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July 12, 2020
There was once a contractor who was blessed with the Midas touch. He bought a small, struggling company, worked diligently and tirelessly for almost 30 years, and built a regional powerhouse with an amazingly consistent track record of profits. In his “spare time,” he utilized the money he created in his operating company to bootstrap his way into millions of dollars of commercial and residential real estate. By anyone's measure, this contractor was successful.
A few years ago, his three children left their previous careers and joined the company. Not long after the next generation came aboard, tensions became apparent. The “kids,” along with several other talented key managers, observed things that weren't quite right, issues that needed time, attention, elbow grease, and strategic thinking. The founder, on the other hand, wasn't too bothered. He'd worked very hard to get where he was, and he was finally beginning to enjoy life a little more. There was a bit of a tug-of-war going on. NextGen said, “We have problems! We need change!” The dad said, "I built this company to where it is now without the things you're recommending; why do we need them now?” What NextGen was learning is that it is hard to argue with success!
In fact, it is VITAL that you argue with success—especially in companies experiencing this intergenerational tug-of-war. There are a few pretty solid reasons why the worst business advice ever uttered is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." While it may seem to be sensible on the surface, when it comes to closely held construction companies, it is awful counsel. The moment contractors stop tinkering with their businesses is the point in time when they either begin to stagnate or even decline.
Here are the rationalizations for not arguing with success:
Our argument with the don't argue with success position is that it limits and constrains a construction company in a way that is often difficult to detect but powerful and insidious nonetheless. It can cause “hardening of the attitudes” and decline. It is the curtain coming down on a successful, long-running show. It means fewer jobs, less excitement, less energy, and more frustration. Many contractors who didn't want to argue with success now wish they had so they’d have plans in place to cope with slowing revenues, jobs and schedules pushing, declining backlogs, and the need to right size.
There are serious, high impact, long-term benefits associated with arguing with success. What we're talking about is undergoing a rigorous process of analyzing and reanalyzing your construction company for problems and opportunities. That means utilizing a structured process for long-term, forward-looking business planning versus the traditional “firefighting” methodology many contractors seem to prefer. The positives of rigorous self-examination, open, honest communication, and the alignment of corporate people, strategies, and goals are pretty compelling reasons for arguing with success. The next time you hear someone say, “It's hard to argue with success,” don't roll your eyes and allow your blood pressure to creep upward. Grab this article and have a serious heart-to-heart.
Arguing with success is precisely what most contractors need—especially during times like these.
Wayne Rivers is the president of The Family Business Institute.