The first full day at the 2023 annual meeting of the National Asphalt Pavement Association was full of valuable content.
Five key themes resonated with me:
1. Care more about internal communications.
I had a great conversation with a friend that I only see at NAPA events just as the conference started. She asked my opinion about some external marketing options that her company is considering.
I reflected on various approaches used by XBE customers and other companies in the industry that I admire.
In general, I believe the best strategy is to copycat the external marketing techniques of other contractors that are trying to do a great job. Average their approaches and use messaging that's consistent with your culture and brand. Keep it simple and get it done quickly and inexpensively.
Take the time and money that you save and invest all of it in internal communications. In this business, internal communications has far more leverage over performance, and is typically a weakness.
I've had this conversation with multiple attendees since that initial conversation, and everyone feels similarly.
2. Study the capabilities of your equipment.
Lindsey Vonn was the keynote interviewee. She's one of the top few women alpine ski racers in history. She was chosen as the speaker by Christian Zimmerman, incoming NAPA Chairman. Both of his parents were Olympic skiers, and his daughter is currently on the US National team.
Ms. Vonn was asked various questions regarding the keys to her success, and she put a surprising amount of focus on her equipment.
She started each ski season with 150 sets of skis. She'd use all of them during training, making notes about their performance after each run. She'd use that data to determine which skis to use in what conditions, and to provide feedback to the manufacturer.
She also told a story about difficulties skiing on ice. She noticed that male skiers were not having the same trouble, and asked to try their skis. That was the difference! She switched to men's ski immediately and won the next race by over 2 seconds.
These insights are directly applicable to our industry. Crews can't outrun their equipment. We need to study and tinker in order to fully utilize the capabilities of what we have today, and improve the capabilities in the future.
Focus as much on equipment performance as people performance.
3. Compete against what you can't beat.
Ms. Vonn also told a story about racing "The Streif" at night in Kitzbuhel, Austria for Red Bull. It's an extremely dangerous downhill course that has only been raced by men, and always during the day.
About racing men, she's often asked, "Why do you think you're faster than them?"
She said, "I don't. I race against them because they're faster than me."
4. Make mental health a key safety concern.
Some startling stats were shared regarding suicide in the construction industry during the NAPA business meeting session. The rate of death by suicide exceeds the rate of death on the job by 5X. In addition, the rate of suicide in construction exceeds the rate in the general population by 4X.
While contractors aren't as responsible for the general mental health of employees as they are for job safety, they certainly bear some responsibility. Employees spend 1/2 their waking hours on the job, and contractors have significant information about their mental state.
Audit your safety processes such as safety risk assessments, safety meetings, safety inspections, good catches, and near misses to identify opportunities to ensure that mental health risk management is integrated.
5. Be an active member of your community.
XBE hosted an amazing golden hour boat cruise yesterday afternoon. Around 50 people joined us, including many existing and future customers. It was everything we hoped it would be.
In my get-it-started toast, I shared a theory on why the people in this industry are so great:
It's a local business where your customers are literally all of your neighbors. Your assets can't be moved to a different location.
Those that do well are those that do good.
Therefore, most companies in the industry know how to collaborate graciously. XBE's success is a product of that norm. Our customers engage with us and each other in the same spirit as they engage with their local community. For the long term, in partnership.
I'll be back tomorrow with more.
Founder & CEO, XBE