Staying in Touch With Your Business

by WOHe

As your kitchen/bath firm grows and you begin to delegate
responsibilities, you’ll tend to get caught up in management issues
that make it easy to overlook some important components related to
the day-to-day activities of your business.

What follows is a list of 10 habits that I’ve incorporated into
my daily routine and have found to be valuable in keeping my finger
on the pulse of our company.

1. Open the mail.

While you may not find it efficient to actually open the mail
each day, it’s extremely enlightening to have all of the mail given
to you so you see what’s being sent to your firm. Obviously, this
will not include the personal correspondence of employees, but it
should include any correspondence of a business nature from
customers or suppliers. Looking through the mail each day will give
you a feel for what you’re being charged by suppliers and
subcontractors. It can also alert you to problems with your
customers.’

2. Be the first one to the office each
morning.

This habit has several advantages and benefits. It allows you to
see what time everyone else arrives (assuming you do not employ a
time clock). It also sets an example for the rest of your staff.
Many employees find it discouraging if they need to be at work
early and the “boss” shows up at mid-morning to begin the day.

In addition, it seems that in the remodeling business, many
things can happen between the time one leaves in the evening and
the next day starts. This usually results in changes and
modifications of schedules. If you’re involved in this aspect of
your business, it’s essential that you be there to get the “troops”
out the door and on to your projects to avoid them standing around
waiting for instructions.

3. Greet each employee daily.’

If you’re the first one into your office each morning, you may
find that you have been at work a couple of hours by the time some
of your employees arrive for work. It’s easy in these cases to
forget that you haven’t said “good morning” to someone. Make a
point of doing this.

4. Meet every customer.

When we start out in business, this is usually not a problem,
since we’re only doing a few jobs a year and we’re intimately
involved with each of them and the customers themselves. In fact,
we’re often the salesperson, project manager, purchasing agent and
carpenter, all rolled into one.

However, as the business grows and we begin to delegate, it’s
easy to draw away from customers and focus, instead, on the “big
picture” aspects of the business and managing the people to whom we
have delegated these functions. The danger in this is that there’s
a tendency for your employees to shield you from the bad news and
tell you only what they know you want to hear.

Making sure that you meet each customer makes it more likely
that you’ll receive feedback from them as their projects progress.
It will also personalize the relationship between customers and
your firm.

5. Visit projects while they’re underway.

As I noted earlier, there’s a tendency to only hear part of any
story and not be told about the problems with a project. However,
actually going to the jobs preferably when work is underway will
give you a first-hand perspective of what your customers are
dealing with. You’ll be able to see what kind of a job your crews
are doing on issues such as clean-up and quality of
workmanship.

6. Make use of lunch time.

Lunch time is a good opportunity to have some uninterrupted time
away from the office with employees, clients or suppliers. It’s
particularly valuable to use these lunches to give your managers
your undivided attention.

Spending this time one-on-one with employees will allow you to
gain insight into their views about the business, and also give you
an appreciation for the personal issues that are impacting their
performance and attitudes. Likewise, it will afford you an
opportunity to communicate your vision for your company and
business.

7. Sleep on it.

It’s easy to get upset or angry about something that has
happened with an employee, client or supplier. The natural reaction
is to confront the situation by setting the offending party
straight with a phone call or letter. While such a reaction may
make you feel better, at least for the moment, such action can do
irreparable damage.

Write the letter (it will probably make you feel better), but
don’t send it until you’ve given yourself a day to cool off. The
next day you can reread it, revise it and then send it off if you
still feel that this is the best course of action. In my
experience, 75% of such letters never go to the post office.

8. Be wary of e-mail.

One of the most revolutionary forms of communication in years is
the advent of electronic mail. E-mail offers convenience in a brief
form of communication that allows a back-and-forth exchange of
information, questions and answers without the delay of regular
mail and the idle chatter that generally accompanies a phone
call.

The drawbacks of e-mail, however, are much the same as the
advantages: Most of the “niceties” of normal conversation are
eliminated, and the chances to build a relationship are limited. In
addition, there’s a tendency to respond to inflammatory messages
with even more inflammatory ones and there’s little opportunity to
read tone of voice or body language signals.

Take advantages of e-mail as a communications tool, but be
cognizant of its limitations and the dangers of becoming overly
reliant on that form of communication.

9. Allow time to “chit-chat.”

Most business owners view time spent with, or by, employees
talking about non-business topics as time that’s wasted. It’s
important, however, that employees are able to enjoy the time they
spend at work. While it’s important that such “bull sessions” not
get out of hand, they’re important for employee morale and help
create a sense of belonging and “team” membership.

10. Mix business with pleasure.

Have social events that include employees, subcontractors and
suppliers (as well as their spouses) which allow them to get to
know one another on a personal level. Again, such activities are
helpful in building a “team” attitude.

While these habits probably seem like common sense, employing
them will save you some grief and provide some benefits to you and
your business.

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