The secret to business success, applied

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            Do what you do well, and enjoy it — and encourage harmony and respect

By Mark Buckshon

Your business and marketing success closely relates to this simple principle:

            You and everyone in your organization combine an enthusiasm for their work, respect for peers, and passion and satisfaction in being the best at who they are. 

As an individual:  “Do what you do well, and enjoy it.”

As a company:  “Work together in harmony, using your abilities and interests, and respecting the needs of your clients and fellow employees.”

Corporate lip service or real harmony?

You can quantify and measure your success, but when the measuring process becomes an end in itself, you fall into a major trap. Similarly, if you only pay lip-service to these concepts, while forcing them into a corporate policy manual and structured management processes, you will not achieve your desired effect. Everyone might wear false smiles when what they really want to do is trash their computers.

So how do you achieve a natural harmony that becomes part of the everyday culture of your organization?

Structured meetings bring people together

Structured meetings, set on a regular schedule with a time limit, are vital. These processes do bring everyone together. Some work groups effectively combine weekly, or brief twice weekly meetings with five-minute daily huddles, usually standing, either at the beginning or the end of the work day. In addition, they schedule all-day planning and review sessions once or twice a year, plus quarterly or bi-annual social gatherings help loosen any interpersonal tensions.

Accountability and power:  Your employees have authority

The freedom and courage to be yourself is another important ingredient for success. If you are an owner or manager, you must allow your employees to be accountable for themselves. This includes having the authority and power to make decisions in their day-to-day work and with clients. In other words, employees need enough authority to solve client problems on the spot, or commit your company’s resources to deal with them.

This also means you need to have trust in yourself, your peers and employees. When trust is reciprocated, you achieve a company with internal harmony; an environment where good clients are eager to do business with your organization, and pay the prices required for profitability.

Trimming the rules

Look at your company rule books, policy manuals, and processes to see if you can eliminate at least 20 per cent of them. You’ll catch some low-hanging fruit: rules and systems set up to accommodate circumstances long-since passed; meetings held for reasons no longer valid, and so on.  Then, once you’ve knocked off 20 per cent, go for the next. It may be extreme to suggest that you can remove 80 per cent of your rules and have a viable, well-run business. The idea is to trim down the bureaucracy and yet have enough control for freedom to take action. I would never suggest taking such drastic measures in one step or without legal guidance where necessary, but you may be surprised how far you can go to simplify things.

Some simple guidelines

Then follow some simple guidelines that will become your ongoing practices. For example, consider “Pooles Rules” from PCL Construction founder Ernest Poole, which form the basis of the employee-owned general contractor’s success as one of Canada’s largest general contractors:

* Employ the highest grade people obtainable.

* Encourage integrity, loyalty and efficiencies.

* Avoid side lines.

* Do not permit side lines by employees.

* Be fair in all dealings with owners, architects, engineers and sub-contractors.

* Keep your word as good as your bond.

* Give encouragement and show appreciation.

* Be firm, fair and friendly.

* Avoid jobs where design is not good or financing doubtful. Let your competitors have these.

* Good accounting and cash keeping are essential.

* Do not let finishing up of jobs or collecting payments lag.

How to engage your employees in the business

1.         Engage all employees in setting the budget and business plan

Invite all employees to contribute to the setting of the company’s budget and business plan.  Everyone can participate directly in the full-scale final planning meeting until you grow past 12 to 15 employees; then you may need to set separate divisional or functional planning meetings where employees contribute their input, and delegate a representative to attend the final, formal meeting.

2.         Adapting the plan:  Employees have freedom to improvise (within guidelines)

Throughout the year, with a business plan and processes, any employee may propose and present an idea they think may work. If it is “off plan” the idea can be tabled until the planning meeting. Or the idea can be modified to work within the plan.

3.         Employee contracts

In our company, all employees must sign a contract when joining the organization. The contract describes major policies including provisions for termination, compensation levels and expense reimbursement limits. Thus the rules are clearly laid out to avoid contentious issues.

Throwing the rule book away

With the employee contract in the background, and the policy and planning meetings and annual plan in the foreground, our company culture is not dominated by a rigid set of rules. For example, here is our travel policy regarding personal expenses:

“Do what is reasonable.”

Travel of course is one area of business practice where controls and abuse are common.  Our control is to have one key employee as travel co-ordinator, with the responsibility of booking travel and reviewing employee travel plans.  At the same time, this co-ordinator doesn’t over-rule individual employees who have the authority to circumvent the rules because of specific circumstances.

            “Different employees have different needs, and forcing everyone into a corporate straightjacket of policy guidelines will tear away at the individual’s ability to take responsibility for their own choices,” our travel co-ordinator explains.

            “We’ve had situations where employees have stayed in flea-bag hotels to save money, but compensated with a splurge at a fancy restaurant. This isn’t a problem.”

Freedom, responsibility and accountability

When employees are free to be themselves, yet still accountable, you gain the best of all worlds.   Your employees look forward to each day’s work, and they pitch in when there are problems and (most importantly) they connect with your clients in such an effective manner that your brand recognition and acceptance reach the highest level, and, yes, people start calling you and inviting you to do work without even wanting the competition anywhere nearby.

Then, and here is the fun part, combining some simple measuring and management resources with this freedom, you can plan for growth, set your marketing objectives and achieve them, and build a thriving business in good times and hard.

Recapturing your passion by being who you are

Wake up each morning committed to being your best at what you enjoy the most, and encourage your employees, peers and clients to share the same attitudes and freedoms. Put your policy guidelines away, have fun, and look forward to your day’s challenges. This is not to advocate carelessness, “anything goes” management. It is a call for you to respect yourself, your employees and your clients.

Have fun.  Do what you love doing.  Allow your peers and employees the same freedom within reasonable guidelines. Your service standards will soar; your clients (and potential clients) will connect with you and your brand power. Profitability will reach the highest levels. Done right, marketing will almost seem effortless within your overall business culture and practices. Your phone will ring, your email will ping, and either a colleague or client will whisper into your ear an advance tip about a project or business opportunity with the next words: “We would like you to do the job.”

When that happens on a regular and measurable basis, you’ll know you’ve succeeded – and achieved success in marketing your company.

            Excerpt from Construction Marketing Ideas: Practical strategies and resources to attract and retain profitable clients for your architectural, engineering or construction business (http://constructionmarketingideas.com/the-construction-marketing-ideas-book). This book is available at Amazon.com other retailers, as well as through the Construction Marketing Ideas blog at www.constructionmarketingideas.com.

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