A brand new year gives you a justifiable reason to try something new.

During the recent ISH North America show in Toronto, Plumbing & Mechanical's Editorial Director Jim Olsztynski and I had breakfast with several contractors and some of the PM staff. Six of the contractors had attended my seminars in previous years and three of them had me come to their companies for consulting and in-house training. We had a ball reminiscing about past experiences, but the predominant questions were:

* How long have you been writing for PM? We have most of your articles, but I'm sure there are more.

* How much feedback do you get from the readers?

* Do any of your clients follow through and put your recommendations to work?

* I don't disagree with your "practical management" recommendations, but how could anyone get all of them done?

* What would be your Top 10 "Do it Right Now" recommendations for all of us procrastinators?

Proudly, my answer to the first question was, since PM magazine started in March 1984. Jim reminded everyone that I missed one article in all of that time.

Most of the feedback comes from readers who have questions or doubts about initiating changes. As you all know, my recommendation is to offer options rather than dictating changes.

There is no doubt or question about being too busy while trying to run a business, or even a job, without initiating or following through with something new. 2003 is a brand new year, which gives you a justifiable reason to try something new. Here are my top 10 recommendations for immediate action.

1. Make a good life, not just a living. Your job or career should support your way of living, not replace it!

You need to do a simple time study with hours per day, hours per week, and hours per month spent on your career. Then do a similar time study with your personal commitment and desires. Consider family, friends, fun, education, church, charities and relaxation.

Above all else, is it fun? If you don't enjoy your job, you are definitely on the wrong path. Keep in mind that a smile is contagious and that you can personally maintain a positive morale and atmosphere. You must also remember that frustration is also contagious. When you are frustrated, you will frustrate everyone around you.

If you are not already working flextime hours, you should change. You can also adapt each and every employee's schedule to accommodate your business needs and satisfy their personal situations. Do this one-on-one!

2. Make safety a top priority. There is no forgiveness or second chances with accidents. It takes less than a second to kill an employee or maim him or her for life.

In addition to a well-written and administered safety policy, you need constant, vigilant discipline on every jobsite. You should definitely utilize our Safe Plan of Action, which replaces the ineffective toolbox talks with specific hazards discussed and documented on each jobsite. This creates an awareness and involvement by every employee.

You should also check to be sure that every employee is properly trained to be aware of any hazardous condition.

3. Scrutinize your cash flow. Carefully examine any delayed accounts receivable for possible solutions. Are your employees at fault for not performing properly or on time? Does your contract language need refining? Do you actively pursue on-time payments?

4. Go for the gold. Do a marketing study of available work in your area. Survey your available manpower resources and determine what type of work will be the most profitable.

Your best dollar-producing options all start with a "D."

    A. Dirty
    B. Dangerous
    C. Different
    D. Difficult
    E. Design Build
You should also check your job costing to determine which type of work that you are now doing is most profitable and why. We call this an autopsy.

5. Honor your work and keep your commitments. Make sure that you and your entire management team do what you say you will do. You must never be late for an appointment or fail to return a phone call. Most importantly, you must meet or beat critical job schedules. Remember that "old school."

6. Value-engineer every project. Use all those years of practical experience on your payroll before you bid to look at what can be pre-fabbed, and again before you build. There is always a better way!

7. Buy from your own warehouse. Your warehouse manager must have enough jobsite knowledge to assemble in-stock parts and pieces to substitute for working parts needed by your craftsmen. Be certain that your inventory is up-to-date and available to your purchasing agent. This is especially critical with returns from your jobsites.

8. Get in the people-management business. Start with a written chain of responsibility (organization chart) that you explain to every employee. A vertical line on that chart shows who you answer to and who is responsible for your actions and performance. Keep in mind that no employee can answer to two bosses.

You then must have a written scope of work (job description) that defines exactly what services you are buying from that employee. With this in place, you can properly monitor each employee's performance compared to his or her committed scope and document anything above or below what was agreed upon. Naturally, this documentation will affect whatever action is justified at their performance review.

9. Review your wage and salary administration program. If you have an employee who is underpaid, give him his deserved adjustment. If you have one that is overpaid, do not cut his wages. Instead, sit down one-on-one and explain the inequity. You can then work together to remedy the situation.

Construction wages are quite complicated, but it all boils down to "each employee is worth what it will cost to replace him or her." If they should be unhappy and leave you, you will understand what that means!

You can also see the importance of monitoring performance and keeping score. This must be done by each employee's immediate boss. Jobsite foremen should document daily 8-for-8 performance with daily goals established and agreed upon each morning. Anyone good wants to be measured and they want their score to be reflected on their paycheck.

10. Don't expect them to do it; train them. How many good employees do you have trying desperately to please you while doing a job that they were never properly trained to perform?

Keep in mind, training is not expensive; it is the LACK of training that costs you so much. Let's look at some steps you should do right now:

  • Schedule an in-house training class every week. You can select the topics as needed. Use your lab shop or hold classes at jobsites when convenient.

  • Use your database skill inventory to give credit and keep track of abilities and needs.

  • Select knowledgeable employees as trainers, invite vendors to train and use VCR how-to-do-it training tapes.

  • Initiate 90-day Green & Gold mentoring for every new employee, transfers and promotions.

  • Use your CPM project schedules for lead time to pretrain and precertify jobsite skills.

  • Train all of your foremen to properly manage and communicate with your jobsite employees.

  • Teach customer relations to your service techs, as well as your entire management team.

  • Emphasize the critical importance of jobsite documentation and office communication.
All of these 10 "Do It Now" recommendations will make you that "real pro" that we discussed last month.

In addition to your 2003 New Year's resolutions and goals, you should be considering what and where your company is headed for in 2005. We call this long range goal "20/20 Vision." You must also take into consideration the ages of any family members who will be coming into the business.

You can then predict and control how and where everyone will fit in your organization. That is long-range thinking, but of course, our recommendations are for right now. Do not procrastinate!

If you have questions or need help to initiate these changes, please call me at 407/699-8515.