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Innovations are born out of limitations

Frank Bourque

By Frank Bourque

Lately, the topics of “future proofing” businesses and innovating have come up more times than I can count. Just last week, a contractor client asked me, “What can I do to grow my business when I have a major labor shortage?” He said he has more work than ever because his clients are home, but he has fewer employees willing to come into work due to the COVID reality we’re living.

My response: “It’s time to take a deeper look into your business.”

So, we looked at his business structure, his numbers and his systems. We found that it didn’t make sense to add more crews and to buy more equipment even if the work was coming his way. It was actually a blessing in disguise that he couldn’t find more employees. Growing his business without making the following changes would eventually hurt his business:

  • Fixing inefficiencies (waste)
  • Having consistent profits on jobs and KPI (Key Performance Indicator) tracking
  • Implementing training systems and onboarding programs

For years, he has tried to grow by hiring more, buying more equipment, more trucks and etc. But, anytime there has been a shift in the economy, the type of work available or labor availability, he feels like he’s in a worse position. The silver lining in this crisis is the opportunity for innovation.

In his case, he needs to clean-up the business and make more money by doing less. What do I mean by that? He needs to first eliminate what’s not working before trying to add more onto his plate.

He needs to get financially stable and eliminate the waste in the business. Everything from wasted money, wasted time, bad clients, unused equipment, bad systems and bad debt. Then he needs to implement better systems and become better positioned to anticipate change.

Here are 3 ways to anticipate change toward desired outcomes:

  1. Develop situational awareness. Even when demand goes up, it may not be the right time to grow. Looking at your business from another angle is crucial.

    Like Andy Stanley once said, “If you don’t know why something is working when it is, you won’t know exactly how to fix it when it’s not.”

    Growing your business can hurt your business if you’re not ready for it. Better to anticipate rather than react. If we are not changing, adapting and getting more efficient, we are actually falling further behind.

    So, ask yourself what is the true current state of your organization and why?

  2. Recognize future threats and opportunities. You can do this by learning about fields outside your area of expertise and looking at your business from a new angle. Then, train yourself to make predictions about what’s coming. Even if they turn out to be wrong this will help you exercise the part of your brain that looks to the future. Look at future opportunities and threats by embodying healthy skepticism and leading with bold optimism.

    Ask yourself questions like: If I were to restart my business now, what things am I currently doing that I would not do? Then ask yourself why you are still doing each of those things.

  3. Don’t be afraid to break your patterns and old ways. People do similar things in similar ways. Now, imagine those things were gone or had to be different. Identify practices/policies in your industry and list out some innovative updates or replacements you could make to those stale or status quo areas. Also, very crucial, look into upgrading to better equipment, tools or technology that can help you be more efficient and solve labor issues.

To anticipate and innovate, you need to understand what’s happening in your world and industry. Being an anticipatory leader doesn’t mean being over-confident or being a know-it-all. One way to determine if you’re too confident is to gauge how many questions you are asking versus how many you’re answering. Keep track and try asking more questions in your leadership approach.


Frank Bourque is a certified ICPI & NCMA instructor, a speaker, writer and consultant with over 20 years in the industry, many spent as a hardscape contractor. Contact Frank thru FrankBourque.com