The Means as Ends

Goals are important. They establish where we want to go. However, when our progress is slow, it can become easy to abandon the goal. Often, the reason is because we focus on the goal and not the means for attaining it.

Achieving a long-term goal takes perseverance. It can be hard to maintain the drive over a period of months or years, even when we might be making progress. The goal remains in the distance. We can overcome this by shifting our focus from the goal to the means.

As a simple example, consider someone who wants to lose 30 pounds in 6 months. He may weigh himself daily, hoping to see progress. If he doesn’t lose weight as quickly as he’d like, he may get discouraged and abandon the goal. But what if he focuses on the means?

Let us say that, instead of eating fast food for lunch, he decides to carry his lunch each day in an effort to eat healthier and lose weight. His goal is no longer 6 months away—he now has a daily goal. The means become an ends.

By shifting the focus, he can now see progress each day that he carries his lunch. He knows that if he keeps doing that, he will eventually lose weight. And he finds it much easier to focus on what he can do today rather than focusing on the weight he hopes to attain in 6 months.

The same principle applies to any long-term goal: if we keep doing the right things, we increase our chances of experiencing good results.

We should certainly plan for and think about the long-term. But it is often easier to accomplish long-term goals by focusing on the short-term— the means.

Growing Pains

If you are like most contractors, you dream of growing your business. You may want to get out of the bucket and turn production over to others. You may want to hire a salesman or office manager. You may want to add another crew. Regardless of your own particular goals, growth can be a painful experience if it isn’t managed properly. And the key to properly managing growth is having systems.

Growth necessarily entails delegating tasks and responsibilities to others. If we want to get consistent, desirable results, then we must have systems in place to ensure that our employees are taking the proper actions.

When I first began delegating responsibilities, I often lamented the fact that my employees didn’t do
things the way I wanted. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize why—I hadn’t trained them to do things the way I wanted. I assumed that they would somehow know. That erroneous assumption led to a lot of growing pains. Systems won’t eliminate all of the pains associated with growth, but systems will minimize those pains.

With systems in place, we have a process for handling the myriad issues that accompany growth.

For example, if we add another crew, we need to sell more jobs. And to sell more jobs, we need to generate more leads. When we sell more jobs, we have more customers to keep informed. We have more paperwork to keep organized. Without systems, we could easily find ourselves dealing with an endless stream of emergencies, jumping from issue to issue in an effort to put out the latest fire.

But with systems in place, we have a process for generating leads, for selling jobs, for communicating with customers. Fewer things fall between the cracks. We can be proactive and manage the company’s growth, rather than be reactive to the crisis du jour. And that is a lot less painful.

Training Our Customers

Most contractors recognize the need to train their employees. If we want work performed to a certain
standard, we cannot assume that our employees know how to achieve that result. We must show them the proper way to perform the tasks required in their job.

Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize the need to train our customers. Yet, the results can be much worse than failing to train our employees.

Consider: You have given the customer an estimate and they ask if you can do better on your price. If you immediately cave and reduce the price, you have taught the customer a lesson—his wish is your command. And he will likely continue to act on that premise.

However, if you tell the customer that you can reduce the price by changing the scope of work or by using different materials, you have taught a much different lesson—your price is determined by the labor and materials required, not the customer’s desires.

Virtually every interaction with our customer implicitly trains him as to what we expect and will tolerate. We can train the customer to use and abuse us, or we can train him to treat us with respect and professional courtesy.

As professional contractors, we know what it takes for a job to go smoothly. This requires everyone involved—our employees and the customer—to do their part. We spend time training our employees to do their job efficiently and to our standards. We should do the same with our customers.

Doing Whatever it Takes, Part Three

This week, I’ve been talking about dealing with problem customers. I’ve previsously written about my worst customer. But I haven’t shared something that happened two years later.

The customer had violated numerous provisions in our contract, including the terms of payment. Two years later, he emailed me several times to let me know that several items needed attention per my guarantee. I ignored his emails, but then he sent me a certified letter. While I was tempted to ignore the letter as well, I decided to address the issue head on.

I sent him an email and informed him that, because he had violated the terms of the contract, there was no guarantee. I pointed out to him that the contract stated that a failure to meet the terms of the contract, including payment terms, would void all guarantees. I never heard from him again.

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