Editor's note: This is the initial installment of a multiple part article addressing means manners, methods and tools that will increase employee speed and efficiency in the field.
During these tough, trying economic times, we find ourselves frequently in situations where we are doing competitive bidding against a host of hungry contractors, many of them are just trying to keep their employees busy, trying not to have to lay them off, picking up jobs at or below their direct costs of doing business. This is not my first recession, and this pattern is repeated every time there is an economic down turn. I can understand their logic, but I don't think any one could have predicted the length of this downturn and the impact it would create. I also have taken the attitude that I will not participate in the recession. Attitude has a lot to do with survival during tough times. Diversity and flexibility will get you through tough economic times, but they alone can’t help you survive. Finding ways to increase company efficiencies will position you in an even more competitive mode, and insure that you get your share of the work available in a weak, meager market place, and survive the tough times.
Attitude, attitude, attitude! Employee attitude and employer attitude has a lot to do with the program. If ownership is moping around, singing the economic down turn blues, the employees will adopt that tune, and it will reflect in their work ethic. If there's nothing in the pipeline, then they will start milking what work there is to do in hopes that something else quickly pops up on the horizon. That is human nature, and it is a hard habit to break. It's more a reaction than a habit, but in any case, it is a natural response that can cause meager profit margins to disappear into thin air and cause a significant amount of red ink to flow quickly through your project.
I always asked my employees to consider their operations as if they were the owners of the company, as it pertained to field efficiency. We had some basic rules that significantly increased individual and team employee efficiency. Things like, "You should never be walking to or from your vehicle without something in your hand..." Something always needs to be taken to the truck or brought into the job. Or "Think ahead and stay ahead," meaning that it is your responsibility to make certain that you have a good stock of the pipe, valves, fittings and preparation/installation tools to be able to do the job in a timely manner. Standing around doing nothing, or having to stop production to run to the warehouse to replenish things that should have been kept replenished from shop stock will leave a trail of red ink that is easy to follow.
Also, when running pipe, think at least three steps ahead to make certain that you don't find yourself in a box canyon with no reasonable means of escape. What may be shown on the drawings for pipe route manner and method may not take into consideration certain field conditions that could not have been anticipated in the design phase. Make sure you can get from Point A to Point B without causing interference with fellow trades and violating the intent of the architect/designer.
Sometimes you run into a concrete wall (literally) and you have to make a decision as to whether it is less expensive to go around it or through it. If you are aware of that condition prior to actually getting there, then you can discuss the plan with your supervisor and schedule a core driller to give you the path necessary to accomplish the job without having to bring production to a screaming halt, or make certain that you have the necessary materials required for the work around. Think three steps ahead of where you are at to keep things moving in a smooth manner.
I always keep a note pad on hand when I am turning and burning in the field so that I can keep track of what I am using, and more importantly, what I need to order to keep my operations moving smoothly. Minutes of good planning and preparation will save hours of non-productive time in the field. In order for this attitude program to work, it must be instilled in all employees, from the top to the bottom of the company. Otherwise, all of the well intentioned efforts of upper level management will be for naught due to road blocks in the lower levels of management.
Tune in next month as we look at some tools designed to increase employees’ efficiency and production. Until then, happy hot tub hydronicing!
Mark Eatherton is a Denver-based hydronics contractor. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 303-936-7606.
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