It's a thin line between the two, but not difficult to stay a professional.

Being called a "real pro" is one of the nicest compliments you can get regardless of what occupation or endeavor you pursue. Of course, that only applies when pro signifies professional and not procrastinator.

As you know, there is a very thin line between those two words. We have thousands of otherwise real professionals who cross that line with the following very unacceptable behaviors:

    1. They do not honor their word. You have heard of that "old school" that guided and measured the performance and reputation of our generation: "A man is only as good as his word."

    2. They are late. Making someone wait for you is an insult! It insinuates that his or her time is not as important as yours.

    This goes back to that old school where you told them you would be there at 8:00 a.m. and did not keep your word. There are dozens of acceptable realistic reasons why you couldn't be on time, but you could have called and told them.

    3. They don't return phone calls. When your voice mail recorder says, "Leave a message and I will return your call as soon as possible," remember that old school.

    4. They break their promises. The majority of broken promises were simply forgotten rather than caused by any ill intentions. Any time you promise to do something, write it down and put it in that person's file or on your "to do" list. If you are not able to fulfill what you promised, you must at least go back to that individual and explain your situation. This honors your word!

    5. They don't meet all deadlines. When you establish and agree to critical milestones, you are giving your word that this will be done. You must meet or beat these deadlines. If you are unable to do so, notify whoever is depending on that function with enough lead time so that they can get someone else to do it.

Surely you all agree that a thin line separates the professionals from the procrastinators. You also know what a pleasure it is to work with and trust the real pros. We won't even go into the frustrations of depending on a procrastinator.

Fortunately, staying on the professional side of that thin line is not complicated or difficult. Above all, it does not cost money, it makes money.

In the November 2002 column we covered, "Too Busy To Boss? Delegate!" Business Management 101 recommends that you delegate every task to the lowest-paid employee who can perform it properly. Now let's look at delegating some of your critical office functions.

Organizing The Office

For any of you one-man-show contractors who do it all yourself, you should take on only as much as you can handle effectively. You might want to adopt that anti-drug use slogan -- "Just Say No."

Delegating naturally requires selecting a dedicated and dependable employee. You will soon discover these traits as you train your employees to fulfill your obligations.

If you have more than one employee, you need to have a written and posted chain of command that clearly establishes who is responsible for whom. A vertical line on your organization chart means total responsibility for every employee below that line. That line establishes who can give orders and who must simply ask an employee to do something. With your authority established, you then need to define what you want each employee to perform. Although this is generally called a written job description, I recommend "scope of work."

You can negotiate an employee's wage or salary with that scope of work just as you do with your scope of work for a customer. This reminds the employee that you are not asking or expecting them to do it, you are paying them to do it.

You should have a written checklist for everything that needs to be taken care of in your office. Beside each item you need three blank spaces:




You easily can see how this will assist your employee in accomplishing what he has committed to as well as assuring you that it is done. That's how professionals operate.

Depending on the sophistication of your office with computers, etc., you can use Microsoft Excel to create visible and workable to-do charts as well as reminders on the calendar. You can also accomplish all of this on paper as we all did in those good old days. The results are the same.

Let's look at some of the repetitive office functions and responsibilities that you can organize and be assured that they are being handled professionally:

    1. Accounting -- collectables and payables.
    2. Estimating -- pick-up plans, solicit subcontractor and supplier bids.
    3. Purchasing -- warehouse inventory.
    4. Coordination -- pull permits, schedule inspections, submit shop drawings and samples, MSDS sheets, project closeout, punch list and warranty items.
    5. Renew licenses -- continuing education requirements.
Accountability: Of course there are also many other tasks and responsibilities that will occur with different types of jobs. You should conduct a kick-off meeting when you are awarded a contract on a sizeable project. Some contractors call this a hand-off meeting where they transfer all of the information and job requirements from their estimator to their project management team. This is where your "Who" and "When" checklist is established.

We recommend using this AAA-SSS system to assure every item is accomplished on time:

  • Assign. Each item is delegated with clear instructions and details.
  • Act. Your employee completes the task on time.
  • Ask. If any problem or resistance occurs, your employee comes to you with enough lead time to complete that task yourself. You should never have to ask or check to see if they've done what they agreed to do.
  • Surprise. They didn't do it.
  • Struggle. You pay the price in frustration, delays, reputation and dollars.
  • Slide. You simply ask that employee what else they would like to do with less responsibility in a lower position.
This may sound harsh but you must keep in mind that you did not expect or hope that your responsibility was taken care of professionally. You paid them to do it! Item No. 3, "Ask," leaves absolutely no excuse for your employee's failure to "Act."

Lastly, your office atmosphere must be pleasant for all of your employees to function effectively. Eliminating any frustrations will naturally be a prerequisite to maintaining high morale.

My first and most practical suggestion is to initiate flexible work hours (flextime) that will satisfy each individual employee's needs or desires. You should also consider using the virtual office (work at home) for any position that could be performed out of your office. This is very cost-effective, although is not adaptable to every employee.

Do not overlook Paul Ridilla's golden rule: "You cannot wear a white collar without a smile on your face!" This applies to every management employee, but mostly to the owner. We all know that a smile is contagious. Just think about how much more work you accomplish when you are in a good mood. The same goes for all of your employees.

Being a real pro (professional) will make you smile and smiling will help make you that real pro!