McCadden: The Secret to Replacing Yourself at Your Remodeling Business

authors Shawn McCadden | March 17, 2021

There are many important—even critical—considerations for remodeling business owners seeking to someday step back or step aside from the day-to-day activities of profitably running their businesses. Staff training, system development and documentation, and a dashboard to track key metrics and management/leadership training are only just a few. They are critical because they are prerequisites, but they also make damn sure the business doesn’t tank in your absence.

Of the many things to consider, one is most critical, and in many ways, may be that missing secret sauce you need. This secret sauce is what you need to gain the emotional confidence to give up control and to trust your employees’ ability to take responsibility. I have mentioned this secret in a few of my previous articles. You might even remember it. It’s called “schema.”

Schema Requires Personal Experience

We can all take a class, read a book or do some online research to learn new things. When we do, we gain knowledge. But just because you know how to do something or perhaps know “how something is done,” doesn’t mean you also have the experience needed to do it, do it right, and do it efficiently. We gain schema by and from the day-to-day experiences we have. It’s the combination of knowledge and experience that make for great employees and managers.

Schema then, as the secret sauce, enhances a bunch of separate ingredients into a gourmet meal. For business owners seeking to step away, without the secret sauce you will only have a stack of ingredients. You can still make a meal, but it won’t likely be the one you’re hungry for and may not fill you up.

Will You Wait for Schema or Foster It?

A remodeling business owner once shared with me that he was upset with his new production manager. This person was a successful lead carpenter at the same business, so the owner told me he just assumed the guy could also be a good production manager.

As the new production manager took on the role six months before, the business became behind schedule and over budget on almost all jobs. When I asked the owner his solution, he said, “That guy is just going to have to learn, and pretty quickly, how to get the work done on time and on budget.” I instantly knew this was a case of the missing secret sauce.

Unfortunately, this business owner was not aware of the value and importance of schema. The new production manager had plenty of knowledge about construction, the company’s employees and subcontractors, the materials they used, and how to manage one job at a time. Those were the right ingredients for the position. But due to a lack of schema for running multiple jobs, multiple crews and subs, all at the same time, he lacked the secret sauce needed to live up to the owner’s expectations.

In reality, the production manager would likely eventually gain the schema needed. But unfortunately, just like the owner had, this employee was going to gain schema by making many mistakes over many years before he would eventually learn what he really needed to know to perform as the business owner desired.

Rather than foster schema in this employee, the business owner expected the employee to figure things out. Before following in that owner’s footsteps, consider whether you really have the time and the money to finance all of the profit-compromising mistakes while waiting for employees to figure things out.

Helping Employees Think Like Owners

Many remodelers have shared with me that they wished their employees thought more like business owners. Now that you know about schema and what it really is, if an employee never owned a business, should or can you expect that employee to think like a business owner? The technical answer is no. Unless you own a business, the experiences you have will never be the same. A good example is the feeling you get when your business is losing money because of a mistake you made.

When that happens, you feel both the pain and embarrassment of making a mistake as well as the monetary costs. Because of the money you lost, which was needed to pay bills, you also have schema for lying awake all night determining how the shortfall will affect your business and your family. An employee who makes a similar mistake at your business may experience many of the same emotions as the owner, but the employee still gets paid and can go to sleep at night.

But maybe not so fast. What if the production manager, like the business owner, makes more or less money depending on the actual profitability of the business? If the production manager, or any other management employee, was compensated based on hitting a measurable dollar amount of earned gross profit for each quarter, would they gain the schema to think more like an owner? I think so. As a matter of fact, I know so. If that manager’s compensation suffered for not meeting the schedule and budget, he or she would likely use that experience to motivate them the next quarter.

To sum things up, I encourage you to consider the power and value of schema for you, your business and your employees. Help your employees gain both knowledge and schema. Be patient, however. Building schema takes time. Fortunately, it can be sped up quite a bit through mentoring.

As the business owner, think of it as your job and opportunity to help your employees discover and build their own schema. I can guarantee you; it will be a good experience for both you and them. Plus, if you can eventually step away from the business, they and you might like that experience as well. QR

Shawn McCadden is a speaker, business trainer, columnist and award-winning remodeler with more than 35 years of experience. He can be reached at shawnmccadden.com.

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