How Tight Are You Pulling The Reins?

“Should I make all of the decisions in my company?” For mature contractors, this question does not threaten their authority but challenges them to assess their confidence in their employees.

The owner of a small contracting business will normally make most of the daily decisions. This is practical and easy to understand. Likewise, as a contractor’s business grows, so does the need to involve others in business decisions.

The challenge for most contractors is deciding when the point in time arrives that they should be delegating a greater portion of responsibilities and decision making. There are contributing elements to any business that can signal it is time to give up some of the reins in favor of others in a better position to make decisions and take on greater responsibility.

In the beginning, it is important to recognize if any of your people want to handle additional responsibilities. Not every employee wants responsibility and the accountability that goes along with it. For those who do desire increased participation in your company, look next to the capabilities of the employees.

If your “hungry” employee is new to your industry, you have the opportunity to begin molding his decision-making skills. Often, contractors complain about their younger workers: “They have a poor work ethic” or “They can’t handle responsibilities.” While there certainly seems to be a different work ethic among today’s employees, contractors must still assess each employee individually.

Teaching a new or less-experienced employee the ropes of responsibility requires that you personally instruct him on decision making. This requires your talking him through what a good and bad decision is, what information is needed to make good decisions, the “negotiables and non-negotiables,” what cautionary signs exist and how you would like him to address such decisions.

Your employees will make mistakes; that’s part of the learning process. Coaching them to make better decisions will increase their right choices and return to you better all-around employees. This effort also produces employees who improve in other areas of their work.

An important step toward making your employees better decision makers, as well as more responsible, is to tell them your expectations. Until you feel extremely comfortable with an employee’s decision making, communicate your expectations for any specific decision. This keeps the employee on track without your making the decision personally. If there are options, make sure your employee understands they exist.

Another important part of better decision making is to educate your employees on the cost of poor decisions. It would be nice to think that all decisions made by “rookies” are perfect, but they are not. While it may be wise for a contractor to choose less important decisions for their employees to make, the truth is that every employee, even the owner, is going to make mistakes.

The transition time involved with moving an employee to making more decisions varies, yet your support for them must be constant. Depending on the importance of the needed decision, it is wise for the contractor to be kept updated by the employee. This keeps an element of confidence intact between employee and contractor and also ensures the contractor is kept informed.

Perhaps the biggest component to loosening up the reins is to mentally commit to developing your employees. If you desire to grow your business you will have to eventually realize that single-handedly making all of the company decisions will limit your potential growth.

In working with hundreds of contractors across the country, I am convinced the biggest obstacle to developing responsible employees is the contractor. Loosening up just a little on the reins can initially be scary. However, stay focused on what you are striving for; communicate those expectations and objectives to your employees; objectively identify those employees whom you can begin to invest in; and slowly begin to delegate a few decisions here and there. Your company and your future will be better for having done so.

Brad Humphrey is president and co-founder of the Next Level Contractor and Pinnacle Performance Group. He has authored hundreds of articles for the construction industry and is a regular speaker at several industry shows, including World of Concrete. His book, The Twenty-First Century Supervisor, co-authored with his business partner, Jeff Stokes, has become a classic for training new field leaders. For more information, go to or call (913) 441-3001.