When I was a contractor in my family business, I would travel around the country to attend seminars, workshops and trade association meetings. I traveled internationally to trade shows and to interact with other contractors there. The knowledge I picked up in these classes was very valuable. But, so was the knowledge I gained talking with other contractors during class breaks, at dinner and hanging around the bar. This is where the real learning took place.
There is no replacing the ability to ask another contractor, who you don't compete with day-to-day, how they are managing to overcome the many challenges we, as contractors, face.
When I'd visit other contractors' shops or they'd come to visit my place, this learning process through sharing became even more helpful and valuable.
I felt there were four things that would happen from these meetings:
1. I would learn something new and I'd try to make it work for my company.
2. I would get to talking about what we were doing, and I'd receive feedback about things our company was doing well and that we would need to keep doing.
3. I would get to talking about something and realize I used to do something that worked well, but for some reason I had stopped doing it. And now I needed to get back to doing it again.
4. I'd see or hear of something that I thought was so awful I'd make a mental note to make sure I did whatever it took to avoid that.
At first, I must admit I was scared. It's not that I didn't feel I had a lot to offer, but as I would ask questions and listen to their great answers for the first half hour at these model shops I'd be thinking, "What am I possibly going to tell these guys that they don't already know?" And after we spent an hour in this question-and-answer process, I'd be thinking how much they weren't doing and still had achieved some level of success.
How can that be?
What I realized is that nobody does everything right and all the things that could be done to maximize success. We're all too busy running the business and managing it on a daily basis. The best shops know this and that's why they're always looking to improve and look at their own business objectively.
It helps to belong to an active trade organization, but it's not the same as bringing in a "fresh" pair of eyes trained at observing, drawing on its success and transplanting repeatable success observed at other shops.
Best PracticesHere's what I've observed. The best sales companies that are growing tend to be weak on the operational and technical end. The best technical companies tend to be weak on sales and customer satisfaction. It takes mastery of sales, operational and technical skills to be the very best and to stay that way. It's a reality that we'll all be deficient in at least one of these three skills. That's where training and working on changing them from weaknesses to strengths really pays off.
After my first year on the road as a business coach, I reflected on what I had learned working with great contractors from different parts of the country. What I learned from the best is:
Learn these valuable lessons and you'll be on your way to achieving excellence.
Levi at ISH North America
Al Levi is a scheduled speaker at this year's ISH North America trade show held Oct. 14-16 in Boston. He will present his “Operating Power!” seminar Thursday, Oct. 14 at 3 p.m., and his “Leadership Power!” seminar Friday, Oct. 15 at 9:45 a.m. To register for the show, visit www.ish-na.com.