How to Put Fun Back into Contracting

Boy did we hit a bulls-eye at Pavement Live in San Diego this past December. Leading a session by the same name, I had many contractors attend who admitted that some of the energy, excitement -- “fun” -- they used to have for their contracting business has…well…sort of fallen off!

Losing one’s passion for owning or leading a business isn’t new. In reality, probably most contractors, estimators, and field leaders have at one time or another felt a little less than great about their company, the progress of their company, or just dislike for the industry. It happens!

Yet, when such low times come you certainly want to assess whether or not this is just a short-term thing or is it really something that is heading to “I’ve got to do something different with my life?”

While leaving or retiring from our industry is always an option, I want us to focus more on those periods of time when we might just have lost a little spring in our step. Let’s look at a few ways to put some fun back into our efforts as construction owners and leaders.

Keep the Focus on the Big Picture

Sounds too easy, right? Yet I have found that most of the “joy” has been stolen away from contractors because they get mired in the small details too much of the time. Yep, I know that worrying that our crews get the right mix of asphalt is critical but so is insuring our crews are led and motivated to complete quality work that is truly second to none.

So, what is the big picture for you? Is it revenue and cost only? Or, is it being the best pavement maintenance contractor in your area? Is it dealing with the few extra spray tips your sealcoat crew used on their last job? Or is it working to keep your crew focused on executing your total preventive maintenance program that would improve overall equipment and tool utilization?

Taking your eyes off the bigger pictures of success in your business will pull you down for sure, sending you into the quicksand of depression. This most certainly will derail the fun that can be experienced by performance, growth and excellence.

Celebrate the Little Wins!

In the hustle to get work completed we often overlook the string of little wins along the way toward a good month, quarter, or year. We get excited about that really big job of the year but hardly smile at the 10-15 projects that our crews performed just as well on but received little to no recognition, much less celebratory congratulations.

How can you celebrate and have some fun too? What is the favorite food choice of the crew? Serve up some wings and fries, pizza, watermelon, BBQ, or something more formal like a dinner out for the crew members and wives or significant others.

Give out some awards meant to provide some light humor recognition. Maybe a box of trash bags or car “odor-izers” for the crew that has the dirtiest truck. How about a trophy that is awarded to the crew who met or exceeded performance goals for the week?

It doesn’t take a lot to encourage some better team spirit and enjoyment for all of your workers if you lead out in celebrating the “little wins.”

Reconnect with Your Customers & Employees

A sure sign of future burnout for many contractors is when they find less time available for interacting with customers and their own employees. It’s much easier for this to happen than you might think.

As your business grows it will become increasingly important to work “on your business” through efforts such as spending more time with bankers, suppliers, advertising/marketing experts, etc. However, what you must fight is the temptation to pull away from all of your customer interactions, delegating that away to others including your estimators or field leaders.

Remaining connected to customers allows you to continue to see and hear what is going on “out there.” It’s also a great way to hear about your workers. Customer interaction also reminds us why we went in to business in the first place. We don’t have a business without customers.

The second part of this tip might be even more critical: Getting reconnected with our employees refreshes us to the greatness and brilliance that is often about us, much of it coming from some pretty humble workers. So reconnect with your workers. Relearn and remember some of the funny habits or personal preferences some of your workers have.

I’ll never forget one of my past workers who had the same “pre-game” routine before starting work each day. Cup of coffee, Twinkie, and 5-8 minutes of “alone time” in the restroom. Take him out of his routine and you had a mad bear on your hands.

Fun doesn’t “just happen.” So you might need to work at putting fun back into your company and into the processes that make you effective. In the end, take a few minutes and recognize all that you have accomplished. Think back to those early days when you might have had some great times. You can’t go back to those moments exactly but you can create some new and better times!

Enjoy your business!

Brad Humphrey is President of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm that specializes in the construction industry. Brad will be presenting workshops and seminars at the upcoming 2012 National Pavement Expo, Feb. 15-18 in Memphis, TN. Also, check out Brad’s newest educational resource for contractors by going to www.thecontractorsbestfriend.com. Get weekly tips from Brad!

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