What to Do If You Need Manpower (Part 1 of 2)

Doug Bellamy / June 2017

Little by little, a little makes a lot.—Tanzanian Proverb

As the Tanzanian proverb above mentions, there is no silver bullet or single solution; solving the problem, as is often the case, is a cumulative effort. The answer is to take the problem apart, dissect it into the smaller problems that make up the larger problem, which in this case is the “labor shortage,” and find as many solutions as possible for the smaller problems. That is the best way to reduce the size of the problem and/or solve it. Don’t expect easy answers. Expect several suggestions that experience has proven to be helpful. That much I can guarantee and put my everlasting warranty on.

Two Problems: Good News and Bad News
So you’re busy—very busy. You are struggling, juggling your existing workforce and reaching out in every direction trying to pull in adequate manpower to keep up with an exploding workload. I’ll be the first to admit that such situations are daunting, and once you’re stuck and don’t know what to do next, it can be very frustrating. Don’t let yourself get discouraged. You are facing the best problem; the alternative, being too slow, is undoubtedly a worse problem. You know that. Just think about it. Do you expect a perfect workload? One in which you have a 40-hour workweek for every available crew? It’s not going to happen. You are going to have too much work or not enough. That’s the long and the short of it.
So then, being busy is a good problem, the better of the two possibilities. Being busy is our opportunity to make some serious money or lose it. It all depends on how well you handle the situation. Hopefully, I can help you view this problem correctly and optimistically.

Put Your Work Clothes On and Let’s Have Lunch
Let’s take a look a couple industries that will help make the point: restaurants and retail sales. Restaurants have their busy times daily and especially on weekends. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Retail sales has its busy times as well. The time of day or week can be a factor, but it is particularly vulnerable seasonably and even more so during the busiest season, which is kicked off by what’s known as Black Friday. I have heard it said that the phrase “Black Friday” triggers the period when retail business moves out of the red and into the black. In other words, turns a profit. If either of these businesses don’t perform well when they’re busy, that business probably won’t survive in the long term.
Take that concept and apply it to your business. The same rules apply. Business is business. Busy periods are brimming with opportunity, and a good business is also of necessity, good at being busy. That doesn’t mean you aren’t significantly challenged and forced to the brink of capacity. It just means you are creative enough to survive it, with your reputation intact, with both pockets full of money.

No Bull
Have you ever watched the bull rides in a rodeo? I have. Do you know what it reminds me of? Managing the sometimes violent ups and downs of our workload. As a cowboy, though you may even study the bull and do everything possible to understand and predict its fitful jerks and spinning movements, the bull is to some extent unpredictable. So it is with our workloads.
There are two types of cowboys and two types of businesses. Those who successfully ride that bull until the whistle blows, dismount and tip their hat to the crowd, and those who end up flat on their backs feel perfectly justified that nobody could have survived the ride. So it is with you and me and our businesses. For me and my companies, I choose to be among the former. How about you?
Having said that, before I say anything about what to do, let me remind you once again of the one thing not to do. Quit feeling sorry for yourself! See the situation for what it is: a blessing, not a curse. The inevitable test of tests. Get your chin up and put your best foot forward. There is nothing here to complain about. You can do this. We don’t have enough work. We have too much work. The workforce and management as well will see-saw back and forth complaining about either one.
Quit your bellyaching, sniveling and feeling sorry for yourself. If you’re super busy, this is a good as it gets. This glass is definitely half full, not half empty! Pick your poison. Feast or famine? I’d rather be busy any day. Alright then, if we are going to be busy, what are we going to do about it?

Short-Term Versus Long-Term Solutions
This article is not about long-term solutions. I am assuming you are facing and/or in the middle of the best problem you’ll ever have, and I’m addressing that. Long-term solutions, such as training, apprenticeship programs, developing versatility in your existing workforce, are all viable solutions in the long term but do very little in the short term. If you expect to be busy for an extended period, get to work on them as well. They are vitally important to the industry, but not our subject.
Knowledge is always better than ignorance. Knowing your backlog, projections (assuming you have them) or in the immediate sense, the pulse on where you are in the moment, is critical. This information and awareness is vital to addressing your situation. Forecasting the timing and following the development of a busy period is vital to successfully managing the situation. If you are already overwhelmed, you still need to know what your future looks like, just not as much as your immediate need. Some management complain about so-called robbing Peter to pay Paul, or solving your immediate problems at the possible expense of future problems. I completely disagree. If you always eliminate your present problem, you will never have a problem.
I’m not suggesting that you ignore future issues. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t let future problems cloud your thinking and interfere with solving any problems you currently have. If I have a problem tomorrow, I’m going solve it even if I don’t know what I will do about the problem that it may create next week or month. That’s just a fact. For me it’s bass-ackward thinking to worry about what problem you may be creating in the future if you are solving one in the present. Don’t ignore your future potential problems. Go to work on them, but not at the expense of more immediate issues. Prioritize!

All Aboard
Make it a group effort. You or your management will never solve this problem on your own as well as you can solve it as an organization. Getting everyone on board is an incredible networking tool and the most effective approach. I know this is a bit of pie in the sky when it comes to examples, but I’ll use it to make the point. If everyone in your organization brings in one useful employee today, you will double your workforce overnight.
Get your workforce in the know when it comes to upcoming or immediate needs for labor. Network. Your people know fellow tradesmen who are not currently a part of your existing workforce. They are your best advocates. That is, of course, if they have bought into your organization as a result of being treated well. Don’t make the mistake of treating labor like equipment. They are not to be used when needed and set aside when they are no longer required. Hopefully, you take good care of those who are taking care of you. I feel sorry for you and your organization, if you don’t. Good luck with that.
In a world where loyalty seems to be a diminishing attribute, it must be cultivated all the more. If you want loyalty, you must be loyal. If you haven’t been loyal, unfortunately it becomes a long-term objective and solution—one of many, but a necessary one. Let’s assume you have been loyal and caring. Now is the time to cash in. Get your entire workforce together and share the need or upcoming needs.
Over the years, we have seen incredibly busy periods. Our residential division has turned a completed residence every 45 minutes for months on end, at times. During such times, I have found it helpful to hold companywide weekly meetings appealing to each of them for help—extremely beneficial. I don’t know how we would have survived those periods without doing so. It may present some logistical challenges but figure out how to get face to face with everyone. Look them in the eye and pull them into the problem. They can help, and some will. Take advantage of those willing participants who sympathize with the organizational issue. Tell them you will remember those who do, and follow up on that promise. Get everyone you can on board!
I’ve got so much more to say, I guess that will have to wait until part 2.

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 doug@altadrywall.com.