Ep. 109: Mastering Your Interpersonal Skills with Don Swasing of Schlouch Inc.

Don Swasing, Schlouch Inc.With more than three decades of heavy civil construction experience, Don Swasing knows a thing or two about building high performance teams. As Chief Operating Officer at Schlouch Incorporated, Don has developed safety and leadership training programs and built a culture of open communication.

Don will be presenting three education sessions at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020 on profitability, conflict resolution and fleet management.

Don and Host Missy Scherber dig into the topic of “crucial conversations” and why you need to master your interpersonal skills to drive better results. Once you learn how to effectively navigate high-stakes conversations, you’ll build credibility and strengthen relationships with your customers, peers, direct reports and superiors.

They also cover:

    • The "Gray Tsunami" and the impending skills gap
    • When to say "no" to work
    • Coaching and facilitating conversations to strengthen your team
    • Providing authentic care, trust and help to your employees
    • Reflections on 20+ years of attending CONEXPO-CON/AGG

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Show Transcript:

Intro:                      

Welcome to CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio, highlighting the latest construction technology and trends to drive your business forward. Coming up in March of 2020, CONEXPO-CON/AGG is North America's largest construction trade show. We bring you expert advice from your favorite brands, startups, and industry peers. For even more news, sign up for our weekly 365 e-newsletter at conexpoconagg.com/subscribe. We've got another great guest on the show today, so let's dig in.

Missy Scherber:              

Well, hey everyone. Welcome to CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio. I'm your host, Missy Scherber, and I'm thrilled to announce a new segment on the podcast called Contractor Conversations. Each month, I'll be talking to your favorite contractors around the country, about their projects, workforce development, technology, and of course equipment. I hope these conversations give you the expertise and support you need to thrive in the daily work that you do. For those of you who don't know me, I'm a contractor based in Minnesota and I own a demolition and excavating company alongside my husband, Trevor. I'm passionate about our industry and I want to recognize the hard work that you do every day to build the world around us. I truly believe that CONEXPO-CON/AGG is the event where the construction community can come together and belong. I hope you'll join me at the show in Las Vegas, in March of 2020. Please stay connected with me on Instagram, where you can join the conversation and stay up to date on all the exciting things happening at the show that you won't want to miss. Now, let's get started with today's episode.

Missy Scherber:              

With more than three decades of heavy civil construction experience, Don Swasing knows a thing or two about building high performance teams. As chief operating officer at Schlouch Incorporated, Don has developed award-winning safety and leadership training programs, and built a culture of open communication. Don will be presenting three education sessions at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020, on profitability, conflict resolution, and fleet management. Today, we're going to dig into the topic of crucial conversations and why you need to master your interpersonal skills to drive better results. Once you learn how to effectively navigate high stakes conversations, you'll build credibility and strengthen relationships with your customers, peers, direct reports, and superiors. Don, thank you so much for joining us, all the way from Pennsylvania, correct?

Don Swasing:                                

Correct. Thank you.

Missy Scherber:              

Yes. Well, with 30 plus years of experience in the heavy civil construction industry, I am so excited to talk to you. Our listeners are eager to hear what you have to say, but we have to start with the basics. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in the construction business.

Don Swasing:                                

Sure. Hey, I'm, my name is Don Swasing. I'm the COO of Schlouch Incorporated here in Blandon, Pennsylvania, which is about 40 miles west of Philadelphia. How I got started in the construction industry is pretty simple. Both my dad and my uncle encouraged me as a young boy. When I say young boy, maybe eight years old, and actually took some big chances with me that probably wouldn't happen today, and allowed me to operate some really big iron in a controlled environment in a quarry.

Missy Scherber:              

Wow.

Don Swasing:                                

From day one, I was hooked. I was hooked. All I've ever wanted to do my entire life, is play with Tonka toys and be a business man.

Missy Scherber:              

That's a great combo.

Don Swasing:                                

Yep. For my entire career, I've been able to do that. I also have been very fortunate with people along the way, who have believed in me and given me chances, or challenged me to grow and step up. If I wanted to make sure that you knew one thing, it's that I try to do that myself today.

Missy Scherber:              

That's awesome.

Don Swasing:                                

I try to pay it forward.

Missy Scherber:              

That's awesome. Now, the transition from being the eight-year-old, first of all, I have to ask. Do you remember the first piece of equipment you were in, what it was?

Don Swasing:                                

I do. It was a Hoss 400, which was a quarry loader similar to a Caterpillar 992 today. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Missy Scherber:              

Oh, wow. Oh, that's-

Don Swasing:                                

It was a massive machine.

Missy Scherber:              

That's so awesome. What were the first steps? I know we do have a lot of young listeners who are interested in getting into this industry. What were the first steps for you, making that transition from school to construction?

Don Swasing:                                

Yep. Well, I had an opportunity with a contractor over in New Jersey. Basically, I sort of told a white lie. What I told him was I could run equipment. He gave me a chance, and he knew at the end of the first week, that I couldn't do it. Back to the beginning, he believed in me. He made an adjustment to my pay. He allowed me to make some big mistakes. He allowed me to have seat time, which is very important if you want to be a heavy equipment operator. Seat time is everything. It was just a continuous process from there. That's a great question.

Missy Scherber:              

You'd say you really took some boldness on your part to get into the industry, which is something that's been a common topic on this podcast, is the boldness to take the steps even if you don't know what you're doing, correct?

Don Swasing:                                

Correct. Step up.

Missy Scherber:              

Step up.

Don Swasing:                                

Step up, step into it.

Missy Scherber:              

Step in. Get in that seat and get the time. Let's talk a little bit about business and industry outlook with 30 plus years experience in industry. We're really looking forward to hearing what your thoughts are on what your biggest challenges are right now, and how have they changed from 10 years ago, even 20 years ago.

Don Swasing:                                

I gave that some thought. I would say for us, or my view at the moment is attracting and retaining talent in our industry. There are some many career choices for young people today. We're faced with, what I call a gray tsunami, which is the boomers retiring and leaving a skills gap. That was the first thing that came to mind. That's the first thing I wrote down. Why did that happen or how has that changed? I go back to what I call the construction depression of '09 and 2010. I believe that forced a lot of people to look at other industries at that period of time, and not all these folks have returned. If at the end of the day I said, "Hey, what's going on?," there's ample opportunity we could grow more. The limiting factor or the constraint at the end of the day for us, is available qualified trade workers.

Missy Scherber:              

Absolutely. With that said, I think that's great, attracting and retaining talent. If you had one tip on to attracting new talent into the industry, or even like you said, those that were in the industry and maybe left during that great depression, what's your number one tip for attracting talent and what's your number one tip for retaining that talent?

Don Swasing:                                

The attraction, I think comes back for me, I think it comes back to your public reputation. At the end of the day, you treat people well, you pay them well. Is their career path, at the end of the day, have you been around a while? What's the equipment look like? What's your brand? That gets them in the door.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Don Swasing:                                

The retention's a little different. It focuses on, are you going to develop me? Are you going to help me grow? Am I going to be able to make money to feed my family and take care of myself? Once you get them in the door, you got to take care of them.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great. I think that's fantastic advice. I know a lot of business owners out there, asking themselves those questions. Now, what do you see as the biggest growth opportunity? We've exited that depression, thankfully. What's the biggest growth opportunity for the construction industry in the coming years?

Don Swasing:                                

The thing I thought about was more about what we're doing right now. I talked a little bit about the constraints, and some of the things that are in the way. We see continued strong growth opportunity, but we're very cautious to not delude ourselves and diminish our clients' experience. Really, any ... Right now, because of the shortage of labor, we're making our money with what I call our nose, with what we say no to.

Missy Scherber:              

Interesting. Can you explain that a little bit more?

Don Swasing:                                

Well, Schlouch has a great brand, a great team of people, competent people, high energy. We're recognized as industry leaders in many areas, so the opportunities funnel here in a steady high level of activity. It's difficult for us, because 80% of our business is repeat. We have strong relationships, people are counting on us to deliver, but it's very easy to get over-allocated. Back to crucial conversations, we'll talk a little bit more about this. We need to be able to say no, even if it's a beautiful opportunity and it's a job right next door. If we don't have the resources and the ability to perform or deliver, we need to be able to do that. We make more money with our nose than with take it, yes, yes, yes, I'll take as much as I can get, figure out how to do it, dilute everything and then fail everywhere.

Missy Scherber:              

I am so glad you brought this conversation up, because Trevor, my husband, and I, have had this exact talk, and I'm always the one who really wants to say yes to everything and take on every opportunity. He's more thoughtful and just says, "No. I don't think we should." You've really helped in our business relationship, and I appreciate that.

Don Swasing:                                

The next time you think about that and you want to say yes, use the ... Let this pop up in your mind. Inch deep, mile wide.

Missy Scherber:              

Interesting.

Don Swasing:                                

That's not how you built your business. You did not build it that way. Once you stretch your people, they're great people, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Yep.

Don Swasing:                                

You've got all these great resources, great cash position. Once you stretch it, you're at tremendous risk, and everything you've built could go down the drain in the blink of an eye.

Missy Scherber:              

That is such great advice. I am writing that one in my business journal. Now, let's shift over to talking about equipment and technology. This is a great thing to talk to you about, because it sounds like you have a very experienced fleet manager, who's responsible for 300 pieces of equipment, including 150 pieces of heavy equipment, correct?

Don Swasing:                                

That's correct.

Missy Scherber:              

That's awesome. What's been crucial in your business, in heavy civil engineering? What pieces of equipment, what kind of technology has been crucial for Schlouch?

Don Swasing:                                

Yep. I asked the team and I got three different points of view. I'm going to share all three with you.

Missy Scherber:              

Awesome.

Don Swasing:                                

I don't know if you know this, Missy, but Schlouch actually won the AEMP's fleet master award in 2016.

Missy Scherber:              

Wow.

Don Swasing:                                

That's actually the best of the best, but it was really pretty simple fundamentals that got us there. Technology that was crucial in helping us develop two fleet master. Number one was oil sampling. At the end of the day, the predictive analytics that we use, we're making big decisions based on that sampling. That's something that at the end of the day, we had to teach ourselves to do, but it has helped us prevent either costly catastrophic failures, protected us from early life component failure, and we also, we make big buy/sell decisions. We might adjust our disposal times. We may do any number of things as a result of the condition of the fluids in that machine in the sampling that we have, the system that we have. We trust, we believe in it. It's high value.

Missy Scherber:              

Got it. The first one with technology was oil sampling. What were the second and third?

Don Swasing:                                

Yep. Maintenance software. We've got one place that we plan, we forecast, we schedule, and record our PM services. We've got our historical data that we can easily access. We run our [inaudible 00:11:53] maintenance program from that, maintenance software as well. We're constantly about the business of pushing for the lowest cost per hour. We study our reliability. We want to know what's reliable, what's available, and then we'll glean insight for purchasing decisions from that software as well, so we're tracking cost as we go.

Missy Scherber:              

Awesome. Oil sampling, maintenance software, which it sounds like part of that focus is efficiency, is making best buying purchasing decisions and preventative measures, which is fantastic. Then what's the third?

Don Swasing:                                

The third one was we have job cost software that actually ties back into the equipment. Our guys are actually entering their daily utilization in the field on a daily basis. We're not being surprised six weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks down the road, with maybe some rentals that parked, or equipment that's not being utilized. We [inaudible 00:12:48] information and free up capital. We may make buy/sell decisions once again. Those are the three things I think technology wise, that probably set us apart, that we use heavy.

Missy Scherber:              

That's awesome. What advice would you have for other contractors when it comes to investing in new equipment or technology?

Don Swasing:                                

We start by thinking about the right machine for the right job. Maybe you have a [skiddy 00:13:12] that you think you can use, or a skid loader, but if the effort really requires a 963, you're going to have to ... You'll pay for that. You'll pay for it in repair costs, your production will go down. Right machine for the right job.

Missy Scherber:              

Got it. Right machine for the right job is really just such a simple but important buying decision factor to think about. I love that. Let's transition [crosstalk 00:13:35]-

Don Swasing:                                

Thoughts we had with that, just to share with you.

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah, absolutely.

Don Swasing:                                

We invest heavily here in what we call actionable intelligence, which is data that ultimately should compel us to do something. One of the things we learned along the way, when we're talking about giving advice to others is: make sure you understand what you're going to do with the data before you get it. Data can be overwhelming and if you really don't have a plan and a clear intent, it actually becomes more of a distraction than anything else. Be highly alert on the notion of producing overwhelmingly endless amounts of data. Pick what you want and go get it, and get it all the way.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great. No, I think that's really important. Now, I want to transition to the topic I am the most excited to talk to you about. Now, you are training or doing three Conexpo education sessions of profitability, conflict resolution, and fleet management, which I love seeing that subject within construction because that can make or break a company. We want to talk with you about safety and leadership, because you have built and developed award-winning safety and leadership programs within your company. Let's talk about first, one of the education sessions that you're presenting at Conexpo-Con/Agg, is on productive conflict and effective resolution. As a leader-

Don Swasing:                                

Right.

Missy Scherber:              

[crosstalk 00:14:58] how can you help facilitate those difficult conversations that do come up to drive better results?

Don Swasing:                                

Great question, Missy. I'm going to call it a little something different. That conflict and effective resolution was adjusted along the way, but I want to define our conversation right now as a crucial conversation, okay? It has to happen. It's got three components in it, inside of a crucial conversation. It's got either the potential or an actual conflicting point of view. You believe one thing; I believe something else. It either has the potential or it's already demonstrated very strong emotion. That's out there. Then the third thing it requires is, it has to be high stakes. It could be a relationship, it could be a change order, it could be a transaction, but it has to be high stakes. If it doesn't have those three things, and I'm going to talk obviously a lot more about this at Conexpo, it's really just a conversation.

Missy Scherber:              

Correct.

Don Swasing:                                

That's where we start, identifying that. It doesn't matter if it's in your home life or it's in your business life. It happens every day.

Missy Scherber:              

Right.

Don Swasing:                                

As we move down the trail here, I watch people using technology more for communication, texting, emails. Those things are not ... They're not very social and they're certainly not helping us develop our crucial conversation or our communication skills as it relates to business.

Missy Scherber:              

That's so true.

Don Swasing:                                

If we don't have those things present, it's just a conversation. I want you to know as a leader, it's our job to understand the why. What's going on? Why is it a conflicting point of view? What is the strong emotions? I've studied communication failures for my entire career, including many of my own. What I've concluded at the end of the studies is, on both sides of every one of these crucial conversations, it's always fear. It's fear of losing something, it's fear of loss of money, stature. I could go on and on.

Missy Scherber:              

It's so true. You nailed it.

Don Swasing:                                

I understand we're both going in to have a crucial conversation, you and I, and we're both afraid. Now we sort of have a common ground. We also know that it's going to get messy, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Yep.

Don Swasing:                                

People are going to, they're going to avoid it. It's natural to avoid it, but they're going to avoid it because it's messy, it could be emotional, I don't want to get angry, all those kind of things. I spent all of my time today trying to understand the why and then plugging in either how I personally can improve the outcome, and I don't want to have every crucial conversation here at Schlouch. I want to coach my people, or how I can help them to improve the outcome by being support for the crucial conversation. If I ring the bell here and say, "Hey, get it on the calendar. It's time for the crucial conversation," most everybody knows.

Missy Scherber:              

They know it's time to really dive in, dig deep, and no more ... and avoidance. I like that you brought up that word, avoidance. I feel like that is quite common in construction, avoiding these difficult conversations. One, we're busy, we're going, we're going, but it can really fester and build up, and create chaos on a job site, if it's not addressed.

Don Swasing:                                

Certainly chaotic. I gave thought to why it's important to develop these skills as a leader and create a culture of communication. To me, most people are conditioned at a very early age to avoid conflict. We're all trained that way. "Don't do that," right? Don't stir it up. What kind of mood's he in. On and on we go. Unfortunately, when you move into a leadership role, you then become really ill equipped to deal with the conflicts and business problems that show up every day. These skills must be developed if you want to go all the way.

Missy Scherber:              

Right.

Don Swasing:                                

Unfortunately, if you don't do it, somebody else has to. It could be your boss. It could be the owner, but it has to be done.

Missy Scherber:              

Absolutely.

Don Swasing:                                

The inability to engage in these conflict resolutions, in productive conflict resolution, it's really clear, and I think this is going to resonate with you, drama. Drama in the organization, right? Just fits, and carrying on, and whatnot, and all that.

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah.

Don Swasing:                                

The team's morale goes down. Everybody knows what should happen, right? But nobody's really moving the ball forward. Productivity's impacted while we're busy talking about what should be done and the drama. There's a big impact on profitability and most of the time on relationships. I didn't say there was an issue or an, a negative impact to relationships by having a crucial conversation. I'm telling you that my impression is the avoidance of those crucial conversations has a much greater negative impact on relationships.

Missy Scherber:              

That is so outstanding to hear that. I think that's just something great for all of us in the construction industry to really listen to and hear. Tell me this. On that subject of okay, we're feeling encouraged and we've got to have more difficult conversations to keep a more positive good team culture, let's start with employee to employee. Something's festering there, could become, there's some avoidance and a difficult conversation. How do you recommend staff to staff approach each other for a difficult conversation?

Don Swasing:                                

Great question. We start by establishing a culture of expectations. What does that mean? I have a problem with Kevin. I'm not going to Kevin's boss to talk about the problem, or I'm not going to HR. I'm turned right back around and I'm directed back to Kevin, so setting an expectation in the organization that you're not going to tolerate that as a leader or take a side, or have siloed conversations. You're going to create an expectation that we talk to each other. That's worker to worker. That's how we do it.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Don Swasing:                                

If you get stuck, and people get stuck, I don't have a problem with facilitation. What do I mean by that? I'm going to get Kevin and the other person in the room. "Well, Kevin you said that this person's coming to work at 8:30 every Monday, and you want him to come at 8:00. Tell him," and then we're bridging, getting the energy flowing again with a conversation with the two people. As a leader, we have to help, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Right.

Don Swasing:                                

Culture first, facilitation, and we go from there.

Missy Scherber:              

That's all great, because I have noticed as a leader of our staff, they tend to want to come to, directly to Trevor or I, when they have a problem with another staff member. I think that's great to direct them back to the staff member, but I've noticed and I'm curious what your thoughts are on this. I feel like a lot of times when staff members are coming to us, complaining about another staff member, they're really more looking for maybe some significance or recognition themself. How do you shift that conversation as a leader, one, go to the person, but two, see what they're really looking for?

Don Swasing:                                

I'm not going to turn them completely off. I'm going to listen. I'm going to look for signals. I'm going to have empathy. I'm certainly going to weigh what's being said. I do both simultaneously.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Don Swasing:                                 

Then I'm going to trust my gut a little bit, Missy. I'm going to trust my instincts, what is really going on here. It's a gift when someone trusts you enough to come with you and give you a signal right?

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah.

Don Swasing:                                

You should make sure that you treat it as such, and nurture the whole relationship, the whole experience along the way.

Missy Scherber:              

Absolutely.

Don Swasing:                                

A small company, I got to believe it's dangerous. The problem with that is, six people, you're going to alienate someone if you don't take yourself out of the middle.

Missy Scherber:              

Right, absolutely.

Don Swasing:                                

Somebody's got to go. It just doesn't work. I'm working on approachability, making sure I'm approachable. If I pick a side, I am no longer approachable to one of the two people, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Oh, interesting. No, that's great advice. On the subject of creating a good culture of communication, and I love that you're talking about this in connection to construction and successful job sites. Where do we start if we're a small to mid-sized business, and say we've put all the focus on the work, not on the culture of communication. What are a few key steps that we could take or a few core values that we could institute in our company, just to get started?

Don Swasing:                                

I'm going to start by asking you what you've done to educate yourself with respect to soft skills. Start with you. If you're the owner in an executive role, you really can't coach what you don't know or what you're not-

Missy Scherber:              

That's so true.

Don Swasing:                                

You have to start with yourself. You're not going to get it out of a book, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Right.

Don Swasing:                                

You start with yourself and then you want to lead by example. There's nobody here that's going to let me get away with avoiding a crucial conversation. It's not going to happen.

Missy Scherber:              

We've asked our team just recently, "Where can we improve with our communication? What do you need from us? What do you need from your team members? How can we really get better improvement?" We've just been taking the approach of a sounding board at this point, on what improvements need to be made to meet their needs, but we've struggled on, "Okay, now what's next?," and creating a culture of that good communication. Is it weekly team meetings? Where do you start?

Don Swasing:                                 

I gave your question some thought as well. As I'm doing at CONEXPO-CON/AGG, you want to coach the team on the benefits, right? Hey, do you want trauma to go down? Do you want your quality of life to go up? Do you want your area of responsibility to be more profitable, more productive?

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Don Swasing:                                

We're going to talk ... We've already started with ourselves. We're going to talk about the benefits. We're going to package it up and we're going to make sure people understand what's the value proposition?

Missy Scherber:              

Yes. Oh, that's fantastic. No, I think that's a great way to start. Now, what can leaders do at every level of an organization to foster a positive environment, a company of good communication?

Don Swasing:                                 

Well, we're going to ... We've talked about coaching our team on the benefits, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah.

Don Swasing:                                 

We talked about leading by example. We're going to give, help them understand the concept of approach. What I mean by that is, you're not going to resolve a conflict with me with email or a text. I consider that cheating. At the end of the day, if you and I are locked up, two things that are consistent that we must do. One, I got to get you in a calendar. I'm going to take the first step. We're going to talk about issue introduction. How do we introduce an issue? Then all of the actions that follow that should nurture trust. I'm not saying it's still not emotionally charged.

I'm not saying it still isn't high stakes. I'm not saying that, but you say you're going to show up on Tuesday at one o'clock and you don't show up at all? You're making a withdrawal on the trust checkbook, right? Actions nurture trust. When it comes to have my conflict with you, or my crucial conversation, I'm only bringing facts. Facts are critical. At the end of the day, if you bring in the feelings and all of the things associated with that, it's really going to cloud it. Here's the specific business problem. Here is the specific fact, as I see them.

Be open if a new set of facts are presented and keep going. There are two other things that I do on a regular basis, that I think are important to lay out. One is I include the team in what I call planned exposures. What do I mean by that? Well, I'm going to have a crucial conversation on a million dollar changeover on Tuesday at one o'clock, "Kevin, would you like to go with me?" I'm not asking him to do anything. I'm just asking him to be present so he can watch and learn. I think there's a lot of coaching opportunity in watch one, do one, teach one. "Kevin, you saw it. Now, go do one, and then teach one to your people," so it's cascading down.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Don Swasing:                                

The final thing with that is, we have an environment here where conflict is normal. It's as normal, and conflict resolution is normal. There's nobody saying, like back to that early training when you were a kid, conflict is not normal. We rough up. We bump up against each other hard. What it does is it makes for a stronger team. Trust goes up, credibility goes up, respect goes up. You would think that it'd be the polar opposite, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Right. Absolutely. You guys have grown so quickly with your staff, the amount of staff that work for you and that are just really happy with the culture and everything. You've fostered an environment of conflict is okay and it's safe. We can have these conversations and I think that's just absolutely fantastic. Tell me now, why is training, and you've really touched on this already, but I just want to dive specifically into this. Why is training such an important element of workforce retention, not just of a good company culture, but of actually retaining people?

Don Swasing:                               

Great question. I've thought about that as well. I'll start by sharing our culture with you.

Missy Scherber:              

That'd be great.

Don Swasing:                                

[crosstalk 00:28:25] It revolves around three words. Those three words are care, trust, and help. What every human wants to know is, when they're connecting with a company, with a person, with a situation, does this person care about me? You can't fake that. Does the person care? Can I trust that person? Or the company or whatever it might be. Is the company, person, positioned to help me? Everybody needs help. It starts with culture.

With retention, our care, trust, and help is authentic. We move beyond the culture, and then we're very public with acknowledging that we, especially the leaders here, have an obligation to help people grow their skills. Why do we want them to grow their skills? We actually, we are focused on helping people advance their career. We want them to earn more money. We want them to have a better quality of life for their family. We want them to be able to enjoy a vacation, pay for their homes, live the American dream. In its simplest form, it's really just pointing back to caring, building a trust, and helping people.

Missy Scherber:              

Right.

Don Swasing:                                 

The third line in that, what I thought about more than anything was, just acknowledging the why from a corporate perspective. Skilled people are more productive. Happy people are more productive. They accomplish more and they represent your company in a positive light, which helps you sell more business. It's a win, win, win, if you can take care of you're people with care, trust, and help, and then you can train them up. Then we sort of have to go quick now, because we talked about that gray tsunami, right? We have got a skills gap. We're already struggling to attract, but the ones that are here, we got to accelerate what used to be tribal learning and we got to compress it to about five years to get to the next place.

Missy Scherber:              

Wow. That's so interesting to me. What are you guys doing for that compression factor then, to retain, not just retain but to keep them and then facilitate training them quickly, so they can, like you said, have that best career advancement opportunity?

Don Swasing:                                

Yep. At the leadership level here, we do a personal leadership class, which is a little bit different than business leadership, where we have conversations around core values, your public reputation, the culture that you create on the project, those types of things, ethics, integrity, doing the right or the best thing, those types of conversations. For the folks that plug into that, and some of my direct reports actually teach that class, they have stated it's one of the most rewarding experiences they've ever had. At the leadership level, we're really doing a deep dive on those softer skills and how the leader is [inaudible 00:31:11] at the top. We also do a crew leaders class.                               

At the end of the day, we've identified you as a person with potential. We understand there are missing technical skills that you haven't been exposed to. Then that's a very deliberate agenda. It could be job cost, it could be safety, it could be daily planning, it could be how to conduct a meeting. We're doing a deep dive there. Then at the trades level, we've got, we use NCCR for our [inaudible 00:31:37] curriculum. We use NCCR for our graph laborers program. Then we have a heavy equipment operators mentoring program in very early stages, where we're trying to get peer-to-peer learning because as I said earlier, operators learn from seat. There's some theory, but the bigger learning comes from hitting things and backing up over things and making mistakes.

Missy Scherber:              

Yes.

Don Swasing:                               

[crosstalk 00:32:04] say it, but anybody that's listening in here from Conexpo knows that that's true.

Missy Scherber:              

It's very true.

Don Swasing:                                

[crosstalk 00:32:08] we're doing all of that. Then I personally get involved with the continuing education. I'm going out to experience some education with FMI in Denver next week, on construction selling. I would suggest that the top leadership needs to be in a constant state of continuous education and investing in themselves so they can grow and lead their fleet, or teams, and lead their company.

Missy Scherber:              

That's such a great concept for the high leadership team. What about the staff members who are out there, the operators who might be listening to this and saying, "I want to be a leader."? They might be in a bigger company. How do they express that, communicate that to the higher ups, if they have an interest, and maybe they're just getting their seat time right now. What do you think are the best things for those operators to do. I know they're out there. I get messages from them all the time on social media.

Don Swasing:                                 

Yeah. For the operator, I think it's to continue. My son works at the company. Come early, stay late, do what's asked, and then do a little more. Get yourself recognized. The standout guy, the guy that's got the potential in this particular market, in this particular day and age, is going to be recognized. Ask questions. Ask big questions. "Hey Kevin, how did you figure that out? Hey Derrick, how did you calculate that cost per yard?" Do a deep dive, not just enough for the day to go home. Step up. Make your desire known. If you don't feel like you're hard, make it known to somebody else.

Missy Scherber:              

I love that. Take initiative.

Don Swasing:                                 

There's plenty of opportunity out there. You don't have to stay somewhere where you're not going to grow.

Missy Scherber:              

Absolutely. I think there's so many great companies out there like you guys, who foster that leadership potential and want to hear those young operators who that you see potential in. That's just great. Tell me. Let's talk about CONEXPO-CON/AGG quick. We are so excited, we've signed up for all three of your sessions, and can't wait to learn from you on the different profitability, conflict resolution, fleet management. Now, how long have you been coming to CONEXPO-CON/AGG?

Don Swasing:                             

Unfortunately, I had to dig way back in the archives for that, but my [inaudible 00:34:18]. That's what? 20 years.

Missy Scherber:              

20 years you've been going to Conexpo-Con/Agg. What is your first memory of attending the show? You're a speaker now, but let's go way back and talk about your first memory at Conexpo-Con/Agg.

Don Swasing:                                

Yep. I was actually blown away. That's the only way I can describe it. Blown away by the enormity. I have a pretty good logistics background, so they're building large batch plants from the inside out, and [inaudible 00:34:46] all that in. It was fascinating to me, how enormous the show was. Then I gave thought to how much money was spent to produce that show, and in my mind that was my biggest memory. Silly memory. Back in those days, everybody had ... You got a bag, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Yep.

Don Swasing:                           

If somebody had a business card, or free pen, or stress ball, or whatnot. I had bags of stuff, right? All bags of stuff. Then my luggage was overweight and I didn't have enough room to get it on the plane. Today, you just scan something, bang you're gone, right? That was some of my first memories. I just couldn't get enough of all of the innovation and all of the things that I was exposed to. It was amazing.

Missy Scherber:              

Innovation and technology is really another thing that we're excited to explore as first timers as Conexpo. Any innovative moments in the last 20 years that stick out to you or that you remember just, "Wow, that's coming. That may already be to market right now."?

Don Swasing:                                

In looking back, we discovered our GPS, and machine control program at Conexpo. That was the early exposure was to Trimble GPS there. Then we [inaudible 00:35:54] and came home and went to Dayton and did due diligence and whatnot. That was a big deal for us. We got early exposure to Telematics from a number of [inaudible 00:36:05]. The last Conexpo I was at, I was hanging out with a drone guy and actually brought a guy from Conexpo home and had him ... I actually paid him to do some [inaudible 00:36:19] work for us with a drone out in western Pennsylvania, to study the accuracy and the possibilities for us.

Missy Scherber:              

Wow. You guys have, as a company, found quite a bit of product technology services that have advanced your business.

Don Swasing:                                

Yes, absolutely.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great. What advice would you have for contractors like myself, who are coming to the show. We've never been before. What can we expect? What tips do you have to really maximize our time at the show?

Don Swasing:                                 

Well, wear comfortable shoes.

Missy Scherber:              

Done.

Don Swasing:                               

You can start there and I'll tell you why. Don't let that little bit of carpet that's covering that concrete, make you think that you're walking on anything soft, okay? There's miles and miles. I don't know if you're wearing a Fitbit. You're going to have miles and miles and miles and miles of walking and you're going to walk back to your hotel. Wear comfortable shoes. That was the first thing that jumped to mind as far as a tip. What can you expect? Acres of every type of construction equipment on the planet. In addition to that, a lot of construction support services, fleet management support services, and an amazing educational session. There's I don't know how many hundreds of different choices that you can make for education, but every relevant topic or every skill that you want to build is going to be at Conexpo in the brochure.

With that, what tips do I have? Take the time to read the brochure. Do not attempt to figure it out when you get to Vegas. You want to have a plan. You want to have a little written plan in your calendar of what you're going to do for the day. Give yourself a little downtime between classes, but plan your time to maximize value. You're not going to see everything. You're never going to see it all. Stay focused on what's important to you and your company. Make a little time for networking. I'm assuming that your key vendors are going to be there. Connect with those folks as well. That's downtime when you're not talking about a deal, you're not talking about a transaction, you're not talking about a problem, and you can just pull together closer, right? If you're talking about building that relationship.

Missy Scherber:              

Absolutely. That's so great.

Don Swasing:                                

Great opportunity. I mean, enjoy Vegas. Vegas is an adult playground.

Missy Scherber:              

Right. Now, with the education sessions, I am getting that question quite a bit on my social media feeds of, "Should we buy the education sessions?"

Don Swasing:                                

Absolutely.

Missy Scherber:              

I love learning. That was a no-brainer for us. Because you've been through it, you've experienced the education sessions, that you're speaking at a few of them, what would be your answer if someone said, "Should I buy the education sessions and why?"

Don Swasing:                               

Absolutely on the education sessions, even if it's only three. I don't know what the costs are, but even if it's only three. Do you want to improve your estimating? Do you want to understand more about mass excavation? Do you want to improve the reliability of your equipment and your fleet? Do you want to understand contracts? Do you want to develop your skills with soft skills? Everybody has something that they need to learn. Don't pick 50 classes, but try and pick three and then the value will be in those three. I really believe that people would be selling themselves short if they didn't tap into that education.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Don Swasing:                               

That's a key part of Conexpo.

Missy Scherber:              

I love that you have been there on all levels. I'm so excited to hear your education sessions. Like I said, we will be at all three of them because they're just such important topics. I want to close out with resources. As I was reading about you and your experience, and the fantastic programs, both safety and leadership, that you've created at your company, at Schlouch, I wanted to leave our listeners with resources. Now, would you be willing to maybe just give us a list of resources or maybe email me, and we can post it when we release the blog? What are your top resources, if for leadership and safety, that you would give these listeners?

Don Swasing:                               

For the listeners, one of the most instrumental safety resources that we utilize to shift our culture to accountability based, with the leaders owning, all employees owning our safety culture, came from a guy by the name of Zachary [Kinupe 00:40:33]. Zachary Kinupe is the head of Cat safety. I would be more shocked if Zachary wasn't at Conexpo, first and foremost. If you wanted to do a drill down, it was a DVD called Speak Up, Listen Up. The concept of Speak Up, Listen Up is real simple. "Hey employee, you have an obligation to speak up. Hey leader, you have an obligation to listen up," and it's about safety feedback and making a company, a project, a culture safer.

Missy Scherber:              

That's great.

Don Swasing:                                 

That, for me, sticks out like nothing else. I didn't anticipate that question, but that's what came to mind.

Missy Scherber:              

If you think of anymore, definitely send me an email. What about leadership? Any resources pop out to you? That would be great for us to walk away with, if how can we take this to the next step, as we felt inspired to develop more as leaders.

Don Swasing:                                 

I'll give you two in no particular order. We used Penn State. Penn State has a leadership program. What we did with it, there was four of us that went. We cane home and modified. Remember, because you start with you first, right?

Missy Scherber:              

Right.

Don Swasing:                                 

You're doing your leadership pushups to come home and maybe make things better for your team. We went to a local, respected state college. We did pushups there. We also use FMI. FMI will certainly be at Conexpo, but FMI has a world of leadership coaching and training, all the way down to crew leaders, project managers, project manager academy, project management institute.

Missy Scherber:              

Oh awesome.

Don Swasing:                                

[crosstalk 00:42:05] Those are our go-tos and what we want to develop.

Missy Scherber:              

Great. I just feel like a lot of listeners will definitely walk away from this conversation saying, "Okay, I want a better safety program. I want a better leadership program." Those are two great resources. FMI is one I've never heard of. I will have to put that on my map of Conexpo.

Don Swasing:                                

[inaudible 00:42:26] and certainly I could have offline conversation with you, connect you [inaudible 00:42:31].

Missy Scherber:              

Yeah. Awesome. Let's do our quick rapid fire round. This is just a fun way for our listeners to get to know more about you, Don, before they come hear your session at Conexpo. What was your first job?

Don Swasing:                                

I baled hay and straw on a farm, for $1.65 an hour.

Missy Scherber:              

That's fantastic. You were rolling in the dough.

Don Swasing:                                

Rolling in it. Well, as a kid I was probably 11 years old. That was $75 bucks a week.

Missy Scherber:              

Oh, that's awesome. [crosstalk 00:42:56] What was your first car that you bought once you saved up that $1.65 an hour?

Don Swasing:                                 

I paid $250 for it. It was a 1966 Plymouth Belvedere. Baby blue, [inaudible 00:43:07].

Missy Scherber:              

If you weren't doing this, which is hard to imagine because you've been around it since childhood, but if you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

Don Swasing:                                

I don't know. I'm living my passion right now, Missy.

Missy Scherber:              

I can agree with that answer. What song gets you pumped up in the morning as you're living your passion in construction?

Don Swasing:                                

Statesboro Blues, the Allman Brothers.

Missy Scherber:              

Who is one person you wish you could have dinner with?

Don Swasing:                                

My mother.

Missy Scherber:              

What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?

Don Swasing:                               

It's a 963 Caterpillar Track Loader. Why? I spent 15 years of my life as a heavy equipment operator, and I made a difference every day while I was running that equipment. That's a big proud part of my career. I love telling that part of my story. Caterpillar Track Loader.

Missy Scherber:              

Wow. You were in a 963 Track Loader and now are just developing leaders? That is just very cool. We might need to have another interview session and just talk about that story, because I'm sure operators would love to hear that. Last but not least, the gas station is a definite part of the construction worker's life. What is your go-to gas station food?

Don Swasing:                                

A hot dog, just ketchup and mustard.

Missy Scherber:              

Well Don, thank you so much for your time today. We really learned a lot here. I think you nailed an important part of workforce development, which is leadership development. We so appreciate your wisdom and the principles we've learned today. We can't wait to see you and hear more from you at Conexpo. Thank you again for your time and for joining us.

Don Swasing:                               

Thank you guys as well. Have a great day.

Missy Scherber:              

You too.

Outro:                      

That's going to wrap up this edition of CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio. If you like this show and think other people should listen too, make sure to subscribe and maybe leave a review in iTunes. We'll be back next time with another great guest. Until that time, be sure to visit conexpoconagg.com/subscribe, to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter. More than 30 thousand other construction industry pros are already receiving news and insights to move their business forward.




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