As a business owner, I need to get a huge return on my time. Every year, our company does $40 million to $75 million in commercial construction and development. We also manage more than 700,000 square feet of leased buildings. I don't have time to sweat the small stuff, but I have great people who do.
When I started my construction company in 1977, I took care of everything: hiring, purchasing, awarding subcontracts, marketing, sales, proposals, bids, estimating, supervising projects, project management, job meetings, paying the bills, invoicing customers, depositing checks, etc. You name it, if it had to be done, I did it—often until the wee hours of the night.
As my business grew, I had to get some help, so I hired family and friends. In retrospect, not the best idea. It's hard to build a professional company with inexperienced people who don't respect you as a boss. Over the next seven years we grew to 150 employees. Wow, what a workout! I had to learn how to manage people or die trying. In one two-year period, I hired and fired 14 secretaries, three vice presidents, 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 any 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—not a good thing for our bottom-line profit. We had lots of exciting work with great clients, but our company didn't retain people. My job description changed from contractor to personnel complaint department, which is not what I enjoyed doing.
I continued to try to find answers to our company's people problem. I looked everywhere for the magic fix. I tried new management ideas, went to time-management seminars, read business books and attended company retreats. Nothing worked. As a last resort I decided to try a new approach: letting go of all daily management decisions and delegating everything except leadership, vision and values.
A Look in the Mirror
I finally realized that the only factor holding our company back was me. I was the problem. I was trying to control everything and everybody. This was holding back 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 led every meeting, they didn't grow. When I approved every purchase, contract and strategy, they didn't have to think or be their best.
Don't Control, Let Go
I learned that a high level of control equals low performance. And a low level of control equals high performance. Ninety-nine percent accountable and responsible equals zero percent accountability and responsibility. You can't be partially responsible! When you solve other people's problems, they bring you more problems to solve. Are you wearing a sign around your neck that says "Bring me your problems?" This makes you feel large and in-charge—while your business slides backwards.
If in Doubt, Delegate
When your job supervisor calls you about a field problem, do you immediately handle it yourself and get right back to him? You should listen and then turn your customer over to your lead man on the job to take care of the situation. When it's time to bid for a major contract, do you get right in the middle of the negotiations? Instead, ask the project manager to review all the bids, analyze the scope of work and then make a qualified bid based on his research. When a supervisor asks you to deal with complaints from the builder or homeowner, do you get involved right away? Train your field supervisors to update their schedules, plan ahead, hold weekly field meetings, communicate, put things in writing and manage their projects professionally.
Here are some specific delegation strategies you can use to let go of the small stuff. Some are applicable to larger companies; others can be utilized by a business of any size:
- Weekly management meetings
- Pre-job start-up checklists
- Contract administration checklists
- Two-week look-ahead schedules completed weekly
- Weekly field coordination meetings with all employees
- Increased maximum spending limits for managers
- Weekly project meetings with the customer
- Project managers purchasing materials
- The office manager purchasing all office equipment
- The accounting manager purchasing office needs
- Estimators preparing and signing all bids.
Lead to Grow
Performance is the No. 1 indicator of leadership. No performance, no leadership. If you control the work, hold your people back and tell them what to do, you will hurt your company's growth and bottom-line profit. My leadership role now is to inspire others to be the best they can be. My job is to lead, not do. I don't even sign the checks. When I worry about all the little details, I waste a valuable resource—me.
What is Your Time Worth?
When you do $10 per hour work, you are not even earning $10 per hour. My company needs to bring in $2,000,000 annually to cover our overhead and projected profit. As the owner, I only have 2,000 hours to make that happen. Therefore, I must earn at least $1,000 per hour for our company on important things like customer relations, leadership, training, financial matters and looking for new business opportunities. Effective business owners and managers invest their time in quarters, with 25 percent of their time spent leading their company, 25 percent spending time with customers, 25 percent training employees and 25 percent doing their own work.
Less is More
The results are incredible: more profit while doing less, more loyal customers, and employees who love to work for our 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.