Celebrating two decades of practical advice in these pages.

We were never officially married but we exchanged vows in 1984, during a coffee break at a convention seminar I was presenting in northern Virginia. Jerry Tucker was working for Supply House Times and was preparing to originate a new trade magazine (Plumbing & Mechanical) that would be beneficial for the plumbing and mechanical trades.

He asked if I would consider putting my “practical management” message into words and I said, “I do.” I was introduced to Jim Olzstynski, PM's editor, with whom I've enjoyed a pleasant relationship for all of these years. Our first issue was exactly 20 years ago in March of 1984.

We researched those two words that Jerry Tucker requested in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary:

  • Practical:
    1. Actively engaged in some course of action or occupation; not theoretical or ideal.
    2. Capable of being put to use or account.
    3. Qualified by practice or practical training.
    4. Designed to supplement theoretical training by experience.
    5. Concerned with voluntary action and ethical decisions.

  • Management:
    1. Act of managing: the conducting or supervising of something (as a business).
    2. Judicious use of means to accomplish an end.
    3. Capacity for managing: executive skill.
    4. The collective body of those who manage or direct an enterprise.
Those words eloquently describe my background and my personal commitment to give something back to this great construction industry that has been so rewarding to all of us. We adopted “Practical Management” as the title of our column and are very proud to have shared our experiences, options and recommendations with all of you readers for these past 20 years.

Having actually worked as a helper, craftsman, foreman, general superintendent, project manager, estimator, contractor and safety director has provided much of this practical management that we share. Added to all those years are my seminars and consulting exposures with clients throughout all 50 states and several foreign countries.

I learn new ideas from these contacts everywhere I go and adapt them into practical everyday usage for myself, my clients and for you, the readers.

Possibly our most viable message from all of this exposure is, “There is always a better way!”

No matter how good you are, how successful you are or how much money you make, there is always someone who does it better. Copy it! Naturally, you also want to innovate and continue to value-engineer every project, as well as everything you do in your own business and personal life.

For some, this may be the very first time you've read PM or one of my articles. Some have read numerous issues and quite a few have read every single one, including the entire PM magazine, for the last 20 years. Several contractors I work with actually have saved every issue for continual reference to specific information.

I hope you share this magazine and all the other trade literature that comes to your office with all of your key employees. In addition to my “Practical Management” column, there are many other beneficial articles, along with helpful information about new methods, new laws and regulations, new tools and equipment, etc.

Most of this information is now available on the Internet. My grandkids enjoy showing their Pop Pop's articles to their friends!

Beneficial Advice

In addition to written reader response over the last 20 years, I get one-on-one comments and questions from clients and attendees at seminars and conventions.

These readers vary from one-man pickup truck contractors to mega-sized corporations. They also vary from residential to commercial to industrial, doing only new installations, or maintenance, service, repairs and replacements. Having personally experienced all of those facets of the industry, we try to vary our practical management advice so that each reader can adapt it to his or her own situation.

I particularly enjoy asking what article or advice readers find to be most beneficial or profitable:

  • Top of this list is, “Make a good life and not just a living!” This industry will take all of your time if you aren't careful. Outside of the one-man companies, you are paying your employees to do your job. Allow them to do it!

    You are not merely in the construction business; you are in the “people business.” Take good care of the people (employees, clients, customers, suppliers, design team, etc.) and they will take care of all your obligations and problems. If you don't take care of these people, you definitely cannot take care of those problems.

  • Make it fun and always wear a smile. Keep in mind that a smile is contagious and positively motivates all those around you. When you realize what that means in productivity and profit, it is very easy to keep smiling. You also need to demand that consistent smile on every supervisor's face. Consider what a smile costs vs. what it will produce on your bottom line.

  • Initiate a “Green and Gold” mentoring program to give your area's retired or semi-retired craftsmen an opportunity to give something back to our great industry. We have millions of “green” entry-level employees who desperately need and want this invaluable experience and wisdom.

  • Provide human relations training for all of your jobsite foremen. When you consider everything that you expect and need your foremen to effectively perform, you will understand why they need help:
      1. Train, motivate, measure, discipline and reward every employee in your foremens' crew. Their position is parallel to a high school coach building a football team.
      2. Communicate and cooperate with all the other trades on the jobsite as well as your suppliers.
      3. Likewise with the general contractor, architect, engineer, owner and inspection agencies.
      4. Work professionally with local unions, local police and neighboring residents or businesses.
      5. Honor your word. We call this the “old school where a man's word is his bond.”
    Everything your foreman says or does controls your company's reputation and also his own. Keep in mind, training is not expensive; it's the lack of training that costs you so much.

    In addition to our articles and seminars, we offer these professional contractor videos for ongoing training with your own employees: “Creating That Professional Image,” “Customer Service 101” and “Improving Employee Relations.”

  • Provide flex-time opportunities for each employee to work for you and also have time to enjoy life.

  • Use a database skills inventory to facilitate your training, certifications and dispatching.

  • Use a written and posted chain of command to clarify who works for whom and define responsibilities. This is especially critical for seniority and relatives on your payroll.

  • Promote from within rather then hiring at the top. Every employee should have the opportunity to earn whatever position they desire and can fulfill - without leaving your company.

  • You can definitely mix family and business by following the basic management rules.

  • Pay each employee whatever it would cost you to replace them in your area's economic market. If they leave you, you will find out, too late, what you should have been paying.

    Your best employee should make the most money or who would ever try to be the best? You can only justify this to your other employees by keeping score, which we are now covering in our “Want More In '04?” articles.

    I want to personally thank Plumbing & Mechanical and all those readers who have provided me with this fantastic opportunity to give something back. Twenty years has been a good beginning, and I hope our next 20 years will be even more fruitful.

    As a small token of our sincere appreciation, we are offering all of my in-company consulting and foreman training at a full 20 percent discount for all of 2004. This is by far the most effective team-building and profit-producing service we can provide for any contractor. We are also discounting our Professional Contractor Videos for all of this 20th anniversary year.