Canadian Contractor

Rob Blackstien   

Put me in, coach, Part II

Canadian Contractor

The benefits of using a coach for your contracting business

Rob Allan (left) and Mike Draper.

Canadian Contractor recently sat down with contractor coach Mike Draper of Renovantage, and one of his clients, Rob Allan, to discuss the dynamics of their relationship, how this all works, and the benefits contractors receive from having a coach.

You can read Part I of the interview here.

In Part II, we get more into accountability, Rob’s sports background and how the peer sessions help.

Mike Draper: Ultimately, the goal is not to do the work for me, it’s to do the work for themselves. Sometimes it just takes that little bit of a push to get them used to being accountable for accomplishing the goals that they set out to do in the first place. So ultimately you do it for yourself. Now you don’t do it because I’m coming to see you the next day.


Rob Allan: It would be nice if you did it for me. So I think probably one of the biggest problems that we had was just a lot of activity. There was a lot going on. We had different processes for everything. We would have a different reaction for everything that we did, all very positive stuff. But to remember how to do things differently every time, it became very chaotic. Mike came in and focused the business or us on putting in a process and making it consistent, repeatable every single time. And really, through the process of doing that, it allowed us to communicate that message to our clients and repeat that. That system is being used today with software as well. It’s really helped us overcome that problem.

MD: I remember this one instance when we were in the middle of the coaching session and your project manager walked in with a bundle of cheques and said, “Hey Rob, can you sign these?” And you put them down on the table and you’re signing and saying “I don’t know what I’m signing.” Because there was no process at the time to match an invoice to a purchase order and therefore you’re just trusting the project manager that things are being done correctly.

RA: Yeah, I remember that day. Not a good feeling at all. Big cheques being cut without a process and you’re just keeping your fingers crossed. That’s not the way that I wanted to run the business. You really helped put the processes in and then we continued to improve the processes. There’s always room for improvement so we keep tweaking it.

Canadian Contractor: How does Mike keep you accountable?

RA: Based on my sports background, I’m used to following a coach and really any success I’ve had has been with a really good coach. So when you’re out there floating on your own as a business owner making good things happen, it’s nice to have a coach to keep you focused. At a very high level that’s what it is. Mike brings focus with something as simple as booking weekly and monthly meetings. You know that’s in your schedule, you lock it in, you set aside the time and you know you have some homework to do. So when Mike’s there, it’s done, it’s ready and it’s well thought through and then we could bounce ideas off one another and make sure it’s staying on task.

MD: What is your sports background?

RA: I played football, got a scholarship to Indiana University. At the same time I was playing hockey. I think I tried to translate that sporting experience into business. So it was simple for me to kind of say, “well you know what’s at the top, that’s the coach who helps really guide the players.” That’s kind of how I view it. Mike’s been a huge help for that.

MD: But ultimately you still have to do the work. You still have to be willing to learn and put in the time and the effort in order to get the results. But just like going to the gym, if you go to the gym, you’re going to get better.

RA: Yeah, 100 per cent. Your coach never does the work for you, so you still have to have the ambition. You still have to have the goal, but having a coach help you along, gets you through and gets you to stay on task and get to that goal.

MD: From my perspective, having someone like yourself that’s willing to learn, to change and to implement the things that we talk about and stay focused on the end goal is amazing. I mean, that’s music to my ears.

RA: Yeah. That’s a win-win.

CC: What’s a typical coaching session like?

RA: I don’t think there’s a typical coaching session. It can vary depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Your goal setting sort of dictates the path there and then you prioritize your business needs. For example, if it was financially related, we would on a fairly regular basis make sure that our financial statements are done and printed. We’d analyze that and then we’d compare it again on a pretty regular basis to make sure we’re tracking the right direction.

CC: Rob, what

Rob, what’s the relationship like between your coach and other professionals you may have helping you? For example, your accountant?

RA: Full transparency as far as I’m concerned. We’ve had sessions with the accountant where we could drill down and make sure we’ve got accurate information. If it’s a question that I couldn’t answer or it was just not clear, we could get that answer. I made it very clear to everyone that the business had a coach and the coach was very much a part of the team.

CC: Sometimes your coach will ask you to do things you don’t want to do. That happens with all athletes. How has that worked for you guys?

RA: I don’t think it’s easy ever to hear something you don’t want to hear. But I think you have to stay open to that. To me, it’s the reason you have a coach — to tell you the tough things. So I appreciated it a lot and I didn’t disregard it. I would really focus on the things that came out of our sessions and make sure we fixed them. Sometimes those were hard things and for me, what it really did is it helped me determine what I wanted to do with my business and the direction that I wanted to go. Mike really helped me through that and it’s been a long couple of years, but we’ve made some pretty major changes in the business and it’s all been very positive.

MD: At the end of the day, any of the changes are to support the goal of the contractor. So in Rob’s case, there may be some areas where I would push hard to get him into a spot that may not be in his comfort zone, but a zone he wanted to be in and he did very, very well and was able to change the outlook of the company and obviously the impression he gave to the marketplace.

CC: Mike, what was Rob’s biggest strength and what was his biggest weakness that needed shoring up?

MD: Rob’s challenges were really more on the operational side, helping streamline the business so it ran more without Rob being involved on day to day transactions. The number of phone calls that he used to get when we were sitting in coaching calls was huge. Now there are almost no calls coming in because he has a team in place to handle the day to day operations of the business. That’s critical for clients to know that they have somebody that they can call that’s available and dedicated to their project. Rob’s working on multiple projects at a time and by no means could he be the expert on every little detail on every single project. That’s where the project management team comes into place to take over those types of transactions and give the client somewhere specific to go.

CC: Talk about the group sessions, the relationship with other contractors in your peer group.

MD: Another thing that’s unique for Rob and a couple other of my clients is that they do one-on-one coaching and also do a small peer group of three contractors in this particular case. Rob’s had the opportunity to get out and visit two other contractors in non-competing markets to see how they run their business. In this particular case, all three of them run their businesses quite different from one another, so there’s been an opportunity to learn from each of the other two contractors.

RA: I agree, but if I take five steps back prior to that, finding a peer group was critical to me as part of the coaching session. I find that it doesn’t exist a lot in this industry and was difficult to find. When I found it and Mike put the group together, it was exactly what I was looking for. It’s fantastic. Why try to invent something on your own? Share ideas, be transparent with people that you can trust and then learn from one another. It’s been critical for me. I’ve developed friendships with these guys and we visit each other socially now. We chat, we share business ideas and everything. I think everyone should be doing it.

Stay tuned for the final portion of our interview, coming next week.


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  1. […] You can read Part I of the interview here and Part II here. […]

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