When Glenise Harvey first tried working in a rebar (reinforced steel) manufacturing company, she concluded the workplace culture wasn’t for her. It was the 1970s, and although A&H Steel, the company founded by her step-father, was more progressive than most, it was still part of the rough and tumble construction world, which remains heavily male dominated today.
When she took over as one of the owners after a 28 year career as an elementary school teacher, she decided to bring some of the lessons she’d taught the kids into the company. In an industry that has a tradition of finger pointing and blaming others her message to her staff was, “It’s OK to be kind and gentle.” She feels that by bringing this more “feminine” approach into the rough and tumble world of construction everybody benefits.
Inspired by the book, The Values-Driven Organization, by Richard Barrett, Harvey and her staff have worked hard (with the help of consultants and a business coach) to create a team environment where people share a common purpose, and work together to deliver outstanding service not just to external customers but to their internal customers as well.
Breaking Down Silos Leads To Better Collaboration
The company has 3 main categories of workers:
- Office staff,
- Fabrication, and
- Installers, who work out in the field.
Recognizing that if people understood each other’s jobs and needs better, there would be less finger-pointing, Harvey realized she had to find ways to break down the silos.
They’ve done several things that help employees from all areas mix and learn from each other.
Every month, for example, they bring a couple of people from the office and from the fabrication team to visit a field site, followed by lunch where they can get to know each other better. It gives the people drafting the designs and building them great insight to find out what the challenges are that the installers come up against.
A couple of times a year they have pancake breakfasts for everybody, where mingling across departments is encouraged.
They took advantage of the economic slowdown in Alberta to bring some field staff into the fabrication shop so they could better appreciate what goes in to designing the steel parts they install.
Look Inwards First
Staff, from the owners on down, have also all been taught to look at their own behavior before blaming someone else for a problem. Rarely do problems result from just one person’s actions.
This introspection helps calm people down rather than flaring them up when things go wrong.
They’ve also put in rules that help improve communication. For example, when you tell somebody you’re going to do something, you also have to include a “by when”.
Clear, calm communication goes a long way towards building a better corporate culture.
Also mentioned in this interview:
- the IPD (Integrated Project Delivery) approach to improving the collaboration among the many contractors involved in a typical construction project. I’ll be bringing you more about this from a company that uses IPD in an upcoming episodde.
- the work they’ve been doing guided by Vik Maraj. You can hear my interview with Vik Maraj here.
- the tools used by Bea Bohm-Meyer, whose Frank Reactions interview is here.
Episode 122 – Can Culture Be Changed By a Female Leader in a Male Dominated Industry?
Posted on 03/27/2018
[Transcription starts at 0:00:42]
TEMA: My name is Tema Frank and this is Episode 122.
0:00:47 Now, I always choose people to interview who I think have something interesting to say about one or more of the three Ps of Profit: Promise, People, and Process. But sometimes I’m drawn to my guests not just for that, but because they’re such interesting or unusual people. Today’s guest is one of those.
0:01:08 Glenise Harvey is the owner of A&H Steel, which manufactures rebar for industrial construction sites. With her spiky blonde hair and fashionable clothes, she’s not quite what you’d imagine when you think of someone who owns a steel company. I got even more curious about Glenise when I went to an art show opening at a not-for-profit art gallery she owns called Dandelions. Then, when I learned that she’d spent nearly three decades as a grade two teacher before going into the steel business, I knew I absolutely had to interview her.
0:01:45 Before we get there, though, I just want to give you a heads up about PodSummit, which is Western Canada’s podcast conference. It’s happening in Edmonton, Alberta on May 5th. It actually kind of drives me crazy that I’ll be out of town that week, so I have to miss it. But, if you want to learn more about podcasting, you really should sign up right away.
If you’ve got a podcast, you’ll learn how to make it sound amazing, how to grow your audience, and create a show that your listeners are going to love. If you don’t have a podcast, you’ll learn how to start one and you’ll be welcome into what’s a really warm podcasting community. Tickets for the event are just $150, and they are limited, so don’t delay. You can get yours at PodSummit.com.
0:02:34 If you’ve been listening to the Frank Reactions podcast on customer experience over the past few weeks, you know that we’re now a proud member of the Alberta Podcast Network powered by ATB. It makes me even more proud to know that the Alberta Podcast Network is sponsoring this year’s PodSummit.
Now, onto the interview.
[Interview starts at 0:02:57]
GLENISE: My name is Glenise Harvey, and I am owner of A&H Steel. I also am the owner of a not-for-profit art gallery called Dandelions Art Gallery.
TEMA: Which is a very cool space. I’ve been there. It’s kind of fun.
TEMA: Tell me how you ended up in the steel business.
GLENISE: Okay. Back in 1970, my stepfather founded the company. It’s called A&H, and it was Andy and Hank. It was Andy and his brother. Andy was my stepdad.
0:03:31 Within about a year, Hank decided to open up his own operation, and so Andy was looking for another partner. My mother was working as a detailer. That’s someone who looks at drawings and creates the drawings for the reinforcing steel that goes into a building. A very unusual career for a woman, but she kind of landed in it when she was a receptionist at another reinforcing steel detailing company. They said, “You’ve got potential,” and they trained her up.
GLENISE: She was working for Andy. He said, “I need a partner, and I think that you could bring something to this that would be interesting and help me be successful.”
TEMA: Wow! That was pretty progressive of him.
TEMA: What year would have that have been?
GLENISE: That was about 1971.
TEMA: Okay. Wow!
GLENISE: I know!
GLENISE: Yeah. Andy had one son, and I’m an only daughter. In 2006, Andy and mom decided to do a freeze and restructure and make Craig and I the owners of the company. However, I had chosen a different career path. Even though my mom wanted me to be a detailer, and I did work in the company. I worked as a receptionist, and I did try detailing. It didn’t go very well.
TEMA: Why didn’t it go very well?
GLENISE: Because I just didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy the culture.
GLENISE: It was a little bit rough and tough.
GLENISE: I decided to follow my heart, and I went into education.
GLENISE: I became an elementary school teacher, taught grade two most of my career, and retired after 28 years in 2016.
GLENISE: Probably about four years before that, I decided to take a bit of a bigger role in the company and help Craig with the leadership. We were going through some transition, transformation, and so I thought it was–
TEMA: And what brought that on?
GLENISE: Our general manager at the time was talking about retiring, and we didn’t have any succession plan. There were a few other things that were going on that I didn’t think it was fair that Craig should be dealing with it all on his own.
TEMA: Right. Okay.
GLENISE: I stepped in to support him and help him and then got more and more involved to the point where I needed to take a leave from teaching.
GLENISE: I did that in 2015, in September, with the intention of being back in December.
GLENISE: December, I had to tell them that I wouldn’t be back until April. Then in April, I said I would be retiring the following year. Now, it’s been two years full time. Craig’s portfolio is largely operational and mine is mostly HR and I deal with the people part of the business.
TEMA: I mean, this intrigues me, and part of what intrigued me from the time I met you was these two aspects to your personality. Here you are in this very macho kind of business and, yet, you’ve got an art gallery, you were an elementary school teacher, and you’re very fashionable. [Laughter] It’s fascinating to me how all that fits together. I’m curious about how those different aspects of your personality affect the work you do and affect the organization.
GLENISE: Hmm. Yeah. When I moved into A&H solely, I had to learn myself up really quick in leadership. I had a business coach, and I dress very feminine.
GLENISE: I’m okay with that. She said, “You know, you might want to tone that down a little bit.”
GLENISE: I was like, “Okay,” so I tried to match a little bit more to my environment, but I can’t. This is who I am.
TEMA: It wasn’t you.
GLENISE: Yeah, and I think I do bring something. The feminine energy is so important. It’s so important to be side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder with the masculine energy.
GLENISE: It’s true, in that industry, there just isn’t a lot of that.
GLENISE: I mean my mother set a wonderful example for being the feminine energy in a masculine world. Right from the beginning, it was really important to her that people be taken care of. She said to Andy, “We will share all our profits with our people, and I won’t become your business partner unless you say yes to that.”
TEMA: [Laughter] Okay.
GLENISE: That has been something that we’ve done ever since. It is that feminine energy. Not to say that a man doesn’t care, right? Andy cared very much about his people as well, but it’s sometimes the woman who has that nurturing quality, right?
GLENISE: Coming from education into the business world into construction, to hear how people would talk to each other, about each other, it’s a world where you’ve got to get stuff done and it doesn’t matter how. I just kept saying, “There has to be a different way,” not a better way, just a different way, just a different way of being with one another. I really went after culture and saying that I spent all my life telling little people how to be nice to one another.
GLENISE: That’s all it was.
GLENISE: Right? How to just be kind, gentle, and respectful, and help them solve their problems in ways. Yeah, and then you go into the grownup world and it’s just like you want to do more of that and say, “No, it’s okay to be kind and gentle.”
GLENISE: Not that they weren’t. Our company is filled with great people. But, it’s the industry itself.
GLENISE: They’re working all on the same project, but you’d never know it sometimes because there’s a lot of blame and shame and finger pointing some something goes wrong. I think it’s almost natural because – I don’t know. Here’s where I’m a little bit gapped. I don’t really know what to say, Tema, why it is the way it is.
0:10:21 There is a movement. I believe it’s been around for quite a number of years in the States called IPD, Integrated Project Deliver, that is far more collaborative.
TEMA: Tell me more about that.
GLENISE: Well, it’s a completely different way of contractors and subcontractors working together.
GLENISE: When they get a project, before the project begins, all the subcontractors are called in to have a conversation with the general contractor. The way they do — it’s a different bidding process and everything. It’s like this is what they’re going to do the project for, and on time and on budget is everyone’s responsibility, and so there’s far more collaboration.
GLENISE: They all own the project.
GLENISE: When something goes wrong, it doesn’t matter whether it’s your department.
GLENISE: It’s like you’re all putting your heads together to figure out how to solve that problem.
GLENISE: There have been a few projects here in Edmonton that have been done using the IPD method, methodology.
GLENISE: Women tend to be. That’s how we are.
GLENISE: We’re collaborative. I don’t have all the answers. We have the answers. We can figure it out.
GLENISE: That’s what IPD is about.
TEMA: That’s exciting.
GLENISE: It is exciting.
TEMA: How did you develop the credibility that people would take you seriously? I know that sounds odd.
GLENISE: [Laughter] No.
TEMA: As you say, you were dressing in a feminine way. You were an elementary school teacher. Then you’re going and trying to boss around these big, burley guys. How does that work? How did you get buy-in?
GLENISE: That was and maybe still is pretty tough.
GLENISE: Absolutely, I mean I never heard it with my own ears, but I’m sure there was a lot of chatter behind my back about, “What does she know?”
GLENISE: “She knows nothing about business. She knows nothing about rebar.”
GLENISE: “What is she doing stepping in here and telling us how to do things?”
TEMA: How did you even have the confidence to do that?
GLENISE: I don’t know where that came from.
GLENISE: Honestly, there was lots of fear, lots of crying, lots of self-doubt.
GLENISE: Tons of self-doubt. I read a book by Richard Barrett called The Values-Driven Organization and, even in the first opening pages of this book, I went, “This is it.”
GLENISE: This is what I want. That became my North Star. We have, even just talking back at that time, we had a great company. I would never say there was anything bad with it, bad or wrong, but it’s Jim Collins, Good to Great.
GLENISE: We’re good. How can we make this great? How about if we try this? How about if we go in this direction? To me, your company is just people.
GLENISE: What I loved about Richard Barrett was he took Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and he created a slightly different model. It’s really about taking care of people, ensuring their basic needs are met, and then you can do remarkable things.
TEMA: Mm-hmm. In practical terms, what did that mean? What did you change in your organization?
GLENISE: Well, I did it with the help of some consultants that I brought in. One was Vik Maraj, Unstoppable Conversations, who came in and helped us create a different kind of conversation based on what became our values, which are integrity, responsibility, authenticity, and we’re up for something bigger than ourselves. Then I added a fifth one, which is, we have fun.
GLENISE: We worked with Vik. We developed, created our values, and we also created our purpose statement, which was a little bit longer than it is today. It was recently revised in December, and it’s simply, “At A&H Steel, we elevate people.”
GLENISE: I also hired Bea Bohm-Meyer Group because she has a way of making the invisible visible through her survey called the CQ5, which is the Culture Quotient 5. It measures five drivers of how you’re leading culture in your organization. Every four months, all of our staff. It’s interesting because we have the office, and we have the fabrication shop.
GLENISE: Then we have field employees that are out installing the rebar, so it’s siloed.
GLENISE: We’ve been working on that, how to bring people together and create relationships.
TEMA: How do you do that?
GLENISE: Well, we do fun stuff. One of the things, it was actually our field supervisor came up with the idea. He called it, “Bridging the gap.” We take a couple people from the office and a couple people from the shop, every month, and we go out and visit a job site.
GLENISE: We learn about what they’re doing. It’s just so great for people to see how it flows because you were asking about customers. Those people are sort of our internal customers.
GLENISE: We have to make sure that the product is right for them to install.
GLENISE: Then, after that, we go for lunch. The rule is, you can’t sit next to somebody that you work with on a daily basis.
GLENISE: To help to build relationships, and it’s been very powerful for particularly our drafting, our detailing department, and our field guys because how things are done in the drafting department really can impact the installers. Now they have a relationship and so, when there is an error or a problem out in the field, we’ve got our field guys calling up and they’re having a different kind of conversation than they used to.
TEMA: It’s not about blame now.
GLENISE: A beautiful story that I love to tell, one of our other field supervisors that works in the office, so he’s a field guy, worked his entire life out placing rebar. We brought him in to help organize and decide where the men go on the jobsites and that kind of thing, so now he has an office job.
GLENISE: It’s a little bit of culture shock there for him.
TEMA: Yes. Yeah.
GLENISE: But, one day there was an error, and he went up to the second floor and found the detailer who was working on the job. He said, “Let’s go into the boardroom and have a conversation.” He says, “There’s a problem. How can I help you solve this?”
TEMA: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
GLENISE: When I heard that story, it was like this is it. This is what I’ve been dreaming of.
GLENISE: Everyone owning the problem and being the solution to it.
TEMA: Yes, absolutely.
TEMA: That makes so much sense that people from these different silos should see what the others do because it is hard to have an appreciation of it if it’s just theory. Now, it’s interesting. On this show we’ve interviewed Vik and Bea, so I’ll put links to those in the show notes.
TEMA: But, what I have heard in most organizations that I’ve spoken to where there’s been a culture transformation. Yours, you’re saying, it’s not like you were bad and went to good. You were good already and made it great.
TEMA: But, often, there’s been a requirement to urge some people or help them leave the organization and find a better fit. Did you have to go through any of that?
GLENISE: We didn’t actually let anyone go. There were some that found it challenging to accept the different way of doing things and the different kinds of conversations that we were having. I’m not saying that they left for that reason. They had other reasons–family, they wanted to try something different–and they moved on. That’s okay. As I say, I don’t want to say it was because of what we were doing, but it may have been a little bit; caused a little discomfort, right?
GLENISE: Especially when it came to authenticity and having authentic conversations. Owning it yourself, like looking here first, looking at yourself first is probably one of the most challenging things that Vik has us do. It’s not an easy thing to take yourself on.
GLENISE: But, that’s true leadership.
GLENISE: It doesn’t matter where you are in the organization. You are a leader. How you lead yourself is important and looking at yourself first instead of saying that the problem is over there.
0:19:26 I do one-on-ones will all the office staff every month. I sit for an hour and have a conversation with them. Recently, I was having a conversation with our OH&S coordinator.
TEMA: OH&S is?
GLENISE: Occupational Health and Safety.
GLENISE: This gentleman said, “Well, I think our communication internally is really good.” They’re working on that in terms of saying our values. I changed the wording around, but one of them is, “I say it; I mean it.” That’s our integrity.
GLENISE: When you tell somebody you’re going to do something in our organization, now you have to give a “by when.” It’s really upping that level of integrity and people getting things done and being mindful of that.
GLENISE: He said, “Yeah, I think our communication is really good,” but he says, “It’s our external, the people outside that we have a conversation with, that they don’t follow through. They don’t respond to email. They don’t respond to phone calls.” He says, “That’s where I’m really struggling.” He made some comment like, “They’re just not like us.”
TEMA: [Laughter] Yeah.
GLENISE: It was kind of in that moment that it was like, okay, things are shifting and people are–
TEMA: Identifying that they are different.
GLENISE: Yeah, that they are different.
TEMA: And that we’ve got a culture.
GLENISE: Yeah. Yeah.
TEMA: That’s an interesting point, particularly in your industry, because there’s so much collaboration with other companies that has to work. That’s why this new model you were talking about sounds brilliant.
TEMA: But, I guess, I mean I come at things from a customer experience perspective. Essentially, kind of what you’re dealing with, in some cases you’re their customer or they’re your customer.
TEMA: But, how do you interact and get others to a higher level is tough.
GLENISE: Yes, it is. One of the things that people are using — I was talking to someone in accounts receivable and she’s using the “by when.” When she’s communicating, “I expect to hear from you by this date, by this time.”
GLENISE: “If I don’t hear from you, I will be in touch.”
GLENISE: Not that that’s new or a remarkable kind of concept, but she says it’s really helped.
TEMA: In the process, who are your customers, external customers?
GLENISE: The general contractors.
TEMA: Okay. Right, because you’re providing a service that they’re hiring you to do.
GLENISE: Yep, so we’re one of the first subtrades that’s onsite.
GLENISE: They do the excavation and get things formed up, and we come in. We’re the first ones in, first ones out, last ones to get paid.
GLENISE: That’s just because of the holdback, but yeah. Yeah, it’s really–
TEMA: How many staff do you have?
GLENISE: Right now, we have almost 100.
GLENISE: Yeah, we have about 30 in the office, about 20 in the shop, in the fabrication shop, and then the remainder are out in the field.
TEMA: What are some of the differences that you see for each of those three areas in terms of the culture and the human interaction that happens?
GLENISE: Well, they’re all very different.
TEMA: [Laughter] Yes.
GLENISE: Really different. We go back to, what are we doing to break down the silos?
GLENISE: We have a full-time — not full-time, but we have someone on staff that cooks, and so last week, for example, we had all the field and the shop guys in for a pancake breakfast. We do that twice a year. It’s great because that brings them together to be able to have a conversation with each other.
GLENISE: In terms of a culture of each, it is. You’ve got your office culture.
GLENISE: Then you’ve got the guys that are out there doing really hard work. Cutting and bending steel is not an easy job.
GLENISE: Then the field, the same thing.
GLENISE: But, I think some of these softer things that we’re doing and having more events where we bring them together, helping them to see that we’re all one team and one family.
TEMA: In your line of work, most of the projects, do you get them through a bidding process?
TEMA: Because one of the things that I’ve heard from people is, “Well, it doesn’t even matter that much what our service is like. It’s all about having the lowest bid.”
TEMA: What’s your reaction to that?
GLENISE: I think I speak for everyone at A&H when I say that’s not how we look at it.
GLENISE: Yes, it is that way.
GLENISE: Lowest bid is what gets the job. But, if you’re known to be a quality company to work with, then if there’s any where it’s close–
GLENISE: –then, generally speaking, we’re fortunate enough to get the work.
GLENISE: Things have changed considerably in the last two years.
TEMA: Because of the economic slowdown here.
TEMA: Tell me about that. In what way? What impact does that have?
GLENISE: It had a huge impact on us. Now it really is, even if it’s a penny, it’s the lowest bid. There’s not a lot of that conversation in, oh, you know, maybe they’re close. They might talk to the owner and say, “Would you be willing? This price is just a little bit more, but we know that when we work with these people, they follow through, they get the job done, and there’s higher quality,” but yeah, the economy, and now there’s just more competition because things have not just slowed down. They’ve stopped up north, and that’s where we were doing a lot of work.
GLENISE: We’re specialized in that heavy industrial market. Yeah. Yeah.
TEMA: If you were to be offering some advice to somebody else who was stepping into an organization that needed some change in terms of culture, what would you advise them?
GLENISE: My first reaction is, “Run!”
GLENISE: No. For me, it’s really, really believing in what it is that you’re doing and what you want to create. The stand that you are because it’s not easy, and identifying your purpose and your values, and everyone owning that.
GLENISE: If you can create that, particularly at the top, because the kids are watching.
GLENISE: Then you cascade it down. For me, that was the one thing that kept me going. And, having a coach.
GLENISE: Yeah. Vik coaches me and, when things get tough, I call him up right away, and the first place that he makes me look is at myself and who I am being, which sometimes I say nasty things to him.
GLENISE: I think anyone in a position of leadership needs to have a coach. Know your purpose, know your values, and have someone that’s there. Yes, friends, definitely. I have great, wonderful supports all around me: Women’s Presidents Organization, the KCO Forum, my own friends and family. Having that one person that, when you fall–Brene Brown talks about it–face down in the arena, your friends will bring you a blanket and water, wine and chocolate, and make you feel good. Your coach is going to pick you up, dust you off, and throw you back in the saddle.
TEMA: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah, so you need a coach who challenges you a little.
TEMA: Pushes you a little.
TEMA: Yeah, whereas friends are more likely to be comforting.
GLENISE: Yeah, comforting.
TEMA: But not necessarily forcing you to confront difficult questions.
GLENISE: Mm-hmm, especially the ones about yourself and who you are being as a leader. Who you’re being as a leader that has you have all of this occurring around you, it’s an interesting perspective.
TEMA: Hmm. Yeah, because it wouldn’t always necessarily be you that’s at the root.
GLENISE: No, but always look there first.
TEMA: Right. Thank you so much for sharing. When I talk to people, I’ve always talked about what I call the three Ps of Profit being the promise, the people, and the process.
TEMA: They all need to intertwine. You and I haven’t talked much today about the process, but the promise and the people part are so-so crucial.
TEMA: The promise, what I call that is what you’re calling the values. You need that at the core and people who will live that.
GLENISE: Yeah. It’s your North Star.
TEMA: Thank you.
TEMA: We all know that silos simply have to be broken down to deliver consistently great customer experiences. I really loved some of the things that A&H Steel is doing to help their three really distinct types of workers get to know and understand each other’s needs better. It’s something that I really recommend that every organization try to make time to do.
0:29:47 It’s also inspiring to see that even in what we think of as a pretty macho kind of business, there are companies that have opened their doors to a kinder, gentler, team-based approach. I’ll have links in the show notes so that you can learn more about Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, because that sounds like a pretty exciting approach to shake up an industry that, in some ways, I think, has really needed a shakeup.
0:30:15 This episode was so perfectly timed for the month of March because the March episode of the Edmonton Community Foundation’s Well-Endowed podcast was focused on women breaking down career barriers. In case you’re wondering about the name of that podcast, it’s because the Edmonton Community Foundation helps people create Endowments that support local not-for-profits. I was surprised to learn that you don’t have to be super rich to start an endowment fund. You can actually start with only $10,000. When your company’s amazing customer service has started making good profits for you, you might want to get in touch with the Edmonton Community Foundation.
[0:31:35 end of audio file]