As contractors, our primary business proposition is to provide roofing goods and services to our customers by estimating and managing the materials needed and labor associated with covering and/or repairing a roof. Within this context, labor is the aggregate of all the human (physical and mental) effort used to produce those roofing goods and services. So, when you ask a question about whether we have a handle on how much time employees are paid for but not productive, you are essentially asking us to tell you if we have a handle on the production of our business and managing the resources needed to produce value to our customers!
Wow – that’s a loaded question that I’m not real sure how to answer. My guess is that most of us in the industry would say that we must have some idea of how to handle employee time or we wouldn’t be in business anymore. However, we probably all feel like we can do a better job at managing employee time and production. Since stepping into a leadership position about 5 years ago, I can honestly say that our company has worked hard to improve our time management processes and I’m not sure we are any closer to getting a handle on this than when we first started.
Initially, I thought our paper tracking system was an old and inefficient way to manage time. So, having 80% of our field coming from the millennial generation and beyond, we felt the need to transition to a mobile solution to track and manage labor and productivity. Even though we spent a good amount of time implementing this new system and training our employees, we quickly learned that the software app could track the same details that we were using on paper; however, it was cumbersome for our foremen to get on their mobile device every time a daily task changed. They spent so much time messing with their phones that timekeeping became the primary focus and not production.
To minimize this problem, we decided the mobile solution only needed to track time and not productivity. Not happy with this limitation, we explored another mobile time management system that was connected to our accounting package to streamline our processes and make it an easy clerical function. This too failed, because the very nature of making timekeeping a data-entry function allowed our leaders to forget about their responsibility to manage production. Recognizing these problems, we’ve gone back to a paper tracking system and are currently in the process of determining how to move forward from here.
One thing I have learned over the last couple years is the importance strategically aligning our objectives with a “shared” vision. When we first jumped into changing our time management objectives, we failed to get buy-in. And ultimately, we were not able establish the oversight, control and discipline to improve production.
So, last week when preparing to write this article and to create some buy-in, I decided to challenge our branch to answer this same question and brainstorm solutions. The results were interesting, to say the least. I asked for estimators, project managers, and field managers to give their input into this issue from the perspective of the areas of the business in which they work the most.
The overarching theme that I discovered was that the field sees the issue entirely differently from our project managers. Project managers, who are often results-oriented and sometimes short-term/quick fix influencers, commented on things like “wasted time at shop at the beginning of the work day; wasted time at the convenience store on the way to the job site; and taking lunch breaks beyond what is allowed.”
Indeed, these issues are prevalent in the industry and require oversight. There’s a lot of wasted time and money in these distractions that are happening every single day. Contrast that with the issues that field managers felt were critical such as “laborers not being directed what to do; lack of training and wasted opportunity for laborers to get better at their jobs; one person working with two people watching.” These issues are equally critical and contribute to wasted time and money. Interestingly, estimators and PM’s were focused on lost income, while field managers were focused on wasted talent and skill.
You’re all asking, “how do we solve this issue?” Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer. However, I do see a problem and realize the problem is bigger than can be solved with the stroke of a pen, a new policy change, a memo to employees about wasted time, etc.
The only solution is acceptance of the idea that wasted time is a universal issue, not an isolated one. All businesses at all levels, small and large, profitable and unprofitable, on any part of the big blue planet, suffer from the issue of wasted time and money. Timekeeping, labor productivity, training, wasted time and money…these issues should and will be part of our company’s strategic Enterprise Risk Management plan. By establishing an ERM continuous improvement model to change our operating environment, we are able to:
There will never be a day where we sit back in our office chairs, fold our hands behind our heads and say, “finally, we’re as efficient/productive as we’re ever going to be. We finally solved this problem.” Rather, we will continue to see the up’s and down’s, the good days and bad days, of what it means to be in business. Somedays will be great, others not so great. But by staying focused on improving our businesses strategically and aligning our objectives with a shared vision, we are able to address the full spectrum of its risks and manage the combined impact of those risks as an interrelated risk portfolio - which in my opinion is movement in the right direction.
Monica Cameron is vice president of Diamond Roofing. See her full bio here.