As a frequent speaker at industry meetings, I see the consequences of cell phone over-reliance. At every scheduled break, between seminars, I witness a sea of contractors and their employees with cell phones glued to their ears.
PLANS VS. CALLS I'll confess that I've listened in on a few conversations. They include discussions such as what size nails to use, how big the opening needs to be, who to call to get a certain piece of molding, or what to tell the homeowner regarding a delay in the project.
Remember how things got done before cell phones? For good companies, this was a time when days were planned in advance. Work came with some kind of map, and employees followed it. They were given written or oral instructions before they left the shop. Plans had measurements on them, such as specific door and window centers and rough openings. Production managers didn't have to make constant trips to the field, and carpenters didn't make constant trips back to the office.
When I ran my remodeling business, I made it a practice to provide enough instruction at the beginning of every day for two to three days of work. If the crew got stumped on one task, they could switch to another until it became practical to communicate with the person who could resolve their problem. Jobs were always moving forward.
I got my first mobile phone in the early '90s. Instead of undermining my responsibility to help my employees be productive and accountable, the phone became a tool used only in emergencies.
Nobody else on the team had one. My carpenters had pagers. To reach me, they had to page me and request a call back. We even had different codes to indicate whether the page required a response within the hour, any time that day, or immediately.
My lead carpenters eventually got mobile phones, but mostly used them to contact vendors, subs, and other lead carpenters — not the office. Because we had systems in place, leads rarely used their phones to ask questions they should have been able to answer.
OWNER 9-1-1 For many contractors these days, life without a cell phone could bring business to a virtual stop. That could be an indication of a blurring line between running a business and running in circles.
If you lost your cell phone somewhere between Starbucks and the office, how would you know if the plumber showed up? If your employees couldn't call you to tell you about the vent pipe they discovered in the wall, what would they do about the placement of that window? Who would decide where to get the framing stock and who should pick it up?
The emergency in these situations would not be that you couldn't answer these calls. It would be that your employees had become accustomed to you making all the decisions. Your cell phone has caused an endless chain of reactive conversations because your employees, and maybe even your customers, expect an immediate response to everything that comes up.
HANGING UP OLD HABITS If you're spending too much time answering calls from your employees' cell phones, and too little time growing your business, it's time to hang up a bad habit.
You'll find that it's more effective to build a team that follows instructions than to field phone calls and put out fires. The loyalty you build by empowering employees to make decisions will yield repeated rewards. They'll develop the confidence to handle important responsibilities, and you'll gain the freedom to concentrate on a much bigger picture.
In the end, putting down the cell phone and demanding more from your team may be the most important call you ever make.
— Shawn McCadden, CR, CLC, recently sold his Arlington, Mass.-based employee-managed design/build remodeling business. In his second career, he is director of business innovations for DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide; email@example.com.