For the EVOLution of Business

Adversity Is An Opportunity To Show Your Commitment To Culture with John Nichols of the Nichols Construction Team

Episode Summary

"My ability to obtain my dreams is carried on the backs of the people that I work with. If they're going to carry me to my dreams, I want to carry them to their dreams too." John Nichols founded the construction company Nichols Construction Team in 1983 with his father Jim and his brother Brad. From the beginning, they were committed to using purpose and culture as a competitive advantage. Even though John recognizes the importance of talking about culture and values in every meeting, he believes that "culture is caught, not taught." When leadership demonstrates a long-term commitment to culture, they "don't have to preach it, they just teach it like an apprenticeship: through watching." Tune in to this episode to learn why the tough times and difficult situations have been the greatest opportunities to prove their commitment to their culture: -No matter what the contract says, if the company makes a mistake, their "buildings never go out of warranty" and they've created a culture of psychological safety by extending that empathy to employee mistakes as well -The reaction during the recession that made their team MORE cohesive, not less -Getting feedback not just from customers, but also from unsuccessful proposals John has more than 40 years of construction experience. As president and CEO of the Nichols Construction Team, John oversaw all business operations as well as the overall construction management process ensuring that day-to-day operations meet or exceed the expectations of their clients. John takes great pride in helping clients see their dreams become realities and always strives to develop business relationships that are based on respect, trust, and honesty. John has worked to root that culture into all operations at Nichols Construction Team to sustain those values even as he passes the torch of leadership.

Episode Notes

[1:30] The founding of the Nichols Construction Team
[3:20] "We wanted to build a culture and share that culture with the marketplace and have that be as strong of a basis of their selection as our experience and capabilities...we didn't see ourselves as a commodity, we saw ourselves as service providers...I've got so many stories of providers and purchasers about what can be accomplished on the basis of trust."
[7:30] Assuming the leadership role in a family business
[11:00] Culture and purpose as a competitive advantage: "If you don't know who you are, it's going to be very difficult to sell what you do."
[14:00] The importance of leaders that walk the talk: "My ability to obtain my dreams is carried on the backs of the people that I work with. If they're going to carry me to my dreams, I want to carry them to their dreams too."
[15:30] Creating a sense of shared purpose by recognizing and repeatedly discussing culture and values: "We started as a family business, but now we're a business that's a family."
[18:00] How you deal with your mistakes speaks the loudest about your culture and integrity: "Our buildings never go out of warranty. The contracts say one thing, but in reality, we stand by our work and we stay accountable for it. You gain customers for life that way...the short-term pain is outweighed by the long-term relationship that you gain."
[20:00] Extending that forgiveness to employee mistakes and turning them into growth opportunities
[21:15] Creating a culture of psychological safety and integrity
[23:00] How customers with aligned purpose and values helped John to evolve as a leader and remain committed to the purpose at Nichols Construction Team
[26:00] Getting through the tough times as a cohesive team
[29:00] Winning the ETHIE Award from the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation
[33:00] How applying for the ETHIE Award helped Nichols Construction Team to evolve their culture and document their cultural guide
[35:00] Measuring success: Feedback from customers AND from missed customers
[36:30] Maintaining culture through leadership succession
[40:00] "Culture is caught, not's always top of mind and we talk about it all the time, but when it's permeated through the entire organization, we don't have to preach it, we just teach it like apprenticeship, through watching."
[44:00] "Technology changes, but human nature doesn't. Stories are so powerful. What makes powerful stories? The telling of real experiences."
[45:15] The future of Nichols Construction Team and working toward becoming an ESOP, the Lean Construction Institute and bringing youth into the organization
[48:00] Balancing a commitment to change and innovation with a commitment to purpose and culture