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Letters to a General Superintendent (Part 12)

What follows is the 12th 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’ve got a lot bottled up inside that I want to share with you about dealing with the “good problem” of being busy. We as an organization must fully understand what’s needed in order to adapt, maintain our reputation, deliver quality service and keep our schedules in spite of our ever-increasing workload and limited workforce. We must do more with less, which requires operating at optimum efficiency and being extremely creative. However, knowing and even fully understanding a plan is never an end in and of itself. You and your subordinates must not only know our strategy but also execute it.


So then, we must continue training apprentices, cross-train and develop versatility within our core group, know the knowable, ramp up fast by over hiring, promote from within, incentivize cooperation, fully utilize existing manpower, and, in the worst-case scenario, be selective about where we fail, if failure is unavoidable.


Prepare to do some reading and you can continue to expect my letters to arrive routinely over the next several months as we continue working through what needs to be done—beginning with training apprentices, as well as cross-training existing employees in order to fully utilize our existing manpower by debunking the tomfoolery by reminding management of the obvious.


The knee-jerk reaction to solve our manpower shortage by throwing money at it is absurd. In business, money should not be spent, it should be invested. Participating in the tug of war for available labor by merely raising labor rates in an effort to draw manpower into our organization is futile and shortsighted. It doesn’t solve the problem. On the other, train/cross-training is a real solution and an excellent investment.


The result of the knee-jerk reaction merely exacerbates the problem. It reduces profit, has a very limited return, undermines employee loyalty and surrenders control of labor rates to the existing skilled labor by sending them a very clear signal. It signals that contractors (at least those dumb enough to do so) are desperate enough to allow themselves to be manipulated. If we’re looking for a long-term solution—and we are, that isn’t it.


On the other hand, training apprentices, cross training and fully utilizing our existing employees by blending their skillsets offers a mouthful of solutions and takes a bite out of our problem. Let’s chew on that for a while. As you know, we’ve been taking that path for the last few years. I heard a rumor the other day that we attempted developing such a program, but the program failed. Congratulations to any competitors who believe that. You are the proud recipients of the “Wrong Again” award.


This is not our first rodeo. Nor is it our first downturn followed by a significant surge in workload. We saw this same phenomenon occur in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and once again in the later part of the first decade of this millennium. After each of those recessions, training and cross training has been a critical component and a necessary part of the solution when faced with manpower shortages.


Admittedly, this has been a “great recession,” and the problem is worse but the solutions haven’t changed. Quite simply, there is a greater need that requires a more aggressive approach, but, in our view, the solutions, with a little tweaking, and a few other tricks, remain the same


For the sake of emphasis, I’ll also remind you once again that the best way to solve a problem is to approach it with as many solutions as possible. Training and cross training alone is not going to solve our problem, but it is part of the solution. The notion that there is a quick fix or silver bullet is both bogus and flawed on several levels. Common sense, will tell you that.


Quick example: I’ve put on a few too many pounds. Diet! Yes that’s it. Hmmm, as I’ve aged it seems I’m eating less and gaining more. What’s up with that? My silver bullet is firing blanks. Just keep shooting right? No, I need some new ammo. What else, more exercise? But again, little progress. What about Weight Watchers. They have the best rated program? Their program includes diet, a support group, creating accountability and competition with other members, members who attend weekly meetings, weigh in, and answer to a personal counselor. Hey! What do you know? Presto chango! I lost 9 pounds in my first two weeks.


Enough advertising for Weight Watchers. Back to business. I’ll elaborate further on this topic and the overall combination of solutions necessary to fully address our situation next time around.


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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