March 2016: Contractor Tip of the Month

Words: Damian LangMarch 2016

Get Someone to Help You Dig the Hole

Damian-LangBy Damian Lang

A lesson learned from those who dug water wells by hand years ago is that the harder you dig a hole, the deeper you will get. The deeper you get, the less the view. The less the view, the less you can observe. The less you observe, the less you can plan for others to help you succeed. Without others to help you succeed, even if you hit water, you may never get out of the hole. During a recent conversation I had with a couple of contractors, “getting out of the hole” was the main topic of discussion. Keep in mind that both these men work very hard. They are smart, good at what they do and driven to succeed. One contractor who has been in business for 15 years could see plainly the opportunity to grow his business, as other contractors in his area are ready to retire with no one to take over their businesses. (Retiring contractors can refer to my June 2015 tip, “How Do You Get Off the Hamster Wheel?”) However, he said to me, “I can’t afford to put down my trowel to focus on growing my business. Therefore, I am still putting units in the wall every day.” The other contractor told me he had 12 people working, but no one to run the crew, so he had to be on the job every day or his projects would falter. “How did you find 10 foremen and superintendents to work in your masonry business, when I can’t even find one?” he asked. I knew the answer because I have been there. The fact is that both contractors felt safer digging by themselves than getting others to help them dig. “A mason you hire to lay units for you has worker’s compensation,” I said, “to carry him through should he get hurt. But if you own a company and you get hurt, you can’t cover overhead, as you would lack the income you were generating installing the units yourself. Therefore, unless you work for someone else, you are less secure with a trowel in your hand.” Another concern was having 12 employees, none of whom had the potential to become a foreman. That puzzled me. I explained that one of the 12 most likely has the potential to become a foreman, and that most employees have a desire to progress. If you don’t promote your best mason to become a foreman/crew leader, it is likely you will lose him right when he’s starting to improve. If none of them is ready to move up the ladder, you should start looking at your hiring process and pay scale so you can recruit the right future leaders, because they do exist. I shared more of my experiences and hard lessons, and I like to think that I helped the two contractors a little. This is a very common problem. Since having that conversation, I have given it even more thought and want to share some things here. When two entrepreneurs like these start a business, they are responsible for every role, including the vision/direction of the business, along with the three major functions: sales, operations and finances. In the masonry world, the leader (owner or president) must put bricklayers and foremen in place so he can lay down his trowel to focus on the sales, operations and financial elements. As the business matures, he must turn over more company roles while developing key players — all this without taking his eye off the vision of the company. As the leader, you are responsible for developing an organizational chart, displaying the roles that everyone will play and be held accountable for. Once it is developed, you must pick only one person to be in charge of each role. If more than one person is in charge, then no one is in charge. You can test this by leaving a jobsite for a day, telling six people they are responsible for completing a task, and I can assure you that upon your return, you will be disappointed. That’s because you left each person with five places to hide behind the results the job requires. As a young manager, I remember going into meetings upset with everyone in the room. Later, I learned that the poor results came from my not putting someone (only one person) in charge of the project. Therefore, I was the only one I should have been upset with. Just as important as putting one person in each role, the leader must also ensure that each of these persons can properly manage those who report to him. If not, the leader must quickly train and redirect, or replace the person in that role. your business grows, although there will be plenty of digging for you to do, your real job is to train and supervise others to do the digging. Those you have trained will begin training their reports, and those reports will begin to train. That way, with everyone digging together, when you hit water, you will have a way out of the hole.
Damian Lang owns and operates four companies in Ohio. He is the inventor of the Grout Hog-Grout Delivery System, Mud Hog mortar mixers, Hog Leg wall-bracing system and several other labor-saving devices used in the construction industry. He is the author of the book called “RACE—Rewarding And Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry.” He writes for Masonry Magazine each month and consults with many of the leading mason contractors in the country.
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