Getting Unstuck as a Construction Business Owner

By Dan Paulson, InVision Development International, LLC

“I’m not sure what to do next.”

Any business owner faces the challenge of what to do next. The construction industry is no exception. Let’s use an example. A plumber one day decides that he can do a better job on his own so he buys a truck, gets the necessary equipment, orders business cards, and starts his company. As the years go by, the plumber’s business expands. Over a decade the company now owns a fleet of trucks and has hundreds of employees. While situations change, the owner has not. They remain a plumber who happens to own a business. Heavy involvement in every aspect of the work is the norm. What allowed for growth is now slowing the momentum. This is where you hear the phrase, “working in the business instead of on the business.”

It’s hard to change focus. For most owners, their business is like one of their children. They have nurtured it into maturity, and it is now providing a lifestyle and ultimately a future. Change is already difficult. It’s tougher when it requires letting go and having others take a greater role in daily operations. Several questions surface as owners think about the future. Uncertainty is a common feeling. Fear prevents action. How many times have you found yourself in a situation where you struggle to act?

  • Am I doing the right thing?
  • When should I hand off responsibilities to an employee?
  • Is our strategy correct?
  • How will I continue my legacy?
  • What do I do to hand off leadership to others?
  • How do I let go of daily tasks?
  • The list goes on.

Uncertainty promotes fear. Fear prevents action which creates more uncertainty. The doom loop is formed

So how do you get out of it?

First, when you are digging a hole, the only way to get out of it is to first stop digging. That is, unless you own an excavation company… but I digress. Every trade business needs to apply best practices. First define your direction. What is your vision for growth, sustainability, and ultimately your endgame? Answering these questions first allows you to see a clearer picture of the future you want to create. It also helps determine needs in the next area we need to look at.

Next, we need to look at the people. Part of that is establishing a team around you who can take on responsibilities that relieve your burden as an owner.  You may have supervisors or project managers, but do you have a senior team of leaders responsible for future growth? This is where developing an organization chart can be helpful. Know your key team members. Assess their strengths, understand where gaps exist. Hire to fill those gaps.

We need to strengthen the team once it’s in place. Uncertainty is enhanced when the owner doesn’t realize how much they do on a daily basis. Owners are involved in everything. In many cases, decisions only happen at the top. Want to test this? See how many times you are interrupted throughout the day for seemingly simple questions that you must answer repeatedly. If you are asking yourself why a supervisor or manager needs your final approval for solving a problem, then you are the block. Everyone needs purpose. That includes you, the owner. The result is you take on the role of the “Oracle.” In Greek mythology, the Oracle provided divine advice to those who asked. Owners fall in the same category if every time an employee asks a question, they provide an answer. The goal is letting go. Delegate responsibilities to the leadership team. Effective delegation requires good communication and accountability. Both are often missed. Learn how to transfer duties and decision making to others.

Construction requires a plan, the right groups of professionals brought in at the right time and having clear timelines with completion deadlines. Your business requires the same. So far, the vision has been clarified, and the team has been put in place. Now we must track the progress. Having a simple, yet effective, platform to monitor progress is important. This is a one-page document that helps visualize the goals, who is working on what, the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s), and progress for completion. Regular review is necessary. This is a living document that should be updated regularly much like your construction schedule for a building.

You need to stop actions that are causing you to dig further. How do you know which ones to stop. Talk it out with someone who isn’t actively involved in the problem.

Patience is the key. Most owners lack this skill. They want change and they want it now. They are quick to make assumptions and jump in to solve problems instead of having their team work a solution. Avoid letting your own biases get in the way.

Set clear expectations. Measured outcomes provide clarity for all involved. They know what targets they are expected to hit and what guidelines they need to follow. It helps with alignment.

Certainty is a mindset supported by positive behaviors. Seek out the help you need if you’re stuck.

Dan Paulson photo

Dan Paulson is the CEO of InVision Development International.  He helps business owners and executives build high-performance companies. The result is a company designed to give you the freedom to spend time doing the activities important to you while increasing sales and profitability. Dan grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. After graduating from college, he went on to work for some of the largest employers in the state. In 2005, Dan launched InVision to help business owners and leaders who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty roll up their sleeves and build better businesses. Please visit danpaulsonletsgo.com to learn more.

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