Where's the Finish Line?

By: Ron Wyrtzen, Project Manager for the USDA South Atlantic Area

May 2012

Ever since walking in the door of our new office, we have been instructed and USDA Logoencouraged by the leadership of our company to make the customer happy. Most of us have been on our jobsites for many years and have seen many employees, (ours and the governments,) come and go. The one thing that remains constant is the desire and commitment by FSE to make customer satisfaction our priority. This commitment has been demonstrated over and over again by the implementation of ISO at many of our sites.

FSE has been very aggressive in giving us the tools that we need to make our employees successful at what they do. We have been blessed with wonderful coworkers that are just as committed as we are at being the best. At our worksites, we have developed friendships and working relationships with our customer, along with a high level of trust and commitment to giving the government the "biggest bang for the buck" possible. What we will be remembered for, however, both in our personal and professional lives, is "How well did we finish?"

This has been a challenge. Over the last two and half years, our contract has been extended numerous times. Some of the extensions have been for three months and some for as long as seven months. This makes life extremely challenging to say the least. These extensions have ramifications on our employees' personal lives. Do I buy a new car? Will I have a job? What about health insurance, retirement (401K), investments, etc? It has an effect on the workplace. Should we upgrade our computers? Do I buy replacement tools or see if I can get by for a few more months? How does this affect ISO and the QA program? Do I make changes effecting personal? Living with all this uncertainty for an extended period of time can have a negative effect on the work environment, if you let it. It is up to us to make sure this doesn't happen. How do I sprint to the finish line when the customer keeps moving it?

As many of you already know, FSE was not able to submit a bid on our next contract due to the size restriction. The decision was made to partner with another contractor so we could continue with the same quality of service to which the customer has been accustomed. We knew things were going to change even if we were successful, as we would be working with another contractor and learning the uniqueness of a new partnering company. This would include everything from healthcare to 401K to payroll.

I can only share what we have experienced both good and bad. Initially it appeared that we were only going to be extended for a short time so we just stretched everything out, made the best of it, knowing the end was near. This seemed like a very doable course of action. We kept our employees "in the loop" to reduce as much anxiety as possible. Many of our employees have never gone through a contractor change and their nervousness was evident. Almost every Thursday, during our safety meetings, we would update them on what we knew at that given time. We walked them through the process of the change and how that would affect them. We told them what to expect, regardless of who was awarded the contract. The more accurate information we were able to give them, the better. Then came the second, third and multiple extensions after that. We soon realized that we needed to take a different approach to how we were doing business.

Our management team met and decided that because of the uncertainty of the political climate, and the numerous changes that were occurring within the USDA, we needed to change our thinking and plan like we were going to be here for an extended period of time. Our mindset had to change back to how we had previously operated, with a daily determination to be the best everyday and not worry about what we had no control over. Yes, we made some personal changes. We sent people out for extensive training seminars. Yes, we purchased some much-needed equipment. And most of all, we changed the atmosphere from fear and uncertainty to determination and commitment. We renewed our commitment to ISO with internal audits and ongoing training. We looked for better ways of doing things. We changed some job descriptions and hired some new employees. The management's aggressive outlook on the future has trickled down and had a positive effect on everyone.

What we're learning is that it really doesn't matter where the finish line is, as long as we consider each day an opportunity to be the best at what we do. Yes, at some points we might have to make some decisions that are difficult based on what we don't know. Everyday we ask ourselves, "Am I basing this decision on the belief that I don't know what tomorrow will bring?" In reality none of us knows what tomorrow will bring. (Matthew 6:25-34)