Management Structure


From original questioner:

I have a small custom millwork shop (4 employees) and am having a few management issues. When I hired my 3rd employee, I found myself moving into a pretty narrow management role. I do the drawings, paperwork, CNC and paperwork which leaves little time for direct oversight of employees. Unfortunately, it turns out I don't have anyone who can both oversee others and keep production moving. Some of my younger guys are a bit from the "entitled" generation in my opinion. (They want a good wage but kind of want to be spoon fed). I'm thinking I need to hire a part-timer to deal with the office and get myself back in the shop where I can more directly communicate my expectations. Is it better to hire an office worker or is it better to find someone with leadership skills who I can make foreman?

From contributor ja

I had to learn that Woodworking businesses are not to be compared to McDonalds as a business model,,,, look for a pro with some work ethic, if he were your next hire one of the pre-maddona's will leave and hopefully leave a lesson for the others, make sure your instructions and what you expect of them is clear, One more small thing that works well for us,, Smart phones to take photos and text them. I have had the same problem and with 8-9 guys on the floor still run my company using a CPA, and a outsourced draftsman for shop drawings..

hired a Temp to hire office person (doped up on anti anxiety pills as I would come to find) and had a disaster that makes pre-maddona wannabe woodworkers look like Princess's

From contributor Pa

The way I see it it there are two irreducible dynamics that have to be present.

One to drive work out the door and one to drive work in the door.

If you try to do both it will be difficult.

And as the old saying goes if you want to manage it you have to measure it.

From contributor Jo

James & Pat,

Do you have any tips on where to find a pro with a good work ethic? I guess maybe I should be asking what are the proper methods to attract those kinds of people. Craigslist ads tend to solicit some strange sorts (even when I have done my best to make it clear what the job will require). I have also tried trade schools but I tend to get very young guys with that "entitled" attitude who think that because they passed a class I need to pay them top dollar.

In short, my question is: How do you find your workers?

From contributor ca

A four man crew pretty much requires a full time office guy in order to keep them fully supplied with a job to do, engineering and cut lists to do the job with and materials. Without management (choreography) these guys aren't capable of throwing off enough profit each day to support a full time manager. Someone in this position at a nominal $25 per hour wage rate is going to cost you $30 -$35.

To feed this guy each one of your other four are going to have to kick in $60 -$70 each day just for him to hold their clipboard. If all he is doing is holding a clipboard this is going to be tough to sustain day in & day out.

You're going to make more money driving that ship from the bridge than you are from the engine room. The thing you want to focus on is developing systems to help these guys manage themselves.

The "entitled" generation is, unfortunately, what we have to work with. This is not going to change. Our fathers won the war so our children have to be spoonfed. What you need to develop here is the "spoon-o-matic".

The only "spoon-o-matic" you have is lists.
Lists are how we get through the day. The list may be in our head but it still a list. In spite of being entitled your guys still want a sense of accomplishment and lists give them that. They want to know what to do next and they want to know what is coming down the pike. They want to be able to plan their day.

While their desire to be successful is real this desire only rises to a level of ambivalence. (They only report to work under duress) They can fully agree they should enhance their skillsets but not, of course, at the expense of giving up watching House of Thrones.

Taiichi Ohno, in discussing the need for workers to write their own SOP, wrote that for this to happen the worker must first be convinced of it's importance. You're probably not going to get anyone on your crew to make these lists for you so you will need to do this from the bridge.

As soon as you develop a list based management structure you can then encourage or recruit someone to help manage, modify & improve those lists.
Anything that is not written down must be imagined or remembered and that seems pretty tenuous.

From contributor Pa

No easy answer..

3 ways:

Train your own, steal one/hire one from another shop, partner with some one

This really means that your shop has to be competitive with other shops regarding having work and a good place to work at.

Organization is the key, not just the way you organize the shop, but the way divvy up the hats, and hold the line of who is responsible for what. Think Emyth as this is imperative. (similiar to Tim's lists)

Attitude is more important than skill, if you have an existing person with a bad attitude they will sour your new hire quickly. If you find yourself hiring new foreman frequently I can just about guarantee this is the situation as the existing guys are trying to protect their jobs.

The sweet spot for small shops is 2 guys, if you can do this you will make more money. Error on the side of buying technology over workers. Or outsource.

I think shops that do residential work have the owner at the front office but if you do commercial work the owner is in the shop. But trying to do both is probably a mistake.

From contributor Le

If you have a few good guys and one that seems "entitled" then bring him into the office and tell him he's on the short list to be let go. If he cares he'll pick up, if not then you didn't need him anyway. Fire him in front of the others if you want to scare them a little.

From contributor Pa

Leo you must be old school? That is funny, but a bad idea.

From contributor Le

I am old school. Why? Because generally it worked. Is this bad because it is politically incorrect? Because PC is way down low on my list of things to care about. If you have a worker that is slowing you down, costing you money, or even slowing others down you talk to him and tell him how it is.

If you have a group of people that are this way you pick out the worst of the bunch and make an example of them in front of the others. I don't mean degrade him and yell and scream at him. Just fire him in a justified way in front of the others so they might get a fire under their keisters.

Keeping dead weight on the team for the sake of being nice is a sure way to failure as a business.

From contributor Pa

"I am old school. Why? Because generally it worked. Is this bad because it is politically incorrect? Because PC is way down low on my list of things to care about. If you have a worker that is slowing you down, costing you money, or even slowing others down you talk to him and tell him how it is."

Just reminds me of some old bosses with drinking problems. I don't see how it would create a desirable effect on anyone.

I think a more effective method would be to measure a workers production. From this let him know what is needed from him in order to keep the shop progressing.

From contributor Le

You treat your good workers great and you prune the ones that hold you back. You are there to work, that is your function. And during the working period you should be doing your assignment. If you can't do it or you are distracted by modern technologies or you are of the entitlement class that expects everything to be handed to you on a silver platter then you don't need to be employed by someone such as myself.

I don't have any employees by choice. I have run several shops and my employees have come up and told me that I'm the best boss they ever had. They were good employees, did their tasks, asked the right questions and I treated them with respect.

If you come to work thinking that the employer owes you something then you have the wrong attitude. If I am paying you then for the most part you are following my rules, not the other way around. If I don't think you are good enough for the task you are doing I'll bring you down a notch and keep doing that until the notch is the door, don't let it hit you in the rear as you collect your last check.

I am fair and just and I expect the same from the employee.

And I don't drink.

From contributor Bi

I like this guy Leo. The PC thing in society right now is pathetic, everyone is afraid to say anything to anybody. One thing I don't do is reprimand, or fire in front of other workers. Praise in public, reprimand in private. Treat your guys with respect, be direct, and fair.

From contributor Ch

"Praise in public, reprimand in private."

I agree with that method. You don't need to fire anybody in front of the crew just to make a point to the crew. Unless you have complete dummies working for you (then you may have more problems than you realize), they will get the message.

I have also seen the general morale in the workplace head markedly upwards when the boss (me at the time) got rid of the problem personnel. Believe me, they were quite happy about it. My predecessor was an "enabler" who felt sorry for some people and let them slide. The rest of the team resented "carrying" the low performers who were getting the same pay for screwing up. I had no control over the pay scale, but did have direct input into the termination process. Depending on the severity of the mistakes, they were given verbal and/or written warnings. The procedure was already in place. My predecessor just never used it. I did. And, it worked.

From contributor J


While the expectations you espouse are laudable they are not necessarily realistic, or at least how you manage those expectations is no longer viable. The world has changed and we need to change with it.

Not only has the crew changed but so too have the customers. It used to be that you had a little buffer zone to respond but today you have email and if that isn't too fast for you try texting. You can establish all of the ground rules you want but if you wish to remain relevant the only ground rules that apply are those that are important to your customer.

According to your new employees THEY are the customer so to work with this crop you have to serve it to them the way they can assimilate it.

The OP was lamenting the need to spoon feed his workers. Unfortunately that is the outcome of a generation of workers raised on Sesame Street. They have no attention span and retain little. You have to give them their information in the dosages their containers can hold.

Which brings us back to lists.
When you ask the crew if they got something done they will, (to a man, respond) "I can't remember but if it was on the list I did it. I got everything done that was on the list"

If a guy can't remember whether or not he has actually done something how is it realistic to expect him to remember something he in fact hasn't done? Yet somehow our "production managers" persist in passing out tasks using the same grunt & point methods that were in place at the time of the civil war?

We are a tough bunch. You can say that for us.

From contributor gr

Its weird but it feels like I am going thru this right now. Shop owner, good partner, five guys on the floor(on a good day) and this twenty seven year old who worked a whole ten days for us quit by email without notice because he didn't like my management skills.
The day before he started I had an operation on my hand, my long time foreman had started his his three week wedding honeymoon thing a week before, my wife and partner was dealing with the loss of her thirteen year old dog and my finisher had to take a week off to deal with cancer.
I have no idea if a feeling of privilege comes with a generation and I am sure my mother thought I had the feeling but I am sure this kid(@27) had his head up his ass.
grey glove

From contributor Ji

Brian, I was in your situation. As my management skills are much better than my paperwork skills, I hired a part time person to handle the office paperwork. I now spend my time working with my crew on the floor, solving problems and general management duties.

Concerning someone who is not working to standards, I let them know again what the expected work pace and quality is. Give them a week to pull it up to snuff. If they don't, I help them out the door. My other employees appreciate it as it slows down the entire organization. Don't have time for someone who can't pull their weight.

Greyglove, concerning your situation. It sounds like you were having a perfect storm of situations. Managing all of that is hard. The new employee didn't have the history with you to understand the severity of the situations. Concerning using the email to quit, I feel that you are better off without the person. If they don't have the courage to tell you face to face or minimum voice to voice over the phone, how could you expect them to give you a honest answer to a question when they are working for you.