Work “ON” the Business: Start Inside

Have you heard the adage “Work ON your business, not in your business”? This is sound and practical advice for any business owner, especially in the construction industry. But what exactly does it mean?

To work “ON” the business means to do what is important for the business to steer it toward the desired direction. It means to be intentional with a strategy, fulfilling your Vision and Mission as an organization. Reality shows us that this practice of working “ON” the business is easier said than done.


Many get caught up “putting out fires,” working the daily grind and reacting to the “urgent” things that pop up unexpectedly. I’ve heard this syndrome named “Tyranny of the Urgent.”

As a business owner, employing as many as 10 full-time people, I have to admit avoiding the Tyranny of the Urgent is not easy.


The challenge in Construction that makes this particularly tough is that we are a project-driven business. It’s about completing the job, being substantially complete, and meeting our deadlines. After all, there are even rewards and penalties in our contracts holding us to the schedule.

Another pitfall is that the principal gets drawn into a particular aspect of the business that hooks their time- estimating, operations, outside meetings, etc. As the business grows, it behooves the owner to find a suitable replacement for these low ROI, time-consuming tasks.


My recommendation is for the owner to proactively manage the business, focusing on its strengths and maintaining this approach consistently. If there are areas or departments that are weak, find the right management with a proven track record to oversee it. It might be more expensive, but this investment will free you up and pay dividends over time.

It’s time for the CEO to change their dance steps and allow the business to go to the next level without blocking or preventing its growth. Sometimes we have to stay out of the way of our own business’ growth.


Every company has a culture or way of doing things that is unique as a fingerprint. Invest your energy to define your firm’s culture and to make a clear path for your staff to operate according to it. This will provide a profile of who to hire and how to retain them.

Money is never the top criteria that employees seek. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important, but the environment and employee treatment has a greater impact on retaining key people.


Construction does a great job of producing facilities. Digging a hole and sticking a building in it is no problem. But the soft skills of communicating, negotiating, relating, marketing, selling, proposing, presenting, strategizing, etc. That is a different story. We are way behind in these softer skills. Therefore, commit to training your people in these soft skills consistently.

If you have expertise internally, then have those folks mentor and train the others to get proficient. If the skills are not apparent internally, then seek outside assistance to impart them to your people.


You now have some solid ways to start working “ON” your business instead of just “IN” it. Be radical and change your dance steps to focus on your firm’s culture and hire accordingly. Realize that the right management and skills will set your company apart from your competitors and set a growth trajectory that will head where you have always dreamed of going.

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