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Q&A: “Outsizing” Author Offers Key Insights on Growing Your Profits and Potential

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Are you pushing your business to its highest potential? Is your construction business capitalizing on the newest value drivers or is it business as usual? Do you know how to succeed in our modern economy? Steve Coughran, CFO of EMJ Corporation, a global engineering, procurement and construction firm, shares his valuable insights on creating and accomplishing more for your company than you ever thought possible.  

 Q. Will you tell us a little about what “outsizing” means and how you came up with that title for your book? 

SC: My book is inspired by the companies that have gone the extra mile to redefine their business models and achieve unprecedented levels of success. While I have been in the business world for over two decades, the bold strategies of recent years have pushed the envelope and allowed companies to create and capture extraordinary value. Take Uber or Netflix as examples of firms that have re-engineered the ways that industries can work. 

I want all companies, regardless of size, resources, or experience, to be motivated to outsize their strategies to accomplish more than they ever thought possible.

I wanted a term large enough to encompass this paramount success and unbridled business passion.  The word “outsizing” is traditionally used as an adjective to describe something big or exaggerated in size or degree. As applied to business, outsizing takes something ordinary and elevates it to be extraordinary. I want all companies, regardless of size, resources, or experience, to be motivated to outsize their strategies to accomplish more than they ever thought possible.

Q. You discuss in your book the difference between customer service vs. customer experience. Why is it important to know the difference?

SC: Customer service is commonly mistaken for customer experience (CX). For example, when prompted with the question, “what makes for a strong customer experience?” many will talk about friendly service agents or an easy online chat support option. While all these attributes contribute to a positive overall experience, the service element is only one small factor that plays into a series of interactions that comprise the full CX.

It’s critical to understand what CX is (and differentiate it from service) because we are operating in an experience economy where companies are evaluated on their ability to create unique, positive experiences for customers. The world’s most successful brands have capitalized in the new economy by creating end-to-end solutions that make customers feel understood and appreciated. Take Amazon as a brand that neatly combines targeted marketing, an effective interface, and a world-class product selection with outstanding round-the-clock customer support. The company has even created its own holiday to further unite customers and tie the bow around its CX strategy.

On the other hand, think of a business that has pleasant, quick, and helpful customer service but is weak in quality or execution. The customer experience suffers. In Outsizing, I offer an example of this phenomenon sharing my experience switching phone carriers. I worked with kind customer service agents who genuinely wanted to help me.  However, the overall experience, fraught with delays, transfers, and fragmented communication, left me frustrated. The siloed business functions, lack of governance, and broken process flow ultimately inhibited the customer service agents from creating a positive customer experience.

The customer experience is a culmination of all the customer touchpoints. It’s a big picture perspective (rather than a narrow, service-oriented perspective) that allows companies to differentiate from the competition and provide customers with something memorable.

Q. What are some of the “new value drivers” and what do they mean for a construction company?

SC: The shifting economy has transformed value drivers. This is especially true in the construction industry where the traditional value drivers of financial capital and physical assets are moving out of the spotlight for human capital and intellectual assets. Our economy is now knowledge based, and it’s talent that drives it forward. 

As the construction industry faces a severe labor shortage, it becomes even more critical to form strategies that acknowledge and optimize the new value drivers.

As the construction industry faces a severe labor shortage, it becomes even more critical to form strategies that acknowledge and optimize the new value drivers. Construction has historically lagged in adopting new people management strategies. As a result, it has struggled to attract and engage new, younger workers; Only a quarter of construction industry workers are millennials, though millennials make up nearly 50% of the overall workforce. This is often due to poor employer branding and outdated people management strategies.

How does the construction industry capitalize on the new value drivers? The first step is recognizing that people are the new value drivers. The second step is investing in them. Great companies develop their people. They offer them opportunities. They provide them with flexibility, when possible, and build organizational structures that promote and empower them. 

Changing a company’s policies and culture might not happen overnight, but actively working to enhance the work environment for your primary value drivers is the key to succeeding in our modern economy.

Q. You say outsizing strategy requires companies to move beyond talking about strategy and making it a habit. How does a busy construction professional find the time to make it a habit when there are so many distractions? 

SC: While it takes time initially to adopt a new framework and can be challenging amidst other work demands, the goal is to ultimately internalize the process and make it a habit. Once a company gets in the groove of designing, implementing, and adjusting its strategy, it becomes second nature.  It’s an up-front investment that yields a continuous long-term payoff. 

I often talk about strategy and how it’s part art, part science, but most of all—a lot of discipline.  Every day, we are bombarded with media that wants to capture our attention, demands from clients, and deadlines from coworkers.  It’s up to us to decide what is most essential to pursue and cut out all of the rest. However, prioritizing risks, activities, personal matters, and relationships can be one of the hardest things to do. Our culture is founded on a “have it all, do it all” mentality. Therefore, we must fortify our discipline to focus on the most important things and always ask ourselves—“Is this the most essential thing I should be working on right now?”, if not, stop. 

Q. What are some common traits that high growth companies share?

SC: After a decade of studying organizations of all sizes in all industries, I have narrowed down the processes, mindsets, and patterns that help companies outsize. My research led me to develop the six-step process explained in Outsizing. The most powerful, high-growth companies: 

  • Humanize their strategies: They found intentional, purposeful cultures to design objective strategies that focus on the essential and motivate employees.
  • Power customer-centricity: They put people first, optimizing activities to deliver unique experiences and value to distinct customer types. 
  • Build from Advantages: They leverage position-, asset-, and capability-based advantages to capture a greater share of economic profit.
  • Convert Advantages into Value: They align asset and positional advantages with their greater corporate capabilities to drive price premiums, cost and capital efficiencies, and strategic growth.
  • Unlock the potential of your talent: They recruit, hire, and develop value maximizers, enable teams, and celebrate success.
  • Forge patterns: They create an ongoing strategy process that aligns initiatives and actions, building the patterns to achieve outsized results.

To learn more about how to identify key factors that determine the difference between failure and outsized success, you don’t want to miss Steve Coughran’s “Outsizing: Strategies to Grow Your Business, Profits and Potential” session at Groundbreak, Oct. 8-10 in Phoenix, AZ.  Procore’s not-to-miss annual event will feature more than 80 sessions, exceptional keynotes, an Innovation Lab, and much more.

About Outsizing author:  Steve Coughran is CFO of EMJ Corporation, a vertically integrated engineering, procurement, and construction firm specializing in renewable energy. Steve leads the finance and technology teams which provide strategic, financial, and data-driven support for EMJ’s global solar, wind, construction, and development companies. Known for his extensive research and writing on strategic growth and corporate financial management, Steve challenges conventional wisdom, earning the reputation of an “energetic trailblazer.” He is an expert on strategy and an acclaimed keynote speaker with over twenty years of experience driving corporate excellence.  His newest book, “Outsizing: Strategies to Grow your Business, Profits, and Potential” was released in June 2019.

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