How My Team Restructured an Entire Electrical Contracting Firm
You’re about to read a post that’s a part of a blog series from Gary Fuchs, our Workforce Management Advisor. Want to take a step back and read his earlier blog posts? Or skip a few topics and read ahead? Here’s a quick table of contents to help guide you:
Post 1 | How to Start the Workforce Evaluation Process
Post 2 | The Ten Commandments of Project Execution
Post 3 | The Construction Industry’s Supervision Model is Broken (Here’s How to Fix It)
Post 4 | How My Team Restructured an Entire Electrical Contracting Firm
Have you ever heard these phrases from your General Superintendent?
- “It takes what it takes.”
- “The estimate is wrong. We’re doing everything we can to save the project from total disaster.”
- “Just get us the material and we’ll get the job done.”
I’ve said these phrases many times myself. That’s because I was a General Superintendent at Westphal & Company. As a matter of fact, the General Superintendent I referred to in my previous blog post was me.
I was promoted to Vice President of Construction and we immediately named my successor to the General Superintendent’s position. We simply stayed the course by using the Workforce Supervision Model (be sure to read the pros and cons of this model in my recent blog post). Why? Because “that’s the way we have always operated.”
As a result, we continued to experience labor cost overruns on many projects. Our GS was extremely talented. We also had him overburdened with duties outside of his area of expertise. If you are a member of upper management, your primary job is simply capitalizing and maximizing each employees’ abilities. We were doing a poor job of getting the most from our GS’s talents. This problem continued to gnaw at me, and I was struggling for a solution. I was failing and needed help.
All in all, we were doing a less-than-adequate job controlling the largest expenditure and riskiest aspect of our business. This is not acceptable. But there is a better way.
Westphal & Company was a member of a peer group with several large electrical contractors from different geographical areas across the United States. At one of our meetings, I was expressing my frustration and concerns over my sense of failure and lack of ideas to fix the Supervision Model problem.
The Operations VP from a large electrical contractor in Seattle, whom I have the utmost respect for, simply said, “I had the same problem. We identified the need to get the Project Managers involved. So, we eliminated the General Superintendent position. In effect, we tore up the GS’s job description and promoted him to a different position within the company.”
My first reaction to this was, “Are you crazy? How can you possibly manage a 1,000+ workforce without a General Superintendent?”
But it may have been crazy enough to work.
Now I had a new issue gnawing at me. How could I pull this off and will it really work?
I took the idea of eliminating the GS position to our company President, John Westphal. We debated the pros and cons of what impact this move would have on our company for several weeks.
John called one final meeting to notify me that he had come to a decision.
His response was something to the effect of, “There are times when it’s necessary to take bold action. Our procedures and approach isn’t broken. As crazy as this may sound, let’s break it and see what happens.”
This was an overly exciting and defining moment of my career. John gave me the green light to fundamentally change the direction of the company. Moreover, I had the opportunity to engage the Project Managers and enhance their influence on every project. I couldn’t wait to get started.
Shortly afterwards, I announced to our team our intention to restructure our labor management model. I informed the PMs of their increased responsibilities in workforce management. I informed the GS that his job title and job description was changing. Needless to say, I wasn’t the most popular person in the room. Furthermore, I now had another problem. I needed to make this work.
I needed a platform to give our Project Managers and Field Foremen the ability to collaborate. I needed to replace the traditional operational hub of the General Superintendent with a platform or system that would support our efforts. I had enough experience with spreadsheets and internally written customized databases to know that neither of these options were very appealing. I knew I needed a database written and supported by professionals.
We settled on piecing together a patchwork of software and communication systems (us contractors are very creative). Our solution was mediocre at best. It had many flaws and was difficult to maintain. Nonetheless, we used it as best as we could for a year or two.
In late 2015, we found the only platform that would truly support our efforts and consolidate all aspects of workforce management into one cohesive experience. The platform is LaborChart. Along with our efforts prior to the implementation of LaborChart, our company fundamentally changed into a highly proficient and profitable contracting firm. After working with LaborChart, I realized just how bad my own workforce database “band-aid” was. Unlike LaborChart, it was time-consuming, manual and prone to errors. LaborChart fixed all of that.
I was proud of the progress we made in restructuring our workforce management model. However, our work was just beginning. In future posts, I’ll explain how we integrated LaborChart into our operations and how we capitalized on LaborChart’s platform to maximize profits. I’ll also talk about the merits of the Workforce Management Model and how it flips the standard Supervision Model on its head.
For more on how Westphal & Company launched its LaborChart platform, read the case study.
Until next time,
Workforce Management Advisor