So things are rolling! Sales are up. Design and estimating are busy, more so than ever. Production is at capacity and the backlog, for the first time ever, is six months. You have more prospects than your company can serve calling, several saying that waiting six months is no problem.
You move your office from the center of all this activity to a quiet place in your building. Routinely you ask your key people, “How are things going?” and you hear, “Fine.”
Then it all hits the fan.
You find out that the production department is overwhelmed. In fact, the big jobs the company is doing are not going to end on time and job costs will be more than budgeted. Work has to be redone. Estimates that you were told would be done by a certain time were not even started. Clients are upset and confused.
What about you? You are so stressed you have to take a day off, shutting off your phone and not checking email, simply to get a grip.
Now what? How to get all this turmoil under control?
Sit face-to-face with each of your key employees and ask, “What can we do to get our company functioning well again?” Look them in the eye. Say: “We are all responsible for what is happening. How can we stop feeling overwhelmed?” Take things slowly and draw them out. Get a clear, complete list of every project and its status. What is going wrong? What has gone right? What are the ideas for getting things back on track?
First Things First
Prioritize the list with your team. You each can only do so much, so which situations hold the most risk for the company? Deal with those first. Then work with your people to take the needed actions. Some of the conversations with clients won’t be pleasant. However, having those interactions will start to reduce the stress.
No More “It’s Fine”
As the leader and head manager, your people will now have to prove what they say is true. What does that look like? Instead of asking, “Will we complete the Smith job on schedule?” and then accepting the answer, you want the production manager to walk you through her schedule, developed with the lead carpenter on the job, for getting it done. Ask questions. Look at the schedule as if your butt depended on it being accurate, because it does!
Walk and See, Not Wait and Find Out
Visit the jobsites at critical points in the projects. That could be before concrete is poured, before insulation goes in, and a couple of weeks before the project is supposed to be done. Walk the job with your production manager. Ask questions. If there is something that requires investigation before you can be provided an answer, then agree on when you will get the answer.
Don’t Forget Sales, Design and Estimating
Somebody must verify that the designs are fitting the potential clients’ budgets. Somebody must check the estimating to make sure it is accurate, especially for big projects. These activities don’t take you a lot of time. However, they must be part of the company’s way of doing business or the company will go out of business.
Catch Your People Being Part of the Solution
In the midst of all this frustration, you need to help your people be focused and inspired. The best way to do this is praise those who are doing things right. Be specific. Do it publicly so others will learn by example. Avoid hammering those who make mistakes. You will demotivate everyone.
Let Go Those Who Are Not Part of the Solution
Remember that you are running a business that makes money by producing positive results for its clients. You are not running a care home where employees can work forever even if they are not performing their jobs effectively. By reducing the number of people in your company, sometimes just by one employee, you gain a better sense of control. It is inspiring to work with good employees. It sucks the life out of you to work with people who make problems that you get involved in solving.
Most important, keep in mind that it won’t always be like this. You are in the midst of a period of stress which is creating the need for change. That is part of being in business.
Finally, as long as you are breathing and are in this world, things are pretty good. Perspective helps you see beyond the present. When you are six feet under your to-do list will be blank. In the meantime, this is life.