Business lessons are everywhere. I’ve long been a student of the game of life, and one of my biggest curriculums of education is business. Due to the rapid changing landscape and structures of the plumbing and mechanical industries, we all have a lot to learn. The lessons exist regardless of the size, location or current structure of your business.
I’ve been very fortunate to be the founder of multiple companies during my career to this point. Due to this fact, I’ve had the great opportunity to observe my own behavior changes and challenges as my companies have grown. Add in the fact that I’ve been able to be involved in coaching and training some of the best in the business for over a decade now, and the founder lessons are abundant. One lesson that keeps coming back around is the simple fact that founders are often challenged as operators as the business grows.
With all the private equity funding that has been flowing into our great industry over the last several years, founders have seen their businesses impacted greatly whether they have taken on equity partners or not. Whether you sell all or part of your business, as a founder, the business cycle is being impacted and there is no shortage of great lessons to be learned.
Whether it’s what to do — or what not to do — you don’t have to look very far to see how much pressure many founders are under in the current cycle. Make no mistake, I’m not undermining or undervaluing any of the incredible work that all leaders are doing, and the massive impact management teams are making in so many businesses. I just want to take a moment today and focus on the founder’s challenges as businesses scale either within or around them.
Many founders have a difficult time being good operators simply due to their incredible volume of ideas, their sometimes-confusing vision and always present overarching optimism. It takes an almost unrealistic amount of optimism to start a business and because of this, sometimes founders fall victim to being too optimistic in certain environments and situations.
As a business grows beyond the founder, there are some action steps which I’ve identified to help avoid the all-too-common issues which create what I refer to as the Founder Threshold. I call it this because there comes a point when what used to work as a founder and small team no longer works in the scaling up of the company. When investment bankers look at the contracting business as a whole, they are evaluating founders first and foremost, then looking quickly into the leadership teams which they have created around them.
These action items will serve you even if you are a founder and don’t have a plan to sell your business. If you’re one of countless managers which read my monthly column here, please keep reading because these items will also help managers navigate the sometime tumultuous waters when it comes to communicating with founders.
As any business grows there will be different pressures that show up for various reasons. A founder’s ability to grow with the company, or even set the pace for growth, will be instrumental in the company’s success when it comes to culture, recruiting, retention, profitability, and ultimately market value. The following action steps below are based on my observation of myself, as well as the hundreds of founders I’ve had the opportunity to coach directly over the years.
A founder’s ability to grow with the company, or even set the pace for growth, will be instrumental in the company’s success when it comes to culture, recruiting, retention, profitability, and ultimately market value.
Great leaders have great self-awareness. Period. The more aware people are about their own thoughts, feelings, spoken word and how people feel in their presence has a major impact on the level of influence they have. I’m not advocating perfection here, in fact, quite the opposite. I make more mistakes than most people I know. I’m also more aware of my own self than most people I know. Because of my self-awareness, I’m able to quickly make things right if I’ve made a mistake with a team member, client, or vendor.
2. Shared vision
As companies grow, founders can become secluded. When founders become secluded, vision can get overlooked, overstepped or sometimes outright lost. The company originally became successful due to a founder’s vision. Once the founder no longer shares the vision consistently, the company begins to lose its focus. Focus is the key to efficiency. Without replicate able efficiencies, a business will never be able to scale. Even if the vision changes a little bit along the way, it’s important for founders to update and share this evolving vision with everyone on the team.
3. Team passion
Once a founder is aware they are growing effectively with the company, and they are sure the vision is being shared enough to be consistently present and felt in the organization, it’s time to check in on one of my favorite business categories, team member passion. I love building and working with teams and I love passion. When I get to be involved with teams that create and facilitate passion together, I see magic. The team members are the most important part of any business, and this sometimes gets forgotten in lieu of growth, profits or short-term gains in some category. All businesses have challenging seasons, but when team member passion is at high level, the entire business navigates challenges with ease.
4. Delegation structure
It’s no secret most founders struggle with delegation. I’ve written, podcasted and coached on this topic so many times, and it will continue to be discussed for the foreseeable future as it is a common struggle for leaders in the skilled trades. As the company grows, delegation structure must be in place. There are things that become imminent to pass on to other team members to keep everyone working in the best and most efficient manner possible. Not just for business growth, but for everyone’s happiness and fulfillment. When leaders can remove their tendencies of perfection and ego, while looking at what is best for the entire team, delegation structures make a massive positive impact.
Closing out my list is something that is very close to where we began regarding self-awareness. Being open to feedback is most critical for founders to succeed long-term regardless of their business size or future growth goals. Honest feedback is necessary from team members and clients alike. We all know the labor challenges facing this industry and it won’t be getting any easier to attract top talent anytime soon. People deserve to feel valued in life and in business. When a team member feels heard, they feel valued. The same is true for clients. Founders that get good at soliciting truthful feedback, will be poised to win in any environment. Of course, action steps will be necessary based on the feedback. The founder gets to decide if the feedback is true for them or not, but just remember, all progress begins with the truth.
Just as sure as the business environment has changed over the last few years, the years ahead will be more challenging for many companies to navigate than anything they’ve ever seen. If founders don’t breakthrough the Founders Threshold, the company will need be shut down, or simply sold to give way to a proper team who’s prepared to evolve in these five areas so they can begin leading the company into the future.