Benchmarks of Growth - Part 3 of 6
The DYOJO Podcast, Episode 59
Guest: Tammy Birklid, Merit Construction (Tacoma, WA)
The DYOJO Podcast is sponsored by Enlightened Restoration Solutions (ERS). Ben Justesen and his team have put together a dynamic live class which reviews real world estimates and elevates your ability to master the methodology of Xactware. Including how to determine your own labor rates, create your own price list, and navigate pricing feedback.
Tammy shares insights into her process of growing in the company, with the company, and now as the leader of her company, Merit Construction in Tacoma, Washington. I found it interesting that her background was in finances and yet she placed a high emphasis on culture. Not that these concepts are exclusive, but in my experience the financial minded person has not always been the driver of those efforts.
Tammy shares so many gems for our series, Benchmarks of Growth, this is part 3 of 6 from The DYOJO Podcast.
The DYOJO Podcast is sponsored by Advocate Claim Service (ACS), "Where you can find solutions to claims that are causing you anxiety." David Princeton and his team are ready to help you navigate doubtful and disputed insurance claims.
The DYOJO Podcast is THE podcast for intentional restorers, helping you shorten your dang learning curve for personal and professional development. Catch us every Thursday on YouTube.com/thedyojo
South Sound Connection (SSC) presented by The DYOJO Podcast and All American Restoration Services (AARES).
South Sound Connection LIVE 013 Part B - Expanding opportunities within the skilled trades with Jason Sturgeon
All American Restoration Services is a general contractor based in Tacoma, WA that provides insurance repairs services for clients throughout the South Sound.
The DYOJO is a business coaching service based in Tacoma, WA and produces The DYOJO Podcast - helping you shorten your DANG learning curve for professional development.
GUEST 2 Jason Sturgeon - Arcade Wayfinding - arcadewayfinding.com
See past episodes SSC LIVE
Our goal at SSC LIVE is to highlight local businesses and efforts to do good in our Pacific Northwest neighborhoods. Will will be interviewing local entrepreneurs, business owners, artists, and community leaders to share their stories.
South Sound Connection (SSC) LIVE - Episode 012 Part B
SSC LIVE is brought to you by The DYOJO Podcast and All American Restoration Services (Tacoma, WA).
Tuesday, February 2, 2021 9am PST - SSC LIVE
Todd McKellips (Tiny Home Guy), Seattle Tiny Homes
On SSC LIVE 012 Part B we discussed:
Todd McKellips is a social entrepreneur, philanthropist, chaplain and family man. Todd is the state chapter leader for the American Tiny House Association a national effort with affordable housing as at his core mission. He is passionate about bringing home ownership to those who can only dream of it. Todd is the director for Washington Tiny House Association.
Join us next Tuesday at 9am PST for SSC LIVE
John Doe has been working hard for “the man” for the last ten plus years and he realizes that he’s making a lot of money for someone but it sure isn’t him. Mr. Doe begins thinking about what it would look like if it was his name on his sweat soaked t-shirt. What if the customer were writing the checks to John Doe Construction? Even in a season of unrest, there are plenty of opportunities for growth minded professionals who are ready to take the leap into entrepreneurship. Reaching your dreams starts with developing the right mindset and habits to succeed.
The motivation to go out on your own as a contractor
How does the blue collar nursery rhyme go, “Boss makes a dollar, I make a dime, that’s why I poop on company time.” The difference between the dream of owning your own business and making it a reality is putting action behind your thoughts. Some people do this the smart way and start to build a side hustle until they feel they have something strong enough to sustain them going out on their own. Others jump into the deep end with no safety net. The problem many new entrepreneurs face is that they don’t know what they don’t know about the business side of things. When you’re on your own, you have to provide your own toilet and buy your own toilet paper.
Creating a business as a contractor, not just buying your job
At the startup stage, many contractors feel like “beggars can’t be choosers” and they take anything they can get even if they know the project is light on profitability. There is a process of moving from pennies to quarters as you scale up the quality of your clients. At the core of your business you must understand what Michael Gerber outlines in his popular book, The E-Myth, ““If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic!” You need to decide whether you are going to be a sole proprietor and charge a premium for your high quality work so that you can build a future for yourself. Or, you need to operate like a business and charge enough to build a team.
Building a future for yourself and your business as a contractor
The skilled trades person who takes the gamble on themselves to start their own business often has to learn business by trial and error. Where many of these errors start in construction is not properly charging for your services. You have to learn how to price yourself right for your market, in relationship to your hard costs (overhead) and with your vision in view (profit) so that you can achieve your dream, not just own your nightmare. The right mindset and habits for estimating are critical to your success, which are topics that Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, takes head on in his latest book Be Intentional: Estimating.
Mastering the business and leadership tools that will enable you to thrive as a contractor
As you build your business, it is helpful to have standardized systems that help with checks and balances so that you are not just going with your gut on every decision. In construction the standard has been resources such as RS Means, which provides pricing guidelines for trades, services and regions. Another option, which is common in insurance claims, Xactimate provides tools for contractors to enable them to write consistent estimates while also producing production plans, budgets for materials as well as targets for labor and duration.
The value of mindset and habits as a contractor building a business
Whether you are a startup or have been operating for some time, if your business is struggling to be profitable, you may need to look no further than your estimates to start fixing your business problems. You may think this is an oversimplification but think about all the stress that a bad estimate places on your process, your production and your profits. A poorly written estimate leads to poorly structured production plans which leads to poor execution, unhappy customers, frustrated teams and sinking profits.
To quote from Be Intentional: Estimating, “Strong estimating mindset and habits will help you to provide resources to invest in your process so that you can identify issues, resolve them, repeat and build upon your success.” Clear communication via developing strong internal processes for core aspects of your business such as estimating, will help business owners to be more efficient, reduce scope creep and produce quality revenue.
Start your process with the right mindset and habits as they will be hard to change down the road. Set yourself up for success by successfully setting yourself up to succeed. If the end product is causing dysfunction, track your way back to the start of the project and fix your structure by starting with your estimating process.
This first appeared as Garbage In, Garbage Out (Part 2): The Imperial Order of the Work Order for my monthly column, The Intentional Restorer in Restoration and Remediation (R&R) Magazine.
Manager 1 complains, “I can’t get my workers to stop going to the hardware store multiple times in a day.”
“How detailed are your work orders?” the friendly neighborhood restoration coach asks.
For this segment of “Garbage In - Garbage Out” (see GIGO 1), we will discuss how an organization can align their processes with their vision to ensure they are not undermining their goals. We will take a trip down memory lane and construct this article in the fashion of the Choose Your Own Adventure Series paperbacks that were popular in the 90s.
As I have said before, I am a bridge millennial. I am technically Gen Y but I believe that my perspectives and experiences are more in line with Gen X. With The DYOJO Podcast, my goal has been to help growth-minded professionals to shorten their DANG learning curve, which often requires listening to and learning from those who have been there, done that (BTDT) and lived to tell others about it. By utilizing a structure that will bring some nostalgia to 90s kids, let’s see if we can unpack some of these common dysfunctions in the skilled trades.
How do you think Manager 1 answers the question we posed above regarding work orders?
Paragraph 1 - Definition of a Work Order
“What’s a work order?”
Define a work order: what should be in it and why it is important.
My second-ever article submitted to R&R was a little expose titled Peeling Back 5 Layers of Communication in a Restoration Business. In this article, we dug into the many layers that contribute to a customer calling your office wondering what the heck is going on with their project. Another common dysfunction in the skilled trades.
Again, in order to fix this, we will need to address the system from top to bottom and will need every layer of our organization to be invested in the restoration of our process. Communication is our organization showing our customers that we value them. Clarity and consistency is our organization showing our employees that we value them.
In order to achieve the ever-coveted, rarely-achieved accountability in your organization, we have to communicate clearly and consistently at every level of your organization. In the layers we discussed:
Younger readers may be surprised that even in 2010, I arrived at one of the largest restoration companies in our industry and they were still using carbon copies for hand written work orders. There is nothing wrong with old tech; use what you have and make it work. But, if your handwriting is illegible (which is the case for most people in the skilled trades), then you're not setting your team up for success if you are creating work orders that no one can read.
We quickly adapted our process to printed work orders which were much easier for everyone to read. As we added team members who were more tech-savvy than me, we further adapted our work orders and scheduling to Google calendar. I can tell you that we tried almost every app and software available at the time and found most of them took more time to manage than the actual work.
The shared calendar allowed us to put job relevant information into the hands of those serving our clients. A good work order does not have to be complex, but it must contain key details such as customer name, contact information, jobsite address, scope of work, and should even include budgeted time so that your team has a target to shoot for.
Now that you know what a work order is, you will want to advance to paragraph 2 to learn about creating clarity and/or advance to paragraph 4 to learn about developing consistency in your process.
Paragraph 2 - The Importance of Clarity
“They’re pretty good. Why are you busting my chops?”
For a work order to be effective, it needs to be clear enough to provide the details necessary for the receiver to be able to work from the orders. When the person assigned to the work reads the document, they should be able to comprehend:
It is important for people in a position of leadership to keep in mind that the goal of a work order is to communicate with the person(s) who will be assigned to complete the work assigned. It is not enough to document what the writer thinks is clear; those composing the work orders must work to ensure the information can be understood and executed by those on the receiving end of the transmission.
I heard a great analogy in regard to instructing a child to clean their room.
Parent: “Clean your room.”
Fifteen minutes later the parent returns and finds that the child has not cleaned their room to the parent’s satisfaction. Who is at fault for this failure? Many managers, and parents, might say:
Parent: “It’s common friggin sense, what’s wrong with you child?”
If you are in agreement while you read this segment of the article - advance to paragraph 1.
If we take it seriously, that effective communication requires those in a position of leadership to work at clearly and consistently transferring information, then we can clearly see that the child was not set up for success in the scenario above.
George Bernard Shaw aptly states, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
So, what should the “clean your room” work order look like in order to enhance the opportunity for a better outcome?
Parent: I want you to clean your room. By this I mean, I want all of your clothes put away or in the dirty clothes hamper, your toys put away in their bins, and your bed made nicely. I will return in fifteen minutes to check on your progress. Do you understand what I have instructed you to do?
If you are ready to work on improving the process, advance to paragraph 4.
Paragraph 3 - The Illusion of Competition
“I’d like to see how Company X does their’s any better. Give me a break.”
Why would it matter what other companies are doing? If the bar is low among your competitors, making yourself feel good about your own lack of clarity doesn’t solve anything to prove that you are on par with the status quo. You are in competition with yourself. Your ability to make progress towards your goals is dependent on your ability to motivate yourself, your management team, and your technicians to raise the bar internally for your organization.
It’s time to return to the start and select the answer that most closely reflects your thoughts on the matter. For example, if you are deflecting because you don’t actually know what a work order is, advance to paragraph 1.
Paragraph 4 - Developing the Process
If this is true, why is it that you are not getting the results that you seek in reducing waste by curbing the unnecessary trips to the hardware store that opened our story? You may believe that your communication is clear, but this dysfunction is revealing that there is still work to be done either in truly creating clarity in your work order (paragraph 2), developing consistency in your process (paragraph 5), or holding people accountable through a plan of improvement (paragraph 6).
I have written at length on the process of developing the right mindset and habits for yourself and your team to succeed with estimating insurance claims in my first book, Be Intentional: Estimating. If you have a desire to dig further into these principles, as well as prepare your team to communicate scope more effectively from the estimating stage onward, you may find this publication to be of value.
To review the scope communication process advance to paragraph 5.
If your work order process is clear, as outlined in paragraph 2, and you have developed a consistent process, as outlined in this section, it may be time to move into the discipline phase.
If it’s time to discipline - advance to paragraph 6.
Paragraph 5 - Establishing Accountability
Whenever information has to translate from an estimator, to a project manager (sometimes one in the same), to a site supervisor, or carpenter, your scope communication process must be clear and consistent before employees can be held accountable.
A work order, as defined in paragraph 1, is a transfer of critical information so that all parties are clear on the scope of work. Before you can hold team members accountable for multiple trips to the hardware store, you must confirm whether they have been set up for success at the project start up.
It’s one thing when management holds people accountable, it’s another thing when team members understand the vision and values and are empowered to hold each other accountable.
The author of Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud, has said,
“If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes.”
Many years ago, my beautiful wife went to work with my team on several large school projects. We needed people we could trust to do what they were instructed by the team. My wife was more than capable. She worked well with the team and has some fond memories of her time with people who stand out as some of the best that I have worked with over my career. They weren’t the smartest or the most talented, in truth, we assembled a rag-tag group of people who fought for each other and worked hard to do it right.
One cool story that came out of the experience was my wife seeing more of what went on behind the scenes. She confirmed what I already knew, that our team was committed to doing it right, doing it efficiently, and doing it excellently. Because our process was clear and consistent, the team held each other accountable to the standard that we all believed in. I am reading The ServiceMaster Story by Albert M. Erisman, in which he has a great quote from the founder Marion Wade,
“Don’t expect to build a super company with super people. You must build a great company with ordinary people.”
If you want accountability, focus on clarity (paragraph 2) and then build consistency in your process (paragraph 4). Even if you have an accountable team, there will be times when you have to discipline - advance to paragraph 6.
Paragraph 6 - Effective Discipline
My next book, Be Intentional: Culture, is a collaborative effort with several talented authors who have been there, done that (BTDT) and lived to tell about it. Our goal is to share real world experiences with those mindsets and habits that either enhance or undermine your efforts to build on your vision and values. In the opening chapters I discuss how those in a position of leadership need to understand that in many ways people are like banks - you have to make emotional deposits (credits) if you want to effectively make emotional withdrawals (debits).
As a person in a position of leadership, you often have to address issues in your organization (correction). Before you can build or expect accountability in your culture, you must build a foundation of clarity and consistency:
If we return to our opening scenario, our manager, like many people in a position of leadership, is frustrated by a clear example of waste. When workers make multiple trips in a day to the hardware store, you are losing on so many fronts. You are losing productivity, money, trust, and the list goes on. Lisa Lavender and I recently teamed up to share some thoughts on reducing common areas of scope creep in property restoration.
In our market, a trip to the hardware store consumes at least one hour. If you can reduce one trip to the hardware store, you gain one hour of productivity. Over the course of a week that is five hours of productivity gained. That’s almost an entire shift that your worker is either losing productivity or gaining productivity.
But before we can put all of the blame on our worker, people in a position of leadership have to face the music and ask themselves whether they have created a process of communication that is clear, consistent, and thereby facilitates accountability. We are quick to use, “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” as an indictment against our technicians when this responsibility starts with the organization, the management team, and the internal processes of the company before it ever reaches the ground floor.
*Credit: This article written with the help of Tiffany Acuff applying her keen eye for editing
Throughout the skilled trades, many people struggle with finishing drywall and finishing concrete. In this article we will discuss some of the foundational concepts relevant to drywall repairs. By reading this, you will either have a better understanding of what you need to do in order to make your own wallboard and texture repairs or be better educated to hire and judge the quality of a contractor for your drywall project.
There are numerous reasons why a home or business owner would be looking for drywall repairs. I adapted this article from one that I wrote back in 2008 when I had my own construction business. Prior composing my thoughts, I was getting a sandwich at a local eatery when I overheard a group of teenagers bragging about how they had just finished repairing the walls from a party that got out of hand. These teens were hoping that their parents wouldn't notice the drywall patches when they returned. I still wonder who was more surprised.
My friends in property restoration know full well that doors are notorious for having a grudge against drywall. People have been known to poke, punch, or even fall through sheetrock at various stages of life.
A few facts about gypsum wallboard systems:
Regardless of the source of the damage to your drywall, you now have to decide whether it is worth spending your time to repair these areas or if you will hire someone else to complete the task for you. Whether you are doing the repairs yourself or discussing the cost with contractors, you may find these points helpful:
Once the damage has been cut out, the wallboard supported and installed, and the various coats of joint compound have been applied, the surface is ready for texture. Texturing a drywall repair adds another level of complexity. Wall textures vary from smooth, to lightly applied "orange peel", to heavy textures, knockdown applications, and many hand troweled variations. For the texture to blend, it often needs to be applied at least one foot (preferably more) beyond the furthest point of the joint compound layers.
If you are a new contractor struggling to charge consistently for your drywall repairs, you may find this video to be helpful. Jon Isaacson, author of Be Intentional: Estimating, discusses some of the key line items for building up a drywall repair scope of work in Xactimate. If you are looking for drywall repairs or reconstruction after water and/or fire damage, please check out our friends at All American Restoration Services (AARES). AARES co-sponsors our live show, South Sound Connection which airs every Tuesday at 9am PST.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a 19 year veteran of the property restoration industry and a business coach through his organization The DYOJO.