When you think you are speaking clearly, your coworker might actually be thinking, “He’s not making any sense. What a dunce”. On the flip side when your co-worker responds to what you’ve just said,  you might be thinking to yourself, “He’s a real dunce and doesn’t understand what I said at all!”

“All Problems are Communication Problems.” – Bill Higgs

In order to create a win-win culture, you have to connect your employees, your clients and your vendors you by creating clear lines of communication. Creating clear lines of communications starts with providing a space for connections to happen. It starts with creating a win-win culture in your organization and this can be done in 5.5 Steps.

Bill Higgs Center for Business StrategyBill recently spoke to a group of Charlotte business owners at the Carolina Premier Bank, Center for Business Strategy networking breakfast where he optimistically transformed a few bankers into Culture Merlins through his “5.5 Steps to Creating a Win-Win Culture.”

Does your organization have a culture engineered for success?  Contact Jeni Bukolt  (mustangthestory @ gmail.com)  to request Bill Higgs to speak to your group and help turn your team into Culture Merlins!

For more tips on how to create a win-win culture, follow MustangHiggs on Twitter and MustangTheStory on Facebook.

The first step to creating culture in an organization is to become a Mustanger and get everyone connected.  All you need is one rabble-rouser to pull together a team of “Mustangers”. A “Mustanger” is what Mustang Engineering fondly calls their employees, but you don’t have to be a Mustang Engineering employee to become a Mustanger, just get to know one and it will rub off on you.

Mustangers are fueled with an infectious energy released from the core company values that delivers seismic waves throughout an organization. It’s this energy that drives… that motivates… that excels employees, clients, and people to be innovative and to become heroes. It’s a focus on people and projects, but it’s also taking the time to have a laugh and enjoy life. It’s spreading that energy to those around you to inspire success. It’s dressing up as an 80’s hair band to get the company of more than 5500 employees excited about an upcoming 25th anniversary party. (If you haven’t seen that video yet, you should be following our Twitter page). It’s all of these things, bottled up into a bold blue horse.

But perhaps, showing what it means to be a Mustanger is more effective than writing about one. Here is a fun short video that captures the spirit of what it means to be a Mustanger while also illustrating the rich history of Mustang Engineering.


BillHiggsTo learn more about how to become a Mustanger, be sure to follow this guy (one of the lead rabble-rousers) on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Strong client relationships drive sales, sustainability, and growth. You need your employees to believe in the mantra that you’re not in business solely to make money, but actually to help your clients. Money is a byproduct of success, not the other way around.

bil higgs mustang the storyHere are three “Mustang” ways to develop strong client relationships:

1. COMMUNICATE

Communication is a key ingredient in healthy client relationships. As Bill Higgs often says, “All problems are communication problems”. If you fail to communicate with your clients, it will be difficult to adequately address their needs. Touch base often with your clients to inquire about their progress and to learn how you might be better able to meet their needs and expectations.

2. BRING VALUE

The more value you offer, the more a client comes to depend on you. Build your relationship by giving away some free insight. Don’t hesitate to share information clients may find useful, whether or not it benefits you in any way. “By giving the client the names of people he should use at other companies, we showed good industry knowledge, showed a focus on the client and showed we were realistic about our own capabilities. A clear and clean philosophy came across in everything we did. We were working to position clients, vendors and Mustangers into a win-win scenario…even if it meant Mustang taking a controlled hit to prove the point.” (Excerpt from Mustang, The Story)

3. MAKE HEROES

Effectively communicating and bringing value to your clients on a consistent basis results in “making heroes” by putting them in position for superior performance. Mustang’s win-win, teaming environment was transformational to the industries it touched and created better profitability for all involved.

Implementing these relationship-building strategies will likely yield measurable improvements in sales and lengthen the duration of relationships with your company’s most valuable clients. Strong customer relationships are built over time. It’s important to provide value to these clients on a consistent, ongoing basis. It’s like piling sand – a continual effort!


For More Tips on How to Build Strong Client Relationships, follow Bill Higgs on Twitter @MustangHiggs

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It takes a team of great employees to grow an enterprise, but how do you find the right employee? Recruit the best of the best. Seek out candidates who clearly exhibit an eagerness for your company or industry from the get-go. Passion makes progress. “Operation Horsethief” was Mustang’s solution to finding passionate people (Mustangers) and building a winning team.


MustangTheStory_FindingTheRightEmployee_2Excerpt from Mustang, The Story:  “Operation Horsethief” 

It is pretty common that 20% of the people in a company pull the bulk of the load in making the company successful. We were working to develop a company where 80% of the people were pulling the load. We did this through small things like getting secretaries and drafters in front of the client to hand out their business card and show how they were helping the project.

We disseminated information broadly in a continuous attempt to make all eyes informed eyes”. By having informed eyes and people’s brains turned on in an encouraging environment, we could catch problems and conflicts while they were still small.  As we needed additional folks, we asked our people, vendors and clients if they knew people that would thrive in an environment like ours. We needed people who could work in an open, transparent, fun environment that also required a lot of personal accountability to produce.

 Good people know good people. That is about all we could believe in for hiring. We started calling our hiring process Operation Horsethief…identify the horses in other companies and go get them.

By having a fun name for identifying top performers, we were able to keep it at the front of people’s minds, resulting in a very successful hiring practice.

It also helped that we would bring people in, have them drop all of the bureaucratic training they had and ask them to just take care of projects and people. They found this simple philosophy invigorating!

Sometimes we brought in people for interviews, liked them, but the timing was not right for either them or us. We may not have had enough work to add them, or they may have wanted to complete a job in order to not burn any bridges with their old company or their client. We agreed to keep talking and they were put on a department manager’s “want to hire” list. In many cases we worked out compensation and just put it in a folder. We wanted to be continuously interviewing and looking for good people that matched our criteria.

We had cobbled all of these people together from various companies and backgrounds and we wanted to rely on their capability in taking care of clients. We asked them to think in terms of working for the client and just getting paid by Mustang. Do what it takes to satisfy the client and get them coming back time after time. We’ll make sure you get paid and have the people and tools required in executing what you promise.

The payoff for joining and performing would be continuous work in a company that would not disappear out from under them, as happened all too frequently from ’83-’89 and again in ‘91. They could focus on the work while Felix, Paul and I would continue to work hard on their behalf to create a strong, stable company.

For more tips on how to create culture that inspires success, follow Bill Higgs on Twitter @MustangHiggs

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In the early days of Mustang Engineering, controlling costs became an intense juggling act as the founders strived to create trust and loyalty between Mustangers, vendors, and clients. They worked an unbelievable amount of hours to minimize overhead labor costs and as Bill Higgs recalls, “I had salt stains on my shoes from sweating through them pounding the pavement for work.” Mustang had a tenuous grip on survival and needed a winning sales strategy, yet hiring a salesman did not fit within the control of expenses. As a result, “Same Sentence Sales” was born.


Excerpt from Mustang, The Story, “Same Sentence Sales” 

 There were about 20 competitors and 40 clients in Exploration & Production (E&P) or what is commonly referred to as the “upstream” oil business, working on offshore platforms in the Gulf. Due to Paul’s client relationships, we had 12 designers working in our sixth week. Our design group was in the Houston “network” that shared information on where projects were and how companies were faring. This network was the designer’s lifeline for the next job. They “heard it through the grapevine” that a prime competitor, Omega Marine, had four salesmen and three less designers working! This piece of information had such an impact on us that we did not hire a salesman in upstream until our eighth year. 

Instead, we developed our relationships with 17 key vendor salesmen or owners. Valve salesmen, control panel salesmen, equipment salesmen, etc. were shaking the bushes hard, looking for work. They all had certain strong relationships with clients based on past performance. Each had trust relationships where the client would ask their opinion on which engineering firm could do a good job for them. We asked that these salesmen just put our name in the same sentence with known companies like CBS and Omega that they trusted. This was our “same sentence” sales goal of the first few years.

The vendors knew we would take good care of the client and they had no problem working Mustang’s name into conversations. Generally they would call us if there was work at a given client’s office, and we would share what bids were coming out of Mustang or other work we had heard about. In this manner, we stayed super-wired into the industry and what work was coming up. The sales calls we made as a result of this network were “rifle shots” targeted toward a specific project and the person who could award the work. Many times, we also knew the client’s concerns and how to win from the conversations with vendors, who were themselves trying to put together a winning sales strategy.

Same Sentence Sales

 


For more sales tips, check out our post on “Creating Lasting Impressions”  and follow Bill Higgs on Twitter @MustangHiggs

 

In the early ‘80s, engineering had been reduced to a commodity for offshore work and design projects essentially went to the low bidder or a friend. The constant ups and downs and consolidations severely stressed the working environment and took a toll on the people involved. People kept their technical reference material in boxes so they could easily move between companies, chasing the work. In this environment, Mustang founders, Paul, Felix and Bill worked hard to create loyalty and trust between the company and employees. One of the ways they did this was with the mantra, “job on the corner of the desk”. 


Excerpt from Mustang, The Story Chapter 6: “Job-On-The-Corner-Of-The-Desk”

For the first three years, 80% of the billable hours were on jobs that lasted less than eight weeks. Our “going out of business” curve…our other albatross…looked like this…

rgb_MustangTheStory_BACKLOGCURVE

Sometimes the curve was steeper. Being conservative, we always said our going out of business horizon was six weeks. Combine this with controlling overhead hours and lease space and something had to give. The easiest solution at the time, and common in the industry, was to hire and fire technical people to limit overhead and match job requirements.

Loyalty and trust are built on performance. We wanted to build loyalty and trust, so we had to find another way. Our attention had to be squarely on filling the backlog curve with work. We would always be dealing with the margin…the half or full person about to go on overhead. Hiring people who were flexible and able to do many types of work helped. But the reality was that we needed to continuously fill the backlog to create loyalty and trust with our people.

MustangTheSory-JobOnTheCornerofTheDeskQuoteMy challenge became to put a job on the corner of the designer’s desk and say “please hurry up and finish, so you can get onto this project”. If we could do this, then the people would not have to be worried about their job and could put all of their energy into doing good efficient work. 

In addition to relieving the stress people had for finding a new job, this philosophy increased efficiency. Normally it is hard to finish projects as they have a tendency to drag out. Now people found ways to push for completion and get onto the new hot project.

Small projects on the corner of the desk made us very efficient at starting and finishing projects. This efficiency reduced the manhours it took for us to do a project, making our cost per project competitive even at fully loaded manhour rates. Thus, we could pay the going rate for people and still have a lower estimated cost in our bids.

Job on the corner of the desk also meant that we did not have to include as much downtime in our overhead. This led to increased profitability within the existing industry standard rates. This efficiency is where we were able to squeeze out bonus money for everyone that was working so hard.

Job on the corner of the desk forced a sales discipline and a completion discipline. Sales had to close and projects had to close.


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You may also enjoy reading:

How to Create a Lasting Impression  – The Snicker’s Story

Mustang The Story – Creating a Business Plan

 

 

What you’re wearing, your handshake, what you say and how you say it…”You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression”… but how do you make a lasting impression?

Read the excerpt below from Mustang, The Story, Chapter 8 and discover how during a competitive bidding process, Bill created a lasting impression that became a tradition within Mustang which is still celebrated today.

Slim Chances of a Win

   There were going to be six to eight bidders and four would be short listed for presentations to the board. We would be the only competitor that had not worked for the city and one of three that had not worked for Metro. It looked doubtful for our management team being willing to invest the overhead manhours required to try and get us into a competitive position, considering that at best, we might have a 12% chance of winning the work. I pulled together all of the information I had gathered and the summaries of what we had learned in the site visit to present to Paul and Felix.

Preparation…mind games

     As a young company, we did not have any transportable ability to give presentations using the computer. Down the hall from us was a Campbell’s Soup™ marketing office that threw out some thick advertising posters that showed cans of soup. I picked the posters up and wrote the presentation on the back of them. I worked on the floor in the living room in front of a fire.

     I sat and tried to picture our DBE, WBE and a few Mustangers on one side of a room making a presentation to the board lined up on the other side as Dick had described the normal layout. They would have seen three other presentations and been working hard since before 8:00am. These presentations were being given by engineers so there was a good chance three quarters of the time was boring as all get out…especially for the non-technical folks! Their normal lunch hour had to be 11:30 or 12:00 depending on their flex-time schedule, so the tummies may be starting to growl a little. Then, on top of all this, they will be listening to a company called Mustang that normally works on offshore oil platforms in the Gulf.

     There seemed to be a 70% chance that the board would tune us out and pick one of the earlier “safe” companies that knew how to push all the right bureaucratic buttons on the evaluation forms. Some of them might feel that we would just be chasing this work because the oil patch was dead and we’ll run back to that work as soon as it became available.

    From painting this mental picture of the situation we were likely to face, I was able to push myself into figuring out a way to change the whole potential dynamic. At the minimum, I wanted to break down the wall between the board and our team. Then, even if we did not win, at least we would be remembered.

Showtime

     Our team walked in carrying an easel and the advertising boards – just hoping to get some attention. I then flipped the first board over to reveal the start of our presentation. Written in magic marker were the words:

                             “MUSTANG WILL SATISFY YOU”

The original presentation boards.

(The original presentation boards)

     I then probably broke all of the protocol rules of Metro and walked over into their space. I had a Kroger plastic shopping bag in my hand and starting with the first board member, I put a large Snickers® bar in front of each of them. Of course I sort of sang the Snickers jingle, Mustang style. Smiling and bouncing a little as I walked down the line, I told them that I wanted them to focus on this presentation…not lunch!! We were going to tell them about a company that is focused on solving their problems. Our feeling was that if we take care of their problems, they will gain trust in us, which will increase efficiency and lead to more work.

     I had worked my way down to putting a large Snickers® in front of the last board member, when I said “Oh and here is a small one for your baby”. That comment got everyone on both sides of the room laughing, because she was pregnant but not yet showing. It was very obvious through sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and feeling of empathy, that Mustang was really going to be focused on Metro and their needs.

     By going into the board’s space and getting them laughing, we were able to totally change the whole dynamic of the room. We drew them into a great conversation about their concerns. We talked about how Mustang would help solve those concerns, if Metro would help us minimize the bureaucracy and paperwork required of our people. Before the “Presentation” was over, we were all working together to figure out how to take care of each other in a fully win-win fashion that really felt good and energetic to all participants.

     Metro ended up deciding to go with Mustang and give Dick what he felt he needed to upgrade their facilities. Metro’s going rate for engineering was higher than what we were used to in the super competitive offshore market, so we had a boost to our bottom line. But the most important thing that resulted from this effort was that 80% of our drafting room ended up working down at Metro from December through February, when there generally is no offshore work to win. This really saved our reputation with our people as we were trying to develop loyalty and trust…and perhaps saved Mustang.

Snickers

     This is the “Snickers” story that has been with Mustang from the beginning. It is why we serve small Snickers® bars at all functions. We want to continually remind people to be other-oriented in our ongoing effort to build trust.

 

Peter-F.-Drucker

On every level of an organization, planning is the key to success. And if your plan happens to be starting your own business, then you are well aware that creating a solid business plan is an essential “road map” to success. See the theme here?! Planning is Key!!

If you find yourself struggling with “how”  to create a business plan, read on… you might find the following excerpt from Mustang, the Story quite helpful.

Mustang, The Story, Chapter 4 – Building The Plan: An inside look into how founders, Paul Redmon, Felix Covington and Bill Higgs created a plan for Mustang Engineering.

We had attended a two night Small Business Association forum on starting a business and came away with two things. One was to pay the employee withholding tax to the government ASAP, so there is no temptation to use it to help cashflow…the government can be a harsh Master. The other was to do a plan.

To Paul and Felix, a business plan seemed like selling Mustang, so writing it fell to me! I purchased a book on writing business plans to make sure that all the key areas would be addressed. Our business plan Table of Contents read as follows:

  1. The Market.
  2. The Management Team & Organization.
  3. The Financial Plan.
  4. Cash Management.
  5. Potential Risks and Problems.
  6. Corporate Documents.

One of the things we had learned from watching other startup companies was not to “farm” ourselves out as contract engineers working in someone else’s office. Others had done this and while they had made good short term money, they did not have an “officed” nucleus to build a company around. Although it would hurt us financially, our vision centered on building a sustainable company that would be viable long term.

The market strategy of doing our own sales based on our personal engineering capability and relationships was a good way to control growth as there was no time to sell if you were busy. Doing the sales and the work ourselves would also insure quality, save money and provide the personal touch. We would not do any advertising as we only wanted to chase very real things that were screened by how we found them. This, along with low overhead pricing would give the client a “good deal” and high value-added efforts from a top-notch team. Part of the low overhead was due to the fact that we were not planning to pay ourselves for the first six months, while working unbelievable hours to build Mustang’s nest egg.

Skills Matrix – Blend of Outside and Inside

Our organization plan was built around the three of us with support of a lawyer, a CPA and an insurance provider on an as needed basis. This would be the entire management team. We created a matrix of skills needed in the company and rated each person’s capability from 1 to 3, with 3 being the most qualified. In every category, as you can see below, we had at least two people that were top rated, giving us good balance.

#skillsmatrix

For more information on creating a business plan, you might also want to read, U.S. Small Business Administration: How To Write A Business Plan

Once Felix, Paul and Bill joined forces, they knew the success of the next stage of their careers would depend on their core values and ability to support each other through the severe pressures of a startup.

They talked for a while about what they liked and didn’t like in the companies where they had worked or knew about. They also talked about the things they really liked in the companies they were familiar with.

For them, it was important to “Dare to Be Different”

Below is an excerpt from Mustang, The Story, Chapter 5: Dare to Be Different:

Paul, Felix and I were bothered by the treatment of project people in Houston. Top management at engineering and construction companies seemed comfortable with a “plug and play” mentality towards engineers, drafters and support people on their projects. They felt the ebb and flow of project people was mandated by the vagaries of winning bids, compounded by capricious industry cycles. There was nothing they could do to create continuity of work for more than a core team. We had seen the piping design group at CBS go up to 35 people, then down to 5, then up to 37 and down to 6. Each time we moved a project into drafting, we had new players, so we saw the same mistakes being made in the design. This frustrated us and our clients, who expected us to get better with each project.

 We loved the people and the “can do” attitude towards any challenge thrown in front of them. The feeling of accomplishing a tough mission when everything finally comes together through the team’s efforts was a great adrenalin rush. We enjoyed the small company feel and being around really good technical people.

Our drivers for jumping into the abyss were primarily other oriented; providing job security to keep our teams together, assembling good teams to take care of the client’s work, creating flexibility to stay ahead of industry changes, and generating continuous profitable work so the company would not disappear out from under people and clients. If we could pull all of this off, we would have a great place to work and have more fun doing projects…lots of possibility in all of this!


Felix, Paul and Bill determined that they had to be different in order for Mustang to be successful. How can you “dare to be different” in your career?

#mustangthestory

Recently we came across an article posted online from Fortune Magazine that featured Mustang Engineering titled: Launching In A Storm. When Bill Higgs, author of Mustang, The Story was asked “Why Startup in a collapsing industry?” he replied, “we didn’t want to look back someday and say, why didn’t we try it?”

The Fortune Magazine article reinforces the “just do it” mentality that we have been posting about and reminds us that the message was just as relevant in 1993 as it is in business today. 

The story is a lesson in how hard times can force bold decisions.

Read More: FORTUNE Article- Launching In A Storm