Winning the War

Construction professionals have a vision of where they would like their company to go, but they’re usually so busy with their day-to-day business they don't often think about it. They have a vague long view of their company that usually looks something like this:

  • "We're at the point after 20 years that we now have the equipment and infrastructure in place to take any contract that comes along. We expect to be the biggest builders in our region in just a couple of years."
  • "Specializing in renovations all these years has paid off. If it's not true already, it won't be long before we're considered the absolute best at what we do in the entire area. I see us becoming the renovation contractor of choice' before long."
  • "I want to hand this business over to my children. With a good education they'll be able to take it to the next level."

Too many construction professionals have only a general idea about their long-term goals without much detail about how to achieve them. The key to realizing your vision is to make your goals clear and to devise a specific, detailed, attainable, and realistic plan for achieving those goals.

Step One: Promotion to General

An achievable long-term company goal starts and ends in the mind of the construction professional. As I pointed out last week, most are so busy managing their day-to-day business that they never promote themselves from Captain to General. A General seeks to win the war while Captains work to win battles. If you are to guide the company to the final successful stage, you need a promotion in your own mind from Captain to General.

Step Two: Delegate

Most construction professionals resist delegating responsibility for the day-to-day business details to the middle management team. As a result, they rarely have time to think long-term. Making the decision to delegate is the second step in becoming a General. Although it may seem obvious, it is one of the hardest choices that we struggle to make. It's almost like letting your child go out on their first date. If they’re to grow, it's time to let go.

Step Three: Planning Retreat

A construction company's business plan must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. I recommend "retreats" for planning groups to remote locations to provide the needed solitude for thoughtful reflection away from the battlefield of daily business activity. The solitude helps us think "long-term" and reflect on the "big picture". You cannot achieve clarity of purpose when you're answering your phone every five minutes.

Step Four: Buy-In

Great leaders strive for total "buy-in". Clarity and commitment are enough to achieve individual goals, but company goals require "buy-in". Everyone on the planning team (representatives from all functional areas of the business) must be on board. Long-term strategic goals for a construction company require collaboration on all aspects of the execution. Each collaborator must recognize their vested interest in the ultimate outcome by recognizing their self-interest every step of the way. This is the only path to long-term success.

Step Five: Management By Objectives

Many managers have reported that even after a successful strategic planning retreat, when they get back to the office the wheels begin to come off. The pressing problems of day-to-day management again rear their demanding ugly heads, and the strategic plan is set aside for the moment. This, of course, is the death nell to any long-term company strategic objectives. Natural procrastination can only be avoided by carefully weaving the long-term goals (milestones) of the business plan into the essential deliverables of the everyday construction business. "Buy-in" and "execution" can be fused by a management technique called Management by Objectives.

  • The objectives of the business plan are broken down into their functional components (market share - labor cost - capital cost - materials cost - etc.) each the responsibility of one or a team of company managers.
  • Results are measured quarterly (or more frequently), and managers are rewarded accordingly.
  • The strategic objectives are thus broken down into short term tactics (self-interest attached) and upon accumulation result in achieving the long-term strategic goals.

Your Goals

Every contractor has a strategic objective. Most don't think of it like that or call it that, but the vague image of long-term success in their head is a strategic objective. When contractors let themselves daydream a little, the mental image becomes more specific. I'm suggesting that you can make your dreams come true rather than hoping they will all work out. A clear business plan bolstered by a Management by Objectives program is a tried-and-true method. It has worked for small and large industrial companies. It can work for you.

About the Author

Thomas C. Schleifer PhD

Thomas C. Schleifer, PhD, is a turnaround expert and former professor at Arizona State University. He serves as a consultant to sureties and contractors and can be contacted via his blog at

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