Man holding head as if frustrated
How to break out of your norm & set forth on the path to improvement

As a mentor and business coach, I’ve noticed an unspoken barrier or roadblock to change and improvement — it is what I call the “uncomfortable zone.” With the demands of running a construction company come additional stresses, strains and responsibilities.

Often mentally maxed out and overwhelmed, frustrated business owners delay making decisions about the direction of their company and its teams, customers, equipment, marketing, finances, investments and growth, instead choosing to think small and stay within their comfort zone. Postponing key decisions only results in continued struggles — with disorganized systems, mediocre performance, poor employees, lackluster results.


Stuck in Your Comfort Zone

Generally speaking, most people only like doing what they’re comfortable doing. Business owners who avoid discomfort choose to live within the confines of their comfort zone, only able to manage the small amount chaos they believe can tolerate. Many contractors reach a certain level, knowing exactly what they can manage comfortably with little to no effort — like only having 10 field workers and two crews; only bidding public works because it doesn’t require any sales effort; and only seeking as much volume as they can individually manage. They don’t hire enough people to handle future work, which effectively stunts any opportunity for real growth. Because these types of effort would increase their level of discomfort, typically, this lukewarm leadership approach results in no improvement.


Without Change There Is No Improvement

Change is required for improvement. When contractors are teetering on the edge of their comfort zone, they’re unhappy with the results they’re achieving (or most likely not achieving). Most owners remain in this zone far too long, hoping things might improve. But things never just magically get better — not without commitment and your investment of time and money. Often, this commitment is founded in discomfort. Eventually, an owner decides to settle in or act, seeking help with new ideas, systems and methods for improvement. Ultimately, the new goal is to get their business to work for them, instead of the other way around.


Is Your Company an Asset or a Liability?

When a company is 100% dependent on the owner, it is a liability. A liability requires continuous management and hard work to keep it running and producing money. For example, a backhoe doesn’t make any money unless it is working. A company that requires the owner to run and manage operations is a liability. This approach not only depletes a leader’s time and focus, but also produces little to no return.

On the other hand, an asset produces income without constant managing and supervision, all day, every day. A rental property is an asset, as it provides positive cash flow without much hands-on work or continuous effort. A business is an asset if it works for its owner. Most successful business owners still perform some of the important activities, such as customer development, leading and guiding strategy, but they don’t manage projects, materials, contracts, field crews or schedules. A company is an asset only if it works for an owner and produces an excellent profit margin.

Start an Improvement Program

Clearly, there’s no quick fix to transform a stuck business into a management-team-run, systemized and organized money-making machine that grows and prospers. To make lasting change, it takes a strong commitment, dedication, focus and the energy to make the necessary adjustments. Consider the business improvement success cycle depicted in the figure above. The typical business improvement program requires:

  1. Commitment — Improvement requires ongoing dedication and investment of time, people, and resources. It’s not a book or training course. You must commit to make change happen.
  2. Hiring — Consider a professional business coach, consultant or mentor who specializes in helping contractors. Ensure this specialist is familiar with all aspects of your business, including estimating, pricing, markup, contracts, managing projects, supervision, subcontractors, suppliers, customers, negotiating, collections, etc., and proven processes and a track record of success.
  3. Documentation — Draft and implement your strategic business plan, five-year vision and strategy.
  4. Structure — Put out all immediate fires causing problems and lost profits. Build your organizational chart, hire talent and develop job descriptions. Install systems and processes to improve functions in every department. Build your management team. Delegate and let go of control. Start an investment and wealth-building plan. 


The Improvement Roadblock

When you begin your program, you’ll see rapid improvement. As you move forward, reality will start to set in: You’ll recognize that change is hard and resistance to change is a common reaction. It’s hard to make improvements and do business differently than you’ve always done it. Your natural abilities flourish when you’re leading the decision-making process, and it can be difficult to delegate. But, to let go and grow, you will have to hire reliable employees to handle the new workload. Everything covered here that could seem difficult could be considered an improvement roadblock — it’s how you proceed from here that matters most.


For many, improvement roadblocks can begin to slow down improvement. Implementing an improvement program is not easy — sometimes, it can feel like pushing a rope uphill. While you continue winning work and building projects, you’ll have to dedicate significant time, energy and budget to improving your company systems, organizational chart, accounting, profits, job cost, field production, estimating, management, talent, and higher margin customer and contract acquisition. During this time, it’s critical that you work hard to get your team on board with these new ideas, processes and added responsibilities. Often, organizational change will require owners to strengthen some of the missing links in a team and potentially hire a project manager, estimator or field supervisor.

These hires allow the owner to stop leading projects, shaping bids and running takeoffs. Some may also need to hire an assistant, office manager, construction administrator and/or accounting manager to either move their company to the next level and/or allow them and their managers to do more of the important work required. If you want to improve and focus on what will make your company work, you need people to help.

Time to Go or Time to Grow

Spending significant time and energy to focus on improving your company will take its toll. The discomfort of leading a change movement can take down a leader. With the added pressure at this stage, more than 50% of company owners will slow down or stop their improvement program. It’s often the case that they have already invested lots of time and money, but don’t know if they can continue their dedication to improvement. Rather than continue on their improvement journey, they slow down or stop altogether. They justify their decision and say they’ll continue someday when they have more time. More time never comes, so they slowly revert to their old, comfortable ways. They’ve avoided the continuous discomfort (and sometimes pain) of change and decided to live with the results of a business that doesn’t work, grow, or profit. In other words, they’ve given up on their dream of owning a successful business.


Improvement Takes Time

At this point, owners must remain focused on the prize, but keep a healthy check on reality. A successful improvement program takes time, evolution and commitment. In the first six months, most construction companies can implement enough systems, structure and improvements quickly enough to see major increases in their bottom line. Generally, to build a best-in-class company that achieves the highest results possible, it takes a minimum of one to two years of hard work improving all aspects of business. Remember your vision of a company that works for you and delivers the results you want. Your future company can become that asset, as long as you step outside of your comfort zone, and invest time, energy and money into building the future you want to see.