Growing Pains and Three Steps to Relieve the Pain

December 2018


by Larry Silver, Contractor Marketing Inc.

Every business has its start and begins to grow. Each organization like a fingerprint is unique and has a different history. If the company reaches the five-year mark (80 percent don’t) and actually begins to thrive, growing pains will emerge to challenge, frustrate, and hinder the firm from its full potential.

At the birth of any business, there are just a handful of people who do everything. They wear many hats and both secure and execute the work at hand. But, as the organization grows, the various functions get delegated to specific people who do their level best to keep that function operating well.

However, as each department grows and adds people and complexity to the mix, it becomes challenging to communicate well and to stay informed of the day-to-day challenges that bombard the business.

The construction industry is notorious for producing strong entrepreneurs who take on gargantuan risks for razor-thin margins. I commend every one of you in that situation for your courage and skill.

Another trait that contractors are known for is flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants. They wing-it every day to get as much done as is humanly possible in the hours given. But as the business grows, this informal approach lacks the professionalism and organization needed to succeed in a larger way, the way most contractors dream about succeeding.

Therefore, I want to set forth a three-step solution to this dilemma that most every contractor faces sooner or later as their firm grows.

Step #1: Have a Clear and Written Vision

It’s not enough for the president and a few key leaders to know what the vision is. You have to document it, create a visual representation of it, and communicate it frequently throughout the organization. Why? So this is not just one person’s vision, but everyone can take ownership and watch it form over time. This promotes enthusiasm, loyalty, retention, and the intangible benefits that employees desire.

A vision is where you see your firm in the long run, the distant future—20, 30, and even 40-plus years out. It acts like the North Star giving guidance to your strategic decisions, not only at the annual planning time, but throughout the daily grind.

It’s the vision that drives the business, shaping it to be what you visualize over time. The mission describes “how” you will go about accomplishing your vision. It explains the particulars—who to market to, the type of hires you need, the service offering that you focus your energy on.

Step #2: Create a Culture Where the Right People Are in the Right Positions

To expand and grow various aspects of the business, you will need a diversity of talent and experience. This is the main theme of the bestselling book “Good to Great” and makes all the sense in the world. There are many tasks and needs in business that no one person can fulfill.

I enjoy hearing the personal stories and testimonials from great business people and their accomplishments. In Dayton, we have Clayton Mathile, the former owner of Iams Pet Foods who sold to P&G in September 1999 for $2.3 billion.

His big focus in business was to properly manage and control growth. At one point, he realized that he did not have the experience to take the firm to the next level, so he hired a president who could. This takes great humility and understanding.

Clayton built his empire one competent manager at a time. It doesn’t really matter whether your product is dog food or construction services, the main unchanging growth principle is hiring and maintaining a competent workforce.

Step 3: Align Your Firm and All Its Resources Daily

What is the one thing that each employee, each manager, each principal of your company can perform each day to head in the strategic direction to accomplish the vision? What does this look like? It looks like an organization that functions like a “Team” (Together Everyone Achieves More), doing what is important and a high priority for that day.

The firm’s leadership must be sensitive to this need to have synergy among its members. Synergy is when the sum of the parts is greater than the sum of the whole. I encourage leaders to allow employees to have access to the total resources of the firm (individuals, departments, financial info, leaders, clients, vendors, etc.) for the benefit of the whole group.

When an organization has access to itself and its resources, there will be active listening and a clear action that results. This will leverage the growth potential in quiet and consistent fashion, like the business has not experienced before.

Work on the Business

The leaders must learn to work “On the Business” and not just in the business. So many fires occur that need to be put out. This creates what is commonly called “Tyranny of the Urgent” in our industry. Many think if they are busy putting out these fires, they are doing their absolute best to serve the business.

I say these fires are a distraction to what the business really needs to grow. Focus on executing what is important every day for your business (The Three Steps mentioned) and teach your staff to do the same. Watch what happens. Your business will be on a fast-track toward your desired future vision.

Larry Silver is president of Contractor Marketing Inc., a national consulting/recruiting firm specializing in the AEC industry. Silver can be reached at (937) 776-7170 or




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