In today’s times, do you feel a lot of weight on your shoulders as a contractor? Do you sometimes get concerned about all of the responsibility it seems you have to handle all by yourself? Often we find ourselves so caught up in the day-to-day activities in which we are putting out fires that we are unable to step back and try to figure out how to prevent the fires in the first place. There is one method that I have found that can really help to make you take the time to look at why there are fires and emergencies in your organization. This method is to belong to a group of business persons, not competitors, who will meet with you to look at various aspects of your business. I have been involved in two different types of groups. The first was a group of local business persons — none of whom were HVAC contractors — while the second is a group of HVAC contractors from all around the country who are not competitors.

I have found these groups to be very beneficial to our company, as well as me personally. The group works almost like an outside board of directors, but typically does not have that official title.

Several years ago a local development agency thought it would be helpful for local small businesses to meet and share ideas, areas of concern, etc. Since this was a local group, none of the businesses could be from similar or competing industries. The organizing agency put out the word that they were establishing these groups and after businesses expressed an interest, the agency assembled various groups of about 10-12 companies. A representative of the agency met a couple of times with each group to get the process started and then the meetings moved around from company to company. The meetings lasted about four hours and began with the host telling about his business. He would then answer questions from the group, followed by a general discussion of items from productivity to advertising and anything else of interest. There were some real benefits in hearing how others handle different aspects of their business, but as important were the relationships which resulted and have amounted to a considerable amount of business through the years.

Mix Groups

The second type of group — often called a mix or peer group — typically consists of HVAC/sheet metal contractors from different geographic areas getting together for many of the same reasons as the local business groups. The big difference is that since the contractors are all coming from noncompeting parts of the country, they can all be HVAC contractors. Both Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) and Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), while not officially supporting these mix groups, retain a list of contractors interested in participating in such a group. We have belonged to two groups, one from 1990 to 2000 and one from 2001 through the present. We have found the friendships and relationships we have developed to be invaluable as we deal with the issues of the day.

We recently hosted our mix group. Our format is to arrive on a Thursday evening with an opening dinner. On Friday, the group meets at the host company’s facility with the guests splitting up and reviewing various phases of the host company’s operations. There are usually some job site visits as well for those out-of-towners who want to see how things are done in the host company’s area.

Following lunch, the host company’s managers are brought in and the guests take the afternoon going over positive things they have seen, as well as areas that could use improvement. The Friday afternoon session is the key portion of the meeting. We have found that the suggestions we hear are usually recommendations we knew should be addressed, but on which we just hadn’t taken the correct action. It is extremely powerful to have a group of your peers tell you that you need to take a specific action which you have been avoiding. It is also very helpful for your employees to hear the group’s recommendations since this validates the actions you want to take.

If you would like to expand your thinking about your company and would like to step back and be more objective about your entire operation, then becoming involved in a group such as one of these two can go a long way to helping you improve and grow your organization.

Publication date: 05/07/2012