|(From L-R) Cameron and Michael Logue, James Fowler|
For most businessmen, it is the bottom line that counts and little else seems to matter. My father was one of those contractors—he felt anything that was not putting mud on the wall was a waste of time, or even worse, just useless overhead. I once asked about estimating projects, as I was an estimator. He said he understood the unfortunate necessity of estimating but that I was just adding cost and cutting into any potential profit. The only time I was of real value to the company was when I was putting mud on the wall.
I would think most people reading this would agree that is an extreme take on business principles and value, but that kind of thinking always made me wonder, could he be right? I have been around long enough and been involved with projects from small patch jobs to multi-million dollar projects with plaster/drywall, and I can tell you my father was wrong, dead wrong.
What he missed was the human spirit and need for all humans to interact, connect and feel of value. This is important to allow people to be productive and most importantly be productive as a team. Everyone is of value: the bookkeeper, estimator, supervision, mud slinger, et al. My father’s approach actually had the opposite effect on our company than the one he was trying to achieve, which was ultimately productivity. “Team building” was not even in his vocabulary. He believed it was akin to not putting mud on the wall, a pointless waste of time.
I recently was invited to go on a fishing trip that the employees of two major Los Angeles wall and ceiling contractors promote annually. They call it “Fish Hard.” It is set up not as an expensive fish outing with all the trappings of a sales pitch or a good ’ol boys club; it was designed as a father and son bonding trip where fathers and sons can bond. The campground is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Everyone pays their own way. The companies will typically put up some money for a final night potluck with some gifts for the younger boys.
The father-son bonding is important and by itself worth the investment. But the companies also benefit in bonding with their employees in more ways than they may know. As my son and I would walk through camp in the early morning or late evening, we would walk by camps of other fathers and sons, some he knew, some I knew. We would stop by and share a cup of coffee or beer (if age appropriate) and meet colleagues. We talked about all kinds of things, even work-related topics, but the most important aspect was getting to know these people on a different level. This is what team building really is—it’s more than just project numbers or quotas that need to be met. It’s about building a team that shares a common goal of working together and being successful—and that has a huge impact on the final bottom line.
You may be asking me, “Did you ever point out to your father that he was not putting mud on the wall, thus he was useless overhead too?” I danced around the subject quite often but was either too smart or fearful to make that bold of a statement. He was a successful lath and plastering contractor from the 1950s and 1960s. For those of you that know these types of guys can understand that challenging them in this fashion was not typically a wise move, even if he was your dad! W&C