thing I discovered was why it sometimes seems there are so many people watching while so few are working. For at least a couple of trees, there were as many as 11 people involved. The County had originally ordered the work after a hurricane came through the area. They usually did not have a representative but this was in a busy and hard hit park so there were 2. A company that specializes in disaster relief work was contracted to do the work and they had 1 person on site. The contractor subcontracts out the work to companies that would normally be providing tree services in their hometowns, there were 4 of them, three of which were working and the owner that was supervising. Finally, in addition to myself there was another monitor, a supervisor and the project manager for SAIC that had been hired to monitor and document the work, so that the county knew how much to pay and ask for reimbursement from FEMA.
Put another way, you have buyers, service providers, contractors and regulators all at this job site. Each of these individuals and groups is further bound by ethical and liability issues to do or not do certain things. So even though I might be capable and willing to do a task, my doing it might be an indication that I had become too close and possibly co-opted by the group(s) I was monitoring and could put the company in jeopardy.

A 4" 10' branch 30 feet high in the air, could do some real damage.
While the first lesson pertained to the work and the fact that so many different entities and interests were involved the second lesson was even more eye opening. This lesson came during one of the traffic delay incidents, where a driver honked their horn and went around the truck, directly under the bucket and the limb that was being removed. It was hazardous, irresponsible and frankly illegal, but I guess they couldn’t wait.
It was then that one of the crew members looked at me and said, “we might as well go back to Georgia, they don’t appreciate what we are doing anyway.” It was a HUGE statement because it showed the different perceptions of what was happening. For the driver, this crew and their work was an annoyance, for me they were a tree crew doing work, but for the crew, they were doing “hurricane relief” and “protecting the public.”
Everyone was right. However if the limb had fallen on the car, the resulting insurance settlement and body work would have taken a lot more than the five minutes they would have been delayed by staying behind the truck. For me it was a reminder, that while we see the same thing our perception formed by the path we walked, shapes our attitude towards the event.
There was also a big leadership lesson. Each tree they worked on before this incident either qualified by the rules or it didn’t. Each tree after this incident either was detrimental to public safety or it wasn’t, in which case it didn’t get worked on. By understanding why they were here, doing what they were doing, I was able to lead better, which resulted in my being assigned the more “difficult” to control crews which became more productive and less difficult.
Dale Carnegie wrote that we should not “criticize, condemn or complain” and that we need to “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” For me those 2 lessons from How to win friends and influence people couldn’t be any more closely linked. Try the latter and see if you can really do the former.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

They Were Wearing My Shoes

Well they weren’t really wearing my shoes, or even driving my car, but I sure did recognize the attitude and frankly, it was embarrassing.
Let me take a minute to give some background. About 6 months ago I escaped real estate. I know, the first reaction is usually the same to that one; real estate is a hard business, it’s been a tough few years. Totally true and almost irrelevant because I really had been trying to escape real estate almost since the time I started. I just never enjoyed it, so I went to work for a builder, I developed a web site when I should have been selling, I went to work in a non-selling  capacity for another builder, I trained agents in how to be successful, when I should have been selling, and finally after 15 years, I sent my license back to the state.
I didn’t leave real estate for something, but rather to be done with it. This meant that I needed to figure out what I could/ should offer the world and then how to do that best. In the meantime was the realization that I needed to put some money in the bank.  
So in September, I found myself working for SAIC as a monitor following tree crews that were trying to make sure the right of ways were safe in Henrico County Virginia. This meant with hard hat, orange vest a GPS, digital camera, tape measure and clipboard I documented all their work and conferred on whether it was eligible under FEMA guidelines.

I was, for 5 or 6 weeks, 12 to 15 hours a day what I had always called a “watcher” or “watcher, watcher.” If you have ever driven, you know the scene; 1 or 2 men working and 2 -5 people standing around watching them work.

Removing branches hanging over right of ways, some are huge, sometimes required stopping traffic. Now, it doesn’t take long before you stop someone that gets really upset and tries to intimidate their way through or even worse force their way though causing the crew to have to watch out for the safety of the driver as well as themselves.
Looking into some of the faces of these drivers is what made me realize, they were just like me. Until that time, I had always been the one in the car, wondering why they picked this time, why they can’t get off the side of the road and in general why were they in MY way. I was wearing someone else’ shoes and I’ll talk about that tomorrow, but when I looked at the faces of these drivers, pissed off and glaring back, it was like looking into my own face and I didn’t like it.