My job gives me the chance to get to know a lot of remodelers. I’ve spent many days shadowing companies from all over the country, and I’ve met with more contractors than I can count either individually or as part of a peer-to-peer group.
As you can imagine, these companies run the gamut. They have different specialties, internal processes, and workplace cultures. Some are controlling their growth, while others are getting dragged by the stirrup. Some dominate their markets, while others are grinding it out day by day on smaller jobs.
Over time, I’ve noticed that about half the companies I interact with are happier than the other half. By “happier” I don’t mean they have more revenue, growth, or better processes. Instead, I’m referring to dynamics that are harder to measure—strong employees, optimistic owners, deep ties to the community, and perhaps most importantly, a kind of focus and spirit across every department and job level. I then started thinking about the things that those happy companies have in common.
I recently read an interesting book called Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande. Although it covered processes in medicine, the message was clear: excellence can be achieved by constant desire and action towards improvement. It isn’t limited to superior knowledge or resources; instead it’s rooted in diligence, ingenuity, creativity, and a constant evaluation of performance.
By “happier” I don’t mean they have more revenue, growth, or better processes. Instead, I’m referring to dynamics that are harder to measure.
And that’s when I realized the difference between the engaged remodelers and the ones who were just going through the motions. Every company that seems “happy” is also actively working toward improvements—not just of their bottom line, but also toward achieving the ideals that are foundational to their mission. They read business and management books, attend seminars, hire consultants, join associations, and pay close attention to what other companies are doing. They make sure their teams are in alignment with their mission, and create a company culture that fosters committed, enthusiastic employees. (For two excellent articles by prominent remodelers who are doing exactly this, read Todd Jackson’s “Time-Off Incentives” and Mark McClanahan’s “Looking Toward the Future." On a different but related note, check out Barbara Miller’s piece about how sales managers can maximize the effects of a ride-along. Miller is the sales manager for the Neil Kelly Company.)
Not all efforts are successful. I’ve hung out with remodelers who cheerfully regale me with stories of a new approach that failed. Yet inevitably they go on to talk about how over time, they created a better system. The outcome matters, of course, but the commitment to getting there matters just as much.