What I Wish I Knew Earlier About Being a COO

Knowledge is defined as awareness gained by experience. But what if you’re a young COO with menial experiences looking to learn from someone who has worked in your shoes? Today’s podcast episode with Dr. Jeremy Weisz features John Blessing, COO of Forensic Analytical Consulting Services, and what he’s learned from his experiences.

They discuss the kind of work Mr. Blessing’s company deals with, implementing business plans and targets, advice to younger COOs, and knowledge the guest speaker wishes he had known when he was younger.

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Show Notes:

0:06 – Intro

0:26 – Dr. Jeremy Weisz shares the best solution that makes documenting standard operating procedures drop-dead easy, highlighting a 14-day free trial. No credit card required.

1:41 – Dr. Weisz introduces today’s guest, John Blessing, COO of Forensic Analytical Consulting Services.

2:14 – Mr. Blessing introduces himself and highlights the company’s use of SweetProcess.

3:09 – Mr. Blessing gives more information about what Forensic Analytical Consulting Services does.

4:03 – Mr. Blessing gives scenarios in which healthcare companies reach out to them for their services, and examples of the kinds of work situations they’ve encountered.

5:31 – Mr. Blessing explains how new clients reach the company. 

6:52 – The guest speaker gives some advice he wishes he’d been able to give to his younger self.

8:12 – The guest talks about resources he wishes he’d had when he was younger and advises younger aspiring COOs on the resources to take advantage of and books they could read.

9:12 – The guest speaker shares some of his favorite books he’s read through the years.

10:43 – The guest shares some of the changes and improvements he implements upon Forensic Analytical.

12:16 – The guest speaker explains how to know when it’s the right time for companies to hire a COO, how to decide if it’s necessary, and the role of the COO in the company.

14:50 – The guest talks more about business plans, examples of business targets, and how to implement plans and targets.

17:23 – Mr. Blessing shares some of the plans/goals clients set that surprised him.

19:02 – Mr. Blessing explains more on the format of one-to-one meetings, and how they keep track of a client’s progress to their goal.

20:57 – The guest shares information on how he or the company can be reached.

22:19 – Mr. Blessing tells a story about the craziest situation the company’s been involved in.

24:37 – Outro

Guest Profile:

John Blessing - COO, Forensic Analytical Consulting Services

John Blessing is the chief operating officer at Forensic Analytical Consulting Services Inc. He’s described as a clear and articulate communicator and leader.  He studied economics at Kalamazoo College, and finance and marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Transcript of the interview

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Dr. Jeremy Weisz here, host of the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their job. Past guests include… Check out our other episodes. We interviewed David Allen of Getting Things Done, Michael Gerber of The E-Myth and many, many more. There was great guests, and I’ll introduce you to today’s great guest in a second. But before I do, this episode is brought to you by SweetProcess. John, I don’t know if you can relate to this, but if you’ve had team members ask you the same questions over and over, and it may be the 10th time you spend explaining something, well, there’s a better way. There’s a solution. Actually, SweetProcess’s software that makes it drop dead easy to train and onboard new staff and save time with existing staff. When I was talking with one of the founders, Owen, not only do universities, banks, hospitals, and software companies use them, but actually I discovered from talking to him that first responder government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: So, you can use SweetProcess to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time so you can focus on growing your team. There’s a free 14 day trial. No credit card is required. Go to sweetprocess.com, sweet like candy S-W-E-ET, process.com. I’m excited to introduce John Blessing. He is the COO of Forensic Analytical Consulting Services. They have really helped healthcare, property management, universities, government, so many different industries. And if you look on their page, they’ve helped so many really interesting clients, John. Some of them I’ve used personally. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, I’ve been there. Amazing, amazing place. Sony Pictures, Whole foods. I mean, the list goes on and on. So, John, thanks for joining me.

John Blessing: Well, thanks for being here, Jeremy. And let me just point out real quick. We are a client. We use SweetProcess in our business and it’s really streamlined our ability to set up SOPs as the company has grown. So-

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: That’s awesome.

John Blessing: Yeah.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: What do you like about it, or what do you use it for?

John Blessing: We’ve documented all our standing operating procedures and we’ve rolled it out throughout the company, and what we have found is it cuts down on a lot of confusion and questions and phone calls like you mentioned. And probably the best thing about it is the search function. So, if you have a question in a particular area, you start typing in the key words and it pops up the process and you can attach video. So, some people learn better visually. So, we do a lot of YouTube-type videos that people can watch the process-

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: That’s great.

John Blessing: … and it’s really, really helped our business.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: That’s amazing. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. So, talk about what Forensic Analytical Consulting Services does.

John Blessing: Yeah. We are an environmental consulting service and basically our mission statement is we create experts, both staff and clients, who protect the public health and the environment. And so over the years we have developed as environmental challenges have developed. 35 years ago when we started, it was asbestos was a major environmental challenge. And then we got into mold and lead, and now we’ve gotten involved with COVID, Legionella, air quality, safety, noise. So, basically any type of environmental challenge that you’ve faced as a company or an individual, we have experts that help clients deal with those.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I can totally why healthcare is a great sector for you. Can you walk me through a little bit? Healthcare company calls you. What’s an example of something they’re experiencing and then how do you help them?

John Blessing: Yeah, they think could be calling us for a variety of things. They may be calling us because they’re remodeling one of the wings or floors on the hospital, and they want to test for hazardous materials in the walls or the ceilings or the floors. Because a lot of times things like asbestos and other types of materials are fine as long as they’re not disturbed, but if you disturb them, they get in the air and they can cause people to get sick or worse. So, they’ll reach out to us and ask us to survey and make sure there’s no materials. Or if there are some materials, once we find out, what’s the safest way to get them abated or get them removed. Another thing a hospital may be calling us for is we do a lot of fit testing. During the COVID situation, a lot of the medical first responders had to wear respirators.

John Blessing: Well, you have to be fit tested to make sure the respirator protects you. So, we do a lot of that type of fit testing. We’ve gotten involved with hospitals and other healthcare facilities that may have work being done that might cause dust or other types of air particles near emergency rooms or other critical care units that they want us to monitor and survey so that if the levels get up, they can shut down the work. So, we get [inaudible 00:05:18] with healthcare in a lot of different ways. [crosstalk 00:05:20].

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: John, does the healthcare call you if they want to add something or do an addition or do construction, do they call you before or do they have people open it up while they’re doing it and then have you test it for them?

John Blessing: No, they call us before.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Before.

John Blessing: Yeah, they call us before. We’re involved with the planning. So, a lot of times, for example, they may demo part of the building to rebuild it. Believe it or not, in some cases with the requirements, it’s cheaper for hospitals to demolish a building and build it from scratch rather than try to renovate it. So, we get involved on both sides. We get involved in the demolition, making sure that the material’s safe before it’s demolished, and also monitoring noise or safety or air quality. And then on the new side, we get involved in helping make sure that during the process, there’s no mold development or air quality issues. And now the other big thing is they now have to have a water management plan, which basically says they’ve got to test the water. They got to know their control points, in other words, where the water’s coming out in their building. They’ve got to know their source of water, and then they got to be able to test on a regular basis to make sure that it’s safe. So, we help them with that as well.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. When we were talking before we hit record and we say, you’ve had this breadth of experience and what you wish you would’ve known earlier as a COO. So, someone’s listening to this. Maybe they’re a young CEO. Maybe they want to be a COO. What’s advice that you would give to your earlier self?

John Blessing: Yeah. I’m probably not the first one that says this and I certainly wouldn’t be the last. I wish I’d known then what I know now-

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Which is?

John Blessing: … and I wish I had known then what I’ve known now, because experience is a great teacher. I think one of the things that benefited me, Jeremy, was that I was involved in a lot of different industries, financial services, technology, managed services, a variety of different things. So, when I got into environmental consulting, I wasn’t narrowed by the paradigms of one particular industry. I was broad and that’s allowed me to apply techniques and thoughts to different situations without being narrow, too narrow. And so my advice to anybody starting out and new COO’s is get a breadth of experience. Don’t be limited by paradigms of a certain industry. And obviously it doesn’t mean you have to jump and take a different job in different industries, but read things like the Wall Street Journal and other things where you’re listening to how other industries apply challenges that you’re dealing with in your industry. You may get a different perspective that can help you solve a problem.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Are there certain resources you recommend? You just mentioned the Wall Street Journal. Are the other resources you’re like, "Yo, if I was talking to my 25 year old self, I probably would have read this every week or listened to this every week"?

John Blessing: Yeah. There’s a lot of great things to listen to. TED Talks has been a good one for me. The Wall Street Journal. I check LinkedIn on a regular basis. I’ve been involved in chat groups and forums that I think have been helpful. We get involved in the Swag, which is for consultants. Periodicals. So, I would look for things where you can get other people’s experiences to be able to apply to yours. And nowadays, I didn’t have this when I first started out, Jeremy, where you can type in, "Hey, I’m dealing with the situation. How would you handle it?" and get some background. You didn’t have that back when I started, but I would use that as well.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. I remember listening to audio cassette tapes in my car. So, are there any resources books-wise that you look at, whether it’s in leadership or business? Any favorites throughout the years for you?

John Blessing: Yeah. I like Pat Lencioni and read some great books. If you’re dealing with a culture issue within your business, one of the things that’s been good for us is Ideal Team Player, which is a great book. Talks about three characteristics, hungry, humble, smart, and we’ve adopted those as part of our interview process to make sure they’re a good fit. I think one of the big things I’ve learned, Jeremy, when you’re hiring teams and people, their talent’s important. Their culture fit may be more important. They’ve got to be able to fit within your culture. And so we spend a lot of time. We’re very focused on our culture. We spend a lot of time vetting candidates to make sure they’d be a good fit for our culture.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. I love that. Hungry. Humble, smart. Yeah.

John Blessing: Smart. Yup.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: And then when people come on-

John Blessing: We use another tool called predictive index, PI, that you can develop profiles for each position based on successful people in that position. We get a variety of people fill out the form for that position and we develop that predictive index. And what we have found is when we hire close to that predictive index, those people tend to be more successful than others. And so that’s made me a real believer.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: John, when you came on, because you come on with a breadth of experience to the forensic analytical team, what did you start to change or do differently or improve when you came on that you maybe brought from another industry or just from your experience?

John Blessing: Yeah. One of the big things is, Forensic Analytical has a reputation as being the number one consulting firm in the environmental industry. They are the consultant’s consultant. Their technical knowledge is beyond reproach. They were a group of scientists that were managing the business. So, where I was able to contribute and add value was providing business fundamentals to the business. Things like establishing process for presenting proposals, focusing on the client’s objectives when you went over a project, focusing on holding people accountable to targets, business targets, and then reinforcing those and then doing a lot of helping them with business development, training and follow up. So, it’s really about putting in business fundamentals and business development, sales process type fundamentals were the things that I was able to add.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yup. I’m wondering, I love what you said there, because a lot of times people start a business or a group of individuals start a business because they love the craft of doing the business, but it’s a totally different skillset for leadership and running the business than actually doing the work in the business. At what point do you recommend someone bring on a COO in their growth? Or maybe just because they have seen, "This is not the skillset that I have," or some people don’t even want to learn that skillset.

John Blessing: Right. I think it depends on the business, Jeremy. I really do. In the case of Forensic, we had a group of scientists that ran the business, and they were so good the service they provided, the business came to them because they were so good.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: My background’s in biochemistry, so scientists running a business can be a scary thought in some respects, and no disrespect there. It’s just-

John Blessing: Yeah, no. No.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. It’s like you go to school for something and you didn’t go to school for something else. So, I’m totally with you. Yeah.

John Blessing: And one of the things that a good business leader does is they set expectations, they manage those expectations and they give feedback to people and they hold people accountable to achieving those targets. And that’s difficult if you’re not focused on that. So, the other thing is, one of the things that I’ve learned over the years, everybody’s favorite radio station is What’s In It For Me. WIFM. And when you focus on what’s in it for me for your clients and your employees, and you manage everything back to what’s in it for them, it’s amazing the results you can get. So, one of the things we did fundamentally is everything we do ties back to our clients. So, what is the client’s why for doing a project. And when we understand the client’s why, we can develop the scope for the project to meet that client why.

John Blessing: One of the things Forensic had going forward is it’s mission statement, "create experts, both staff and client" who are focused on the client, and then our values, which were "people first, integrity of the science, client relationships for life" were tied back to the client. And then our differentiators, "right people, right perspective, right now," was all focused on the client. So, all I had to do was basically say, "Let’s continue that into our business processes tied back to our client." So, what I would tell you is when every time you’re thinking about a business process or a product or a service, what’s in it for the client? And when you start with that, it’s amazing how things can fall into place.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. That makes sense because then what spits out on the other side, whether you’re doing a proposal or work for them, it’s going to be tailored to exactly what they want and need.

John Blessing: Right, right.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: You mentioned business targets. Can you give people a general sense of what you mean by that? What are some examples of business targets that you find important, whether it’s in this business or any business that people should, "Okay, you should start looking at implementing these things"?

John Blessing: Sure. First of all, everybody works better when they have a plan. When you have something to strive for and you have goals, no matter what it is, could be weight loss, it could be business, could be, "Hey, I want to take three vacations this year, when you have a plan, you’re more organized. You work to that plan. The kind of business targets that we focused on were financial, non-financial. The financial targets, how much revenue. And we’re all consultants. We’re a consulting business. So, billability, utilization, revenue are key features, right? So, we set targets on revenue growth, which was based on amount of time you billable and what your bill rate is. Then we standardized our pricing so the bill rate piece kind of went away. So, all our people have to focus on is how much billable work they do, right? And everything else falls into place. So, they were the financial targets.

John Blessing: Then the non-financial metrics we’ve put into place are things like holding one-on-ones with our staff. Because one of the things you find is what’s in it for the client, what’s in it for the employee is also as much important as what’s in it for the client. So, things like staff development, career growth, diversity of projects, they do. So, we set up a lot of non-financial metrics and these were things like weekly one-to-ones. Everybody has a development plan, a three to five year plan as well as a one-year plan, and then a quarterly plan tied to what you’re trying to accomplish in your year. So, everybody in our company has as a plan. And then our supervisors basically work with their teams to help them implement the plans. And so that’s the non-financial side we track. So, the financial side are the revenue, the net income, the business metrics. But we also spend a lot of time on the non-financial metrics. Those are the kinds of goals we set up.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. I would love to hear any that surprised you from talking to staff and what’s in it for them. I remember talking to some staff and it surprised me how often it came up, with what you just mentioned is, how the diversity piece. People like working on a diverse number of projects. And until you ask you don’t realize, "Oh, that just didn’t cross my mind necessarily." What is something that you find is a common theme when you ask that with people? What’s their individual goals or maybe something that just jumped out at you that surprised you a little bit in the beginning? Now, maybe nothing surprises you.

John Blessing: Yeah. What surprised me in the beginning was, I think you described it well was, but it was really a cross section. We had some of our consultants that were very happy focusing in asbestos, lead, and mold. They liked it and what their goal was, they wanted to be the best expert in those areas. So, they wanted to be there. Okay. Then we had another group that wanted to be recognized in the industry as being an expert in a particular area. Could be water management. Could be industrial hygiene. Could be whatever. Then we have a third group that said, "Hey, I want to become a certified industrial hygienist, and I want to be an expert in a variety of different fields." So, what we’ve done as a business is basically given people career paths to be able to achieve whatever those are. But I think the thing that surprised me the most is the diversity within what people wanted to do, and then the reaction when we said, "Okay, we’re going to develop a plan to help you achieve that target."

John Blessing: One of the things I’m very proud of is in our staff today, we have 14 certified industrial hygienists, which is a CIH, and of the 14, over half of them were homegrown. And what I mean by that is they started out at a different level and achieved the certified industrial hygiene recognition while working for FACS. So, we helped them get there, and that’s impressive. Well, we’ve got several people now that are on track to become CIHs. So, we like the fact we develop our own.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: That’s amazing. Talk a little bit about the format of the one-on-ones.

John Blessing: Yeah. So, we’ve been spending a lot of time with that. We have, as we’ve grown, we’ve created another layer of supervisors. Because in the old days we had an office. Each office had what we called a local director who ran the office, that basically all the people reported to that local director. As we’ve grown over the years we’ve had to put supervisors in and now we’re developing those supervisors. So, we do a lot of training with them on how to do staff development, how to manage your people. One-to-ones is a key point. So, we do a training on a periodic basis on holding effective one-to-ones. The key thing is, to us, is you have to be consistent with the one-to-one. It has to be open-ended with an agenda. So, then always we have a straight format we follow, but it allows for a lot of open-ended discussion. And it always ties back to, where are you in your progress related to your goals? And those goals are both financial and non-financial.

John Blessing: So, we have a format that we follow, and then we use a tool. We use a tool called Dayforce out of Ceridian that we’re just moving to, but in there we capture all the one-on-ones. So, we’re tracking and we incent our supervisors and our managers on the quality and number of one-on-ones that they hold. So, we’re tracking how many one-on-ones are done.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. That’s really valuable, John. I really appreciate you sharing this. I have one last question for you. Before I ask it, I want to point people towards forensicanalytical.com. You can check out their website. You could check out the testimonials and client reviews. They have the services, emergency response, and all the information there. They have a blog. Any other places, John, online, we should point people towards, besides forensicanalytical.com?

John Blessing: For what?

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Just to find out more about your company.

John Blessing: We’re involved with the American Industrial Hygiene Association, which is aiha.com. We have a program called FIRM, which is Fast Incident Response Management, that is designed for property management firms. That basically, anytime you have to call it a restoration vendor to manage an unplanned incident like a water leak or a gas leak or something like that, we manage those vendors for you. So, it’s outsourcing the management of those. That’s under facstrack.com. F-A-C-S track.com. And by all means check us out in any other periodical that’s related to the industry. We’re usually there.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Right. I love it. Everyone, check it out. Check out all the episodes of the podcast. Check out SweetProcess. Last question, John, is you don’t have to name companies, but I’d love to hear… You probably have heard of some crazy things happening, okay? Someone’s calling you. I don’t know, asbestos is spreading everywhere. I don’t know, whatever the situation is. What’s something that you can chat about that you remember, "Oh my God, stuff hit the fan. Here’s what happened"? Or something was leaking. I don’t know. What crazy story do you have for me in this business?

John Blessing: We have a lot of crazy stories, but the one that jumps to mind as you’re describing is, we got a call from a environmental insurance company. So, they would ensure environmental risks. And they had bats in a house, in the walls of a house, and they were causing pollution and smell and things like that. And we basically had to come up with a way to abate that smell and deal with the bats. And-

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: How do you do that?

John Blessing: [crosstalk 00:22:53] think that was a wackiest thing I ever saw. I got to tell you, Jeremy, I’m not the scientist. I’m not the technical one. We did come up with a way to deal with it and we basically managed the safe removal. We helped develop the scope. And then we tracked them, the environmental impact, and a company actually came in and removed them. But that was the craziest thing I had ever seen. We’ve gotten involved in a lot of water situations where there was concern about odors and things like that. And a lot of times these odors are caused by a variety of different things. So, a lot of the stuff is you got to do a lot of analysis to figure out where it’s coming from, and they come from a variety of sources. One of the dangers right now is a lot of buildings are sitting idle because we’re working from home.

John Blessing: Water sits in pipes and it isn’t used on a regular basis, a lot of bacteria can develop, which can cause a lot of problems. So, one of the things that I’m anticipating is going to happen as we start to go back to work in the buildings-

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Don’t be the first person to put your cup under the faucet when you go back to work.

John Blessing: Make sure that they’ve done some type of water testing prior to going back into that building.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I love that. It was the Addams Family that the bats, right?

John Blessing: Yup. You called it. Yup. It was a old house. I can tell you it was in the northwest. It was an old house and it was amazing.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah, that’s crazy.

John Blessing: [crosstalk 00:24:26].

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Well, John, I want to be the first one to thank you. Check out forensicanalytical.com. Check out the resources. Check out the podcast and SweetProcess. Thanks, everyone.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Process Breakdown Podcast. Before you go, quick question. Do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and/or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job? If yes, sign up for a free 14 day trial of SweetProcess. No credit card is required to sign up. Go to sweetprocess.com, sweet like candy and process like process.com. Go now to sweetprocess.com and sign up for your risk-free 14 day trial.

Owen: Hi. This is Owen, the CEO and co-founder here at SweetProcess. If you enjoyed listening to this podcast interview, actually, you know what I want you to do? Go ahead and leave us a five-star review on iTunes. That way we get more people aware of the good stuff that you get here on this podcast. Again, go on to iTunes and leave us a five-star review. We’ll look forward to reading your review. Have a good day.

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