Fire your old self and change the behaviors necessary to turn your business around.

Alright, 2009 is almost over. It was an interesting year. Early in the year, the stock market scared the life out of us, dropping more than 60 percent from the prior high. Unemployment rates climbed to the highest levels in 30 years.

All this bad news certainly hit our industry. Consumer spending slowed and personal savings rates hit modern-day highs. This reduced spending was coupled with more price shopping from new home builders to residential service customers. It was tough. 2009 is good riddance for many of us.

But with the turning of the calendar comes new hope, new opportunity and a chance to put it all behind us and get back to normal.

Back To Normal Is The Problem

Unfortunately, many contractors don’t see the direct connection between behaviors and results. For many, 2009 was a year when their company was held hostage to menacing outside factors including the economy, consumer confidence, the Federal Reserve Board and evil Democrats, to name but a few I have heard.

As a result, it was a bad year. “But it wasn’t my fault,” or so goes the thinking. This is a miserable place to be - powerless between the ears to change the direction of the company.

So what happens when this kind of thinking pervades? Nothing different. It was business as usual, “normal” even as far as day-to-day activities are concerned. As the owner, I come in at the same time. Return calls, argue with vendors, hire and fire technicians, throw out estimates just like always. The only thing different is the economy. I did my part; it is just that the economy didn’t cooperate. Maybe next year it will be different.

Now the important question to consider is this: What if next year isn’t different?

Once again, the business will suffer. Not for anything I am doing; I am doing the same thing I always did. It is the economy. It is low call counts. It is that doggone Obama administration. It is (fill in the blank). Just don’t hand me a mirror, thank you.

If that is true, if our business performance is more a result of outside factors than inside behaviors, consider…

The New Technician Phenomenon

Virtually every company in America has experienced the “New Technician Phenomenon.” A new technician is hired from a different company; a company different from yours, maybe even in a different part of the country. The point is, this new employee is not used to “normal” at your company. And what happens? Right away he starts to create a whole new and improved level of performance. Jobs that used to take three days to complete are now done in two days. Average tickets of 1.5 to 2 times your company normal are now brought in from routine service calls. This new guy is amazing.

What is different about this new guy? He looks the same. He talks the same. He is operating in the same economy with the same customers. But his different behaviors created a different result. The way he interacts with customers and his installation techniques are different. Not “normal” from your company’s standpoint.

This happens all the time. If the economy was 100 percent to blame, it would never happen - all technicians would perform the same.

Taking the impact of changed behaviors vs. economic factors even further, consider…

The New Manager Phenomenon

Now the New Technician Phenomenon can have a huge impact on a small company. If you have two technicians and one of them is new and hitting the ball out of the park, the impact on the company is huge. The company immediately gets 50 percent better.

The impact is more diffused if you have five, 10 or 20 technicians. What is lightning in a bottle in these companies, however, is The New Manager Phenomenon.

Prior to my role with Nexstar, I worked for a large national service company. Like all large companies with many locations, we had great locations and those that struggled. What almost always turned around these struggling locations wasn’t new marketing or a new brand name but a new manager. A manager who brings a new sense of energy, perspective and, you guessed it, behaviors.

Now a manager doing things differently just doesn’t influence himself, like a technician. He influences everyone - all the technicians, all the CSRs, etc. Now you have an entire business with changed behaviors and hugely improved performance. Nothing else changes - same Web site; same Yellow Pages ads; same trucks, tools and equipment - just completely changed employee behaviors across the board.

If you want to have a profound effect in a business and change everyone’s behaviors, change the manager.

It All Starts With You

Here is where reality strikes. If you own a company that is struggling and you want it to turn around, you have to look in the mirror and realize that you are the first person that has to dramatically change behaviors.

Remember, your P&L is just a report card on the behaviors you and your employees are putting into action every day. And for a business to dramatically change, the senior leaders in the company need to be the first to show changed behaviors.

The brutal reality is this is tough. We all have work habits and routines. These are tough to break. It is usually easier to “change people” (replace) than “change people” (transform). Business owners taking the path of least resistance or surer success find new people to run their business rather than taking the time to change existing management.

If you are the owner and run your own business each day, you probably won’t fire yourself, but you could fire youroldself.

If you found 2009 to be a tough year and you can’t imagine (or afford) 2010 to be a repeat, you as the business owner have to change dramatically. That includes the way you go about your job - the hours you work, the duties you perform and the expectations you have for yourself and your employees. Everything has to change.

What To Change?

Let’s take a quick inventory of what you could change. Think about these things. Think about yourself. If you were a high-priced business consultant looking to improve the business, what would you recommend be changed?

You might start with: personal work hours; personal appearance standards; daily routines; coaching and training of employees; performance standards for employees; business visioning and planning; financial review and acumen; marketing planning and execution; operational structures and system development; recruiting and hiring; and the prices charged and everyday discounting allowed.

The list could go on and on. The point is, your changes have to be dramatic to turn the business around quickly.

The great news is there are many resources to help you these days. Get active in a business development organization. Visit successful companies and ask the owners what they do every day. Ask your accountant for the names of other successful, noncompetitive local businesses you can visit.

It’s not that hard. You probably already know what to do, you just may be reluctant to do it. Turn the page on 2009 and fire your old self.