The first job with the builder went very smoothly. The jobsite was ready for us. The material drop was close. We showed up on the day and hour designated, and everything went according to plan. It was great. It was fantastic. It really was!
It was almost “construction perfection.” Some jobs just go this way, and it feels easy. Everybody makes money, and everyone seems like your best friend. It's too bad you don't learn what people are like in these situations.
Don't get me wrong, I want things to go well. I want ditches to be filled, water and power to be readily available, and questions answered in a timely and coherent fashion. There's no doubt it can be that way, and oftentimes it is.
My point is that we just don't learn that much about our business relationships when everything is moving along seamlessly. We find out a lot more about people when they are under pressure, and when things are not going the way they should, or could. Sometimes it takes a big screw-up to find out people's true nature.
Not so long ago, a friend and I were relaxing and talking about his new partnership. He sang praises for everyone, their educational pedigrees, their business acumen, their outside interests, and their status.
“So, you don't know Jack about them,” I said.
He laughed and said, “Of course I do,” and “What did I mean?”
“Nothing has gone wrong?” I asked.
“No, everything is going great.”
“If everything is going great, then good for you and your partners, but you won't know anything about them until something goes wrong,” I said. “Then you'll find out lots. You'll find out if they accept blame if they mess up, or if they shift it to someone else. You'll find out if they let you assume others messed up, when in fact, it was them. Hopefully, you'll find out that they step up, take responsibility, brainstorm to get things moving in a positive direction, and use the incident to learn and grow.”
Growth like this can be painful. But there's no doubt in my mind that if you work through tough problems with your team members, a level of trust and confidence bonds you together like no other glue.
I used to ask people if they were hanging from a cliff, whom they would want on the other end of the rope. The only person that could really give an honest answer was someone that, at some point in time, actually was. He knew they were hanging, and the other person held and helped them find their way back up to safe ground.
Don't create problems just to find out who those people on your team are. Opportunities will present themselves along the way. Take a good long look at your staff and ask yourself, “Do I want them on my rope? Would they want me on theirs?”
When challenges do arise, there is truly an opportunity to bring your team together, to share a burden, ask for help, and solve a problem as a group. Everyone benefits, strengths and weaknesses are discovered, and leadership emerges.
We don't find out about people until problems arise, and if we look at problems as an opportunity to strengthen our businesses, we'll not only solve problems, but we'll figure out exactly who we want on our ropes. As someone who's been on both ends of a rope, I do.
Jamie Holliday (photo) has owned and operated Holliday Masonry for 27 years in Washington State. He is vice president of the local Residential Masonry Contractors Association, and is the national RMCA vice president for 2007.