A written, posted chain of command can give you the freedom to enjoy life outside the business.

Thank God, the year is almost finished and we made it! 2010 holds unlimited, great promises, but so did 2009. Will we be facing another year of frustrating long hours and costly low morale and low performance?

That is entirely up to you. You cannot control our nation’s economy or what our government is trying to accomplish, but you do have total control over yourself, your company, your employees’ morale and their performance.

You must start with your own personal attitude, effort and efficiency to ensure a winning commitment to make a good life, not just a living.

Throughout 2009, I have worked with struggling clients who were spending far too many hours away from their families, foregoing personal recreation or relaxing endeavors. There is no doubt that a contractor who has no employees needs extra time to perform all of the office duties, administration, financial, legal, estimating, buy out and jobsite paperwork and still get the job done.

If and when he can hire someone and then delegate these duties and responsibilities, he is entitled to enjoy the “good life.” When contractor clients ask me about working our traditional 40 hours, I enjoy saying “yes” and then explaining my recommendation of a 40-hour workmonthin lieu of a 40-hour work week.

Making that change from a “do-it-yourself” contractor (with no employees) to an employer involves many decisions of both time and money. You face three critical decisions:
    1. Do I have enough time to do that myself?

    2. Can I afford to pay someone to do it?

    3. Is it something that I have to do or just want to do?

As most of you have already experienced, these three decisions continue to control the amount of time you must dedicate to your business, regardless of how long you’ve been in business, how diversified you are or how big and successful your company has grown.

The Power Of A Written Chain Of Command

What I’m trying to emphasize is the fact that you can have total control of the amount of time you wish to spend at your business. This does not take a miracle. All that you need is a written - and posted - chain of command that you respect and enforce.

If it is that simple, why do so many contractors not use it?

  • Everybody here knows who their boss is.

  • That’s a silly game they play in the Army.

  • I don’t want employees saying, “That is not my job.”

  • I put one up years ago and nobody followed it.

  • We all work together. It’s called teamwork.

    I’m sure most of you have heard those weak excuses from contractors struggling 50 to 60 hours a week, trying to survive.

    A vertical line on the chain of command chart clearly defines who is a person’s boss. Above all else, it establishes who is responsible. Only one person can be responsible for anything critical that must be done on time.

    Here’s my simple example of two people being held responsible for locking the office door at the end of the work day:

    The contractor gave that responsibility to Tom, his estimator, and also told Mary, his office manager, to do the same thing.

    Tom left the office at 3 p.m. to visit a jobsite and went home from there, knowing that Mary would lock the door.

    Mary went home at 5 p.m., thinking that Tom was still in his office.

    If either Tom or Mary was assigned that responsibility on a chain of command chart, one would have simply told the other person he or she was leaving and asked the remaining one to lock the door upon leaving the office.

    Does that ring a bell?

    Next comes that “silly game” they play in the Army. Imagine each of the generals in all of our armed forces trying to make certain that every private shoots in the right direction.

    Your employees will never say, “That is not my job,” when you negotiate and write their job descriptions. You could use construction language and call it their scope of work or purchase order, which defines exactly what you are buying with their wages.

    And if you put a written chain of command up and no one followed it, why would you continue to pay those wages?

    You can relate teamwork to the quarterback on a football team. He doesn’t have 10 other players each doing what they think is right. The team works because there is only one leader.

    A chain of command is free. It does not cost money, it only helps you make money.

  • Breaking The Chain

    More than half of all the costly turnover in our great industry is caused by someone breaking that chain of command.

    For example, your foreman tells his craftsman what to do and how to do it. The craftsman is diligently doing what he was told but the traveling supervisor doesn’t like it. He literally chews the craftsman out in front of other employees.

    Unfortunately, the craftsman quit and told his buddies, “They don’t pay enough wages,” rather than, “They hurt my feelings.”

    Many contractors have asked me, “How many employees can you maintain without a written chain of command?” The answer is one. If Tom is your only employee, there is no doubt as to who is his boss. When you hire Mike, Mike needs to know that he is working for you or for Tom. He cannot please two bosses.

    When you do not follow a rigid chain of command, you will have employees who take advantage of other employees:
      1. Seniority employees give orders to newly hired employees, but never take the blame for whatever goes wrong.

      2. The owner’s relatives also use that relationship to assume authority, but naturally it’s never their fault.

      3. Any gutsy or pushy employee can also assume that authority and never take the blame.

      4. The worst combination, which I’m sure you have witnessed, is the gutsy or pushy relative of the boss who assumes authority.

    Sadly, most contractors who attempt to use a written chain of command fail because of their own behavior - bypassing the designated authority they assigned to other management employees. They would place Tom’s name on the written chain of command to be responsible for Joe and Pete’s performances, and then give orders to or answer questions from Joe or Pete.

    That does not work.

    Breaking the chain of command is even more punishing with the contractor’s own children on the payroll. When the son or daughter is assigned the responsibility of another employee, it must be respected by all of the employees, as well as the owner. This abuse is the No. 1 reason many children will not work in Dad’s company.

    Now you can understand why a contractor would need to spend only 40 hours each month running a company where every duty and responsibility is assigned to a specific employee who is paid to perform it.

    This will ensure that enviable opportunity to make a good life, not just a living.