Making the Transition from the Field to the Office

"This was supposed to be better, wasn't it?" Bob reminded himself at least a hundred times each day.

Deciding to hire a field leader to take over the daily operations was designed to let Bob spend more time in the office where he could "work on the business." What started out as a good idea was becoming a huge challenge for Bob trying to find out what he was supposed to do all day now that he was in the office.

This situation is facing many contractors today. Mixed with the success of a growing business is a realization that the owner must take more time to lead his or her company... but from another position in the company. Most owners remember the early starts, hot sun, broken equipment and handling field employees. And that was just during the 15 hours of daylight. At night the same owner went over the books, wrote out checks, paid bills and got the workers lined up for the next day.

When a contractor moves from the field to the office there are several transitional steps that can be taken to make the move more effective and productive for everybody. Let's look at a few.

Plan the transition
Do not just suddenly "move in." Such dramatic changes will upset whatever teamwork and continuity there may be in the office currently. Meet with your inside staff months before you anticipate a move to get their input, expectations and needs.

Learn office protocol and procedures
This may sound silly since we're talking about your company, but every office team of workers knows that they have created formal and informal procedures in the office that are working just fine, like: Who makes the morning/mid-morning coffee? Who makes a quick run to the bank? What breaks get taken during the day and by whom? Who covers the phones over the lunch time?

Every office, no matter how small, has some formal ways of doing things. The owner, if he is not careful, can upset the entire office by his extended presence.

Clearly identify your new roles and responsibilities
This sounds crazy, right? Well, even though you are the owner this doesn't give you the right to throw your weight around the office. Start out by making a list of the key roles you will play. Roles might include "consultant" to the field, "liaison" to banks and vendors, "sales support" to your estimators. You need to consider just what roles you are best qualified to fulfill. Remember, part of being a successful business owner is empowering the right people to run the business, giving you more time to enjoy your business, family and life.

Take time to observe your business
During your first few weeks of transition take the time to really study all that goes on in your company. Spend time with your people, especially in the office or the maintenance shop to ask questions about their jobs, what their needs are, and how best you will be able to assist them.

Schedule time to maintain your specialty
Every owner has a specialty. Perhaps it is fixing equipment, forming, running the backhoe, bidding jobs or job-costing. No matter what your specialty is, schedule some time to maintain your skills. This is one way to burn off some nervous energy. Just be careful not to become a micro-manager to your people who may currently be fulfilling those roles. You don't want to add to their stress and work by creating more problems for them.

Moving from the field to the office can be very difficult for many owners. Certainly you can take the previous five suggestions to improve the transition.

In closing, let me give you more food for the transition that will make the move not only easier on everyone but actually reinvigorate your enthusiasm and creativity for leading your business.

First, not all business owners are best suited for the office. This is similar to putting the old race horse to pasture. If your business is growing and needing greater attention from you at the top, great, but don't assume that you need to completely leave the field if that's where you feel the most comfortable.

Second, consider extending the transition time. Hire or promote a "Second Lieutenant" that can slowly take on more of what you have performed over the previous five years. As this individual gains in their confidence and effectiveness, then begin to let go!

Third, depending on your company size, you may not still help the company out from taking up residence in the office. Therefore, equip your vehicle with better technology to do more orchestrating from your truck throughout the day rather than operating out of the office.

Fourth, admit to what you are the best at, stay there doing it, and find another individual to do those things that still need to be done on behalf of the business. Not all owners are great communicators or visionaries for growing their company, yet they bring a quiet dynamic that instills confidence in their people. Great! Find someone else to perform the duties that need to be done.

This fourth point should be considered by more owners. I've worked with contractors who really are not the "president type." What did we do? We found a great complement to the owner and installed them as the company president. Granted, it doesn't happen overnight and the entire process has to be thoroughly thought through, but it can happen!

Leaving the field to move into the office is the right decision for many contractors, but not for all. Before you make the move, be sure that you are clear as to what you will bring to the new arrangement. Be sensitive to the current office culture of your staff and that they have time to get used to having the "big kahuna" in the office more often. And don't forget the big picture for your company: growth, profitability, quality, integrity, customer service. Be sure you are bringing value to all of these important components of your business.

Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm that specializes in assisting construction businesses. He is also a frequent speaker at World of Concrete and other industry events. For more information, e-mail Brad at Humphrey.Brad@gmail.com.

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