CBO Ask the Expert

Business today is a battle for victory, not simply survival. Playing to survive is not a winning game plan. If you have seen one of those great epic war movies like “Gladiator” or “Braveheart,” you will remember the early scenes when the armies are preparing for battle. The fearless general rides ahead, along with his top lieutenants, to scout out the enemy’s troop strength and position and to develop his leadership strategy. As an extraordinary leader, he knows that timing is everything and, therefore, comes to the conclusion that his army needs to move quickly and put his vision for victory into practice.

The general decides what to do and then goes to his top lieutenant (who would be considered the vice president of operations in business) and informs him that now is the time to fight. But the lieutenant is worried about strategy, timing, readiness, training, equipment, tactics, systems and whether the game plan will work. Plus, he knows there will be casualties, and his team might lose the battle.  

The general says, “Do it now, strike quickly, and catch the enemy off guard.” The lieutenant counters back with a few reasons why now may not be the best time: “We can’t do it yet. The men aren’t totally ready, and the casualties will be too great for the risk involved.” The general interrupts him and repeats: “Do it now, strike quickly, and catch the enemy off guard. The casualties will be acceptable.”

Casualties Are Acceptable

General Patton, who commanded during World War II, cared about his troops. But he had to make bold decisions to implement his winning strategy and send the men off to battle. Most leaders genuinely care about the people they manage. They simply want their employees to get work completed on time, under budget, safely and with quality, while making a profit. Often, business owners and contractors delay tough decisions to avoid any “casualties.” By postponing tough decisions, such as eliminating poor performers, implementing cutting-edge strategies, finding different customers or trying new business models, leaders risk losing the battle. 

You must accept that anytime you move your company to the next level, there will be casualties. Many leaders try to move their businesses forward without casualties to avoid hurting anyone or to avoid holding employees accountable to hit the required results. But weak leadership will fail.

Making Difficult Decisions

You will have to eliminate some employees because they cannot reach the next level with their skills. Also, realize that you may encounter others who are able to improve their performance but are unwilling to move ahead. Some simply will not follow the rules and company systems. 

I learned the hard way about the importance of making tough decisions. As I was growing my construction company, I encountered many instances in which I was not strong enough to do something about the poor performers. In one instance, I had a construction administrator who was continually disparaging the company to our subcontractors and field superintendents. Many of our trusted subcontractors stopped bidding our projects to avoid dealing with this person, and our superintendents avoided the office like the plague. From my point of view, the construction administrator had great computer skills, worked hard, got the job done and was pleasant—she seemed to be an excellent employee. 

I refused to hear it when everyone told me to fire this person. Then, I finally realized the truth and knew what I needed to do, but I kept delaying action. Over the years, this person tainted the attitude of her fellow workers and some of our key project managers. 
I knew I had to let her go, but I avoided it because of the stress involved in finding a good replacement. Four years later, I finally fired her. Immediately thereafter, everyone started working together, many of the old subcontractors came back to bid our projects, and our field superintendents visited the office more.

What Is Holding You Back?

What decisions and strategies have you delayed or resisted because you are afraid? By not making a decision, your company might become the next casualty. Your managers and employees must move to the next level, implement your strategy, follow the rules, achieve the company goals, hit their targets and work as a team to win the battle of business. Follow these tips to make this happen:

  • Lead boldly. 
  • Implement your winning strategy.
  • Make tough decisions.
  • Hold people accountable.
  • Develop tactics to minimize casualties.
  • Accept casualties as part of success.

I challenge you to take a hard look at your mindset as it relates to casualties. No matter where you find yourself, you can improve and take your company to the next level.


Construction Business Owner, March 2011