Lost time on the jobsite is money down the drain.

Has anyone ever called you stupid, ignorant, foolish or inept? We could add some cuss words that would even spice up those negative descriptions for any contractor who sits back and watches his money go down the drain.

My client, Tom, invited me to have lunch at his country club and play a round of golf. I asked him if we could meet at his high school jobsite around 9 a.m., just to see what was happening. I was on the job before 8 a.m. and he came at 8:30 a.m. Starting time is 8 a.m.

He had two foremen since he was doing the plumbing and HVAC. There were six plumbers and four pipefitters who showed up between 8:05 a.m. and 8:20 a.m. The fitter foreman got there at 8:15 a.m. and the plumber foreman pulled onto the jobsite at 8:30 a.m., the same time as my client. These 12 men were on the company clock for a full half-hour and not one of them even picked up a wrench.

When Tom got out of his company car I asked him if this costly fiasco would spoil his golf game. “No,” he said. “This is what we are getting on most of our jobs, but it’s not only our company. You can see what those other trades are doing — some of them are not even here yet!”

While I was watching and waiting for Tom I did some simple math using $40 per hour for wages, benefits, labor burden and office overhead. During that half-hour, those 12 men wasted six hours times $40, or $240. I showed this to Tom and asked him not to say a word to his crews, so that we could see what happened at their 9:30 a.m. coffee break that’s supposed to be 15 minutes.

The proverbial “roach coach” lunch wagon arrived at 9:15 a.m. Tom’s plumbers were already there waiting and finally went back to work at 10 a.m. The fitters only lost 40 minutes, possibly because they knew Tom was still on the jobsite. I didn’t waste Tom’s time calculating what this coffee break cost him in lost company dollars. I asked him what the average American would do if they had a bad leak that was costing them serious money.

“Call a plumber and shut off the water until they stop the leak,” he answered, embarrassed by my question. “I don’t know anyone stupid enough to let good money go down the drain without at least trying to stop it. I guess I know one now! I’m not sure that ‘stupid’ is strong enough for what I’m allowing to happen. What would you call me?”

Although I know a lot of stronger negatives for what Tom was allowing to happen, I would never say them to him or any other contractor who is struggling to survive in today’s labor market.

Everyone else on that jobsite could also see all of that money going down the drain, and they wonder how any contractor can afford that kind of waste and stay in business. Yet, they are the ones wasting the money, so they are not about to tell Tom how stupid, ignorant, foolish or inept his irresponsible negligence appears to them.

The sad fact of this whole mess is that no one is going to tell you how stupid you are. It’s totally up to you!

Fortunately, you can eliminate the need or possibility for anyone, including yourself, to call you any of those negative adjectives. You can stop the leak like Tom did with his company.

Tom and I had lunch, played 18 holes of golf and enjoyed dinner that evening. As you might surmise, our discussion centered on plugging that big hole in his company’s financial “bucket.”

It’s All In The Planning

Tom scheduled a one-day supervisor-training program for his project managers and a one-day session for his jobsite supervisors. What amazed Tom was that his entire team agreed with me that he was entitled to a full eight hours of work for his eight-hour paychecks. They were all very embarrassed for overlooking critical and costly discipline.

Their question to Tom was, “Why didn’t you say something to us?” Tom told them, “You might say I didn’t think we could control it and you could even say I was stupid, but all of that has changed thanks to Paul and your sincere commitment to help.”

We discussed the cost of their late start at the high school project since it was the only job that I visited. Both foremen admitted they were negligent and the plumbing foreman said that he had to take his daughter to school that morning because she missed her bus.

I told them, “We are not here to single out or criticize any individual. We want only that you look at these positive steps for the future.”

There are dozens of realistic reasons why a foreman could be late. He could be sick, his truck wouldn’t start, he’s stuck in traffic, his family has problems, etc. That is not a justifiable reason for the crew to stand around waiting.

  • You should always have a company-minded second-in-command to open up or lock up when you are not there.

  • You should always make the next-day work assignments in the afternoon to relieve any early morning pressure and panic. Normally a foreman is caught up for the day by mid-afternoon and has ample time to thoroughly explain what he wants completed the next day, as well as how to do it.

  • When you don’t have a second-in-command on your site and you know you will be late, you need to call someone with authority to cover for you.

  • I recommend paying a foreman 8 1/2 hours to be there early and make an end-of-the-day security check. Consider how little that would cost: 8 1/2 hours for your foremen will guarantee a full eight hours of work from your crews, plus all of the other benefits.

  • When your project is big enough, you should consider starting your tenders a half-hour early to distribute company tools, equipment and materials to your specific work sites like the block masons.

  • When you have employees who are consistently late or must leave early, you can adjust their schedules to fulfill their personal needs and satisfy your jobsite needs. When you change their starting time to 9 a.m., they are not late at 8:30 a.m. This is commonly called flextime.

    Discipline And Overcoming Peer Pressure

    One of Tom’s newer foremen related how difficult it was for him to say anything negative or disciplinary to his crew because he used to do the same things when he worked with them.

    “I don’t want to be an S.O.B. or lose all of my friends. When they promoted me, no one even told me what I was supposed to do, let alone how to do it.”

    This is the primary goal of all of my supervisory training programs. Overcoming that negative peer pressure is why we recommend our 90-day Green & Gold mentoring for all new employees and also any employee who is promoted or transferred to a different position. Let’s look at some of the obstacles:

  • If an existing employee were truly your friend, he or she would be very proud of your promotion and do everything possible to help you succeed. You certainly would never need to discipline a true friend!

  • Discipline is uncomfortable for anyone in charge. Parents, teachers, coaches, troop leaders, etc., will always be tested by their subordinates to establish how much they can get away with. Without discipline, you lose respect.

    This discipline involves enforcing your company’s rules by criticizing as well as punishing when necessary. Keep in mind, these employees are not volunteers. They want wages for following those guidelines that you are being paid to enforce.

  • Each employee should have a written set of rules (company policy) that they have read, understand and signed. You can never say, “He should have known better!”

  • When an employee breaks a rule, you need to confront him or her immediately, in private. Praise in public, but criticize in private, one-on-one. Follow your written chain of command.

  • Enforce your rules fairly and equally to all employees.

  • Document the time and incident in that employee’s performance file. This prevents incidents from becoming a pattern.

    At the end of our program Tom asked his team if what we covered was reasonable and made sense. They all agreed and also agreed to make those changes.

    One project manager added that Tom could now use any of those flattering adjectives, such as smart, sharp, intelligent, ingenious, rational, sensible or wise, to describe himself as a very successful businessman.

    If you don’t call yourself by these “winners,” call me at 407/699-8515.