Are You a Firefighter or Strategic Leader?

Strategic planning can be a difference maker for contractors. Here’s how to take the right approach.

Wayne Rivers, Co-Founder/President

August 5, 2021

3 Min Read
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One of our gifted consultants was leading a Contractor Business Boot Camp class on the topic of strategic planning. (You may have noticed that long-term planning is a recurring theme in these articles; it is a real difference maker for commercial contractors!) Our guy was doing a terrific job leading the discussion, and the class was engaged, energized, and enthusiastic. They grasped intuitively that planning establishes a small handful of top company priorities; clarifies mission, vision, and values; creates clear goals with deadlines, budgets, and accountabilities for people; and, last but not least, creates alignment throughout the organization.

Just as our consultant had them walking on air, I threw a wet blanket on the whole thing. I began to talk about what it takes to really execute a strategic plan, and when I reveal how much of senior leaders’ time it takes to succeed, I'm pretty sure I'm going to throw a wet blanket on any excitement you might have too! For a long-term plan to take root and produce meaningful results in your company, a senior leader needs to devote about 50% of his or her time to evangelizing and implementing the plan. Especially if you haven't done one before, someone has to talk about it—the mission, vision, values, goals, deadlines, accountabilities, etc.—until they're blue in the face. That's a daunting workload to drop on contractors who are already toiling 60 or 80 hours per week. Now there is this additional mountainous challenge of devoting time they don't have to getting new plans and concepts embedded into the organization.

In a recent article, found that public company executives spend almost half their time on non-strategic activities. What might that number be for the typical contractor? You can bet they spend a great deal less than 50% of their time on long-term strategy. We’d guesstimate that 95% to 99.9% of a contractor’s time is spent on tactical and, therefore, non-strategic activities.

There are three types of leader behaviors that take them away from strategic evangelism. The first is the firefighter. Firefighters are turnaround artists—more like chief operating officers than chief executives. The second type is the implementer. An implementer is a person who really values standard operating procedures, policies, processes, budgets, and things of that sort. The third type of behavior is the counselor. Counselors are great listeners who are invested in their people and behave like, well, counselors. In one case, a new public company CEO found that his organization had 40 open initiatives in various stages of implementation. The new leader seized the list of 40 items and consolidated it down to only six. From there he began to implement. At that point, he found that he could align the organization and connect leaders with employees and customers.

Six big projects is still too many for a busy contractor to undertake! The number of initiatives should be two at the most, and it would be even better if there was only one. Focus like a laser on only one project and implement it. Move on to the next project only when the first big rock is complete.

When it comes to any big initiative, whether it is strategic planning or implementing new software, somebody in senior leadership has to devote about half of his or her time to making sure that the initiative gets translated from 30,000 feet down to weekly and even daily execution. In the absence of that kind of focus and evangelism, you can bet the initiative will produce less than stellar results. If you’re going to invest the time, effort, and money necessary to create an outstanding plan that can genuinely move the needle, get serious, do it right, and provide the necessary resources so someone in your organization is in charge of driving the new initiative.

Wayne Rivers is the president of The Family Business Institute, Inc. FBI’s mission is to build better contractors! Wayne can be reached at 877-326-2493, [email protected], or at

About the Author(s)

Wayne Rivers

Co-Founder/President, Performance Construction Advisors

Wayne Rivers is the president of Performance Construction Advisors. PCA's mission is to build better contractors! Wayne can be reached at 877-326-2493, [email protected], or on the web at

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