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January 2015   

Letters to a General Superintendent (Part 6)

By: Doug Bellamy

What follows is the sixth letter in 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.

Dear Joe:

Weíve been discussing the two options available to management as we consider the future: worry or prepare. To put it in context, weíve also been considering what to do during a downturn, albeit temporary, especially when that downturn will be followed by a surge in workload. The relevance is apparent, since thatís where we find ourselves as a business. We are slowing down dramatically only to be suddenly hit with a lot of work shortly thereafter.

First off, when you find yourself caught in the "worry trap,Ē view it as a signal to turn that negative energy into the positive of "preparation.Ē Rather than speculating on the grim possibilities that you "couldĒ find yourself dealing with, instead ask yourself what you can do to prepare for the situation and get busy doing it! Time is very valuable and youíre gonna have some on your hands; be sure you use it wisely. There is no time to waste pondering gloom and doom scenarios. Have nothing to do with the spirit of inevitability. If you get busy preparing, you can avoid issues you would otherwise face. By taking the necessary steps now, you can influence, change and improve the future.

So then, weíll continue answering the question our circumstances poseówhat to do during a slowdown, especially when we will be faced with a lot of work shortly thereafter. Except for some highlights, I wonít spend time reviewing whatís already been said because you can re-read prior letters for a more in-depth review.

During a slowdown you should labor share, cut costs, eliminate waste, train management with a focus on safety, processes, adjust your organizational chart if changes have occurred, maintenance your vehicles and equipment and do anything else that you know that needs done. Focus on the priorities youíve established and struggled with under the strain of prior busy periods. Do the things that you canít seem to get to when youíre busy. Take full advantage of the opportunity to increase overall efficiency in every department.

Work on your workload projections so that you know when the uptick will start, peak and if thereís another valley in the middle of it. Knowledge is power, so motor up and get yourself in the "knowĒ as much as you possibly can. Shine a light and use a magnifying glass on your situation to develop the clearest view of the future thatís possible.

For years smart, top-notch people tried to convince me that it was impossible to develop and maintain useful workload projections. I was never convinced and to this day I remain certain that it is possible if youíre willing to put forth the effort. Do the work and reap the benefits. This isnít something you have to do personally; in fact, you shouldnít. We have already developed the format and spreadsheet, just get the clerical help you need to collect the info and plug in the dates.

Furthermore, take some of the surplus time you have to think. I donít mean that in a demeaning way. I know you think, but Iím referring to a much deeper level of thinking. You wonít be able to think as deeply once you get into the blur of the future flurry of work. Do some serious thinking during the downturn. Too often this type of thinking gets neglected and defaults into worry or simply ignoring the obvious.

Most managers spend far too little time thinking and preparing and way too much time worrying, fretting or basking in the delusion of ignorance as they face the future. They arenít careful students, studying their situation and getting familiar with the facts. They are content to take a prolonged break and let the opportunity that a slowdown presents just slip through their fingers. Sometimes, itís just laziness, other times, they just donít believe in the value so they donít make the investment. They see it as futile and a waste of time. None of that it is true but if they believe it, it might as well be true. Perception is reality to the perceiver.

You can also use the opportunity to get better connected with your suppliers and management. Get your key people together and share knowledge with one another. Pick their brains and see what they know. Donít let yourselves be surprised by the obvious. There are far too many unavoidable surprises, so avoid the surprises that you can. Donít be so foolish as to try to tackle this alone. Get your key people in the loop and doing what needs to be done. Get the group involved and take full advantage of their unique perspective and skill set. Get every brain in the game. Synergize.

Youíre going to need more management as our workload dramatically increases. Iím a firm believer in promoting from within, so pick out your best candidates for second-in-command positions (assistant management) and find out if theyíre interested. In general, employees like opportunity, so tell them what your needs are, turn them into opportunities, and use them to reward your achievers. Go to work on getting those who are interested ready.

In closing, remember to anticipate and act. Stay in front of problems and deal with potential problems rather than letting them lapse into real problems. Manpower is also going to be an issue, but that will have to be a subject for another day.


Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at

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