You may be in short supply of ‘Management Muscle.’

If you own an established service company, maybe I’m about to describe some of your secret inner thoughts: You look around at highly successful, high-profile industry competitors and, well, let’s be honest, you feel jealous. You want that kind of business success and you just can’t seem to get your company on a similar trajectory.

You work pretty hard, attempt to implement business improvements, attend industry training and educational events on a regular basis - heck, you may have even shelled out several thousand dollars or more and joined a business development organization or hired a high-priced consultant to help you out - but it just doesn’t seem to be working like it should.

In fact, your business has leveled off in recent years, even before the recent economic turmoil. Your business grew for a number of years as you started aggressive Yellow Pages advertising, flat-rate pricing and added a new service line like HVAC or drain cleaning. You thought the growth would continue unabated for years. Your take-home pay increased; life was improving.

But now, well, most months you would be happy if sales were equal to last year. And profits are down. Customer counts are down. Hmmm, it must be the economy, right?

What in the heck is going on? It gets worse. Now the doubts start to creep in. Maybe the reason for your business malaise goes back to some of your business strategies:
  • “Maybe I have priced myself out of the market?”
  • “Adding the secondary service line was a mistake. I should have stuck to what I knew.”
  • “Maybe the entire market for plumbing (or drain cleaning or heating) is drying up in my area. The entire industry is dying!”
  • “Maybe my Yellow Pages rep doesn’t have my best interests in mind?” (You are right on this one - I am just trying to keep this light.)
You may have these thoughts, and you may be right. But let me ask you to consider one thing first before you drop your prices, sell your business or question the integrity of your Yellow Pages rep (actually, you can do this if you want).

Have you added anyone to your management team in recent years?

Missing Ingredient

So what is the missing ingredient in many, many companies? Why do once successful and growing companies start to stall out after a period of time?

Is it lack of knowledge? Not from my experience. Most established companies have a pretty good idea of what to do.

It certainly isn’t lack of hard work or good intention. Most companies are led by honest, hard-working and unfortunately underpaid owners.

What is in short supply is “Management Muscle.” Said another way, with a few notable exceptions, many of the companies I have assisted that have experienced a period of business stagnation have also had a corresponding lack of new motivated management moving into the company. They have not brought in new energy and a new capacity to manage a larger, more complex business.

Frequently, companies are stuck in neutral because the operations have grown as large as existing management can or is willing to handle. At a certain size, existing management is spread too thin and once-solid operational systems start to fall apart.

The management team, instead of seeking out new opportunities and planning for growth, is racing around fixing one thing - reducing recalls or another - as well as hiring and training replacement techs.

Meanwhile, nothing proactive occurs. It is an endless “circle of average” and the owners don’t even see it. All they get is frustrated when they find out what they thought in their company was “fixed” is once again badly broken.

Every successful owner eventually grows the business to the point at which he or she can’t effectively lead and manage the company alone. That might mean topping out at two trucks or 10 trucks, but it happens - to everyone.

So let’s take stock for a moment. Think about your business. Is your business stagnant or just not performing like you know it can and should? Now for the important question: Have you added a quality person to your core management team recently? Maybe a better question is: Do you even have a management team?

If this describes your company, it’s a good thing because you can change it. You can decide to recruit, hire and compensate talented people who will help you grow your company. It’s not easy. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever do. But once you get the right people in place, managing your business will be like running downhill. What is important is that you decide to do it; that you make a commitment to actively seek out talented people.

If you have a competent management team, all you lack are marketing and business strategies to take your business to the next level. If you don’t have a high-quality management team in place, all the training, coaching and business strategies in the world will return lackluster results. Let me say that again: All the training, coaching and new strategies are doomed to mediocrity unless you are able to bring new management energy to your company.

Next year is only six months away. Now is the time to begin thinking about not only what you want your company to do differently, but who will lead these changes.

The economic downturn has caused many companies to trim expenses, including management positions in many cases. Start now by identifying people in your company that can be developed into a new and expanded role. Think about people outside your company, too. Some of the best operations managers I have met were relatively new to the industry. What they lacked in technical knowledge they more than made up for in organization, motivation and intelligence.

It all starts with understanding and accepting that your company is as successful as you and your existing management team can make it, and then making a decision to develop the best management team in your market as your No. 1 business goal. Good people are out there. They are just waiting to be invited to help.