I declare 1997 to be the Year of the Craftsman. Our free enterprise economy is very susceptible to supply and demand, and skilled craftsmen are now very much in demand. All of you who can maintain and control that supply will enjoy happy and prosperous New Years for many years ahead.
Along with all of the usual holiday wishes and greetings, we also have a pleasant tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. Some of these are made purely in jest. Others with good intentions. But not many are carried on for more than a month. But let’s talk about “real” resolutions. Here are my baker’s dozen of New Year’s resolutions that will guarantee you continued success:
1. Make a serious commitment. You should produce a dozen copies of this list and attach one to each month on your business calendar to ensure that you follow through the entire year.
2. Make a life, not just a living. Take time to smell the roses. Devote ample time to your spouse, children, church, community, hobbies, recreation, education, or whatever is important to you. Naturally you also need to take good care of your body and your health. Do not abuse yourself with an overindulgence of anything. Above all else, have fun and learn to smile. That smile is very important to all those around you — at home as well as at work; but it’s far more critical to your own well-being. Remember Paul Ridilla’s advice: “You are not dressed for work if you are not wearing a smile and you certainly don’t want to run around the office undressed!”
3. Wear out that TQM phrase “partnering.” Surround yourself with true partners and become one yourself in the truest sense of the word. You should select competent people with whom you can work and trust for your customers, design teams, suppliers, subs and especially for your own employees. You can then create partnering meetings and agreements to eliminate any assumptions, misunderstandings, disagreements, delays, conflicts, court claims or arbitration. All of this is reminiscent of those “good old days” when a man’s word was his bond. Working together toward a common goal of “partnering” is a very good philosophy to use at home, too.
4. Recruit, recruit, recruit and recruit. Let your community know you have the best job in town and are actively seeking the best employees. Don’t just place help wanted ads in the papers; place “career opportunity” ads instead. Hang up posters in all the local supply houses and even DIY retail centers. Check out any co–op programs available that will allow students to work for you while they get their education. You should attend all career days at high schools, vocational schools and colleges. You should also place these same posters on your vehicles and jobsite trailers. In addition, you need to constantly encourage and reward any of your employees to recruit their friends, neighbors and relatives.
5. Initiate and maintain a continuing in-company training and skill certification program. Start with a skills inventory to determine what specific skills each of your employees possess, as well as what training programs you will need to conduct. In addition to craft training and the use of tools and equipment, you also need human relations leadership training for all of your management team. Project management, planning and scheduling, expedition, estimating, reading blueprints, drawing isometrics and the use of CAD should be added to that ongoing in-company curriculum. You will need a minimum of one after-hours class every week to get started. If you really want a competent, well-trained team, you’d better look closely at who is your coach and how they are being trained!
6. Go for the Gold. Use our Green and Gold mentoring philosophy to add all of the wisdom and experience of your retired (and injured worker’s comp) craftsman to the ambition and physical strength of entry level beginners.
7. Use your 3 Ms — Motivate, Measure and Merit. There’s a big difference between employee’s busting their butts giving you 110 percent effort every day and coasting along at that hum-drum acceptable 60 percent. But are you acknowledging that difference? Good employees need to be noticed. They want to be measured fairly and they want you to keep score! They also want that score reflected in their paychecks. You need a written chain of command to define each individual’s responsibilities and written job descriptions (scope of work) to eliminate any assumptions or misunderstandings. You should not expect anything from your employees. You need to define exactly what you are buying with their paycheck, and then demand it! Always keep in mind that anything that becomes expected will never be appreciated. This applies at home, too.
8. Delegate every task to the lowest paid employee who can perform it effectively. Mechanical contractors will normally use one or two helpers with each craftsman on their jobsites. But these same contractors go blind when it comes to jobsite clerks for their foremen or assistants for their project managers, purchasing agents and estimators. Surgeons do not empty bed pans. They are professionals and they delegate the job.
9. Value engineer every project. You can help your design team partners save valuable time and expense with pre-design value engineering. You should value engineer every project before you bid and again in a pre-job kick off meeting, and also during the actual construction process. This is another excellent opportunity to use those retired craftsman and foremen.
10. Pre-fab, pre-assemble and bag and tag as much material as possible for every project. In addition to major labor cost-savings, this also gives you the stature to compete with the Big Boys on meeting critical job schedules. Pre-fabbing also provides “float time” billable work for your employees and ideal training conditions. Here again is a fantastic opportunity for a Green and Gold mentoring program.
11. There is a better way. Consider all of your options. You need to carefully analyze on paper what each option will cost vs. what it will make you before you make those critical everyday decisions. Unfortunately, some of those “options” are really dilemmas — a choice between two undesirables. But you still want to select the least costly or least damaging option. You also should consistently give options to your employees and your customers that simply puts the monkey on their backs. Every human being loves to be asked and no one wants to be told! In my opinion, the most productive and satisfying option available to contractors today is flex time. Let your employees pick the hours that will suit their personal lives and still fill your needs.
12. Raise your prices. Maintain a first-class image and charge first-class prices. Bypass all of those shop-and-chop general contractors and construction managers because there is enough good work out there for any trade contractor who can produce a quality product on schedule. When labor is this hard to find, why would you want to give it away so cheaply?
13. Try something new. Do something different, challenging and exciting. Start your kids out in their own businesses. Open a new division to diversify and test your market area or try a remote division in another area entirely. If you feel as though you are in a rut, you probably are! This is a New Year and a good time to make money and have fun doing it.
As I stated in the beginning, I not only want to wish you a Happy New Year, I want to guarantee it. My baker’s dozen may sound like quite a bit to do. But remember that you have to do the right things to make my guarantee a reality. If I can help you with the last 12 resolutions, call me because I can make them happen. But if you have a problem with the first one, don’t waste your time or mine because none of this will happen without a serious commitment.