Over the past 25 years, both as a Contracting Business.com magazine editor and as the National Comfort Institute (NCI) CEO, I've had the privilege of working directly with thousands of contractors, ranging from leaders of some of the most successful companies, to ones who struggle to make payroll but have incredible passion for what they do.

As I reflect on many of these companies and their leaders, their paths over the years, their successes, and their failures, I see a common thread: in a word, it's implementation. Some call it the ability to execute. But almost to a company, it’s what makes all the difference. To the reader, this may seem like a blinding flash of the obvious. "Of course if you don't implement things, they don't work!" Well, there's more to it than that.

I believe that thousands of well-intentioned contractors who've tried to take on a new offering or niche, or learn a new way of doing business, did so fully intending to implement it. Why wouldn't they? Many believe the reason for not succeeding is "it just doesn't work in my market." Some had every intention of "getting around to it," but never did.

So what's the secret? Why does one group succeed and another not? Let’s first take a look at some of the traits of unsuccessful implementers, then the successful ones.

Unsuccessful At Implementation
1. No defined plan or roadmap laid out with specific milestones and timelines. If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.

2. Too busy putting out fires to get around to it. Rather than delegating, they try to do it all themselves, not leaving enough time to focus on the future.

3. Spend too much time working "in" the business, rather than "on" the business — they just can’t hang up the tools.

4. The do things "their way," rather than following successful methods and approaches laid out by those before them.

5. Are not able to hold themselves accountable and do not seek out someone to hold them accountable.

This last one is a biggie. Lack of accountability is the top killer of successful implementation. Typically, the owner of a company doesn't put someone in a position to hold him or her accountable. This could be a mentor, a consultant, or a coach, but it needs to be someone who understands the business, and has a firm grasp of the new process or culture change. It helps if they've been there before.

Now let's take a look at what successful implementers have in common:

Successful At Implementation
1. Have a clear set of long-term and short-term goals
with measurement criteria and deadlines. If you don’t measure, you’re just guessing.

2. Distinguish and prioritize the urgent from the important, placing more emphasis on what is most important rather than the urgent "fires" that draw them away from their goals.

3. They decide to either hand the keys to the van over to someone else, or hire someone to manage the business while they do what they love most — service, sales, etc.

4. Benchmark those who succeeded at the new approach or process, and focus on replicating their success as closely as possible in their companies. They resist the temptation to "improve" on it until after they have mastered it.

5. They find someone to hold them accountable. Typically this is a coach or mentor who has successfully implemented similar processes before. It’s much easier and more fun to learn from others’ successes than your own failures.

Each of us has the capacity to execute. If you are a business owner, at some point you made the leap to start your own business, or took the reins of an existing business. For most, that action took a lot of determination, perseverance, discipline, and usually blood, sweat and tears. You did whatever it took to make it happen. Many had to do it alone, with no one to turn to for guidance or support.

There's a good chance you're in a position today of having to implement major changes in your company, either because your just not profitable enough, or because you recognize the changes that are hitting our industry at light speed. Spend some time evaluating how well you implement change, determine which areas you are weakest in, and get the help you need to take your company to the next level.

Dominick Guarino is Chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com), a national training and membership organization focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. Email him at domg@ncihvac.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.