It's not Armageddon, but are you prepared?

As we finish up this month, we are entering a monumental new year and a completely new century. Forget all of the hoopla about Y2K and consider what is really going to be new as far as your business is concerned. Will you be able to do the following?

  • Hire and keep all of the good employees that you will need?

  • Encounter general contractors and construction managers who treat you fairly and pay you on time?

  • Charge a fair profit and still be the low bidder?

  • Get that contract when you are the low bidder?

  • Stay abreast of all OSHA's new regulations?

  • Take off enough quality time to spend with your family?

  • Build that new shop?

  • Have enough cash flow to replace those older trucks?

  • Open that new division?

  • Put a stop to all those frivolous claims and lawsuits?

Will all this happen as this year comes to an end at midnight on Dec. 31? I don't think so! Unfortunately the only thing that will be NEW about this next year and century is the number "20" in our year instead of the "19" with which we are accustomed.

Reap The Benefits:

I carry this slogan to include with my handouts at seminars and conventions É "If you want something different, you will have to do something different!"

It really isn't important which hour or day of this new century you finally decide to reap the benefits of those Happy New Year wishes.

What is really critical is making your commitment to do it.

I'm sure some of you are already enjoying most of everything on that wish list. I'm also very sure that some don't even think it is possible. Let me assure you it is not only possible, it is actually easy to accomplish if you do the right things and simply stop doing the wrong things.

A good place to start is to look back at what you did right or wrong in the past century. It is definitely "water over the dam," but you should have learned some very important lessons. Some of them may have been "expensive" lessons that cost you a good employeeor a good customer. You should carefully analyze exactly what went wrong in each of the negative situations and WHY, to eliminate any possibility of repeating that same mistake. Do not let yourself off the hook by assuming it was not your fault or that you could not have prevented it.

Next you will need to develop a realistic written plan for what you wish to change or develop along with feasible milestones. My recommendation is called 2020 Vision, which forces you to look ahead to the year 2020. Naturally this takes a lot of imagination, but you can use some pertinent factors:

  • Ages of employees and potential family heirs.

  • Economic potential of your market area.

  • Diversification possibilities with profit potential.

  • Remote or satellite division.

  • Eventual volume and size of your company.

With this long-range plan on paper, you can then establish a written five-year plan that should be attainable. Then you should zero in on a detailed one-year "2000" plan that will include now commitments to get the ball rolling.

Best Wishes:

Before we go any further, I'm sure you can understand why simply wishing you a Happy New Year is not going to change anything. But let's continue with some of those critical dos and don'ts that will make all of your New Year's wishes come true.

Unless you are lucky enough to win the lottery, your No. 1 hope for whatever success you seek in this competitive construction industry will depend on finding and keeping good employees. You will be facing some very tough "bite the bullet" decisions on how much you can afford to pay to get them, along with what you will need to do to keep them on your payroll. Fortunately, the good Lord has provided us with more skilled craftsmen than we need. You simply need to maintain that ever so critical "Best Job In Town" to assure that the best ones will come to you rather than your competitors.

As you reminisce about this fading 20th century, you may remember my saying there are admittedly "no good people looking for a job" in this tight market. But you must surely agree with me that there are thousands of good skilled construction employees who are constantly seeking "a better job." Just do it!

Don't overlook these critical basic management principles that will not only keep them on your payroll, but also keep them happy to be working for you!

1. Post a written chain of command or organizational chart that clearly defines who works for whom. A vertical line on that chart means you are totally responsible for all of the employees beneath your line of command. No individual can answer to two bosses! This will eliminate any possibility of one of your employees taking someone else's blame, which is still the No. 1 cause of turnover in construction.

2. Keep score. Anyone good wants to be measured. If you do not have a measuring stick they will do their own score keeping, and I can assure you they will always win. But that usually means you will lose.

Your employees not only want to be measured, they want that score to be rewarded. It is crucial that your score is fair, which will guarantee your wages are also fair to them as well as you.

Again, this is not as difficult as most contractors think. You must use two totally different systems - you have blue-collar workers who are constantly supervised, and management employees who control their own destiny.

Your blue-collar jobsite employee can only be measured fairly by his foreman who has walked a mile in those moccasins. He or she simply rates the employee's performance based on his or her own ability to do that very same task. You have many feasible options for the actual score keeping all the way from "piecework" to our eight for eight ratings. Eight for eight in our area means eight hours of work for eight hours of wages. You determine what an average craftsman should be paid in your market area, and then use that score to establish hourly wages.

Since no one is constantly supervising your management employees, you need to negotiate a fair contract (job description) defining exactly what the scope of work will be. After you negotiate a fair market wage or salary for those services, you need to monitor performance. When employees do exactly what they agreed to, you should do what you agreed to - tell them about it and document that in their performance file; likewise when they do less. The performance review then becomes a routine evaluation of that performance file. If it is not in the file, it never happened. That's what eliminates those "convenient memories" and keeps this fair!

3. Ongoing in-company training. Training is not expensive; it's the lack of training that cost so much! You can look back at any of your business trials and tribulations during this fading 20th century and readily agree with that statement.

Your continued success in the 21st century will hinge heavily on having employees who know what to do as well as how to do it! Do not depend on someone else to train your employees.

The top of this training priority list is human relations training for all foremen and supervisors. You cannot afford to lose or demotivate a good employee just because your foreman criticized him or her in public.

You also need to pre-train and certify your skilled craftsmen to perform quality workmanship before they reach your customer's jobsite. You can use your skill inventory database to assure that you always have enough trained personnel to maintain your customers' critical path schedules. Do not depend on excessive overtime to compensate for a lack of skilled employees.

4. Use a "Green & Gold" mentoring program to assure retention and growth of those newly hired green employees. Your gold can be retired or semi-retired craftsmen and/or a good employee who was injured and is on light-duty worker's compensation. This is a win-win-win situation.

I hope you can see the fantastic opportunities coming with this new century. As I wish you a very sincere happy and prosperous New

Year, I want you to realize that it's only a wish. Only you can make that wish a reality.