Q: I've recently switched firms from a large, well-run construction company headquartered in another state to a smaller but solid Washington company. Part of what brought me here was the chance to buy in as an owner and the fact that my wife's parents live in Sequim.
While my new partners welcomed me aboard and gave me the mandate "grow the business," they balk every time I try to make changes.
If we're to grow, we need to land federal contracts. This means my partners need to let me schedule face time for them with prospective clients and allow me to overhaul antiquated contracting and invoicing procedures. Also, while our superintendents or project managers have a good work ethic, they're good ol' boys and can be like bulls in a china shop who occasionally stomp on situations they need to handle with finesse. When I tell them these guys need training, my partners say these guys have "been in the trenches for years" and "settle down, you've got all these big company ideas."
I didn't expect to have to sell my partners on the basics. I admit I'm getting frustrated because they've told me they want to grow but hamstrung me at every juncture.
A: Those brought in to grow companies often become an endangered species. "Even when a company's owners say they want something," says organizational strategist Arielle Schram, "they still need to be convinced in cost/benefit terms."
Schram suggests you pitch your ideas according to your partners' values, noting that when you hear you're too "big company" it means you're not understanding how your partners hear what you say. As an example, Schram says, when you say "let's increase our business by meeting with future clients," your partners hear, "let's take time away from our current clients" or "let's add to our already full workloads."
The seasonal nature of a construction company compounds the difficulty, Schram adds, because "the revenue your company makes during peak season carries it through the winter months." Schram suggests you tackle this reality head on by saying "we're really busy right now, however, I'm proposing we add new legs to our business that create revenue during down cycles and add revenue next summer. We can't afford delay if we want to grow."
Next, your partners may not realize that the federal contracts you plan to go after launch your company into a whole new ball game -- one they can't play until they repair the cracks in their antiquated contracting and accounting systems and supervisory practices. "Are they prepared to have federal regulatory agencies turn the spotlight on their hiring practices, record keeping and fiscal management procedures?" Schram asked.
If you want to change your partners' thinking, talk dollars and cents. In the area of supervisory training, a three-hour session can save millions of lawsuit dollars.
Last month, Whirlpool paid more than $1 million to settle a race and sex harassment claim brought before the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because a white male co-worker harassed a black female employee and supervisors did nothing to stop it. And in March, Fed Ex coughed up $3 million to job seekers they didn't hire when the Department of Labor ruled their hiring practices faulty. According to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance spokesperson, "Being a federal contractor is a privilege and means you absolutely, positively cannot discriminate, not when you are profiting from taxpayer dollars."
Schram's advice -- have a heart-to-heart with your partners in which you speak their language so you can talk with them and not to them.
-- Lynne Curry is a management trainer, consultant and president of Alaska's The Growth Company Inc. in Anchorage. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.