When the Owner Stops Being Part of the Crew

grouchy foremanI was working with a roofing and siding company recently and the owner, in the process of switching from running his crew to running his business, confided that he was having trouble estimating labor. “When I’m on the roof, the crew can do X square/hour, but as soon as I leave, they suddenly are doing 1/2X square/hour. I don’t understand it. I’m used to estimating based on my being on the job, and suddenly I’m underestimating labor.”

As we discussed the advisability of having a designated supervisor or foreman, he told me he’d tried, but had disappointing results. “I work with a guy and I pose technical challenges and he gives me good answers, and technically he’s competent, but as soon as I get off the roof, problems suddenly arise that slow down the work.” As with any crew there was also the problem of longevity vs. knowledge. Some employees expected to be “led” by the crew member who had been with the company longest, but more recent hires with better skills objected.

I had no idea how highly valued longevity was before working with a company in which I had to put together a job assignment board and (logically, I thought) listed the employees alphabetically. The owner took one look and said, “Oh, that will never work. The boys will be offended.” Bewildered, I learned that every document involving an employee list had to be arranged by date of hire, with the latest hire last.

When faced with this situation, you can either pick your best leader regardless of how long he's been with you or how skilled he is and provide him with technical and supervisory training, or you can look outside the company for your supervisor. Any potential supervisor/foreman/lead within your existing crew, unless he also happens to have been with the company longest, may face huge resistance from the rest of the crew if he is perceived to have been unjustifiably endowed with more power, authority, and (perhaps) money. Better to outline your plans to move from field to office ahead of time, and explain that you are going to hire someone to replace you in the field. Make sure they understand that this person's job is not just to keep the job runing smoothly, but to be responsible for paperwork and communication with the office (and perhaps the homeowner).

Stressing the difference between the duties your crew perform so well and the duties of the new position may smooth the way for the addition of a supervisor/foreman/lead to the group.