Set realistic goals to ensure your company's successful future.

I hope many of you took action and "did it" with our January issue's top 10 "do it now" recommendations. If not, my eleventh step would be to go back and read each item to assure your success and enjoyment throughout 2003.

20/20 vision at your optometrist's office means perfect vision. "2020" vision in this article simply means a long-range look at what and where you and your company will be in the year 2020. To some of you that may be far-fetched to think that you could have a realistic idea of what can happen that far in advance. You definitely will not have perfect vision, but you can establish long-range dreams and plans. Those plans may bend a little, but still lead you to where you decide you would like to go.

To reassure yourself of this reality, take a look backwards 20 years to the early 1980s. What decisions and specific steps did you make then that materialized into the successful company you enjoy today? Possibly it is much easier to recollect what you "should have" or "could have" done and the price you paid for procrastinating. Those costly mistakes always make a much bigger impact in our memory bank!

As you look ahead to 2020 and consider realistic goals, you must look at family succession. What are the ages of your children today and what path will each of them follow? What is your age and when will you be ready to step down? What would happen if you become disabled or die?

Steps For Future Success

My personal experience, as a boss's son, along with all of my in-company consulting (with contractors throughout all 50 states and Canada) might help you with these questions. Only a very small percentage of successful contractors last more than two generations for a variety of reasons. This is especially true when there is more than one child involved. Rather than looking at all of the negatives, let's look at the positive steps you can take to assure your company's success far beyond 2020:

1. Establish a written chain of responsibility and explain it clearly to all of your family. They must understand whom they listen to and who must listen to them. Do not break this chain or allow anyone in your organization to break it. This is the No. 1 reason why most boss's kids do not want to work in their family company. Naturally, the most negative situation is to get disciplined by Dad for doing what his supervisor told him to do.

2. Do not make your son or daughter work for your employees. Make him or her the boss! It is very demeaning to be treated like the "boss's kid." But it is very rewarding for any youngster to be the boss.

This may sound impractical to anyone who has not done it, but it really works. Let's look at some of your feasible options:

    A. Rather than paying wages for menial tasks at your office, shop or jobsite, you can subcontract a labor-only deal to your younger offspring. As they get older and more knowledgeable, you can subcontract pre-fab work in your shop and installations on jobsites. You can also assign knowledgeable craftsmen to work in their crews with total respect for that chain of responsibility. In addition to gaining self-respect and respect from your employees, your children are learning the ins and outs of running their own business.
    You need to negotiate a fair subcontract with each child and treat them exactly as you treat your other subcontractors. If you want them to become capable business owners, treat them that way.

    B. Don't follow that old rule about learning the business from the ground up. They don't need to learn how to dig ditches, unload trucks and cut pipe to be able to run your business.
    They should be sitting in your office when you meet with your attorney about contract language or a pending lawsuit. They should be present when your CPA discusses taxes, depreciation, capital gains and cost accounting. Every time you negotiate a deal with a customer or supplier, they should be in the room learning the tricks of the trade. Aren't these the basics you wish you had learned before you started your business?

    C. Give them their own business. When a potential profitmaking opportunity arises that would justify diversifying or establishing a satellite division, you can make this your son's or daughter's company. Depending on what you now do, this could be an industrial company, residential, service work, control work, utility construction, general contractor, developer, etc.
    Most of you can remember how difficult it was to start your own company without enough money or business knowledge. This allows you to provide your financial backing and bond power, as well as mentoring to assure their success.
    With each of your offspring becoming involved in their own businesses, you can see the potential for anyone of them to eventually take over and run the family company.

3. Train your coaches to build a proud and reputable team. You need to analyze your entire workforce to ensure having a winning team in 2020. Look at ages to remind yourself of second- and third-string players to fill those gaps. Naturally you want to maintain that "best job in town" image to minimize costly turnover and also to attract the best recruits. In addition to effective human relations and people-building training for all of your managers, you need to keep score. By using a database skill inventory, you can easily monitor which foreman is coaching.

4. Remind every manager that each of them is constantly building your reputation. Here again you need to emphasize customer-relations training and keep score. By honoring their word, keeping promises, meeting deadlines and producing quality workmanship, your managers build that proud reputation that will guarantee your success far beyond 2020. The good marks on their scorecards will be for repeats and referrals. Hopefully ample training will eliminate those bad marks from lost customers and complaints.

Your 2020 vision could easily be blurred or distorted by another terrorist attack, a depression, a nuclear war, a hurricane, a tornado or an earthquake. In spite of those possibilities, your long-range plan and preparedness will certainly be worth the effort. As long as there are human beings living in America, they will need mechanical equipment installation, service and replacement. They will also want the best contractor to provide those services. That should and can be you!