Contractor Tip Of The Month: Working on the Business Instead of in the Business

Words: Damian Lang

Damian Lang

A couple weeks ago, my stepson Nathan and I were having dinner on my back porch. Like many nights before, he was more focused on work than the meal. He had bought out my wife’s family bar and restaurant, has about 30 employees, and has been doing a great job of making changes and increasing business.  But managing a business can be stressful. Before Nathan even finished eating, he was counting cash from daily sales and doing paperwork. It was obvious in his voice and body language that he was stressed to the max.    Running a business does not have to be stressful all the time. In fact, most of that stress is brought on by the manager himself. That’s because most managers work in the business instead of on the business.    I told Nathan I have five companies with over 250 employees, and less stress and paperwork to do in the evenings than he does. “That’s because I don’t have people doing the work for me like you do, he replied.  I told him he was right on the money, and that is why he has to work so many hours at night and endure so much stress every day. I explained that the reason I don’t have all that stress is that I don’t work in my businesses, I work on them. What he is doing every night is working in the business, by doing the work himself, instead of delegating it.   He went on to explain that he doesn’t trust anyone to count the money each night, which is a huge job when you are processing so many orders and getting a lot of cash each day. I informed him that if you don’t trust people, they won’t trust you. You need to manage the process by implementing tracking systems that keep people from cheating the system, then, letting them do the work.   So, what do you think I should be doing each day? he asked. “Shaking hands and kissing babies,” I replied.   Of course, he wanted to know exactly how to work on the business instead of in the business while going around shaking hands and kissing babies.   Here are the recommendations I gave him: 
  • Make a list of priorities that need to be done each day 
  • Number the list with the most important tasks first 
  • Set up systems to manage your people and processes; and  
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate! 
He asked for more details.  Making a list of priorities before you start your day will help you organize your thoughts and keep you focused on what matters most. Then, as much as possible, avoid anyone or anything that keeps you from accomplishing your goals for the day. I have a sign on my office door that reads, “Please do not disturb between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., unless it’s very important. I will be available after 10 a.m.” This way I can focus on my most important tasks during that time.    Numbering the list in order of importance will ensure you complete the most important tasks first each day. Also, always move your toughest tasks (such as disciplining an employee) to the top of the list. Once the hardest task is complete, the rest of your day will be a breeze.   Set up systems to manage people and processes instead of only trying to manage the people. I suggested that Nathan implement a system that measures how much food and alcohol is being consumed each day and night. Then, all he has to do is ensure the money counted at the end of the day balances with the consumption at the right margins.   The truth is, you can't manage people, but you can manage systems. Develop an organizational chart that describes what tasks each person is responsible for each day and exactly who each person reports to. If they are all reporting to you, which they are right now at Nathan’s restaurant, you will have operational issues that will stunt your business growth and increase your stress level.  Delegate, Delegate, Delegate! You should delegate all repetitive tasks. Examples include answering the phone, sorting mail as it comes in, ordering supplies, cleaning the restaurant, mowing the grass, scheduling employees, and you guessed it checking credit cards against receipts, counting cash, and balancing the books for the day, week or month.     You empower people by giving them tasks and then letting them do them by themselves. When you give your employees responsibilities and the freedom to handle them, they will know you trust them. This gets them excited about their jobs, and they will do much better work in the process.   “Okay, I am starting to get the picture,” said Nathan. “But what are you talking about when you say, shaking hands and kissing babies?That is how you find out what is going on at your company, so you know what changes to make  You need to have the people doing all the work while you walk around asking your vendors, employees and customers what you can do to improve operations. They have all the answers. Once you get the answers from them, you develop systems based on what they recommend you need to do.   Remember, if you are an owner or manager at your company and you are stressed out, it’s your own fault as you are working in the business instead of on the business.   Now, Nathan is having meetings and setting up systems to manage his people. Soon, he will have the right people and systems in place to manage the business. Once he does, dinner on my back porch will be stress-free for Nathan.   Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Malta Dynamics, and EZG Manufacturing. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make jobsites more efficient, visit his websites at or To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, or call 740-749-3512.
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