If you wonder why your management methods aren't getting the same results as they used to, you're not alone. Over time every manager or leader develops skills and processes to create predictable results in sales or production or even with basic motivation of the team. When you begin to see variations in these tried-and-true outcomes, your first impulse is to question your skills or methods as a leader and manager. You begin to think that you're not communicating as effectively or that people are not following through as well as they did in the past. These kinds of questions can cause you to lose confidence and conviction, which is not a good place to be during tough times.
In most areas of the country, we in the remodeling industry have experienced a relatively long stretch of smooth sailing. Strong levels of home appreciation and favorable interest rates — and new-home builders keeping busy in their own sandbox — have created a good business environment. But “good” doesn't mean “easy,” it just means that market conditions have been positive for many years.
NO STEADY STATE Today, however, the business environment in many parts of the country has changed. Homes are no longer appreciating as fast, interest rates are creeping upward, and the new-home market is in the pits, causing many builders to gravitate to remodeling to help pay the bills. Let's face it, it is tough out there, and these changing conditions have had an effect on the predictable ways of managing and leading.
Sales and marketing provide two good examples. Selling today requires real sales skills, not just an ability to “take orders.” A salesperson who was thriving just two years ago may now be crashing and burning. Why? Because the environment has changed but the salesperson has not or cannot or will not.
Similarly, current results from traditional marketing approaches, such as direct mail or radio, may have dramatically dropped off. Consequently, levels of return are either substandard, or the expense of obtaining the same results is much greater than it used to be.
EVALUATE The key to success in these conditions is first to recognize the changed business climate, then to adjust your course and get your team to rally behind your insights. Here are three places to shine your spotlight in this tough management and leadership environment:
Your team. Take inventory and raise the bar. In a boom market, you can get by with a few “B” or “C” players on your team. But in a tough environment you need to have all “A” players. Make the effort to hire “A” players now and it will not only benefit your company in the short term but it will also position your company for a great tomorrow.
Your client base. You may think that past clients are loyal, but the statistics say otherwise. Most homeowners choose remodelers the way they choose a restaurant. Don't assume you own them. Instead, make their loyalty a priority. This means going beyond sending a newsletter or a holiday card, and making all touches creative and memorable.
You. In tough times, monthly or weekly gut checks are not enough; you must look in the mirror every day. You are at the helm, and many people's lives depend on your decisions and actions. Should you continue to lead by being everyone's friend or is it time to add some fear into the formula? Are your means of communicating directions or training still effective or should you enlist the help of others? Are you keeping your ear to the ground or are you relying on the postulates of the past? Many times just asking the right questions and focusing on the right stuff will put you on a healthy course.
The picture I have painted may suggest that you hunker down and not grow until the worst is over. Wrong. Just as the best time to invest in a stock or buy real estate is when the market is down, these are also great times to grow your company and gain market share. But you need to adjust what you do and how you do it or you will get what you have always gotten. — Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md. In 2006, Ernst & Young named him a Maryland Entrepreneur of the Year.