We don’t know when it will happen, but this phenomenally tight labor market will eventually loosen up. Until then, we still need to run our shops profitably. This requires taking a different approach to how we utilize the people we already have as well as how we recruit and retain new employees. I’ve discussed a few tactics in 2 previous articles: How Much Money Can Your Shop Make? (SRG Feb 2021) and Having Trouble Finding Good Help These Days? (SRG June 2021). Here are 2 additional employee-related strategies that can help you thrive in these challenging times.
FIRST – MAKE THE BEST USE OF THE PEOPLE YOU ALREADY HAVE
Dad always said, “It’s not what you’ve got that counts, it’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts.” In a time when finding good people to hire is tougher than finding air on the moon, effectively utilizing the people you already have is essential. A big part of that is ensuring everyone knows what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it.
An obvious place to start is to develop job descriptions that define roles and responsibilities for each position in the company. Even in small shops where everyone wears multiple hats, definition of roles and responsibilities is important.
Assuming everyone knows what to do, when to do it, and how to do it leaves you open to too many misunderstandings – and these generate costly mistakes. A good rule to remember is: If you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen. If you talked to an employee about the role you need him/her to fill but didn’t document it, then you wasted your time and their time. When you find out later the employee misunderstood your intention, you have to spend time getting everyone back on the same page.
There are many resources available to help you with job descriptions: NSI members can access their library of job descriptions; standard formats can be found with an internet search; you can download a format that I have used in the Free Tools section of my website.
Job descriptions are great at letting someone know what to do, however they don’t tell the person anything about how to do what they do. This is especially critical when it comes to quality standards.
How often does this happen in your shop – You find a top with a scratch or a chip that is about to be loaded on the install truck, yet you can’t find out how it occurred? Typically, we start asking a lot of questions to find out who did it, how it happened, and why it wasn’t caught earlier by anyone. After this frustrating inquisition, you might even gather the shop team and give a speech about how quality is everyone’s job.
The problem is, if quality is everyone’s job, then it frequently becomes no-one’s job. This leads to the attitude of “if I miss a scratch or a chip, the next person down the line will catch it”. The defect keeps getting passed through the shop until either the install crew has to deal with it or the homeowner calls to complain about it.
We all agree that quality should be core to what every employee does and that every employee should have a ‘quality’ mindset. The problem is very few fabricators have defined what quality means. Should your quality standards be the same for the sawyer and the CNC operator – or should they be different? What dimensional tolerances do you expect for a saw cut vs a CNC pass? How would an operator know those expectations? Where did you write it down?
Defining quality standards for each position in the company (front office included) is essential to building a culture of quality and consistently delighting customers with quality countertops.
NEXT – MAKE SURE YOUR NEW HIRES ARE SUCCESSFUL EARLY AND OFTEN
One of the challenges in this current employment market is keeping a new hire from disappearing shortly after they are hired. I hear countless stories about a new hire going to lunch on the first day and never returning – even to pick up their check.
One of the keys to keeping a new hire is ensuring they know you will help them be successful in their new job. In addition to defining the job well, this also requires taking the time to effectively train the employee.
Hoping the new hire will absorb enough information to be a good sawyer is also not a good strategy. To be effective, training must be structured. It must be organized. It must help the trainee understand why certain methods are important and how using those methods creates a quality product. Basic skills should be taught before more advanced skills. Evaluation of the employee’s mastery of each skill should also be structured. Feedback should be frequent and objective and should include assistance in any areas the employee is struggling.
If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.
Training is the foundation of job performance. Effective training includes having a trainer that understands something about good training methods. Pro tip: Assigning new hire Bob to follow your best saw operator Joe around for a month does NOT constitute effective training! Joe may be a great, long time, loyal employee who is a fabulous saw operator. This doesn’t make him a good trainer.
Technical schools and community colleges often have Train The Trainer instruction that can be helpful. A little forethought and a little structure can go a long way to improving your training outcomes.
If COVID has taught us one thing, it has taught us the importance of cross training. How many times have you had the only person who knows how to run a specific machine suddenly go home to quarantine for a week or two? Without good cross training that machine becomes an expensive boat anchor.
Cross training everyone in the shop can feel overwhelming. The easiest way to manage this process is to build a cross training matrix.
This is a simple spreadsheet with a list of employees down the left side and a list of jobs across the top. The matrix is then filled out showing which employees are qualified to run each job in the shop. Employees are typically graded as Competent, Qualified, or Master. Competent means they can run the job with some oversight. Qualified means they can run the job with no oversight. Master means they can teach others to run the job.
It is important that these grades are awarded based on demonstrated skills – a manager has personally graded and evaluated an employee’s skill for a specific job. Once you have documented your current status, obvious gaps begin to appear. These form the basis for your cross-training plan. You can get an example of a cross training matrix in the Free Tools section of my website.
If you are struggling with implementing lasting change in your business and you aren’t sure where to start, call me for a free custom assessment. I’ll help you get started by identifying some specific items you can tackle today.
You deserve to have a business that not only makes you money but also allows you time to enjoy it. Contact me at Ed@FabricatorsCoach.com or call 864-328-6231
[This article was published in the June 2022 Issue of the Slippery Rock Gazette, find it at: https://www.slipperyrockgazette.net/index.cfm/pageId/4586/How%20Much%20Work%20Can%20My%20Shop%20Handle%3F/ ]