Words Matter

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
-Mother Teresa

So there I was…it was July of 2008. A young Captain in the Army, fresh out of grad school, excited to be in an air-conditioned construction trailer in Aberdeen, MD, and not in Iraq or Afghanistan. I was scheduled to escort then BG Semonite (now LTG, Retired) around our $1.5 billion construction site…and I had no idea what I was doing. This is my boss’s boss, and up until now, in my Army career, if I was meeting with anyone above a Lieutenant Colonel, I did something wrong, REALLY wrong. So with this visit, there came a certain level of angst and excitement – 90% “don’t screw up,” 10% “nice to meet you!”. The day went off without a hitch. BG Semonite made the rounds, giving his “how can I help?” and “thanks for being part of the team” to a combination of employees, construction laborers, etc. But it was in a 5-minute conversation over lunch where BG Semonite said to me, “BJ, you may be new to the Corps (of Engineers) and have plenty to learn about this project and how we do business, but we don’t do everything right. There are many people here who do things because ‘that’s how it’s always been done.’ That doesn’t mean we should keep doing them….”  

He continued, “I want you to remember fresh eyes help us improve. I expect you to help us improve.”

“Roger, Sir!”  

In a matter of a 5-minute conversation, he completely shifted my view of the situation from me trying to find ways to add value to me analyzing everything with “why do we do this” and “wonder why they do that.” Not only did it aid me in helping the organization, but it helped me learn that much faster.  

From music to movies and books to bedtime stories, words are a powerful tool. They can inspire, or they can divide. They can build up, or they can tear down. They can forgive an old enemy, or they can create a new one. Words can tell a love story, a war story, a fairy tale, or a fable. Sure, we use words in our professional lives – delegating tasks, winning a proposal, conveying a technical approach, or revisiting a case study.  Even launching a marketing campaign or a podcast (see below). Words help us manage people, projects, expectations, and emotions.  

The words we use matter. And this week, 2 weeks into 2021, I implore you to think about the words you use. The words that are inside of your head, the words that come out of your mouth, and the words that are typed with your fingers. What you say and how to say it has power…use them wisely and positively.  

And remember, words aren’t enough. So turn off the news and close social media because as powerful as our words are…words can’t take action unless we do.  

So, this weekend, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., take action. Not by arguing on Facebook but by doing something for someone. Pick up trash on the sidewalk, hold a door for a stranger, smile, and give a compliment to a friend or family member.  

And in closing, Remember what MLK, Jr. said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” 

BJ Kraemer, President

Effectiveness = Stewardship

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” 
-Stephen Covey

Happy New Year! At MCFA, we are referring to 2021 as “2020wonderful”. 

2020 handed us lemons – Wildfires, Kobe Bryant, Covid-19, social unrest, work at home while parenting or homeschooling (Supermoms & Dads!) – but despite all of that, at MCFA, we made lemonade. And we plan to do it again.

The year is off and running, and so are we. This week, we were focused on getting everyone’s KPIs dialed in. It really makes you dig into what role we play in our business and our clients’ projects. In project management, we talk a lot about the KPIs of schedule, quality, and budget. In business, we use words like ROI, opportunity cost, highest and best use, etc. At the end of the day, we are really asking ourselves how effective we are being with our time, money, and team members (employees, subcontractors, business partners, etc.) As they say, efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things

As I thought more and more about effectiveness, I couldn’t help but think of Stewardship and the Parable of the Talents.  Whether you are a religious person or not, I think we can all respect and learn from the Parable of the Talents: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.”  

Hits me like a ton of bricks every time. Am I doing right to maximize how I use my time, talent, and treasure? 
We talk a lot about our clients being stewards of their agencies and missions. And there is no better definition of stewardship to me than maximizing our Time, Talent and, Treasure. How am I stewarding all that I am responsible for? How are we stewarding the tax dollars that are entrusted to our public agencies? As political parties and media continue to argue agendas, no amount of public policy can lead, motivate, inspire, or teach people to solve problems – leaders all over are charged with stewardship of what they can control, at their level. Sure, there are budget cuts or policy changes, but those just change the environment. The best leaders are stewarding the resources they have, their budgets, the teams they lead to ensure the taxpayer dollars and the missions those dollars fund are the very best they can be. They don’t focus on excusitis, and all the reasons they “can’t do better;” they focus on doing the best they can with what they have.  

So, the new year is here…are you focused on effectiveness or excuses?  

Are you stewarding your organization?  

Are you doing the right things?  

If you aren’t sure, we are happy to talk.