Owners and employees often operate from a different or an incomplete set of facts. For example, if a company didn't pay profit-sharing bonuses this year, employees might think that the owner was being stingy. They were busy all year so they assume that the company made money. The “missing facts” are the clients who didn't pay the final invoice, the callbacks that chewed into profits, and the undocumented change orders that couldn't be billed.

Business owners are not immune. Some contractors imagine, for example, that because sales are stronger than last year, they are making a good living. Sometimes, however, these same owners are actually earning less than their highest paid field carpenter. Missing facts again.

Think it could never happen to you? Let's find out.

Start with the list of “company facts” in the sample spreadsheet. Add anything else that you deem important to your company's success, especially any issues that seemed to be a problem during the past year.

Make copies of the blank form ( you can download the spreadsheet here) and pass them out to your employees. (If you work solo, skip the employee parts.) On a “master” copy, fill in the “Owner Answer” column with your best guess. Ask your employees to fill in the “Employees Answer” column on their copies, then average their responses and transfer them to the master sheet.

Now fill in “The Facts.” You might want to delegate parts of this task: Ask your accountant to verify the financial information; ask your salespeople or lead carpenters to verify the sales and the production figures.

The spreadsheet calculates the difference between the owner and employee guesses, and between those guesses and “The Facts.” Numbers don't lie, and the variances will help.

Small differences mean everyone's on the same page. More than likely, though, you'll find areas where you and your employees are far apart, or areas where you're all far apart from “The Facts,” or both. Those are the places that offer the greatest opportunity for improvement in the coming year.

—Judith Miller is a Bay Area construction business consultant and trainer specializing in accounting, finance, and computerization.