There’s the story about the man who goes to church every day to pray that he might win the lottery. In the final hour of the fateful selection, with the kitty lapping at the gazillion-dollar level, he prostrates himself before the congregation cries out in a loud voice, “Lord, Lord, please let me win the lottery.” A hubbub arises as fellow parishioners turn to each other in consternation, but then fall into stunned silence as the very walls tremble with the thundering response, “Sam, meet me half way. Buy a ticket.”
Pretty silly story, of course, but it does make a fairly important point…there’s a price we have to pay for success. Not only is the dollar figure frighteningly high just with the obvious line items that allow you to hang out your shingle—equipment, salaries, licenses, insurance, bonds, office space, fixtures, and supplies, to name a few—but then you have those intangibles—your knowledge, skills, and willingness to put your wealth and reputation on the line in what is a risky business—that moved you to accept the challenge in the first place.
A Few More Punches
OK, you’ve got a ticket…but is it the winner? Maybe…maybe not. After you’ve got all the basics covered, there are still some known and unknown risks ahead. There’s not much you can do about the ones without a name, but there are several areas you need to address if you want to bring success into the realm of high probability.
Safety—It’s hard not to look at safety in terms of accidents, and from an accounting standpoint it makes sense because they are the part of your safety efforts that can be measured. Yet, while it is true that you can’t make a direct count of things that don’t happen, their absence is what your safety program is all about. An immediately apparent return on your investment in a superior safety program is its impact on your workers comp costs…something you can post to the bottom line of your balance sheet. But I’d like to suggest that even more important are the intangible results your efforts have on the relationship between you and your workers. It’s not just the rules you lay down but the underlying atmosphere that is the real bottom line.
Regulations—As with safety, it is hard to judge your performance in regulatory matters without reference to violations and their cost in terms of fines and make-goods. Yet here, as with safety, the real measure lies in doing things the right way rather than just meeting the prescribed requirements. While it may be tempting to say to yourself that if monetary Brownie Points probably aren’t at stake, “good enough” should be sufficient, you know that anything short of excellence—even in areas peripheral to the job at hand—will come home to roost somewhere down the line.
Technology—For years, construction—particularly in the dirt-moving arena—was resistant to technology…but no more. The field has seen more change in the past decade than in all the years following World War II, a fact that is most apparent in the equipment that is being delivered today. But stunning as these changes have been, the real advances have come in (and as a result of) computerization. Think back to when you bit the bullet and took your first tentative steps into the computer age…and compare that vision to where you are today. You may not like all the changes that have occurred as a result of that decision, but your knowledge of and control over the factors that affect your business are light-years removed from what they used to be.
A contractor friend challenged this by saying, “I can still work up a darn good bid on a coffee shop napkin,” and I don’t doubt that he can. But his understanding of the factors that lead to that ability come not from some cosmic vision but from spreadsheets that allow him to peer deep down into the gizzards of his business with a precision more reliable than the witchcraft and superstition of bygone days. The bottom line here, whether you’re talking about estimating software or machine control systems, is that if you’re not using the most advanced tools and your competition is, sooner or later you’re going to get stomped.
The Other Half
Your ability to access, digest, and apply pertinent information is the remainder of the equation to which that voice in the beginning referred. It is what military people call intelligence, and it is built on your energy and dedication in exposing yourself to the knowledge and vision of others, beginning with the experience of your professional advisors, peers, and the people whose livelihoods are in your hands. I’d like you to consider Grading & Excavation Contractor as a conduit to all three of those categories, but the final analysis, it is your desire to succeed that gets you the winning ticket.