Are You Training? (feat. Randy Collins)

Are you training? Feta. Randy Collins Construction Brothers

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How do we pass down knowledge efficiently? This week we sit down with Randy Collins and figure out how to implement training that truly works. We talk about how to set expectations, how to build a training program, and how to normalize training. Randy brings up some interesting points on how training affects both those new and experienced in the industry, and why you should continue training.

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This week, we're talking about why training & transfer of knowledge is important.


Interview: (05:29)

Tyler: All right, Randy. Thanks for joining us today, man. Can you tell us who you are and what you do?

Randy: All right. Great. Thanks guys. Thanks for having me on today. Um, I'm Randy Collins, president of strategies group, and we're a technology partner in the construction space. We focus very heavily on the construction space, providing ERP, CRM, project management, payroll, all that fun technology that you guys, those guys use every day. Uh, but doing it for about 20 years, 21 years of be exact. I've about 2,000 customer implementations of software. Uh, nothing like, uh, 2,000 accounting software implementations to make you the guy everybody wants to look to at the party. We love it. And we do a day in and day out and we just liked to make companies better at what they do.

Eddie: Yeah, like accounting software is boring or something…

Randy: I don't get it. I'd start talking about the general ledger and people walk away and get another pig in a blanket. I don't get it.

Tyler: That's all right. You know, different strokes for different folks who we wanted to get into how to build a better team. And so, I just want to kind of throw that out there, give us some, some ideas on how to build a better team and more specifically on the idea of knowledge transfer.

Randy: I think companies - and we have our own company's who have been guilty of this, both strategies group and companies I've been part of before - when we hire new people or transfer people to new departments, we're so focused on getting them in the job, getting them the base level of knowledge that they need so that they can do the work and not provide us as their manager with a headache. And then we say, “Okay, job well done,” and we move on. You know, everybody gets back to their job. So we lose a lot in that kind of mindset. We lose what's true training. We lose making good employees better. We lose creating morale and team cohesiveness.

When you create, when you hire train, promote, or retain employees, a great training program will bring out a couple of different things. I think there are three major areas that we have to focus on are the results we focus on when you do that. And it's user adoption of the software.

You know, you've invested in some technology. You've invested in some process, but let's train the people on how they use it so they actually adopt it. The other area that I think is effective really well by that is we reducing the turnover. We fight so hard to find good people. One of the most disruptive things in a business is turnover. And then, you know, the other thing that a good training program does and good knowledge transfer does is increasing morale on the team and then from building that team cohesiveness.

So, I think a good training program hits all of those areas; utilization, adoption, reducing turnover, creating team morale and cohesion. We need to focus on it - all of the companies need to focus on it -because in almost every company, our human assets, our people are the most important thing we have.

When we bring these guys or these people in, we need to make sure we're giving them the tools to make them successful and to retain them. I guess, if you want me to get a little deeper into this now, the first one I talk about user adoption. So many companies coming in to invest in new technology, and then they just sit it over there and they say, “Hey, you go run this.” And it's kind of like buying a teenager or a car and saying, “Here are the keys, but I'm not going to teach you how to drive. Now go drive.” You know, they'll eventually learn, but it's going to be costly and messy in the meantime, because you know, you're going to pay a lot of traffic tickets and you're going to pay for a lot of wrecks. Same thing happens in companies. We turn the keys over to our new technology, to people who don't know how to run it. And the management team has moved on to the next thing. And the people are left behind with this new investment, with no idea how to run it day in and day out. So we need to be able to give those people the tools they need to be successful, and to give us the investment that we expect out of that technology that we have.

Eddie: Knowledge transfer is kind of about generational adoption. You've got a group of people that say… maybe you know a software like the back of your hand. Now, you're trying to develop a team that also knows it as well as you do. Using that knowledge transfer, you're trying to get things out of your mind and into theirs. So, what are some of the challenges that surround that?

Randy: Oh gosh, there are a lot on this. Many times we have people who navigate or gravitate to things that they are interested in. Then they take that - a particular area of our business - and create their expertise around it. Sometimes people kind of push themselves away from the team because they see that as job security. Sometimes the company doesn't even ask so they just kind of keep going down that road. So, you have all this knowledge building up in these different people within your organization & it's siloed. It's exposed. So, if something happens to that person… if they're sick, if they leave the company… all that information goes with them. So, one of the things that we need to get better at is finding those people who have garnered all this information in their particular areas, and then encourage them to share that with people. We need to create a structured training program where we get those people involved and invested in training the others who would benefit from what they know. that increases their morale. That increases our ability to retain them. And that disseminates that information across the organization.

You know, businesses is about business. So if that's not causing a problem that other people seem to be moving along, we just let that go. And, you know, I think we've all heard that people use about 20% of the software that they buy or the technology that they've purchased but you've got a group of people that are probably using 40, 50, 60, 70%. All we've got to do is tap into that and teach the other team members what those people know and raise those people up. Power users are wonderful things, but we've got to the knowledge that they have gathered to the other members of our team, or we stand to lose it. So yes, it is generational. What we're seeing today in the construction industry, there are a lot of people investing in technology because their parents have moved on. The older generation is moving out and the newer, the younger generations moving in and they expect different things. They grew up with technology, but that older generation has knowledge is not even in technology. So there's this technology transfer we need to do, but there's also just this informational. You see it a lot in estimating, you know, these guys have been estimating projects forever, but they're doing it in their head on a sheet of paper, maybe the more savvy ones on an Excel spreadsheet that they've created and developed and it has 4,000 tabs and they're the only ones that knows how it operates. But when those people retire, you may have a young person to come in that is completely able to use the technology, the new technology, but there's so much knowledge built up in all those years of estimating projects that we have to take that knowledge and put it into our technology.

So that's transferring. There's people-to-people transfer like we talked about before. And this is people-to-technology transfer. We're taking that generational knowledge, and we're putting it down into a tool that we can then use across our organization. But you've got to get those people invested. You've got to get them where they feel safe in that environment because so many of those guys… project managers, estimators, even known senior accounting people… see that as their job security, and they're not going to let you have it until they're ready to walk out the door. So, you've got to make them feel safe. And you’ve got to ensure them that what they're doing makes the whole organization better, which will also make their job better.

Tyler: I want to dive into how this looks and a little bit more practical terms. So, you know, am I creating videos? Am I writing a bunch of Google docs? Like what does that training cycle… what does that training process look like?

Randy: You have to start, right? That's the first thing you just have to say, “I'm going to do it.” So, the first step is to say, “Let's take inventory on all of these areas that we have.” Where we have knowledge. It could be in technology. It could be in people. Now, let's catalog that. So we've got our estimators and I've got Sam over there who's been doing estimates for me for 35 years. We better go talk to Sam. All his jobs are profitable, you know, and Sam is probably a few years away from retirement. Let's talk to Sam. So let's, let's figure out where our knowledge is and let's catalog it. Then let's take a look at the technology that either we have just purchased.. that we already own.. or even the technology we're looking at buying over the next 12 months and let's catalog that as well. And let's see, who are the power users in that technology or for implementing technology? You know, who is our champion on that? Let's just take all of that and create a kind of an overview document of where our knowledge is, and then where it needs to go.

So, in the estimating scenario, you would go to Sam and say, “Hey, I want to sit down with you. And I want to bring one of our younger guys in, who understands the technology, and we want to take what's in your head and we want to transfer it as much as we can to this new technology and get him involved in that process early on.” And then you take that type of technology and then the younger person becomes a champion of that technology.

Now, for that information now in technology, and they create a training program within their organization. Depending on the size of the organization, it may be videos, it may be just onsite training, it may be individual training. But the first thing is you have to create a plan and the plan needs to have the silos of information and then how you're going to disseminate that to the rest of your staff. And then you create, I guess, a champion in each area and you go to them and you create a training program for each technology stack and for each silo of information that you need to disseminate across the organization. There is a document that you should create and would have all of that. And then you have to decide to - with all the tools we have today - definitely recording training on any technology tool is important. You know, pull up a Zoom meeting, a walks record. You know, “This is how I do things…” and have someone talk over it.

So then, when you get the new hire, you can bring them in, you set them in front of a computer.. or you get your existing non-power users in a room and they can walk through, the “This is how I do my job.” And this is how I get another 30 or 40% out of the technology my firms invested.

Those training videos can be great. And it's different than looking at a training video for a generic product, because it has your data in it. It has your processes in it. So if it's already implemented in your organization, then create your own training library. The tools are so cheap today. The processes are so cheap and so forgiving today that it's easy to do.

If you're investing in new technology, or you're getting ready to…if you're in that process, make sure that the business partner has put sufficient, adequate training in the proposal to get your team up to speed. If they're going to do what we call Subject Matter Expert Training where you go in and they've trained one person and they train your staff…make sure you've identified that best SME in your organization who's actually going to be able to transfer that knowledge. What we see in new technology is people have, they want to take this generational knowledge and put it into technology. They basically sprint on the training needed to then take that out to the organization. So, you run this race of converting systems. You get to the end. You're so tired of the process that you say, “We're up and running! We got this new technology going,” and then you move to the next thing. Well, there's got to be commitment from the executive team and the management team to take it to that next level and train the whole organization.

Eddie: I see this as kind of the No Man's Land problem. We, a lot of times make a decision and we say, we're going to invest in decision, but maybe we do it with a level of reluctance. And so it's kind of like getting, I imagine kind of World War I, getting up out of the trench and charging over No Man’s Land, but you don't commit and get all the way over to the other side. So, you're just stuck where everybody's getting dilated. It's not a good place to be. You need to make the commitment to go all over the way. But I also speaking on behalf of business owners, everywhere would say, that's hard. That's not easy to commit to because I've got stuff to do. You know, I've got people that are tasked to their limits and how am I supposed to interrupt their processes to get into this? So, what kind of word of encouragement would you give to maybe that I guess is ultimately an excuse for not training?

Randy: No, it it's a good excuse. I mean, I loved your analogy there cause we have a lot of customers who are halfway across that No Man's Land and found a foxhole and they buried themselves in it. And they're waiting for, you know, the gunfire just to stop and guess what a good times I've gunfire doesn't stop. It keeps coming over our heads. So we have to keep moving forward. We have to create a plan and it may be an incremental plan, but we have to create a plan to continue moving forward in every organization. This is what we tell people whenever they're looking at investing in new technologies, you have to understand your day job doesn't go away. You're going to have your day job and we're going to ask you to do all these things. Now you can unload or download some of that to your technology business partner. You know… data, migrations, data conversions… all that kind of heavy lifting stuff you can outsource, but the training you can't outsource. I mean, you can outsource the trainer, but not the trainee. And the trainees are the ones who also have a day job and they're working 50, 60 hours a week.

Sometimes you have to do it incrementally. Sometimes you have to, uh, split departments up and say, we're going to train you, and you guys are going to take all the little heavier load over here while we're training these people. But good training really should, should not be what I would call a static or sterile training where you're using just a generic concepts. Good training is taking the job you're doing and then doing it in the new technology. So, they're still moving forward. You're not entering…let’s use an example…you're not entering an invoice in an old system and then coming over and learning how to enter an invoice in a new system. You're actually entering the invoice only in the new system. And it takes a little longer, but every time you do it, it gets faster.

So, part of training is the owner’s need to realize it's painful. The people are going to push back because no one likes change. You get, uh, certain people in certain areas like accounting or project management - project management is getting a little better - but accounting and estimating are two departments where you have a lot of older staff that don't like change, and they're going to push back. So you have to give them a reward. You have to let them see what the end is going to look like and you have to incrementally do it. So, sometimes what, what I would suggest you do, is you find the people who are most excited about the change. You train them first because they're going to be willing to put in some extra hours and they're going to be willing to learn. And then maybe they move forward, find another foxhole while the others stay behind and then move forward later when they're ready. So you keep moving forward. But you just have to find a plan that works with the team that you have because every team is different.

Tyler: It felt a little bit defeated last week because I spent some time, uh, trying to provide some resources to our team, to sit down and watch together. And whenever we did, I told everybody that was optional and we only had one person show up, uh, other than myself. And so it felt, it felt a little bit defeating. I was like, okay, nobody wants to learn. But at the same time, everybody else is really, really busy too. So I understand that they're at their max. Yeah. I feel this in a big way because you're right. And you know, we're hunkered down in our foxholes and we're just scared to move.

Randy: One of the main things that I've seen that makes a difference is the executive team has to champion this because that means they're going to have to have some grace with their staff. Things might not get done on time. Things might be pushed back because we're asking them to do another job. If the executive team has not bought into this knowledge transfer or into this technology transfer, it's going to be tough for them to not be negative about the change in their staff activities. So, that executive sponsor has to be in a position to say, that's okay if you, if we push this back, if you have to push this back X number of days because I need you to do this, this is just as in this training is just as important as that activity. You have to give them the freedom to push their schedules a little bit.

And that has to come from the top because the managers have to know that the executive sponsors, okay. I would even suggest – go think about this - the sunk costs, the opportunity costs and put a budget out there. If you're a billable, you know, if you're doing time and materials stuff, what is my opportunity cost of this investment? And put it out there, create a billable time that are non-billable time that is called Training and say, “You have X number of hours in this non-billable time to get there” if everybody's turning in timesheets, they have that. But if all we do is say, “Here's new technology, learn it. And here's some videos, watch them.” It's not going to happen.

We do that. Even before people buy new technology, we have a ton of videos that we send them, but sometimes they don't want to send in a four-hour demonstration of a product. So, we have all this information on demos and product information for things. It's like, “Just watch material, leisure, write down your questions, we'll answer your questions.” And then we get to that meeting with them. And then you watch it now, while you're getting ready to make a 5,000 thousand dollar investment, and you didn’t take an hour to watch the videos. It tells you what it does. I mean… but people push that kind of stuff back. It's got to be a priority in their minds. And then the business has got to be a priority in the executive team's mind.

Eddie: That's a cultural thing, for sure. Just breathing, breathing in this culture of we're going to be lifelong learners and that we're not going to quit moving forward. To press my analogy probably to a point where I shouldn't just because I think it's fun… there's an enemy in the rear too, you know, and that is if we don't move forward, you think about the penalty of not doing that for 10 years or not doing that for 15 years. We're not only fighting what we have in front of us, which is we have to move into new technology. We have to maintain, these people that we have around us in these new systems that we're implementing. We're doing that for a reason. And that's because we'll be obsolete. If we don't.

Randy: W. Edwards Deming, who was the kind of mastermind of the Japanese [industrial culture], he went to Japan in the Forties, I believe and changed their industrial culture. And that's where they came out with how they own the manufacturing market. And he was a, a process guy and he had a saying of “Change is not necessary because survival is not mandatory.” So yeah, you can not change, but you're not going to survive.

We have to constantly be looking at change and change is costly. We all ought to have a budget in our system for that time. We have that for our consultants who have constant learning and technology, so we have to make sure they have time in their allotted schedules and their goals to, to meet those needs. And the organization definitely has to see that this is constant. It doesn't go away. The technology, you may get something up and running and train, but guess what? Next year, there's, there's new enhancements to that technology. They need to take a look at those enhancements because they may get a huge return on their investment from one change in the technology. And if they don't continually look at changing and training, then they may lose that.

And the other problem we have, we've talked about knowledge transfer. As you know, every time we transfer knowledge from one person to another, without a programmed approach to it, a methodical approach to it, I've heard anywhere from 40 to 60% of that knowledge actually gets transferred. Well, heck if we only use 20 or 30% of the technology, and we're losing 40 to 60% of that, every time we trained a person, pretty soon, we're not going to know anything about what we're doing, right? So we’ve got to be programmed and methodical on how we do things to make sure that transfer of knowledge is happening.

Eddie: What kind of impact does this have on a younger generation of workers towards retention and just encouraging them towards being a better employee as one way I could say, but being a better teammate… being better for themselves?

Randy: Right. Well, it's a great question. You know, millennials see their jobs differently than I do. You know, I'm 57, so I'm that old guy. But the millennials today - and we're hiring more and more young people in our organization - they see their jobs differently than I did, or my parents did, or their parents did. Most young workers today see a job as an opportunity to get a learn and grow. They want to experience something that's probably not going to be a lifelong thing. They're not looking to join an organization and stay for 30 years. That's just not how they think, but they do want to join an organization where they're going to learn and grow. And most companies just don't provide that.

I think that there was a 2018 U.S. Labor Bureau report that found that companies under 100 employees average about 12 minutes of training every six months for their employees. 12 minutes. That's great, but that's not going to work for these younger staff members. They're going to feel undervalued. That's how you value them. I mean, money is not at the top of their list. They want to feel valued and the way they feel valued is by being trained, by being stretched, by learning new things. And people think, “Well, gosh, I can't move everybody around to a new job to learn new things.” We don't have to. In the job we have, we can learn new things by learning the tools that we have in front of us. There's always something to learn. And we just need to focus on that with a younger workforce.

Tyler: 12 minutes. What say ye millennials? I mean, I would see that though. You know, the pressures to produce in our office greatly outweigh the pressure to train. Yes. You know, I've got to get this job done because I've got three or four project managers breathing down my neck and telling me I've got to have my drawings. So I see this, this reluctance in a way. And so the morale thing is something that really stood out to me. And I wanted to kind of, I don't know, push back maybe a little bit on that and just kind of dig a little bit deeper on it. You know, how does this improve morale? Because personally, like when I see our people come in and, and they don't really care that much, it doesn't really seem like it's a morale boost to learn. It almost seems like an inconvenience. And I don't know if that's me doing that. I don't know if that's us passing that down to, you know, our people and it's causing it. But I mean, how does this affect morale? I want to learn a little bit more about that.

Randy: That's a tough one. It does affect if done, right. It can be a big morale boost because if we get the organization thinking around the concept that this is a common battle, and we know anytime we fight common battles, we become closer together when we win…when we come out the other side. When it doesn't affect morale is when we say “This is something you have to do. You figure it out, you do it, it's your battle.” But this is a corporate battle. We're moving forward. We're trying to train our organization and we're all part of that. So it's that investment from the upper level management, the executive team.

And also give the freedom - like I said- and the grace in their current job. Because one thing, if we've got guys working 60, 70 hours a week, and we say, “Now you have to do this too.” And yet there's no grace in that conversation, there's no mercy in that conversation. there's no light at the end of the tunnel in that conversation… there's no win, win for that employee… it's going to be hard to increase morale. So whatever you can do to create an environment that’s more enjoyable.

And I'll give you an example, here’s one of the big opportunities we have as an organization. We're a small company. We have 20 employees. Most of them are consultants & are very technical and not the most social people in the world. They're numbers people, you know, which is what you want your consultants to be. But we have one big training opportunity every year with our vendor. They have their partner conference and, they have different places, but we take everybody out there for that week of training. And we get time together as a staff, they get trained, we have dinners together, we create bonding opportunities. Now the cost of that is let's say… I don't know.. $30,000 hard costs to get everybody out there, right? For a small company, that's a lot of money. But take 10 consultants out of the billable world eight hours a day for five days. Now you're talking an opportunity cost of probably $80,000. It is the best thing we do. And as much as it hurts me as the owner of the company to, from a financial perspective (and I cry when it's all said and done, you know) but that time together is the best thing we do all year in training, because we're all in it together. We're all having to do our normal jobs, too. We're getting calls. We're going to emails from customers - we can't just ignore our customers. So we're working at nights in the room, but we walked out of that week together like we just won a battle. So whatever we can do to make it feel like we're all in that together and the company's behind it with the company supporting that training…we need to do it because that will make it a win. And that will create cohesion and boost morale. We talked about.

Tyler: It almost feels like it needs to be more of an event in order for it to stick. And it's not going to be that way every time, obviously, right. Making it an event, you know, going and getting a wing in a restaurant somewhere and setting up a projector and talking through some of the problems, getting somebody to talk to them about what they know. Maybe that can get things to stick a little bit better than forcing them to..kind of shoe horn it in during the week. It just gives them that time allotment to, to study.

Eddie: At times we have told people, cause I mean, we try to respect the fact that if I give you an hour for lunch, I’m not going to just presume on that time as though it were mine. And at the same time, we have had days where we're like, I'm going to, I'm going to buy your time today. Like, I'm going to bribe you out of that time. I want you to hang out here, we're going to buy some pizza. Everybody's going to hang out around, uh, you know, a video conference or something like that. And yeah, if you feed them a lot of times they'll come. I do, I would.

I love what you're saying about the real and opportunity costs of this because we certainly feel it, but I had somebody challenge me with “What's your training budget?” And that is something that I can't say it came out of left field, but it did hit me hard because you stop and think, do I have one like a real one? How, how many, how many hours or how much time, or how much money do I expect this year to spend towards training to where I'm doing that on purpose.

Tyler: Yeah, I'm going to call us out. Like we've got zero currently, you know, we're, we're, we're trying to kind of push it in where we can. And so, yeah, so say that we've got it all figured out. That's a lie, you know, we're here to learn. And so these are the sorts of realizations that we need to have on a daily basis.

Eddie: The secret of the podcast, Randy, is we just invite people on to train us in our business.

Tyler: Exactly.

Randy: It's very true. It took me a while to where we got a training budget. And to be honest, I'm good. We have a training budget for costs. So when I'm talking about taking everybody to that conference, or when we know we have this, you know, we have certifications, that's all hard costs or in a budget annual budget. And I actually lumped that in with my personnel costs. Whenever I'm looking at what's my personnel costs, I consider that part of my personnel costs because that's just as important to them as the salary. So you can't take away their benefits without causing them to push back. And you really can't sit and take away their training the same way.

But what I don't do well is - cause we're all time and material time and expense billing stuff- we do have budgets for, or a bucket for training for people, when they're putting in their time sheet - but I haven't gone through and said, “Okay, this is how much opportunity costs we need to invest.” Because when we're telling them to do it at lunch, that's not an opportunity cost. That's a hard cost for the pizza, but we're taking their time. But the opportunity cost is when we're allowing them to take our time and not do that, which would bring us money, but instead do that, which would invest in them and make them better at what they do. And eventually bring us money because we don't do this because heck, everybody's got to do training. I mean, we, we aren't altruistic in our business, right? I mean, there are motives behind us that we love keeping good people because good people make us better and good people make money. So this is all part of that organizational thought that this pushes us all forward. And if we push all forward together, we will be more profitable and we will retain better people. And the better people will be more profitable individually.

That's the other thing is create an environment where they see a longer term approach. You know, we just implemented a profit sharing plan for moving forward, which will allow them to say, “Okay, I'm putting in these extra hours, but if this does what we think it will do, there's a bucket of money here.” This will be split among the staff that everybody wants to make that bottom line better. Because you know, to me, the company is something I steward, not only just steward for my family. I steward for my employees as well. And they need to participate in those years that we do well. Unfortunately, I can't go to them when they usually do poorly and say, “Hey, could you put some money in?” But when we do well, you know, that's the opportunity to steward well with them.

Eddie: I remember a line is, you know, “What, if we train them and they leave?” against “What if we don't train them and they stay?” sounds like this is a currency. That's what I'm trying to say. Like this investment in people is a currency. That's a recognized currency. When you give me the time, it's not a burden like you were asking, how is this not a burden? It's not a burden when I say, “This does not have to go on top of your week. And I actually have a plan for that.” I would bust that up too. Cause if, if you got a job and the deadline didn't slide, and I say, “I'm going to give you time today to do this. But you know, your deadlines are not going anywhere,” and you are task oriented.. eh, I didn't really do anything for you there. I did just kind of get on the workshop for you. Now, if I say, “I have a plan for making this time up,” then now I've invested in the process of trying to get you out of the hole that I just created for you.

Tyler: And that is a challenge too, because if you've got 20 jobs going and they all have different deadlines and milestones that you have to meet, and you're trying to take every single one of those people into account, that’s difficult to implement and make sure that you're not hosing one of your people. You end up kind of poisoning the water for lack of better term. And having them say, “Well, they don't really care about my deadlines.”

Randy: And most things that are worthwhile are not easy, right? I mean, it takes thought. I would bring your team, you know, bring the key members of your team together and ask them, “How would you like to see us implement a training program? What would be beneficial to you? How would you like to incorporate this into your day?” Get their input. Because I think that everybody knows, I really need to learn and train and they want to get better. But if it's just forced on them, sometimes it just becomes a, “there's the man again telling me something else I have to do.”

Tyler: I think we've come to a great place to break off and ask you our megaphone question. So here it is. All right. So if we gave you a megaphone that the whole construction industry could hear for 60 seconds, what would you say?

Randy: I think the one thing I want people to understand is don't skimp on training! Training makes us better. Don't buy any new technology unless your executive and management team is committed to spending the money to train them initially and annually. Don't let the people who have your corporate knowledge leave your business without you creating a program to disseminate that knowledge to the rest of your company. And value those people because they are the most important thing we have not only to make money, but to steward. And my opinion we're giving our businesses are given our businesses to steward our people as well as our profits.