In The News: Denver Business Journal

8020 Builders

Strong culture is a key strategy to dealing with the labor shortage at 8020 Builders, a general contractor based in Denver.

Andrea Watkins, vice president of people and culture at 8020, said her position is unique but vital in the construction world.

“Reputation brings subcontractors back again and again,” Watkins said.

Watkins said serving people is a large part of the conversation at 8020, which includes talking about how to leave people better than they were found.

“How do we help subcontractors get even better so they can get more jobs?” she said. “We want to impact them positively.”

She said there is a large emphasis in their company on communication, to ensure internal and external processes don’t hold up payment. She said cashflow is critical to subcontractors.

“When you work with subcontractors who have piece workers, it’s much more critical to be mindful of how your payment process works,” Watkins said.

Oftentimes, waiting more than a month to get paid can be too long for subcontractors to keep their crews engaged, so Watkins said ensuring there is clear communication to get them paid on time helps assure they come back.

She said it takes a lot more effort and energy to engage with subcontractors because they are so busy — so having an essential few they can count on for projects is crucial.

Once the parties are at the table, the delays haven’t been catastrophic, Watkins said. But having busier subcontractors means increased communication and cooperation in getting input for schedules and deliverables.

“It’s more work, more communications, more planning, more time understanding what’s going on for people,” Watkins said.

In being realistic and planning far ahead with schedules, 8020’s design-build strategy works well. It engages early in projects and does conceptual estimating.

According to Watkins, 8020 rarely “hard bids” on a project.

“That’s not where our value lies,” she said. “We help with design facilitation, making sure that everyone involved in a project is on the same page with what those costs are going to be.”

Watkins said it can be difficult to prevent scope and budget creep in a project when a developer chooses the lowest price bid.

“We find it plays to our advantage because we understand the performa, exit strategy and client need,” she said. “We understand the budget. That early engagement allows key subcontractors to come to the table early and problem solve.”

Early questioning and problem solving help projects get done on time, so subcontractors can get paid on time and stay on schedule.

Despite challenges, Watkins said that focusing on culture and relationships makes the industry more rewarding.

“Construction is fun — it should be fun for everyone involved. It’s not easy; it’s complex. It’s filled with problem solving, but it’s rewarding, and the relationships that we are rewarded with are fulfilling.”


The 8020 Method: Adaptive Reuse/Remodel

The 8020 Method: Adaptive Reuse/Remodel

You can’t be a part of the development and construction business these days without at least hearing about concerns of environmental responsibility and sustainability of buildings and building practices. Many of us are directly involved in projects pursuing a LEED certification or something similar. New efforts and measurements seem to pop up almost monthly.

This is for good reason. According to the US Green Building Council (USGBC), building operations account for 41% of the world’s energy use. Extraction, fabrication and transportation of the materials used to construct these buildings also uses a lot of energy and further increases the “footprint” this industry leaves on the earth.

All that is simply an introduction into why this topic is important to us.

The Messy Middle

What does a superficial relationship look like?

One example of a superficial relationship is one that has not encountered conflict yet. This is a superficial relationship because we don't yet know how someone is going to respond when we encounter something we don't agree on. When we meet a new client we understand that this is the space where we are getting to know more about one another.  And we are both protecting ourselves from giving too much away before we know how one another will respond to our vulnerabilities.

Another example of a superficial relationship is one that has encountered conflict and one side wins and one side loses. One side feels like the other was engaged in the model of getting ahead trumping the model of getting ahead by getting along. This type of superficial relationship can be present between general contractors and sub-contractor relationships, construction management teams and general contractors, business owners and general contractors and can be subtle. If you find you are constantly engaging in "us against them" dialogue in your mind you may be engaged in this type of superficial relationship. (And...we all are at different times in our lives. Whether in our personal or professional lives!)

One last example of a superficial relationship is one where freedom lives outside of expectations. There is a subtle difference between having freedom to work in ways that align with our own personal style and not being able to hold people accountable for specific results. Freedom is the illusion of enlightenment and enlightenment understands nuance and boundaries.

Are you familiar with the saying: "The magic is in the mess"?

Where conflict is the magic happens.

At 8020 Builders we build skills to bridge the gap between superficial relationships and deep meaningful relationships by having rules of engagement that we practice within our organization. Our team has access to resources to help them work through all of the details involved projects so we can: 

1. Understand what our personal parameters are around our growth as individuals and as a company

2. Develop communication skills that help us understand someone else's experience, values, goals, and perspectives 

3. Engage in ways that keep everyone's dignity intact 

4. Arrive at meaningful, creative solutions where we all walk away with better insight into what is important for one another in regards to the problem we encountered and better solutions to the problems we have.

In our experience, there are always Oh Snap! moments.

(read more about those here) 

Our mindset is focused on understanding our client's, our subcontractor's, and our team's values, definitions of success, and the meaning that is behind a "successful" project. 

Once we achieve a relationship that is built on trust, the sky is the limit in terms of growth and success together. 

Questions for reflection:

Can you think of a partner you have worked through a conflict with?

How did the conflict resolution change how you do business?

The Outdoor Industry and How it Relates to Culture

Wednesday evening I went to a panel discussion that was titled: The Outdoor Lifestyle: Changing The Way We Work And Play. Part of the discussion was to be centered around how the outdoor industry is writing the playbook for the future of work. How is the outdoor industry changing the way we work?

I wasn't surprised to hear that there is somewhat of myth about the people who work in the outdoor industry: that they're partiers who drift from gig to gig to get by so they can live life shredding on the mountain, surfing the Banzai Pipeline, or [FILL IN YOUR OUTDOOR PASSION HERE]. They don't require much because life is about doing not having.

I was floored to learn from Luis Benitez, who heads up the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office in Colorado, that the industry is an $800 billion dollar a year machine in the United States. ($34.5 billion in annual economic activity in the state of Colorado alone.) This is more than the automobile and pharmaceutical industries combined. What?!?!

The talent and dedication that is required to fuel such a large industry isn't fueled by those who are living to smoke weed, residing in beat up pick up trucks, or drifting from job to job. They're educated, determined and working hard to make great things happen. And they are connected to their own sense of strength and power that has been cultivated in their outdoor, athletic pursuits and it is weaving into the fabric of their businesses.

I'M discovering that there is no such thing as work-life balance instead there is a thing called life and harnessing the power of individuality. building culture and achieving business goals is kind of like attempting a pr. It isn't easy or comfortable. but when the summit is reached it is exhilarating and satisfying. all the blood, sweat and tears are worth it.

One of the panelists said this:

"I've started looking at the people who work with me through a different lens. I enjoy them while I have them on my team-ride the wave-and work with people while I can." 

We could digress here and discuss the impact of turnover in the workplace, but that would be losing the point. The point I want to make here is that the conversation about culture and changing the way we work and play lies in how we as employers view time off, passions outside of work, and education  that doesn't have anything to do with our job description.

a great culture is built on the idea that humans don't strive to be rewarded for being docile and obedient, they strive to find that their own means of power is strong.

The outdoor lifestyle connects those who engage in it deeply to their own power. When was the last time you set out on an athletic endeavor or a pursuit for a new project and you found it easy? 

Think back to the last time you set out to achieve a goal-personal or professional.

How did you feel?

How did your emotions shift as you progressed towards your goal?

What emotions did you experience when you had a bad go of it?

How did you feel after you achieved your goal?

When I was training triathletes to compete, one of my favorite sayings was that "running never gets easier, you just get faster". My focus was on finding the magic balance of hard, strategic efforts combined with optimal rest and rejuvenation. As well as insisting on a period or two a year where racing and training wasn't the focus. The athletes who just focused on the suffer and worked harder in the name of winning were the ones who were never satisfied with their efforts, seemed to plateau for long periods of time, inevitably ended up with over-training injuries, and had strained relationships. 

As the vp of people and culture at 8020 Builders it is my responsibility to set the framework for us to grow a culture where people find their best and we can find our best as a company. My background with athletes combined with my studies in emotions, empathy, neuroscience, anthropology and ritual bring a unique approach to culture. 

It isn't easy. It requires leadership to view culture through a different lens. And it involves deep, meaningful conversations that are built on trust and a real care and concern for one another. I'm proud to be working next to Steve and Brendan who are setting the stage for what it takes to deliver on our promises to clients and who are in the trenches building our culture. Here are two examples from our culture manual of things we have in place to help us grow our culture:

  1.  We do not do yearly performance reviews. Instead we have several different ways for the team to communicate goals, expectations, need for support, problems and celebrations. I'm always humbled by the amount of communication that happens between team members. I think this is the thing I value most about our culture. We also have outside consultants that our team can reach out to if they feel like they need someone other than leadership to speak with.
  2. Enrichment Allowance. We contribute a yearly amount to each employee for them to pursue a hobby or education outside of the construction industry. 

What it takes to achieve success in a culture that welcomes people's passions outside of work is rarely talked about. It is no longer about work-life balance. That is a myth. The outdoor industry is showing us that we CAN bring our whole selves to our work environments. And that a by-product of doing so gives us strong, resourced, resilient, creative, and humble people who are able to navigate tension/discomfort/disagreements/problems with a sense of curiosity and adventure. They are showing us that work hard and play hard actually helps us achieve a sense of wholeness in our lives when it is welcomed in the workplace. It translates into creative and innovative ways of executing business goals and allows time for the views from the top of the summit to soak into the bones of our culture. Finally, they remind us that the breathtaking views from the top are always worth the time and hard work it takes to reach the summit.  








Resilience, Focus and Leadership

The culture at 8020 Builders is built on capitalizing on people’s unique talents, strengths, experiences, and styles.

Early in 2016 Brendan Adams joined the team as Vice President of Operations and his contributions to the systems and processes we use today have grown our professionalism and our capabilities immensely. Recently we sat down and talked with Brendan to understand how his unique style and experiences have allowed him to bring this contribution to the company.

Brendan is an athlete at heart. He has qualified for the Boston Marathon three times as well as the NYC Marathon. He also holds the fastest time record in the Transcendence Ultra-Running Series which consists of individual races of 50K, 50-miles (two of them), 110K and, finally, 102 miles, all in one summer! Most recently he qualified for and plans to run the world famous Ultra Trail Mount Blanc, a 100K trail race that circumnavigates Mt Blanc, gains and loses 20,000 feet of elevation, and travels through three countries-Switzerland, France, and Italy. And he’d like to do it in 20 hours.

This athletic drive is clearly a strength. And something he loves to do.  

Brendan started running back in high school when he joined the cross-country team to get in shape for soccer. Unlike most of his teammates, he didn't quit immediately and actually wound up enjoying it tremendously, eventually gaining his varsity letter and creating an ember for running.

Decades later the embers ignited into an inferno.

In 2011 he qualified for his first Boston Marathon but he ended up injuring himself and couldn’t run the race as planned in 2013- the year of the bombing at the finish line that took the nation by surprise. That same year he was unable to run the New York City Marathon because of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy. Missing the opportunity to run two epic races is hugely disappointing for any athlete; and it was for Brendan as well.

However, Brendan is resilient. He took time to mourn the lost opportunities and eventually found some silver linings. These qualities, and more dedicated planning and strategic training got him to the start line of the 2014 Boston Marathon. The city’s 118th running of the race; one year post terrorist attack.

26.2 miles, running through the streets of a city that was helping to heal a nation. 

The city was so energized - it was an unforgettable and amazing experience.

The same qualities that fuel Brendan’s running: resilience, focus, dedication, ability to suffer, are the same ones that have helped him grow 8020 Builders into the professional, capable organization it is today.


Steve describes Brendan as an intelligent runner, “the guy plans his long training runs down to how many calories he will take at each aid station in a race.” He adds,

I’m excited that Brendan is leading 8020 Builders’ initiatives with this same humble, strategic, data-driven approach.
— Steve Rogers

This past weekend Brendan finished the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in 17 hours and 19 minutes. Ahead of his goal. You can find him this week travelling around Switzerland with his wife. Recovering and rejuvenating!


What qualities support your leadership style?

Dispelling The Myth That Design Build Is More Expensive Than Hard Bid Procurement

the 8020 method: build Relationships early by engaging in the details. 

Something common we encounter in our business development relationships is that oftentimes there are so many options out there that business owners and decision makers can sometimes get distracted and miss critical windows of opportunities that end up delaying their projects or increasing the cost of certain elements of their projects. 

Brokers, real estate developers, and business developers find themselves worried about blowing up a deal by putting too much pressure on a client to make a decision. Oftentimes, they are afraid that a client will think they aren't getting the best their money can buy.

A good commercial general contractor who engages in Design-Build work procurement early in the process can not only put a client at ease, but can also shoulder much of the responsibility of delivering expectations.

We find that engaging in the details of a project before it goes out for proposal allows us to work through many issues before they become problems. We can narrow down the best solutions by using our client's guiding principles around time, usability and finances.  

Focusing on what is important to you in the following areas helps us negotiate a contract that places the responsibility squarely on our shoulders allowing you to focus on the things that matter most to you. 

Knowing your project is in the right hands-with experts you know and trust understand your interests and desired outcomes allows you to relax a little and have some fun as you watch your project come to life.

building is fun!

Diving into the details early in the process allows us to shoulder the responsibility of meeting your expectations.



in terms of the needs you require for your space to perform, what the market supports, and what labor costs. It seems simple.  One thing that is different about us is our experience in development. We get behind you right away to ensure that your needs are the guiding principles in every move we make as your project comes to life.


We want to understand what the ideal timing of your project looks like so we can engage with the proper experts to make ensure we bring the proper expertise to get your project moving OR we help you understand where making shifts in your plans can accommodate that need without taking value away from your asset. Allocating our resources early gets us set up to perform according to the expectations we set up.  

Relationship Building:

Oftentimes people and companies decide to engage with several contractors to compare them next to one another to see where they are getting the best price point. The majority of our competition is perfectly competent and your project will get finished.  In our experience,  we find this procurement method doesn't look at value through the same lens as we do.  Sub-contractor relationships are extremely important to us in addition to client relationships. 

Experiencing our culture, seeing it in action before your project breaks ground gives us the opportunity for you to see our relationships in action.

It is so much fun! The variety of minds coming together to spot potential issues, solve problems, and to see a project come to life is nothing short of invigorating! Price comparing is pretty dang boring! Exerting power over people is a strategy we hope to never have to use. We thrive when challenges present and we love seeing our clients through this process. We hope to make it cool, fun, and engaging for you. 

People who dive in when a project is first visioned and present challenging budgets or timeframes see we are skilled at navigating creative tension and conflict, and that we solve issues with a sense of urgency. 

When we all become vulnerable and put trust on the table you can expect us to engage with a deep respect for that trust. You can count on us to navigate conflict with dignity and a real care for how the outcomes serve you and effect you. We work transparently up front and create opportunities to build at the speed of trust.

Trust puts us in a unique position to build faster and with greater efficiency and safety. We deliver your asset through the art of building meaningful relationships. 

Our commitment to this approach, not only with our clients but also with craftsmen, and 8020 team members, sets us apart in this industry. We build more efficiently and effectively. Every. Single. Time.

Not that we can ever cut steps out, but you can rest assured that the trust you place in us from the very first engagement will be used to build great things together and will never be used to achieve a result that is better for us than it is for you.

Let's build great things together!

We are All Responsible For Creating Invitations To Join The Workforce

I want to see them do well. When they succeed connection are made.
— Shawn Stansbury: Superintendent

Seeing the first pieces of ground get moved excites Rob, our summer field intern. "It's the signal that lets you know big things are about to happen", he says as we sit eating lunch together. Everything gets built from there. Earth gets moved. Concrete foundations get laid. And the entire project unfolds before your eyes.

Being on the move and not always being in the office keeps things fresh. It isn't easy being a field intern. "Shawn had me operating the jack hammer busting up concrete." The two got a good laugh...

"I watched him for a little bit....wondering if he was going to figure out a technique that would work for him. After a few minutes I went over and showed him a better way to handle the machine" said Shawn. "He's a tough kid." 

This is Rob's second year with 8020 Builders. He would like to spend more time with project managers to experience the work they do on a daily basis. He believes seeing the work from different perspectives will strengthen his skills well before he graduates from University of Montana with his degree in Construction Engineering.

We end talking a little bit about how Rob sees the future of construction. He finds that the work challenges him and that the problem solving always ends up being fun because the team of people supporting you. 

Their only mission is to see you succeed. 

He feels pretty confident that more people would pursue a career in the industry if they knew about the kind of people you meet out doing work.  Relationships form out on the job site. Guys show up who are good at what they do, they share their knowledge and skills and we lay out what success on the project looks like together. We have a good time out there and we build great projects. When you see the result of all the hard work it is hard not to feel proud of what you accomplished with other people.

There is a lot of respect that goes back and forth.
— Rob Hernandez