What Do You Want? – Science of Construction Business Management Series

By: Dr. Thomas C Schleifer

A recent study by a large New York ad agency revealed that most people don’t know exactly what they want and change their mind almost daily as their circumstances evolve. Getting beyond this kind of mental stumbling is the whole point of “strategic thinking”. 

Let’s step back and look at some of the big words we focused on last week. Strategic Planning is too academic and strategic thinking sounds a little too high tone. What we’re talking about with all this strategic this and strategic that is simply using common sense to identify what we want for our companies and figuring out how we’re going to get it. When we do this, we are engaging in “strategic” planning. 

Two Case Histories

To demonstrate how critical having clear and consistent goals is to our ability to achieve them, let’s take two examples from military history: the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War.

  1. Revolutionary War Strategy – When loose knit groups of colonial settlers realized they didn’t want to pay onerous taxes to a distant king they hardly knew, they decided to resist British military dominance that would force them to pay these taxes. Not by trying to defeat the world’s mightiest military but by nagging them to death and avoiding even the appearance of collective surrender. (That was their strategy even though they may not have recognized it as a “strategy”). They did not want to defeat the king’s mighty army or conquer England. They simply wanted to annoy the king’s army and not be forced to pay onerous taxes. (That was a strategy). It worked. The king ran out of money and will power and eventually called his mighty army home. 
  2. Vietnam War Strategy – In Vietnam, we were the king. The mighty American army was badgered to death by guerrillas in Vietnam because American politicians, motivated by what many thought were unclear goals, forced our military into ineffective tactics. The Cold War that came out of the “hot war” of World War II somehow resulted in our political leaders believing that it was our mission to maintain democracy in the entire world. The announced reason (strategy) for entering the Vietnam conflict was to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. This strategic goal led to a tactic that was questionable and later proven to not work – trying to change people’s minds with military force. This impossible strategy led to the world’s mightiest army being “nagged to death” by guerrilla bands. 

Knowing What You Want

I hope that the two examples above point out how essential it is to your company’s success that you are clear on what you want for your company, and that what you want is appropriate and possible to attain. Unfortunately, our research suggests that few contractors engage in long-term planning, which is the single most effective method of establishing sustainable corporate goals and testing them for appropriateness. 

“A formal study of specialty contractors showed that only 37% of contractors have a written strategic plan (El Asmar et al. 2017). That percentage demonstrates that a lot of companies still do not acknowledge that long-term business planning is essential to the continuing success of their construction enterprise.” (The Secrets to Construction Business Success, Thomas C. Schleifer, Mounir El Asmar, Routledge, 2022)

Even if they may not be aware of it, most contractors have a strategy (long-term goals). Unless carefully thought out, however, goals continue to grow organically out of a company’s changing circumstances. Without a written strategic plan that clearly states the long-term goals of the company and a periodic review of the goals by company principals, many construction concerns veer back and forth like an old-fashioned pin-ball game and gradually get lost in a morass of changing conditions. 

Communicating Goals to Your Organization

“Establishing a fundamental level of corporate planning in smaller contracting businesses has profound effects on the outlook, attitude, and performance of employees and business owners alike. When properly performed, the planning process creates a communication network within even the smallest of companies that gets people excited about what’s right for the company and how to achieve it.” (The Secrets to Construction Business Success…)

You Also Have to Adhere to the Plan

“One-third of the middle managers whose companies did plan indicate that while their company had a formal written business plan, the organization did not follow it closely or the contractor changed direction from the plan without notice.”

Imagine George Washington changing strategy in the middle of the Revolutionary War and deciding he wanted to defeat the British Army head-on and conquer England in the bargain. We would not be sitting here enjoying our citizenship in the greatest democracy ever invented by human ingenuity. 

Every successful business leader must conceive and articulate a clear and appropriate long-term goal for his organization. All successful companies start there. Next week we will discuss how to do that.

Just released my latest book The Secretes of Construction Business Success Published by Routledge  https://bit.ly/3G9ornf

For deeper look into Strategic Management click this link: https://simplarfoundation.org/?s=Strategic+planning

For a broader view on the long-term goals, read more here: https://simplarfoundation.org/?s=long+term+goals

To receive the free weekly Construction Messages, ask questions, or make comments contact me at research@simplarfoundation.org.  

Please circulate this widely. It will benefit your constituents. This research is continuous and includes new information weekly as it becomes available. Thank you.