Letters to a General Superintendent (Part 15)

Doug Bellamy / October 2015

What follows is the 15th letter in a series of letters supposedly written by an owner (Jack Owployer) in response to a general superintendent’s (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 do’s and don’ts so commonly emphasized throughout our industry.

Dear Joe:

I sincerely thought by now, after more than a year, you’d be sick and tired of these letters. Anytime you are, let me and anyone else with ears know! Apparently you aren’t, since I’ve personally asked you and you’ve requested more, letters that is. You claim to appreciate everything I’ve written thus far. Thank you.
    
So we are sticking with this subject. We’ve danced around it for quite a while. Let me give it a title. “What to do when it seems like you have more work than you can possibly do?”
    
As you know, we’ve settled on a plan. Let’s stick with it. Just stay focused and improvise as we see the need. Call it stick-to-itiveness, perseverance—whatever you want. Staying focused on priorities is exactly how we operate. We don’t quit. We make it happen. We get it done. We never fail! That will always be our obsession.
    
Be that as it may, we are also innovators, agents of change. We are fascinated with improvement and, generally speaking, an attitude of innovation makes a lot of sense to us. However, innovation has its pitfalls. Innovators throw a lot of stuff at the (dry)wall. Some of it sticks and some of it doesn’t. But if we aren’t careful, we can abandon a good idea too soon. Sometimes a breakthrough is just around the corner. The plan just needs a little tweaking, so tweak it. Don’t take the easy way out and quit. It is a tiny minority who actually take an innovative idea through to fruition. We have every intention of being among the few who do.
    
That’s a perfect segue as we return to our topic and its solutions. When it comes to getting our nickel’s worth out of these apprentices, operating efficiently with our core group, developing versatility through cross training and fully utilizing our existing workforce, that’s the plan. Though we have hit a few snags, encountered some discouragement and failed in a few areas, our GPS still says full speed ahead.
    
So then, back to Henry Ford. He was right, and a lot of people thought he was wrong. His innovative idea changed the auto industry, and we can glean something valuable from that lesson. Setting up an assembly line approach, training unskilled labor, specializing them, providing adequate motivation, encouragement and paying them well dramatically increased efficiency and output.
    
The typical approach most drywall companies use is far too inefficient. Relying on journeyman (who don’t currently exist) providing all the tools necessary for that workforce to do everything, especially in this environment, is brain-dead at several levels. In the first place, it’s way too expensive and slow.

This isn’t difficult to understand. You can imagine how many tools and how much equipment the typical company needs to equip everyone to do the work complete and how much variation there would be in the quality from house to house or project to project.
    
What kind of a car company would hire people to build a car complete? None, unless it was some sort of hand crafted exotic car, otherwise it would be lunacy. Imagine how inefficient it would be compared to the assembly line approach and how much the quality would vary from car to car. What about the caliber individual you would need to operate if you’re endeavoring to mass produce vehicles. Not to mention, how many years would it take to teach them to build an entire car?
    
Would it be easier to teach new hires to install a rear view mirror or build a car? You know the answer and the reason why we have our new hires focusing on mastering the elementary tasks. Skilled labor can then focus on the more difficult, intricate tasks and not waste their precious skill set, doing something most anyone can learn and do with minimal training. Dicing up tasks and allocating them to the appropriate labor makes a lot of sense and is much more productive. Meanwhile, it drives down our tool rental and or tool purchase costs. Sounds good to me. How about you?

—Jack

Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at doug@altadrywall.com.