Big Picture 101

Running a successful remodeling company is an ongoing challenge. It starts when you walk into your office on Monday morning. You receive a call from one of your carpenters at 7 a.m. letting you know he won’t be showing up to work that day. Soon after that, the client starts calling! So you pull a carpenter off of another project and send him to the jobsite where you need help. You then discover that the lead carpenter didn’t order the materials due on the jobsite that day! Now, you’re in your office, scrambling to put out a fresh set of fires. Is this just another day at the office?

Does this sound familiar? Does your business run in a “crisis management” mode? Did you ever believe that after being in business for 5, 10, or 15 years that you would still be working this hard? What happened? Are you spending too many hours at work? Are all these hours at work taking you away from what time you have left with your family? Why is it that instead of running a successful business, you have discovered that you don’t own a business, but your business owns you, and you have little or no time left for your family and doing the things you enjoy most?

The Power of Systems
There is a solution, but the solution depends upon you accepting a simple realization. This realization is that your daily business demands are not going to change. Daily demands are not only not going to change, but they are also probably increasing as your company grows. The complexity of day-to-day business operations grow as more and more options are available to the homeowners with whom you work, and city and state building codes are becoming more complicated and complex. The realization is this: Since the demands of day-to-day business aren’t going to change, you have to change the way you conduct business.

Integrating “standard operating procedures” into your daily business operations bring the power of systems into company operations, and can shift the load you carry each day. Effective systems maximize the time spent within your business. As a business owner, your most valuable resource is time. Effective systems can assist you in getting 12 hours of work out of an eight-hour day.

Who reading this has “come up through the ranks?” What I mean by this is that your construction career may have started in the field as a laborer. You may have become an apprentice, learned specific construction skills, taken on a supervision role, and then after a certain amount of time, went into business on your own. Most of the tradespeople I know have done it this way. Not everyone, but most. There is no remodeling degree-no formal remodeling university. If there is a school, it’s not a place where you take classes. It’s the school of hard knocks. You learned from experience. Construction training took place in the field, not in a classroom. This field training has had great benefits, but has left most of us unprepared as our companies grew. What was lacking was business development training. It’s not our fault. We didn’t know. We didn’t realize how important these skills would become.

What Is a ‘System’?
Let’s talk just a little about systems. A “system” is simply a standardized process that ensures consistent results by making sure that something (a specific task) is done the same way, time after time, after time. A good system ensures consistent results. We all follow standardized processes in our day-to-day lives. We follow certain procedures when we get up every morning. We have a certain procedure in regard to breakfast each day. Because we follow specific procedures every morning, we know how long it will take to get out the door. When we get to work, aren’t there specific procedures we follow to start each day?

Here is a big clue to help you define how what you need to do to change the way you do business. How do you eliminate most misunderstandings on a construction project? 1) There is a set of house plans that details the kind of construction that needs to take place. 2) There is a clear construction contract and good project specifications. 3) With trade contractors, there are clear job agreements that specify what is expected of each subcontractor. To eliminate misunderstandings, you put your expectations in writing. There’s no mystery here. The power of systems is implemented in your business when you create companywide “standard operating procedures” by putting position by position expectations into writing.

Having defined and written procedures is liberating and empowering for staff and trade contractors. Standard operating procedures make performing job duties clearer and easily understood. They remove confusion. They also enhance performance by providing a written account of what’s expected and more importantly, how your staff is to execute what’s expected of them. It frees your staff from being reliant on you. It frees you from being relied upon. It empowers your staff to seek out the answers and solutions to their challenges and problems. And it provides them a ready to seek help.

Written Procedures Work
Let me share two well-known examples. The first is a business that has establishments all over the world. When you walk into one of their stores, you know exactly what you will be purchasing, because worldwide, they are all the same. This is the McDonald’s restaurant chain. Every year, McDonald’s experiences a 50 percent employee turnover, and every year they replace their workforce with new people and never miss a beat. Every position in a McDonald’s restaurant has written procedures. You may argue that home remodeling is a more complicated process than cooking hamburgers, and that the remodeling workforce has much more complex tasks that can’t be so easily trained. Let’s look at another example.

There is another employer who takes people off the street and, in a matter of months, has them operating some of the most sophisticated computer hardware and software in the world. They are the U.S. military, and they never know who is going to make up their employee workforce. In response to this, they have developed very clearly defined standard operating procedures that enable 18-year-old kids to operate multi-million dollar defense systems.

Making Average People Great
Probably one of the biggest issues facing remodelers today is the labor shortage. Almost every company I speak with is short-handed. All these company owners voice the same complaint: “I can’t find good, qualified help.” A gutter and siding contractor who lives outside of Boise, Idaho, shared with me a story that everyone in construction should hear.

He has been in the home improvement industry for 27 years, so he is very familiar with the problems that come with this industry. He was dealing with labor issues regularly. To handle the workload in his growing business, he was regularly dealing with substandard employees who brought bad attitudes and work habits to his office every day. It affected the morale of the entire company, but he reluctantly put up with it because he thought he had to get the work done.

Several years ago, he decided to start doing things differently. One of the first areas he began to work on was how to find and keep good employees. He began by looking at the cost of new hires. It cost him a certain amount of money to train new employees and bring them up to speed, and every time an existing employee left for a new job, he would start that process all over again. It was time-consuming and expensive. To streamline his own training procedure, he began to put on paper every step, of every procedure, the employee was learning during their training period. His reasoning was that once it was written down, he could work on it, tune it, track it, document it and count it. The goal of this was to get to a point of when he did hire a new person, he could simply hand them a “procedures” manual, where the new employee could open the book to the procedure they needed to follow, and by simply following the list of steps outlined in the manual, the installation required would be done correctly every time. The procedures manual created a predictable result. But it did more than that.

In using this procedures manual, he made a very important discovery. With written procedures in place, he discovered he could bring in average people, and if they followed the clearly defined procedures outlined in the manual, they would produce above average results in spite of their background and training. This discovery has allowed this contractor to dramatically change the way he approaches hiring new employees. He no longer looks for the most talented person he can find to fill an open position. His hiring is not focused on talent; it’s now based on character. He now hires the best person he can find. He wants honest people, people with integrity, people who will show up for work, do what they said they would do, and people who are easy to be around. Character is what builds a team, not talent.

Hiring the best person has changed the “culture” in his company. He said it is a pleasure to go to work now. Good people, people he likes to be around, now surround him. This company culture has affected employee retention. His new approach is reflected in the following statement: “People don’t leave jobs because of money. They leave because they don’t like where they work. They leave because they’re not appreciated. We’ve created a positive, caring environment and I take the time to appreciate these people every day.” His approach to hiring the “right” people has changed his company for the better. Standard operating procedures will allow you to do the same.

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