February 2009: Business Building

Words: George HedleyFebruary 2009 Business Building Masonry Magazine

Let go to Grow

As a business owner, I need to get a huge return on my time. Each year, my company generates more than $40 million in sales, so I don't have any time to sweat the small stuff. But, I have great people who do. When I started my company, I took care of everything: hiring, supervising, purchasing, marketing, sales, proposals, estimating, project management, meetings, paying bills, invoicing and depositing checks. You name it; if it had to be done, I did it, often into the wee hours of the night.

Finding good help As my business grew, I had to get some help. So, I hired the best people I could find: my family and friends. It was not the best idea in retrospect. It's hard to build a professional company with inexperienced people who don't respect you as their boss. During the following seven years, we expanded to 150 employees. Wow, what a workout! In a two-year period, I hired and fired 14 secretaries, three VPs, five project managers, and nine superintendents. I couldn't find anyone who could do the work exactly the way I wanted it done. No one seemed to care, be accountable, or accept responsibility, except me.

Our company became a revolving door. Hire people, put them on the job, and then watch them leave after less than a year. This was not good for our bottom line. We had lots of exciting work with great clients, but our company didn't retain people. My job description changed from business owner to head of the personnel complaint department, which was not what I enjoyed doing. I continued to try and find answers to our people problems. I looked everywhere for the magic fix. I attended management seminars, read business books and hired consultants. Nothing worked. As a last resort, I decided to try a new approach. I let go of all the daily management decisions. I delegated everything except leadership, vision, values and setting our company goals.

Look in the mirror I finally realized that I was the only factor holding our company back. I was trying to control everything and everybody, and it was keeping our people from accepting responsibility and being accountable. When I made every decision for them, they didn't take responsibility. When I fixed their problems, they weren't accountable. When I controlled and lead every meeting, they didn't grow. When I approved every purchase, contract and strategy, they didn't have to think or be creative. I learned that high control equals low performance. When you solve other people's problems, they bring you more problems. Are you wearing a sign that says, "Bring me your problems?" It makes you feel powerful when you control everything for everyone.

When a customer calls with a problem, do you immediately handle it yourself and get right back to him? A better solution would be to listen, and then turn your customer's concern over to a supervisor to handle. When it's time to make a major purchase or award a large subcontract, do you get right in the middle of the negotiations? Instead, ask your manager to review the proposals, analyze the inclusions and exclusions, negotiate terms with the lowest responsible company, and then get your final approval. When a supervisor asks you to call a supplier who isn't performing, do you jump in and take charge? Train your supervisors to plan ahead, use written procedures, checklists, schedules, and team meetings, and then manage their workflows professionally. A simple delegation strategy is to increase your managers' maximum spending limits. Give more responsibility by allowing them to spend at least $1,000 or $5,000 before they have to get the boss' approval. The key is to stop making decisions for them.

Lead to grow Performance is the No. 1 indicator of leadership. No performance equals no leadership. If you control the work, hold your people back, and constantly tell them what to do, you'll hurt your company's growth and profit potential. An effective leader's role is to inspire others to maximize their output and become the best they can be. Your job is to lead, not to do. When you worry about every little detail, you waste a valuable resource: you.

What's your time worth? When you do $10/ hour work, you are not even earning $10. My company needs to bring in $2 million annually to cover our overhead and profit. As the owner, I only have 2,000 hours to make that happen. Therefore, I'm responsible to create at least $1,000/hour doing important things that make the biggest impacts on our bottom line. Effective business leaders only do work 25 percent of the time. The spend the other 75 percent leading their company; building customer relationships; seeking new business opportunities; and motivating, inspiring, coaching, and leading people.

Less is more By following these suggestions, your results will be incredible: more profit while doing less, more loyal customers, and employees who love to work for your company. Over the last 10 years, our employee retention rate has exceeded 95 percent. We have built a great place to work where people can grow, take responsibility, and be accountable to meet our company goals. The only way to grow is to let go. What will you let go?
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