If you were to ask your employees to describe their jobs, what kind of answers would you get? My guess is that most would talk about quality construction, building according to spec, following a schedule and a budget. Ask your subs the same question, and you'll hear the same kinds of answers.

All of which are correct, of course -- as far as they go. But most of these responses miss the point by focusing on a set of tasks, not the broader set of purposes behind them. There's a difference, and the extent to which you, your employees, and subs understand and pursue your purpose has a lot more to do with your success than how you think about and even perform your tasks.

Your best field staff understand the difference between task and purpose because, even though their day is full of a multitude of tasks, their purpose is always the same: to keep the client happy. Taking extra time to protect the floor from mud or construction debris is only indirectly related to the task of unloading materials. It's not essential to getting the job done. But it's the most important part of keeping the client happy while the job gets done.

The situation is the same for salespeople, although the job description is more complex. Whether you have salespeople on staff or do the selling yourself, the three main tasks associated with every prospect are to close the sale, get the contract signed, and write the specs. But how you think about the purpose behind each of these tasks affects their outcome. If the purpose in closing the sale is to maintain margin, then the salesperson won't be tempted to cut the price. If the purpose behind writing the specs is to communicate with the production crew, then attention to detail is at a premium. Finally, if the purpose in getting the contract signed is to set client expectations, then the salesperson will expend much more effort explaining the terms, reviewing the schedule, and helping with product selection.

The same principle is at work for your subcontractors, too. An HVAC sub who's focused only on his task simply wants to get the boiler and circulators plumbed by the end of the day so he can move to his next site and bill you for rough-in. His attitude is altogether different, however, if he's focused on his purpose, which is to provide comfort. Now he'll take more care in locating the thermostat; he'll position the circulators so they're easier to get at for maintenance; and he'll find a dozen little things that need attention that would otherwise be overlooked if getting the task done were his only concern.

Remodeling is a complex business, and the list of tasks for even the smallest project is a mile long. Quality craftsmanship and timely completion of those tasks are essential to your success, but they're not enough to make your company successful in today's business climate. You and your people need to keep one eye on the to-do list and the other eye on the broader set of purposes that underlies it. Otherwise, you're just getting the job done.

Mark Robert Halper

Sal Alfano, Editor-in-Chief