Canadian Contractor


Myths of contracting continued: I know about that, so I’m good

"Our lives, both personal and business, are full of things we know we should do, but we just don’t"

By Stephen Ryan

There can be a misconception that training is all about telling people things they otherwise don’t know. While that is an element of it, the most productive form of training can be getting people to act on things they already know. Yet one of the biggest obstacles to learning is the sense people have that just because we know something, we also know how to make it happen.

We won’t discuss flaws in “common wisdom” this time.  Sometimes it is right on target. You know it to be true so there’s not much anyone needs to tell you.  Except our lives, both personal and business, are full of things we know we should do, but we just don’t. It’s a humbling exercise, but if you run a business you should ask yourself from time to time what isn’t getting done. You know many of the basic requirements of good business practice, so why aren’t you doing them?

Some examples are almost universal:

-You know that the HST/GST you collect isn’t your money to spend.  But each time you remit payment to the government you’re shocked at the hit to your bank account.

-You know proper maintenance on your vehicles is less costly than dealing with inevitable breakdowns, but you haven’t put the routines in place to track their service histories.

-You know accurate and up to date job costs are critical in managing your company’s profitability, but your spending is jumbled up in a pile of receipts you may sort out one day.

-You know overdue receivables need prompt attention, but review and follow up is done randomly, whenever you can get to it.

The list could go on, and it would be different for each of us but if we’re honest with ourselves we would all have a list. Take an objective look back at the fire fighting you have done in recent weeks and months. How many times did you get distracted, re-directed, caught off guard or otherwise tied up in unproductive work because of something you knew should have been planned for and dealt with. How many times did you pay too much for something because it was a rush or just shouldn’t have been necessary at all? Which problems did you know were looming but you weren’t prepared for? What were risks you could anticipate but just didn’t take action to prevent? Being able to say “yeah I knew that” is only half the answer. Unless you can also say “and here’s how I get it done”, you still have something to learn.

The shame is that for many of those lapses between what we know should be done and what is actually getting done, the solution can be simple, and relatively hands-free. Not too many of your issues are unique. Other businesses have tackled the same thing, and there is a solution out there. So have the fortitude to make that list. Then ask for help in finding the solutions. Participate with your local builders’ association, outsource the task, involve your staff in finding solutions, or seek training. Every time you can tie together one of those loose ends, your business gets better and you can focus on more productive things.

It starts with having the objectivity to recognize that knowing something is not the same thing as doing something.

MMI Professional Services is committed to the success of contractors by helping them develop the business and management skills they need.  For information on ways to run a better building business contact the writer at


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