Staying in Touch With Your Business

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.