Today’s episode features Vicki Suiter from Suiter Business Systems. We were introduced by our writing coach and found that we have tons in common with the client group we like to service. Vicki specializes in working with contractors and I specialize in blue collar businesses.
We spent our time together talking about how to create a sustainable business when you’re business is a traditional one like a construction company. We found that we have several rules in common and that’s what you’re going to learn in today’s podcast episode.
I always find it interesting that those who work with blue collar business owners almost always have the same experience with what they experience. And, the all have a lot of the same issues and challenges.
In today’s episode you’re going to learn:
- How you can make more profit.
- What you need to do to create more time in your life.
- The secrets to finding more fun in your life……and, it’s not that hard to do.
- You really don’t want your business to depend on your, learn why this is true.
- Admit your afraid to delegate and then learn how to do it well.
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.
Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, this is Josh Patrick and you’re at The Sustainable Business. Today, you’re in for a treat. Today, we have Vicki Suiter with us. Vicki is the owner of Suiter Business Builders. I met Vicki through a person that we’re both using to help us write a book. But we’re not going to talk about books today. What we’re going to talk about today is what you can do specifically in a blue-collar business to make your business sustainable. Vicki is an expert at working with construction companies. And you don’t get much more blue collar than construction companies. So let’s bring Vicki in and find out what you might want to be thinking about to make a sustainable business out of a traditional blue-collar business.
Hey, Vicki. How are you today?
Vicki: Hi, Josh. Great. Thanks for having me.
Josh: Well, thanks so much for being on the show and thanks for putting up with our technical glitch that we seem to be having today but we’ll get through it.
So Vicki, tell me something, you own a construction company and I call you up and I ask you a question. What’s the question I’m most likely going to ask you?
Vicki: The most common question that I get when contractors call me has to do with three key things. How do I make more profit? How do I get more time in my life? And how do I have more fun in what I’m doing because I’m tired and it’s not fun anymore?
Josh: So let’s go to the number three because that’s something that I get all the time. And it typically comes to me from people who’ve been in business for 20 years or 30 years. Is that your experience also?
Vicki: No, not necessarily. I would say that my average client is from their mid-30s to mid-50s so I definitely get some people who have been in the trades for that many years. But I get some people who have just been four, five or six years and they’re like, “Where is the great return on being an entrepreneur? This is really hard and I’m having a hard time making money. Or I’m having a hard time replicating myself through other people.” So people call me at different stages. And certainly, the “I’m tired” part and “I’m not having fun anymore” definitely comes from people who have been doing it for a while.
Josh: Yeah. That’s been my experience “not fun” and “I’m working too hard.” So what do you find usually that causes that?
Vicki: Generally, usually, what causes it is people who have built a business that is very dependent on them and they haven’t figured out a way to build a team around them where they have people who are accountable and take ownership for their part in the business. And that the lot of what happens in the business is very dependent on that owner. So there’s a lot of control and that owner having their fingers on a lot of different parts and pieces. And the thing about not having a team that takes ownership or takes responsibility is because what’s oftentimes happened is they’ve set up their businesses, so people are more like a bunch of helpers as opposed to having people who are clear about what they’re accountable for in terms of the results and the scope of their job.
Josh: So when you set up your businesses with a bunch of helpers– I want to see if you have the same answer I get for that, why do you think they do that? Why don’t they ever give these folks real authority?
Vicki: Because they’re afraid that, you know– and I’ve been this situation as a business owner too, many years ago, when I first started so I appreciate it. But, you know, we get afraid that people won’t do as good a job that we do. That they don’t know how to make sure to take care of the clients and do the technical side. That how they know to control a result is by managing the details as opposed to learning to manage from the top-down versus the bottom-up. A lot of times they’ve learned to create that success in what they do from having learned it from the bottom-up. And they haven’t really learned how to manage from the top-down from results, backwards. And that is what actually ends up being the root cause of treating people more like helpers than really holding them as responsible and having ownership because they haven’t figured out how to actually manage from the top-down.
Josh: So it sounds like they haven’t really learned how to be delegators. Would you say that’s true?
Vicki: I would say that what they have sometimes learned how to do is to be abdicators as opposed to effective delegators. And I make that distinction with people all the time because a lot of times we abdicate responsibility to other people. We go, “I hired you. You have that skill. You should know how to do that job. I put you out there.” But I don’t tell you what my criteria is for success and then you fail.
Delegation is completely different. And that delegating says, “Here’s what you’re responsible for. This is the results you’re responsible for. This is our agreement about the results you’re going to produce. Are we in agreement?” And then you manage that result. That’s delegating. And I just have to say that a lot of this is around, “How do you build and write job descriptions that are results oriented versus task oriented?”
Josh: That would a piece. I think that what you’re doing here is that you’ve hit it right in the head. I’d say the exact same thing is that, when people first start delegating, typically they don’t delegate – they abdicate. They tell someone they want them to do something. And when it doesn’t get done, they blow up and say, “Well, I can’t trust them so there’s no way I can let anybody do anything but me around here.” I mean, you’ve probably have seen that a zillion times as I have?
Vicki: Sure. Yes.
Josh: In fact, I couldn’t look in the mirror when I was 24 and it was me, so.
Vicki: Yes, me too. Me, as well. Yup.
Josh: Yeah. So it’s not like I didn’t experience it myself. I did. But the truth, I find is that when you delegate, the missing piece tends to be the “inspect” piece. I set an expectation. I tell you to go do a job. And then I go to accept the job but I haven’t inspected what you’ve been doing along the way nor have I given you systems to do it with. Is that sort of what you’re finding with the people you work with also?
Vicki: Absolutely, Josh. And there’s just one little distinction that I would make is that one of the things that I talk with people a lot about is “How do you get agreement with people about the results that they’re going to produce?” Whether that’s an agreement about “I’m going to have this report to you by this date” or “I’m going to follow up and make that phone call.” Operating from a place of letting that personal make an agreement with you is much more empowering with somebody than having an expectation that they’re going to do something by a particular date. It’s a way that lets people actually own the agreement as opposed to feel like they’re being told, “I need this by then. I need this by then. I need that by then.” So it’s just a little bit of a fine distinction.
In terms of what you’re talking about in terms of reporting back or being accountable, absolutely, I think it has a lot to do with teaching people how to not necessarily– as business owners and leaders, our job isn’t to chase after the result but teaching the people who we work with to actually learn how to self‑manage results and feed that back to us. They are bringing back information that lets them verify that what they did is correct as well as let us know that what they did was correct, or was completed, or whatever. Because that’s really where you build great leaders and a great team is when people can really own the result because there’s a lot more pride, satisfaction, sense of belonging, mattering, and purpose in what we do when we own a result as opposed to when we’re just responsible for a task.
Josh: So where do systems fit into all of this?
Vicki: Well, systems is critical. I completely agree with you. If there’s not a system or a structure that’s agreed upon– let’s take change orders for example, it’s a great one. So it tends to be a place where contractors lose a lot of money. And of all of the companies that I’ve ever dealt with, I can tell you there’s the same number of methodologies for managing change orders. And one of the things that’s very helpful is when you’re clear about “What’s our system for managing change orders? Do we do work before the change order has a wet signature? Are we willing to start it when it’s a signed authorization in the field and then we’ll take care of the paperwork at the office? Or do we have a steadfast rule – we don’t do change orders of any type until we have a wet signature?” Look, so just even those kind of things – having a clear, written procedure that says, “This is how we do it” will produce a more consistent result.” And that’s just one example.
And I would agree with what you said too that that’s a critical piece of, if you want to create sustainable success, and you want to create a more consistent result in your business, and you want to be able to grow your business, the systems, and structure, and processes, and procedures that you have in place are really a huge piece of what will let you produce a more consistent result and have a foundation on which you can grow. If you’re always [inaudible 00:09:57] people making it up between their two ears every time or it requires a conversation with you, as a leader/owner, that’s part of what adds to exhaustion. And adds to the inability to grow because you don’t have a solid foundation on which you can grow.
Josh: It makes perfectly good sense to me.
So where do mistakes fit into this? I’m going to delegate to you. There’s a pretty good chance you’re not going to do it right the first time out of the box.
And two issues, I think, at least get in the way of delegation, one is mistakes and the other is trust. And when somebody makes a mistake, do you have a process you coach your people through?
Vicki: Yes. What I say is, first of all, “just look at and acknowledge what’s working and what’s not working, and then what needs to be different.” And I add a little bit of this little statement “So what? Now what?” Like, something happened, right? Breakdowns happen. Life happens. We’re not perfect.
And the truth is that if you asked me where my greatest learning has come from, in my career, it has been from some of the biggest mistakes I have made in my career. So I think it’s super important to let people make mistakes, make space and room for that. Let them own the mistake and then let them have the ownership to be able to also make it right. And that takes patience. And if you were willing to invest the time at the front end, that patience and that investment of time and energy pays back ten-fold at the backend.
Josh: Yes, no question about that. My silly little question, when people make a mistake is, “what did you learn?”
Vicki: Yeah. That’s great.
Josh: And if I get the answer, which I usually get first, “I don’t know.” So then my next question after that, “Well, if you did know, what would it be?”
Vicki: Yup, right.
Josh: And then if I still get another “I don’t know”, which has happened more than once in my life, then I say to the person, “Well, why don’t you pretend you know?” And that actually gets me the answer, usually.
Vicki: Nice, yeah.
Vicki: And another way to even ask them is “If you were in that situation again and you could rewind the clock, knowing everything that you know now, what would you have done differently?”
Josh: That’s a great question, by the way. I love that. That’ a really good question.
So let’s bring the other issue, which I think is a big deal, which is trust. So if you make a mistake, what usually happens with trust? And how do you keep the bad stuff from happening?
Vicki: Trust is an interesting word. And I believe that the way that we build trust with people, one of the most fundamental and simple ways, is by keeping our word. So if I have an agreement with somebody and I am going to break that agreement or I have broken that agreement, one of the ways to manage and maintain trust with that person is to acknowledge that I have a broken agreement and make a new agreement. That comes in the domain of showing up on time to meetings with clients or employees, or following through on the things that we say that we’re going to do.
I think a lot of trust comes in the form of “Can I count on you to do what you say you’re going to do?” I think that’s’ a lot of what builds trust in relationships with people. And if we build a culture where we hold each other accountable for the agreements we make then the chances, of us building a culture where we can trust each other that we have each other’s backs, increases exponentially, right?
Josh: Since you just mentioned the word culture which is another one of my favorite things, what do you do with people around culture to help them make their culture explicit in the company? I mean, most companies have an implicit culture which is just there but nobody ever really talks about what it is explicitly, or a very few people do. Do you work with your clients doing that sort of stuff?
Vicki: I do, Josh. And some of the things that I encourage them to look at is “What are the things that are really the cornerstones of your business that are your non‑negotiables?” And I don’t believe that it should be a huge, long list. Keeping the agreements would be one of them that I often hear people talk about. “How do we start to keep agreements?” Being willing to be honest with one another when something’s not working. I really encourage people that when something’s not working that everything doesn’t always float to the top.
How do we teach people how to have conversations and interactions with one another where we become good at problem solving and working through issues because everything is about communication, right? It kind of all comes back to that, in all the areas that we work. And the more we can learn how to have good communication skills become part of what’s embedded in our culture, then we tend to build businesses where people feel like they can feel safe to fail, where they know that people are being honest with them, where there’s a continual feedback loop – what’s working and not working. This whole thing of creating a culture where people can feel safe and feel like they matter is also one where they continually get feedback.
And when you’re going to operate from open communication, honest feedback, keeping agreements, those three things tend to be things that, in a culture, can really make a huge difference in terms of building a team that is stronger, that can move quickly through obstacles that occur, that can overcome breakdowns, that can grow and take the next hill because they have a basis for operating together that’s really powerful.
Josh: I would add, one more piece of what you just said, I think it’s completely on point. And the one piece I like to see in culture is what I call personal responsibility or a no-blaming, no-justifying zone in the company.
Vicki: Nice way to put it. I totally agree, yup.
Josh: Yeah. In my experience, without personal responsibility it’s really hard to have a good company or a good relationship for that matter.
Vicki: You’re right. And you know what, I’ll just add a little thing here is that, if we’re willing to take 100% responsibility for the results we produce around us, with the understanding that responsibility is the ability to respond, not shame-blame-fault. Like, we sometimes confuse those things. But if we hold it as responsibility as the ability to respond and that I’m responsible for what I create in my professional life and my personal life, then I get that I can interact with what happens in a way that I can produce a different result. That gives me way more control over the experience I’m having.
Josh: It absolutely does.
So we have time to talk about one more topic which is knowing your numbers. And my bet is you have a similar experience as I, is that most of your clients probably can read a P/L, barely read a balance sheet, can’t read a cashflow statement, and hardly look at any of it.
Vicki: Very true. Until they meet me.
Josh: Right. Right.
Josh: I have this silly saying that says, you know, “If you go to France, what do you do? You speak French.” If you run a business, what should you do? You should learn the language of finance which are your numbers.
And the funny thing is that people tend to not want to look at their numbers when they know that they’re not going to like what they say. And the thing I say is, “When you can embrace and look at your numbers and see the real picture of where you stand, you will have much more power in being able to know where you need to move to in order to get where you want to go.” But if you can’t see the gap that exists between those two, what happens is you just keep working super hard, which probably gets back to what we started this conversation with, this people are tired and worn out. You work super hard to try to get it to be different without understanding where’s the distance between where you are and where and where you want to be. And when you can see that distance, you have a lot more control of being able to impact it.
Josh: Yeah. There’s no question.
And without looking at your numbers you can’t put together scoreboards and dashboards which tell you, on a daily or weekly basis, what’s going on in your business, which gets back to you, our original thing is, becoming operationally irrelevant. It keeps you from having fun running your business. If you’re not comfortable turning things over to others, the reason usually is you don’t know what’s going on. And having good numbers helps you know what goes on.
Josh: I think.
And it’s the way to get freedom from having to micromanage people because when you’re running your business, based on managing by results, that means that you have a set of data that comes back to you to let you know the health of your business. It’s like going to the doctor where you know they check your pulse and your blood pressure and your heart rate, right?
The same thing is true and there’s a certain number of vital stat signs about your business that let you know the health of it. When you can keep your finger on the pulse of it, you can start to better monitor the health of your business and you’re not trying to hope and wish. You’re actually starting to be able to have more control. And so are the people who work for you, when you give them real data to be able to manage by.
Josh: Yeah. That’s a whole another topic which we unfortunately don’t have time to get into which is, sharing numbers and running an open book company. I don’t know where you stand on that but it’s something I’ve been advocating in anything I work with for years.
Vicki, you are really good at what you do. I can tell just by this short conversation. And I’m going to bet that some of listeners might want to get in touch with you. How would they go about doing so?
Vicki: They can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or they can call me at (415)-328-1134.
Josh: Cool. And you’re specially working with contractors in Northern California, is that true?
Vicki: Actually, I have clients all over the United States and Hawaii.
Josh: Oh, cool. So, if you’re in the construction business, Vicki is a person you might want to really be talking too because I can tell you she knows her stuff.
And speaking of knowing your stuff, I also have an offer for you. It’s a 1-hour free audio CD I’ve put together about how to take your successful business and making it personally and economically sustainable. And by the way, we talked about almost all the five things in our conversation today. But to get this, is really easy, you just take out your smartphone or whatever you text on. If you’re driving, please don’t do this while you’re driving. Do it afterwards. It’s pretty easy to remember. Just text the word SUSTAINABLE to 4422. That’s the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222. It’ll bring you to a link that you click on. You’ll go to a form, give me your address and we mail out the CD to you. And you can listen to it in your car.
So thanks a lot for spending some time with us today. This is Josh Patrick. You’ve been at the Sustainable Business. And I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an e-mail at email@example.com.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.