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Letters to a General Superintendent (Part 4)

What follows is the fourth 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’d like to begin by stressing a point I made in the conclusion of my last letter. Put your “fires” out, otherwise they will simply smolder and burst into flame as they are re-kindled over time. Get to the root cause, find real solutions, and make the changes necessary to eliminate whatever caused the particular problem in the first place.

There is no reason to hurry. In fact, there is every reason to slow yourself down and deal with your problems as effectively as possible. If you merely address problems superficially, problems will accumulate as opposed to being eliminated. Take the time necessary to solve your problems and you’ll benefit both organizationally and as an individual. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss the opportunity to turn your problems into lessons learned and the resulting benefit.

In order to do so, you’ll have to sort out situations, determine what actually happened and exactly where the failure occurred. Oftentimes finger-pointing has to be dealt with, so sort through the conflicting information and insist on fact finding and eliminating problems.

At times, you’ll have to get those involved in the same room and give them a dose of your determination as you relentlessly pursue the truth. In doing so, you’ll inadvertently make an all-important point to your subordinates. It will be plain for all to see that you are determined to root out problems and make the necessary changes, as you hold those responsible, responsible.

Moving on, I’ve noticed recently that you’re getting discouraged. I can hear it in your voice. That’s why I warned you in my last letter to keep your expectations realistic. If you are “in search of perfect,” you will no doubt become discouraged.

Let me give you one example: workload. How likely is it to have the perfect amount of work or the perfect amount of people at any given time? It’s extremely unlikely. Imagine a workforce of 200 in six departments and precisely enough work to provide them with 40 hours of work on a weekly basis. Can you see how unlikely that is? If it ever happens at all, be grateful. It will always be the exception and never the rule. The reality is, you’re either going to have too much work and not enough workers, or too many people and not enough work. I think you’ll agree, I’d rather have too much work. It’s a good problem to have if you’re going to have a problem—and you are.

Nevertheless, I’ve seen how nervous you’ve become as our workload fluctuates almost convulsively. Even though we go to great lengths to manage the flow of work and maintain projections, more often than not, we are stuck on a roller coaster as our workload see-saws up and down. Inevitably, it continues its unrelenting pace seemingly without end, only to wither and stall. Feast or famine, fast or slow, unfortunately is the nature of the beast. To expect it to be any different is quite simply unrealistic.

I’ve often referred to it as a bull ride. Eight seconds of impossible to control, gyrations of kicking and twirling, during which you are never in complete control. It is a nearly impossible challenge. There are numerous examples of cowboys who just couldn’t stay on the bull. Many of them are so certain that it was impossible to ride that particular bull on that particular day, as they attempt to justify their failure.

Then again, there are those who actually ride that bull the full eight seconds only to dismount in victory. It is doable, but it’s not easy. These cowboys, so to speak, manage the wild fluctuations of our workload and maintain both schedule and quality. It requires the ultimate juggling act, but it can be done.

According to the online encyclopedia WikiHow, there are 16 steps to learning how to ride a bull. Read them if you want to apply my analogy to the fullest extent possible. I’ll just share the first one with you: “Apprentice to an experienced bull-rider to learn the tricks of the trade.”

I want you to know that I am here for you and, though it may not seem like it at times, you’re not in this alone. I’m not going to do your job for you—you know how I feel about that. Nevertheless, my door is always open and I’m always ready to lend a hand, share my experience as you transition into this role.

I know you are well aware of the surge of work coming next year, and you’re very “worried” about it. If our customers follow through on their projections and sales, justify it; we could nearly double our volume. We both know that it’s been a struggle just to maintain the current pace. You’re also aware that in between now and then, true to form, we will slow down to a grinding halt for nearly a month. That’s a big problem. Not to mention the lack of skilled labor currently available and the sad fact is, you’re going to lose most of them (at least temporarily) during the upcoming hiccup.

You have a limited number of options. Two, I can think of: worry or prepare. I recommend the latter. I’ll write back and give you some specifics as to what you can do to “prepare.” In the meanwhile, try not worry about it. It won’t do you any good.



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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