In a recent column about managing production with a lean crew, I suggested using subcontractors as labor/managers to increase production without adding the burden of ongoing labor. To make this work:
1. Put it in writing. Clearly define roles and responsibilities for both the subcontractor and your company. Don’t assume the sub understands the job; write out every detail and describe the support you will provide to make sure this partnership is successful. If the sub will supervise other trades — whether simply meeting a trade on site or being responsible for scheduling and managing that trade — include that in the agreement. Also include how the sub should handle client-driven changes and issues arising from unforeseen conditions. You and your sub should review and sign this document every year.
2. Train for customer service. Many subs lack the benefit of your experience with successful customer service. Some assume it involves great craftsmanship, and they neglect critical areas such as communication. Also important is how they handle cleanup, jobsite protection, and the schedule.
3. Pay properly. Be sure to think through the process and include enough money for the sub to both complete the work and manage the job. If you have had in-house lead carpenters in the past, review the hours required for them to complete a job. Remember: independent workers are often motivated by money, so sharing some profit with them will buy loyalty when a job doesn’t go smoothly. Compensation is key in making this a win-win for both parties.
Make sure you or a manager are available to answer questions and deal with problems — even the most experienced subs will have questions and require support.
4. Evaluate. Ask clients for feedback about the sub’s performance. Use that information and your own observations to evaluate them. Meet in person to provide constructive feedback after each job and adjust systems as needed to improve process.
5. Take precautions. Protect yourself and the sub by checking insurance, workers’ comp, and any required licenses required in your state. Doing this up-front research will save you future trouble.
—Tim Faller is president of Field Training Services and author of The Lead Carpenter Handbook.