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Letters to a General Superintendent (Part 13)

What follows is the 13th 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:

Busy? Yep! Doubled our workload year over year. Customers tell us that we can expect to double again next year. Busy and getting busier. Now’s the time to make some money. Got a problem with that? I sure don’t.


We’re hiring apprentices like the mad hatter. Two more interviews on Monday. How are we going to make these young new hires, unskilled as they are, productive, and do so in short order? I’ll get into that later.


For now let’s talk about our core group, our very best people in every department. It would be understating the facts to say that they are good employees. They are great, faithful, loyal individuals who are depending on us to feed their families and for the opportunity for advancement with the capacity to increase their income year over year. And what about our need for help? Let’s fully utilize our existing manpower. Why not start with what we have, the “proven” ones?


Versatility. We have to make sure we’re using our proven, core group as productively as possible. How? Versatility. How many departments do we have? Six? Let’s think about that. Are we getting a full week out of every single employee now? The answer? No! Why? The lack the versatility to roll back and forth from department to department as the need in each department waxes and wanes.


The solution? Simple. When they have a spare day or even an hour or two, we are going to be training them for additional roles in other departments. Cross training. It’s nothing new. Why have our very best sitting at home while we’re on the hunt for what doesn’t exist? Let’s take our best skilled labor and get busy teaching them what they don’t know and we need.


Fill the gap not with those who graze on the greenest grass available, those who jump from company to company, merely following the money. Who needs them? Put that group to work for our competitors.


Our goal is to create the most versatile set of employees possible. Let’s reward that group by providing them every opportunity to advance, diversify and learn. If we let them sit for even a day, every other company in the area is trying to pick them off, bribing them to leave us and go to work for them. Enough said with regard to cross-training.


So then, what about getting those apprentices up to speed and getting some production out of them? We both know that during initial training they won’t be very productive. Heck, they’ll probably be a drag on production. How do we take them from nothing to something ASAP? How are they going boost our productivity in the near term?


Well, before I get into that, let’s go back into history and forward into tomorrow simultaneously. Consider a Henry Ford and the assembly line.


He had a vision: a Ford every family could afford. How could he make that happen? He had a problem with skilled labor and outdated methods. Skilled labor was limited and expensive. It drove up the cost of his product and drove down the possibility of achieving his dream.


What did he do? He got innovative, creative and implemented an idea.


A year later, it took only two and a half hours to build a car. How long was it taking prior to his innovation? Twelve hours. The result? Utilizing unskilled labor and his idea, the cars cost substantially less to build, consequently, less to buy, and so more people bought them. Further improvements cut additional costs, lowered prices again and again, and drove the explosive growth of Ford Motor Company from 10,000 cars manufactured in 1908 to 933,720 cars in 1920.


Do we really have to re-invent the wheel? No! Let’s just follow Ford’s example and roll it down the road. What do I mean by that?


I’ll get back to you.


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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