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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sidetracks and sidelines

PCL founder Ernie Poole set out 11 rules for business -- put down in handwritten form by his son George in 1948. They remain the core of the company's business principals, but could also be seen as a manifesto for any successful construction business.

One of Ernie Poole’s rules is ‘Don’t have sidelines." — Paul G. Douglas Canadian Buildings Chief, PCL (ENR 1/30/2008)

Ah, for a simple but important rule. "Don't have sidelines". This is one of 11 rules set out by George Poole when he purchased the business from his father in 1948, and Poole's Rules are now the foundation of PCL's success as one of North America's leading employee-owned contractors.

I know Paul Douglas from when, several years ago, he was in charge of PCL's Ottawa district office. Unfortunately, I failed to observe the "Don't have sidelines" rule and this proved to be one of my larger business mistakes.

At one point, for example, frustrated with the high costs of airline travel for the U.S. expansion, I made it my 'thing' to study airline fares and systems, to the point I 'cracked' Air Canada's Aeroplan program. I also took some strange trips, including one day excursions to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Guatemala, in First or Business Class, at astoundingly low fares. It certainly made for good stories (which I still share at times) and presumably saved me some money on my business travel, but was it good for business? Not a chance. Beyond the diversion of time and energy this stuff involved, It probably didn't motivate my employees much to be seen as interested in flight rules and variations.

My second major sideline involved fighting an Internet scam. This little sideline took me around the world, tracking down property records in South Africa, and tracing hotel records in Vanuatu. Coupled with the Airline legacy -- I remember a trip to Houston to meet an Internet forum administrator related to the scam-fighting initiative -- I spent countless hours on the venture; only to back off the fight when I realized that this stressful exercise could do nothing good for the future of my primary business, even though at one point, I attributed the hiring of a local publisher (and a quick $50,000 in revenue) to the scam-fighting project.

Sidelines are dangerous, indeed. they consume energy, passion, time, and money, and don't help your business. They also are tempting -- because you can almost always rationalize that they are indeed relevant and helpful; and may provide you with expansion opportunities and diversity.

So, what about this blog? Well, I hope I'm right in assuming that while it provides some of the intrinsic satisfaction of the sidelines I've just reported, it at least is relevant to the business.

We sell advertising and publish newspapers and websites for the construction industry -- a blog focused on Construction Marketing Ideas is clearly on-topic if only because it causes me to constantly think of ways we can do our business more effectively.

But I keep my eyes open now for relevance; practicality, and relationship to the primary business. And, while these days employers cannot over-regulate the out-of work priorities of employees, I won't forget this Poole's Rule: "Do not permit sidelines by employees." I am an employee, too.

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