(With Jesper Cook)
Our company, Millworks By Design, is one of the largest high-end trim companies in the Los Angeles, CA area. We started our company in 2007 with the resolve to run it differently than the other outfits in the area. We saw opportunity in the lack of professionalism and organization one finds in some of the other companies around us.
Our plan was to build a company that was efficient in all aspects, not just carpentry. We wanted every encounter with our staff to be an enjoyable experience, from the initial estimating and RFI submittals to invoicing and the final punch-out process. It was our vision to not only produce high-quality finish carpentry packages, but also clear, professional, paperwork, and excellent customer service.
It has been three years now, and while we have learned many hard lessons, endured a shoddy economy, and generally feel battle-hardened and worn, our vision has remained unchanged. We’ve learned a few things: mainly that we don’t know much, but also that the most important asset this company has is the people who work here. That is why we realize that promoting and nurturing a great “company culture” is so vitally important to seeing our vision become reality.
One thing we have learned about company culture is that it must be constantly communicated. If we expect our people to uphold a certain set of values, we need to make sure that they know exactly what is expected. We have tried many different methods of communicating our expectations to our employees, and would like to share one example with you.
In order to properly introduce this particular method, we have to set the context by telling you two things about our company:
1. Part of our payroll and estimating system requires our field carpenters to keep very accurate time sheets. Every single item on a project has been assigned a unique cost code that must be referenced on the carpenter’s time sheets. To ensure accuracy, we require that each carpenter carry a clipboard with his timesheet, and that he hang it on a wall close to his work area. This makes it easy for the foreman to check his crew’s timesheets to verify that the hours worked are being logged with the correct cost code. (We frequently have projects with over five hundred cost codes, so double-checking the timesheets is very important.)
2. When we hire a new employee, there is a lot of paperwork, part of which is a four page, categorized, written policy, titled “MBD Production Staff Policy,” for the new hire to read through. Its purpose is to clearly define our expectations for our field-based staff regarding things like client relations, productivity, jobsite behavior, material handling, safety, tools and supplies. The document is complete, and very effective in communicating expectations, but the reality is that it just isn’t read very often.
Recently one of my foremen, Jesper Cook, recognized the need for two things: A uniform clipboard with a company logo, and a “Cliff’s Notes” version of the Production Staff Policy that was placed where it would be read frequently.
First, we summarized the Production Staff Policy into ten key points that could fit on ONE page. We now call this condensed policy the “10 Steps to Success at MBD.” Second, we found some clear clipboards that are designed to receive an inserted form. Instead of printing custom clipboards, we were able insert an MBD logo on one side, and our “10 Steps” document on the other. Now each man on the crew has a company-issued, professional looking clipboard, that contains a clear reminder of our company’s expectations for our production staff.
As a side note, experience has taught us to never do something permanent—like having clipboards custom-printed—until we have all the bugs and edits worked out. We like to implement new ideas quickly, so that we can measure their success, or find out if they don’t work. Finding ways to implement ideas cheaply and without much commitment allows us to scrap the idea if it doesn’t work as planned. The idea with the clipboard is in the testing stage now. If we feel that it is an effective tool for our crews, we will invest in custom-made clipboards with our logo and our “10 Steps” permanently printed.
10 STEPS TO SUCCESS AT MILLWORKS BY DESIGN
1. GET ORIENTED
Before starting any new task, fully understand the scope by obtaining and studying all relevant data, including the work order, plans, drawing, etc.
2. SET UP THE WORK AREA
Set up all necessary tools, equipment, and materials before staring the task, and keep them as close to the work area as possible.
3. GET ORGANIZED
Keep shims, supplies and tools neatly organized and separated by type. Maintain a dedicated plan table at all times.
4. THINK AHEAD
Predict potential issues and take action before it’s too late.
5. BE PREPARED
Have all necessary tools and equipment at hand before starting any work.
6. LAY OUT WITH PRECISION
Use layout sticks and story poles. Make sure all dimensions work out before installing any millwork.
7. PRACTICE GOOD HOUSEKEEPING
Run hoses and cords neatly and out of walkways. Maintain walkways, tool stations, and work areas clear of debris.
8. BE EFFICIENT
Minimize wasted effort due to double-handling materials, or making unnecessary trips to work stations.
9. BE RESPONSIBLE
Own up to your mistakes, and learn from them. Never blame your tools or someone else for a mistake only you could have prevented.
10. BE PRODUCTIVE
Work hard to complete tasks within the allocated time. Have a sense of urgency and look for ways to get more done in less time.
(Photos by Boots Cadby)