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August 2014   

Letters to a General Superintendent

By: Doug Bellamy

What follows is a series of letters supposedly written by an owner (Jack Owployer) in response to a general superintendentís (Joe Gensup) request for something more than the typical job description. Though the company had provided a generic job description, what the superintendent needed and received was much more personal and heartfelt when compared to the sterile notion of doís and doníts so commonly emphasized throughout our industry. Here is the first letter.

Dear Joe:

Having held the position myself for nearly three decades, what I have to say is more of a summary based on personal experience. However, you are not me, and I am not you. We have different skill sets, methods, strengths and weaknesses. You are not going to do things exactly like I would. I understand that and, therefore, I donít expect it.

Letís focus on results. Methods come into play when we donít get the results we need. But that is only after weíve identified a recurring problem that isnít being resolved and/or it is worsening. Until then, choose and use your own methods.

So then, avoiding my methods, weíll stick with concepts and attributes that are essential to someone in your position. I could compile an endless list of things you should or shouldnít do and still leave something out. For that reason, I am not going to approach it that way. More importantly, I want you to grasp the goal of being a general superintendent or any other level manager, for that matter. I also want you to understand your purpose. In addition, Iíd like to convey the attributes and characteristics necessary to achieve that purpose.

For example: I tend to view your role as similar to that of a bodyguard. Bear with that analogy for a moment. It is something Iíve realized the similarity of and endeavored to become for the owners and companies Iíve worked for. You need to keep us well protected. When it comes to field operations, schedule, budgets, quality, equipment management, waste control, customer relations and so on, youíre the man. Make it happen!

If we get hurt under your watch, thatís a failure on your part. When that happens, or better yet, before that happens, you must spring into action. If a failure occurs, afterward you must learn something and make sure it doesnít happen again. Do your best to prevent damage, do damage control when damage occurs, and eliminate the potential for future similar damage. If we are getting hurt repeatedly in any area and you fail to find a remedy, you fail. It probably sounds like a tall order. Thatís because it is.

My phone shouldnít be ringing. You must tell customers, employees, lower management, even myself, whatís neededóbefore we need to know it. You must be a communicator and develop simple methods of distributing information in advance. That way, both employees and customers never develop that "appetite for information.Ē Theyíll never be on that "information chase.Ē That will make for some very happy customers, and happy customers come back bearing gifts. More work!

You must stay on top of everything and desperately endeavor to do your very best to work in a problem prevention mode. It is much better to prevent a problem than it is to solve a problem. Solving problems is good, avoiding them is better. Avoid them. Do it your way, but do it!

In order to do that, you will have to get above the fray. You are upper management, and that is the last line of defense. If you fail, the business takes a bullet. One wrong bullet can be fatal. As the owner of this business, donít let me feel like Iím getting killed anywhere, ever.

Furthermore, you cannot be buried in the details. I am not saying that you donít have to have attention to detail. You do. That is ever so important.

Think of a maze. Your subordinates to greater or lesser extent work inside that maze. You donít. You canít! If you do, your job doesnít get done. You must hover above the maze and take advantage of that unique perspective.

If you think about it, youíll realize that people inside a maze are at a disadvantage when compared to someone looking down on top of it. That someone is you. Now put yourself in the maze instead. Someone is yelling for help. Where are they? Youíre not sure. Which way should they go? Youíre not sure of that either. Now ascend and get above the maze. You now have the oversight you need and can easily direct them.

Consequently, youíll have oversight, which is exactly what management needs. As a general superintendent you will need it all the more, hence the title "upperĒ management, which is management from above. So then, you canít be doing other peoples jobs for them. To do so, you must resist the notion that in order for something to get done properly, youíll have to do it yourself. Stay out of the maze.

Hereís a rule: Avoid doing anything someone else can do while something only you can do needs to be done. If you are doing someone elseís job, who is doing yours? In large part, your role is to delegate. In short, management should work through people to get the results the customer and the organization needs.

Be ever so wary of doing things for others that they can and should do for themselves. If the reasons for taking this approach and the relationship that each of these points have with one another isnít already apparent, well, thatís all the more reason for another letter.

Sincerely Yours,

Jack Owployer

Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is known for his original thought, innovative approach and the personal development of unique processes, systems and procedures. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at

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