Tackling Problems in Your Construction Business

Tackling Problems for your construction business

Tackling Problems in Your Construction Business

Last time, we talked about When Solutions Become Problems.  As promised, now we’re diving deeper into one proven method for finding and resolving problems in your construction contracting business.

The first step, Defining the Problem, is borrowed from the car manufacturer, Toyota,  and has proven quite successful for them. The other steps are:

  • Reformulate the problem
  • Devise solutions
  • Evaluate alternatives

Defining the problem

Now is a good time to borrow the method used by Toyota which identifies their manufacturing issues. It is called the “Five Whys.” Don’t let the number five confuse you. It may take only “Three Whys” to get to the bottom line, or it may take more than five.

In short, you begin by stating the problem, then asking why until you get to the real root of the problem. For instance, the general contractor tells you he sees your crew sitting around doing nothing for large pieces of time each day.

Ask, “Why isn’t the crew on task during working hours?”

The answer might be that not all the materials or equipment needed were on site.

Ask, “Why is that?”

You see how this is going. There can be several different responses.

  • The trucks were improperly supplied
  • the chosen vendor is often low on stock
  • the foreman frequently forgets to order the right materials
  • or we only send someone to get stuff when we need it

At each junction, you ask, “Why is that?”

When you get to the bottom line, you have the opportunity to fix the problem for good.

Rather than a lazy employee problem or a we-don’t-care problem you may have an organizational or time management problem that begins with management and drips down to the crew.

Remember, it is important to distinguish causes from symptoms.

Reformulating the problem

Now, it’s time to question the questions. One way to reformulate the problem is by creating “How might we . . .” statements.

Let’s look back at the crew, wasting time on the job site. And ask this question, how might we . . .

  • make sure the crew is on task most of the time?
  • assure the vehicles are properly loaded every day?
  • overcome low vendor stock?
  • better train foremen concerning their duties?
  • be better prepared for obtaining supplies?

Now you have some jumping-off points for devising solutions.

Devising solutions

Sometimes, depending on the original problem, this is a one-person operation. But more often, the devising solutions stage is better practiced in groups. Whether it is leadership alone, a group of stakeholders, or the entire crew, getting ideas from more people is often the key to finding the solution.

One way to get the group on board is to begin the session by stating the problem, then asking the “how might we. . .” question, and then saying, “Please only mention very bad ideas.”

Yep, bad ideas. The reason is twofold.

  • It takes the pressure off. You know. Who wants to be the crazy guy who, when asked for a great idea, comes up with the dumbest idea on earth? Sometimes the tension is palpable.
  • Putting a new lens on the problem (unlikely solutions) may indeed produce some quite likely and grand solutions. At any rate, once the ball is rolling, there will be many ideas to toss about and roll around to get to the great idea.

Evaluating alternatives

This last step may be the one most left out when tackling problems. After all, you found solutions in the previous step. You can pick one and run with it.

Or you can evaluate the alternatives.

While there are likely several ways to tackle a problem and many of the ways may achieve the results you would like, there are two important metrics that will aid you in choosing one most likely to succeed.

The first is ease of implementation.

The second is the potential size of the impact.

Using the example above, let’s say the problem you’ve found is that the foreman isn’t taking care of his duties properly. One solution would be to hire a different supervisor. Another might be to train the foreman better. Which is easier to implement?

While finding a mature and knowledgeable foreman would be nice, we all know there isn’t a line of trained men knocking on your door. Yet, if the present foreman isn’t up for the training . . .

When considering the potential size of impact in this scenario, you must keep in mind the big picture as well as the details. Does the crew have a good working relationship with the present foreman? Is there another foreman who is willing to spend time training? Are there classes or courses your present foreman can attend?

How disruptive will either solution be?

What secondary problems might be created by implementing one or the other solution?

Lastly

Remember, there isn’t a method, approach, or process that will achieve the results you’re looking for if you’re solving the wrong problem. Think about the five whys. Have you drilled deep enough? Most often, spending as much time (or more) determining the problem as solving it will allow you to generate truly valuable solutions.

 

We desire to familiarize you with business concepts, which will make it easier for you to be a better commercial construction business owner through our blog posts. Some are new ways of looking at things, and others are refreshers.

http://www.schulteandschulte.com/blog/ 

Schulte and Schulte Provides Accounting, Contract Document Management, and Advisory Board Level counsel for small to medium commercial construction subcontractors.

So you can Run With the Big Dogs! Call us 866-629-7735

Strategies for Finding and Keeping Good Construction Employees

A successful construction contracting or service business means having great people on your team. Finding and keeping those great people is a vital part of maintaining the success. So, how do you go about not only finding them, but also keeping them around?

Long term thinking

Of course, people who are looking for a job are concerned with both salary and benefits, yet those two items are only part of the equation.

Just as on the sales side of your company it is important to build a reputation for going above the expected with customer care and satisfaction, it is important to build a reputation for providing what potential employees are seeking and giving even more.

You have a number of possibilities concerning the reputation just right for your construction company to attract great employees. And, you can figure out rather quickly which your reputation is more likely to be, because it will be tied to your core values. There is more information about core values here.

Here are some examples of the reputation you may build, of the junction where your company and your potential employees may meet up:

  • strives to be organized and efficient
  • seeks projects that are unique and challenging
  • provides opportunity for advancement
  • uses the same systems and products
  • makes safety a big issue

Look through the list of your construction company’s core values and you’re likely to find a number of points which will provide value to your employees as well as potential employees.

Yet, you must remember it is truly the reputation that counts. In the long run, thinking long-term, it is incumbent upon you to strive constantly to build a reputation of being an excellent company to work for.

Now is the time to look at hiring the young and (perhaps) inexperienced, giving them opportunity to go through an apprenticeship, training, and step-by-step movement into supervisory roles. Certainly, these movements take time, yet when you are upfront with new employees about what they can expect and how long it will take, you give them more incentive to stick around.

Just as you must make sure the ads you post seeking new employees include the qualities you want in a new hire, you must include the benefits as well as the special qualities your company provides.

While you’re at it, remember engaging with today’s workforce means using today’s technology. Think in terms of mobile devices, social media, and the collaboration tools young people are used to and will learn easily.

I need boots on the ground now

You may have found you’ve been unable to bid on jobs you wanted because you simply don’t have the “boots on the ground” right now. Or, you may have had to tell your customer it is going to take a little longer than expected because you simply don’t have enough people to don the hard hats necessary to complete on time.

That being said, what can be done to find employees now who will be an asset to your business in years to come?

I’ve asked around with people I know “in the business,” checked with my good friend “google,” and searched my own personal memory banks to find answers to the question. Like most things in life, there is no magic wand when it comes to finding, hiring, and retaining the best employees, yet there are some strategies you can use to aid in the endeavor.

  • offer referral bonuses which encourage current employees to recommend competent people for open positions
  • encourage feedback from present employees and make improvements based on what you learn
  • become a supporter of the apprenticeship programs in your area
  • reach out to technical schools and high school career programs
  • create or join a program where you and other contractors bring in students annually for tours, hands on interaction, and a discussion of the job opportunities in the construction field*
  • employ construction focused interns for summer programs
  • create the right job posting
  • use social media to attract a younger demographic to the trades

*For those of you who are in Arizona, here is an example of a program you may be interested in being a part of. It is being presented by the Association of Construction Career Development, and this year it is being held on November 2nd. Check it out. Click through their pages. You may want to sponsor or volunteer.

Keeping ‘em around

This part starts with you and the supervisors in your construction company. You must show good character and have integrity. Leaders create the environment, and make or break the possibility of attracting and keeping employees who are honest, who show responsibility, and who can grow and thrive.

Once you’ve recognized and hired good workers they need to be utilized and trained in meaningful ways. You can include them in the process by letting them know, “this is where we’re going.” Encourage them to take ownership of their work.

Reward them. One fellow I heard from said, “We reward our employees randomly for their excellent work.”

Sometimes, a handwritten note or personal e-mail thanking or congratulating an employee will be reward enough. Other times, providing gift cards to a deserving team is appropriate. Taking the entire crew to a lunch or dinner meal will go a long way to show your appreciation of them.

Be sure to include professional development opportunities through training and classes.  Prove you’re invested in them long-term by encouraging them to learn new skills or further develop their strengths.

Strive to make it known yours is a workplace where employees are respected and trusted. Work hard to show your employees they have reason to have a sense of security that comes with stability – meaning hanging around has its advantage.

Be sensitive to and care about the needs of your employees as well as their families.

You should be able to pass on to your employees the concept that their wellbeing and the companies wellbeing walk hand-in-hand. Helping them to see they are a part of the big picture serves both your business and the employee’s sense of pride in job well done.

How Schulte and Schulte can assist you

As a part of the suite of accounting services we offer our construction contractor clients, they can choose to allow us to prepare their payroll and deal with all the details associated with that task.

Did you know Inc. Magazine extolls the benefits of outsourcing “payroll” for small businesses? That makes sense to us, because that gives you, the contractor or service provider the time to seek, hire, and engage your employees in the services you provide your customers.

And since we specialize in accounting for construction contractors and service providers you know we know all the ins and outs of the industry. Give us a call to see how we can be of assistance to you. 480-442-4032 or Toll Free: 866-629-7735