By John T. McGrath, Jr.
In a world of tight construction timelines and even tighter budgets, it is critical for the floor covering installation industry to keep operations and productivity as efficient as possible. Unnecessary downtime, critical mistakes due to a lack of training or communication and poor leadership skills can not only push back your project completion date, they can hurt your bottom line and damage your reputation – preventing you from securing jobs in the future.
Even though floor covering installation isn’t the only trade on the jobsite, setbacks add up and can compound delays from other trades. According to a 2015 KPMG construction project owner’s survey, only 31% of all projects came within 10% of the budget in the past three years. This means 69% of projects were more than 10% over budget. Just 25% of projects came within 10% of their original deadlines, with 75% ending up more than 10% over budget. Additionally, the vast majority of cost overruns came down to one component – labor.
While hiring educated, certified installers might be the first step to creating a winning team, there are a number of other factors that influence the project’s successful completion. Here are four of these factors and how they can help contractors and business owners complete jobs quicker while boosting employee morale at the same time.
Instill an Entrepreneurial Spirit
When you think about efficiency, you probably think about productivity. But when you think about productivity do you think about motivation, communication, transformational leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit? This is the disconnect in the industry right now.
So many contractors and industry leaders have put a focus on hard skills, when finding and cultivating talented young employees with an entrepreneurial spirit is just as important.
The entrepreneurial spirit is an attitude towards change. When in this mindset, employees actively seek out change rather than waiting to adapt to future change. The entrepreneurial spirited employee embraces innovation, critical questioning and continuous improvement.
Creating an environment that fosters, encourages and rewards employees who show entrepreneurial initiative is critical for the future success of the floor covering industry and should be praised on the jobsite. Every company across the entire flooring industry should be proactively developing curriculum that furthers the industry with advanced training and market specialization.
INSTALL is dedicated to constant improvement with advanced training and a belief that successful installers never stop honing their skills, never compromise their standards and always focus on long-term development.
The curriculum used in the INSTALL training program is developed by the Carpenters International Training Fund with input from industry leaders and manufacturers. To stay on the cutting edge, it is regularly reviewed and updated by technical and education experts. This includes concrete polishing, infection control risk assessment and moisture mitigation.
No matter how well trained and educated installers are, they need the right environment to thrive. This starts at the top in the form of responsive and transformational leadership.
Fight for Responsive, Transformational Leadership
For many years, bosses used fear and consequences to drive the jobsite and keep apprentices and installers on task. From threatening employees with termination to rewarding speedy installers who placed deadlines over quality, these tactics may have worked in the short term, but they ultimately drove a wedge between boots on the ground and management.
Simply put, employees are no longer putting up with this management style. In fact, relying on fear can have a major negative influence on the mental health and productivity of your employees. Fear-based leadership turns an employee’s attention inward instead of outward, causing employees to go into survival mode. Instead of focusing on the company’s outcome and the quality of their work, they are concerned about keeping their jobs. It also has a negative impact on communication, fostering an environment of intimidation.
“As younger generations continue to take over key roles in the floor covering industry, leadership has become more responsive and transformational,” said Randy Eppard, Ph.D., Executive Director, Department of Education and Training, United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC).
Eppard has dedicated the vast majority of his career to understanding the science behind adult learning, leadership and the science behind human resources. Prior to joining the UBC he spent more than 15 years in the field of organizational development and training.
In recent years, Eppard has applied his research and teaching to developing an experiential curriculum for the UBC that stresses the importance of emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. This curriculum also helps disseminate the importance of a constructive culture on the jobsite.
“If you can be a transformational leader it will drive a constructive culture,” said Eppard. “What we know from the research is that a constructive culture has the highest level of productivity and efficiency on the jobsite.”
Foster a Culture of Collaboration and Communication
Constructive cultures place value on teamwork and communication, something that is sorely lacking on some jobsites. This begs the question, how do apprentices, installers, foremen and other team members learn to communicate on a higher level? Or, how do we create a workplace environment where people consciously listen and communicate effectively? The answer may lie in the foreman.
“If you look at the research, a lot of the data says that the most important person on the jobsite is the foreman,” says Eppard. “He or she is running the job down the ladder – apprentices, journeymen, installers – but has to communicate with everyone up the ladder – project managers, sales directors, vice presidents and owners.”
Because of this, foremen must communicate efficiently and effectively with people who carry a different level of vocabulary and education. They are nowhere near as influential or persuasive if they don’t have these skills, which makes them a valuable asset to any company.
Foremen also understand the enormous risks of owning and operating a business as they are keyed into the financial health of each project.
“We have developed an exercise based on this where individuals run a mock business and are responsible for its financials,” explained Eppard. “It helps young apprentices and installers realize the inherent risk of business ownership and has helped bring down silos between different types of positions, from journeymen through foreman to project managers,” he added.
In addition to growing vocabulary skills and instilling a sense of the big picture behind each installation, it’s important to create a transparent workplace where communication is regular and constant.
For example, rather than a lengthy meeting before a day starts, quick check-ins allow project managers and foremen to assess the productivity of installers on a regular basis and can give instructions on how to best proceed. This also makes sure that all workers are kept on their toes while avoiding a decline of productivity throughout the day.
Place an Emphasis on Jobsite Training
“When I was running jobs in the 1980s and 1990s, the biggest problem I saw was a major lack of training and communication outside of the classroom,” explained Jeff Moore, instructor and subject matter expert with the Ohio Carpenters’ Joint Apprentice & Training Program. “While things have gotten better, some apprentices still aren’t getting the right training on the jobsite.”
“I strongly believe that our industry can achieve the best results by having an education program that allows for us to periodically work shoulder to shoulder on the job with apprentices and journeymen alike,” added Moore. “By exposing young apprentices and installers to a wide variety of settings and experts, they can learn to talk to everyone.”
“When apprentices, members and instructors work together in the field it creates the perfect blend of classroom teaching and real-life experience and then ultimately, everyone wins,” he said.
“Contractors and clients win because the job is more likely to be completed on schedule with quality workmanship,” he added. “Plus, the members win because they get immediate feedback that helps them master a skill and allows an opportunity to correct any errors before time and materials are wasted.”
It’s important to note that the instructors also win in this situation because they can see firsthand whether the use of the techniques taught in the classroom are applicable in the real world. This gives them an opportunity to adjust the curriculum when needed.
“Even though the UBC has many programs helping apprentices, installers and foremen on projects big and small, they can’t be 100 percent successful if not everyone is getting the training first hand,” concluded Moore.
There’s No Magic Formula
A number of factors influence the successful completion of a floorcovering installation project on-time and on-budget. From extreme weather to construction delays to economic downturns to product failures, the elements are sometimes stacked against you.
While there’s no magic formula, instilling an entrepreneurial spirit, fostering a collaborative, transformative workplace and placing an emphasis on jobsite training can help you create a happy, efficient and valuable team.