In 1994, an earthquake in Los Angeles destroyed a major highway, and estimates predicted it would take years to rebuild. Since Los Angelenos rely heavily on their cars, not being able to use the highway for years and the ensuing traffic was of considerable concern to the City’s administration. Unlike everyone else who was predicting doom, an innovative construction contractor named CC Meyers sensed an opportunity. In an incredible feat of business finesse and leadership prowess, he was able to win the project and complete it in just 66 days.
To achieve this truly extraordinary result required a combination of substantial skills such as defining precise goals, demonstrating innovation, challenging norms, and relying on relationships.
Noting that Meyers’ leadership principles can be applied to any workplace challenge, Dr. Firstenberg explained how he succeeded against the odds:
Principle 1: Relationships are investments that pay dividends over time.
When Meyers heard the news about the highway, his first instinct was to contact the Mayor of Los Angeles to explain how his construction company could fix the problem in record time. The problem was that he did not know the Mayor and getting through to him during such a chaotic time would be a challenge. Meyers remembered a former colleague who once worked for the Mayor of Los Angeles. Because Meyers had always placed importance on developing relationships, he was able to remember a seemingly small detail about her life. He got in touch with her, and she was able to coordinate a meeting with the Mayor.
Principle 2: Innovative solutions to challenges sets you and your business apart from others.
Once he was face-to-face with the Mayor, Meyers had another hurdle to jump. He had to differentiate his company’s capabilities in order to get the mayor’s attention and make the sale.
He told the Mayor that his company could complete the project within six months – which was astonishingly fast compared to all other estimates. Meyers risked sounding foolish in light of everyone else’s opinions so he immediately sought to gain credibility and trust with the Mayor. Economists had predicted that every day the highway remained closed would cost $1 million per day in losses so timeliness was absolutely key. To sweeten the offer, Meyers told the Mayor that his company would pay the City $200,000 per day for every day they went past the six-month deadline.
Meyers created a win-win scenario for the Mayor: if the project was delayed, the Mayor would look like a hero for having negotiated a deal in which the City gets the freeway built at low cost or for free. On the other hand, if Meyers completed the project on time, the Mayor would still be praised because he managed to get the project completed in a record time of six months.
By making such an extraordinary offer, Meyers enticed the Mayor to want to work with him and learn more about his proposal. At that point, Meyers outlined some of his requirements to confirm the deal. He told the Mayor of his three conditions, all of which appeared insurmountable to the Mayor at first:
A contract must be signed within a week.
The Mayor balked because he knew that government contracts can take weeks, if not months, to execute. To counteract his concerns, Meyers suggested a simple letter of agreement. Meters deftly employed the founding of the U.S. as an analogy, telling the Mayor that the U.S. Constitution was essentially a four-page contract that marked the beginning of building the country. As time went on, of course, details were added, but the point was that the start of our country – obviously a much more complex endeavor than building a highway – was made with a four-page contract.
Immediately after the contract is signed, construction would commence.
The Mayor insisted it could not be done because engineers had not begun to draw plans, which takes months to finalize. Meyers explained that this project was not “business as usual,” and in order for his plan to work, everyone who needed to approve plans – auditors, engineers, etc. – would have to be together in the same room making decisions. Instead of the typical sequential progression of getting approvals and then commencing work, the project would have to move concurrently.
Inspectors must be part of Meyers’ team.
This was an unusual request, and the Mayor was concerned that this requirement meant that Meyers would compromise on quality. Meyers explained that having an inspector on-site at all times throughout the project would actually ensure quality. Meyers had once worked on a project for six weeks that had to be undone because an inspector found a problem that could have been avoided had the inspector been involved from the outset.
Because of Meyers’ innovative thinking and desire to partner with the City, he convinced the Mayor that he was the only person for the job.
The important lessons of this story can be applied to any workplace challenge. An innovative mindset, an investment in relationships, and inclusive leadership can all lead to winning and delivering a project that far exceeds expectations.
To learn about Principle Three – Decentralized, inclusive leadership is key to motivation – listen to the on-demand recording of “Innovative Thinking for Extraordinary Outcomes.”
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