Letting go: the role of the contractor

Donald Trump doesn’t deal blackjack and George Steinbrenner doesn’t play third base. They work on strategies while their people do the day-to-day stuff. If they were hit by a bus tomorrow, their businesses would continue to operate effectively without them.

There are thousands of contractors who operate the same way and get the same type of results. The owner is a captain. He plots the course, watches the horizon, and deals with exceptions while the officers and crew keep the ship humming along smoothly.

Many contractors, however, are convinced that their businesses can’t run without their involvement with every detail. This strangles the business, prevents the owner from dealing with more important strategic issues, taxes the owner’s time and makes the business vulnerable to collapse if the owner is out of commission.

The first step to become captain of your ship is letting go of a good chunk of the day-to-day operational details and let your crew handle them.

The following are the most common questions we hear from contractors about letting go of day-to-day duties.

Question: I’ve been doing it this way for years and it’s worked OK. Why change now?

Answer: The owner-reliant model works early on, but as the business grows it demands more and more of the owner’s time and energy. For example, if you do all the bids and there are 30% more bids, you’ll be spending 30% more time doing bids.

Increased complexity multiplies these demands. Tracking a few jobs and employees in your head is easy enough. Running multiple crews, juggling lots of bids and coordinating with lots of subs is a very different animal.

As the owner nears his limit, balls start to drop and each day can become a series of crises. When the owner hits the wall, the business stalls.

Question: If letting go is so great, how come everybody doesn’t do it?

Answer: Mostly because of a common set of misperceptions — some emotional and some operational. Here are the most common:

  • I’ll lose my power and control: You will actually gain power and control by delegating authority and creating the policies, systems, and checks and balances that insure things are done your way every time. What’s more powerful: signing the checks or deciding how big they are and who gets them?
  • They won’t need me anymore: The ship needs its captain to set the course, make command decisions, add to the fleet, provide systems and tools, and deal with unexpected emergencies. The captain’s far more valuable on the bridge than meddling in the engine room.
  • Suffering goes with success: Success requires effort, focus, vision and determination, but it doesn’t require 70-hour work weeks, heart attacks and missing your kids’ graduations. Suffering is optional. You decide.
  • I’m not really a manager, I’m just a plumber: Got employees? Doing $500,000 plus? You may lack proper management and leadership skills, but you’re certainly a manager.
  • I’m the only one who knows how to do things right: Well, you learned how to do them, so others can also be taught.
  • Delegation doesn’t work: Done right, delegation is the most powerful tool in the management shop.
  • It’s a luxury to hire people to do this stuff: Nope. Extravagance is having a $150,000 contractor/owner do the work of a $10 an hour clerk or laborer.

If you understand these misperceptions that we just reviewed, you are probably wondering how to actually let go. Here are a couple steps to follow:

Get your head straight: Are you ready to transform yourself from a skilled tradesman into a true business manager and leader? Can you truly relinquish the do-it-all control freak role you’ve played for years? This takes some courage, and it absolutely has to happen first.

Learn to create consistent, high-quality results: Proper delegation isn’t complicated or expensive. It does, however, require an investment of time and energy to insure that employees understand exactly what you want done and how.

You might be wondering what will happen once you relinquish some control from the business. For starters, your free time increases and stress level decreases, and you can go into the office when you want to. Your cell phone rings only occasionally, and you’ll be able to actually keep appointments, go on a vacation, show up at the soccer games, etc.

Documentation and delegation create an operation that can be replicated, and expansion is essentially unlimited. You don’t have to create a huge company, but now you have the choice.

Documenting and systematizing your business means more consistent results, schedule performance, job costs and simplified training for new people. This means fewer headaches and higher profits.

The biggest benefit of letting go is that it lets you take back your life. As long as the ship’s engine depends on you to run it, you’ll never escape the engine room. Teach somebody else to do it, and you can sit on the bridge and steer your ship wherever the spirit moves you. And wasn’t that why you started your business in the first place?

Jayme Broudy is the founder and principal of Contractor’s Business School, a coaching, training and consulting firm, specializing in helping contractors produce more profit in less time. Since 1993, Jayme has worked with hundreds of contractors in many specialty areas to build successful stand-alone businesses. Visit www.contractorsbusinessschool.com or call 800.527.7545.

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