10 Things Our COO Learned in 10 Years
Doing anything for ten years can get monotonous. Spending a decade of your life experiencing growing pains with a small business almost makes it seem like two decades—even when you are having a blast. Especially when the business goes from stable consistent growth to landing a spot on the Inc. 5000 two years in a row. Nick Szymanski, our COO has been around NCW long enough to see, and be a part of, the transformation that has taken place in the last decade.
Nick joined NCW in 2012. The U.S. job market was on the upturn after the Great Recession. Our office had no more than a handful of employees and one office (if you can call it that). We operated strictly as a construction staffing company in those days, just looking to change the lives of general contractors, one solid tradesperson at a time.
Over the last decade, Nick has worked hard to help NCW develop new service offerings, train recruiters and salespeople, and take full responsibility of NCW’s operations. Having a hand in so many parts of the business, Nick has learned through mistakes, mentors, lucky guesses, and his peers. As he celebrates year ten at NCW, he sat down with us to share ten of the most important nuggets he has collected over the course of his time with us.
1. A deeply rooted “WHY” is essential in building passion for your work and professional sustainability.
“If you’re working in this business long enough, it’s going to get hard at some point,” Nick said. When those times come, you must have a deeper meaning behind what you’re doing to carry on and stay in the game. This is how he has survived and thrived for ten years in an industry that can be overwhelming to almost anyone. Obviously, we were dying to know what his why is.
“NCW was a smaller operation when I accepted my original position in 2012. However, I believed in the vision of it’s entrepreneurial owners (Dan Mattingly and Steve Wise) who were fiercely motivated to grow the NCW brand. Accepting the role was a chance for me to expand upon their vision, to make an impact in helping grow NCW to the next level, and to be hands-on with helping create opportunities for folks in my home town of Indianapolis.”
This opportunity to be at the forefront of impacting our communities and growing the NCW brand excited Nick and has continued to motivate him when things get tough.
2. Stay consistently even keeled…don’t let yourself get too low after a “loss” or too high after a “win.”
This is a word of advice he received from his boss at his very first career job. It’s something that has always stuck with him, and when you work with him, you can tell he takes this seriously. He continues to keep his head down & push forward, win, or lose—there is always something to improve—to be learned.
3. When considering growth opportunities for your business, push yourself to think outside the box, while leveraging essential fundamentals and strengths that have been effective in the past.
A large part of NCW’s growth can be attributed to sticking with what works. This doesn’t mean that we shy away from trying new things, but we never abandon what has worked in the past to try something new. There is a delicate balance between entertaining new ideas and leveraging our strengths—we choose to make room for both.
4. When you feel strongly that an adjustment or change is right for the business, even if the timing isn’t perfect, be decisive in taking thoughtful action to make it happen.
Nick admitted to us that one of his biggest mistakes was a result of wavering on a decision. He has learned, and encourages others, to rely on experience and intuition when there isn’t solid data available. Be proactive in making decisions that can elevate your business and do not sit and wait for things to happen to you.
5. Process implementation + automation can change the game for scaling your business, but never lose the personal touch of communication.
Many of us have witnessed the evolution of communication through progression in technology over the last decade or two. Communicating has become easier, though a lot less personal in some ways. However, there are so many useful tools that make business efficient when you are scaling. At NCW, we developed processes for recruiting and business development that helped us scale the business significantly once they were implemented. Automation has helped us in the same way, but it can be a slippery slope—sometimes we rely too much on automation and lose touch with the basics of verbal communication. We have to continue to remind ourselves that in-person or phone conversations are most effective for what we do.
6. You can’t recycle time…make the most of it, don’t waste it, be grateful.
This one really hits home the older you get. Nick got nostalgic sharing this with us as he reflected on spending the entirety of his 30’s at NCW. He encourages us to make the most of all the time we have because it goes faster than you’ll ever imagine.
7. The combination of grit + hard work + consistency is often more valuable than “raw talent” by itself.
This is one that Nick & NCW learned through a bit of trial and error over the years. NCW has a talented office staff who come from a diverse mix of educational and professional backgrounds. The office teams are responsible for recruiting, business development, back office operations, field support, and marketing of NCW’s services. Some have come with prior industry experience, but the majority of office staff started their journey at NCW without any experience in the functions where they are now thriving. Regardless of professional or educational pedigree, Nick has learned that relentless work ethic and consistent output are the most prevalent traits shared among NCW’s top performers over the years—across all business functions. He believes that someone with the right mix of work ethic, positive attitude, and competitive desire to improve, more often than not, can be trained to outperform someone who’s solely reliant on “natural ability.”
8. Leadership is not defined by a title or position…it’s about taking responsibility, following through, holding yourself and others accountable, taking lead in doing what’s right, and initiating action.
Early in his career, Nick had the idea that you couldn’t really be a leader until you spent a certain amount of time at a job or had a specific title. He has since learned that leadership is a decision and a responsibility. If you decide you want it, you follow through and hold yourself and others accountable. Do stuff that others don’t want to do. Take the lead on things, even if they’re small, and lead by good example. Most importantly, do what you say you’re going to do.
9. Self-growth is ignited by pushing towards a state of being “uncomfortable.” Don’t be afraid to take risks, do what seems scary, learn from mistakes, and be open-minded to change and feedback.
There are a lot of things Nick says he isn’t comfortable doing but pushed himself to do for the sake of growth. He’s recognized those times of discomfort are the times he’s seen the most professional and individual growth in his life. He also recommends be open to feedback and changing your mind. Being stubborn or defensive won’t get you anywhere.
10. Two of the most underrated professional skills are active listening and empathy—you can differentiate yourself as a professional in most fields by strengthening these two attributes.
We all know people that have a hard time listening. Nick says that the people he’s looked up to the most weren’t always the loudest people in the room. You can see that he strives to be like those people he looked up to by the way he conducts himself.