Hey guys. I am curious what other small shops do to keep their guys motivated and jobs profitable.
We are a small family owned and run shop. We have 6 employees on the shop floor, We are a very custom shop. We never build the same thing twice. Sometimes we are building kitchens....sometimes radius cabinets....interior or exterior doors. So obviously that works against us as we do not have repetition. All of our guys are well paid with benefits, and they deserve it they do work hard and are very skilled. But we find jobs that we expect and that should take 30 hours run into 40 hours or large kitchens that should be 200 hours take 230 hours. You can see where profits would be lost. How do you motivate with out cracking a whip and yelling faster? No one wants to work in an environment like that.
I am very curious to see what you all come up with for responses
First thing is to determine if the jobs that take longer that planned/budgeted do so due to shop problems, or if the time is the real time it takes. This should be known as a shop like yours should review all work to see how the estimating stacks up to reality.
If your estimates are off, you need to correct that. No amount of motivation will offset short build times for long.
As for the motivation, kind words, positive rewards and lots of genuine backpats are good motivators. Don't over do it, and be sure to be genuine. Take photos of complete work and hand them out. Talk openly about your pride in their work. An employee that is told they are important to the company, and feels they are part of the company will develop well in a good environment. Be sure any new hires are well integrated so they will not poison the rest.
It is hard to peg financial rewards directly to job performance since you don't have repetition, but I will also bet you know who the stars are at various things. Let them know when you hand out yearly cost of living raises, or better yet, bonuses. You are fortunate indeed to have success, be sure they know they are a part of it.
Offhand I would say you are underbidding the jobs. If people aren't making mistakes and everybody is working at a normal pace then the jobs were likely shorted some time.
With custom work like that it is very hard to calculate a specific timetable. There are always some unknowns in custom. It's never straight forward, especially with curved work.
If you are pricing the jobs to get them, then you'll always have a problem. You need to price the jobs to make profit on them. It's always hard to lose a job, but sometimes it's the best thing. Especially if you are paying out to give the project to someone.
We do a daily meeting (15 mins max) where we discuss among other things, how is work progressing compared to what is expected.
I would think in your situation, a meeting that discusses: how far someone is into the project, how much time they have used so far, what was the difficulties they ran into, was the estimate under bid, is there something that can be done to bring it back in line if behind, congratulations if on or under schedule.
Teach them why you need their feedback to determine if it is you who under bids or is it something in the process or operation that is slowing them down. If process or operation, work together to solve the issue.
Also a bonus could be tied to speed of completion. If a job is bid as 8 hrs and the work actually takes 8 hours, they get hourly wage. If a job is bid as 8 hrs and the work actually takes 7 hrs, they get a bonus of 1 hrs pay. Just a thought.
It's tough to increase how we price a job based on our shops production. In a competitive market we can only charge so much. I do believe shop meetings are a good way to go and is not something we have really ever done or needed to do . As I think about the root of this more , we lost key 2 key employees in the last year and half . Each one moving out of state to better their lives and prepare for retirement . Replacing people like them who understood what it took to get a project done has been our biggest struggle .
And your right Mark, I'm not sure any incentive would really ever make an employee work as quickly as we can or do. And probably not for the lack of wanting to, but perhaps because we focus harder on the jobs .
Lots of good advice above. Just to add a bit from the "employee" perspective...
Listen to your guys when they tell you what went well and went badly. (The listening alone is a good motivator.) Try to channel that into your next estimate.
If your estimates are, for lack of a better term, crap, then don't tie any incentives to them. That is absolutely guaranteed to demotivate your people. Or cause them to cut corners massively and hope that neither you nor the customer will notice the lack of quality.
Since you talk about losing your senior guys, are your now-most-senior guys out on the shop floor regularly scratching their noggins to figure out how to build such-and-such a detail? If so, maybe you need to step in with a planning process that kicks off prior to the build. (And, I know that sometimes things come up in the moment, but the more you can anticipate, the less downtime.)
We've been using a new method to integrate inexperienced workers in to our shop. We have never used this approach before and it's possibly never been used on face of cabinetmaker planet.
Phase 1 for this integration has been to specifically delineate every step of the manufacturing process. A drawer box, for example, has five parts. The front of the drawer box will have holes drilled in it to seat the drawer face to. The back of the drawer will have notches to receive tandem drawer slides. It's important to separate the fronts from the backs because a new person can easily perform the wrong operation on the wrong part.
Getting them to remember to do this separation can either depend on memory or it can be a sequence that is crossed off a list. Our lists are laminated and we used colored wet-ink pens to cross off the tasks as they happen.
Phase two for this integration has been to practice the operations. It used to be that the first time somebody actually stepped up to bat on the edge sander or side saw was when they were cutting or sanding something that belonged to a customer.
The problem with this approach was that we had a ton of money already invested at this point and the inevitable failure was going be unnecessarily expensive. At the same token we usually always have some obsolete cabinet doors for some reason or other. We have the new guys practice trimming and edge sanding on these orphan doors.
One of the difficulties of integrating new people into the shop is that the veterans (who don't want to train anyway) don't have the time for this distraction. They can help mentor in limited doses but they need to get something built and can often build it faster without help.
Rather than having the new guys constantly pestering the veterans or just polishing the concrete we now have them practice. A 4x8 sheet of plywood is going to get cut up into six base cabinet sides. We now have the new crew in charge of breaking these pieces down. There is a fair amount of fall down from the initial sheet. A finished base cabinet side for us is 580mm x 771mm. The new guys first break it down to 610 x 813 then trim it to 600 x 800 then trim to 590 x 790. The final cut is done by a veteran but we've been able to use the first efforts to get people used to slinging material around the slide saw and stack parts to see if they are square.
We have two apprentices in this mode at current time. One of them is now very adept at breaking lumber down and getting it dead straight on the jointer. The other one can drive sheet goods. They are using these manufacturing lists to teach each other.
They are both very passionate about getting it right and really enjoy the lists because they don't want to fail. A booby prize to this approach is the veterans are picking up their game too. They see this shadow coming across their work bench and realize that others can be taught to do this work too.
Most of these guys have played football in high school so the concept of practice is not unfamiliar. The football team practices four afternoons a week for the Friday game. As soon as they can a build a practice drawer successfully we let them come off the bench. Their wages a tied to how game time they get.
The place to focus is on your training systems. Put your energy into the system and not the guy. Let the system pull the guy through the training rather than push them into the deep end with a sink or swim approach.
These guys want to be successful. Give them the very best opportunity to be successful and you'll a be more successful.
Ooh, I have an apology to make. Re-reading what I wrote earlier about crappy estimates sounded way more harsh than I meant to. Further, I have no idea if your estimates are good/ bad/ or indifferent, so I really shouldn't have sounded so judgmental. So, my sincere apologies.
If you are the owner of your company like I am, then I have to assume that your time is at a premium. I can only imagine how much time it took you to come up with such a system, to write all the instructions and create all the cue cards.
Just like you probably believe in the idea that you are creating a better employee than your competition, and this gives you an advantage, the manner in which you spend your time as the most critical person in your organization is also important.
Does it concern you that at most shops the owner does not spend their time on this kind of thing because they outsource their drawers, they outsource their doors, they don't cut every single side panel 3 separate times using 2 separate employees because they have a CNC router do it perfectly the first time? Does is concern you that while you were laminating your cue cards, the other owners were spending their precious time refining other more important processes than how to build a drawer box?
Your post indicates that you are probably a very sharp and focused individual.
Are you applying this skill to the right things?
A long time ago I used to outsource doors and drawer boxes.
A problem I would come up against fairly often was the typical door company (I worked with four of them) would stipulate in their catalogue that "a warp or twist of 3/16" is not considered a defect". The quality of the doors that would show up were not appropriate for the marketplace I worked in. Our projects were all flush inset. We probably built 7 out of 10 jobs with fully mortised butt hinges. A door that is warped or twisted will work fine for overlay projects but not for flush inset.
We probably bought 400 dovetail drawer boxes before we realized work was stacking up in the shop. Whenever this would happen it usually had something to do with a drawer box that wasn't in the building. Our vendors would brag that their 7 working day lead times were the best in the industry. Seven days, however, sometimes mean 11 or 12 depending on how the weekends or holidays stacked up. This is a fine lead time.......... until it isn't.
We consequently chose to get really good at building doors and drawers. Being able to build a door or drawer gives us an advantage over someone who has to wait for a door or a drawer.My drawer lists are part of a campaign to get even better at this.
I do agree with you that small cabinetshop owners wear too many hats. Given a limited bandwidth I elected to learn how to write a database and create a website. For my company creating and managing a list is as easy as writing a post for the wood web.
I chose not to learn the nuances of CNC because if the things that CNC was good at were absolutely free, I would still have to solve the other 90 problems to solve.
All strategy is based on lists.
The list may be in your head but it is still a list. We have things now like i-Pads. There is no reason to use nineteenth century management systems.
Gavin, do you have some sort of second-in-command on the shop floor?
I find enthusiasm contagious. Roping in Mr Everyday into sharing cerebral energy may help up the enthusiasm by making the projects a little bit more "theirs too".
Guy on a shop floor following along projects and helping direct often results in information sharing with other shop guys. Shop talk at breaks will happen--lots better if they discuss how to get the project moving then peanut gallery your endeavors (people really do tend to do that).
Riggles, don't worry I understood what you meant. There are alot of companies that do not bid their jobs well from time to time . If we bid a job poorly we never hold our shop guys responsible. If there is one that we bid poorly we understand it is not the shops fault. They try very hard and certainly do want to see the company succeed. We are a profit sharing company.They understand that and appreciate we take care of them like family, as in our eyes they are. Our company is only as good as the people working within it.
I would be the second in command. We are a family business ( my father and uncle started it in 1987) . I am the second generation. I have been on the shop floor for as long as I can remember , since a young child I can remember sweeping the shop floors and sanding . I probably have sawdust in my blood! I do within reason bring up shop talk at breaks and I like to mention when someone is doing something well or working on a fun project. I try to applaud good work but also try to not bring up negatives during break.
I appreciate all of the positive feedback from this post. For anyone following or who has posted I believe areas we lack and that were suggested are
- communication. Weekly meetings to discuss progress and business.
-training. we have newer guys that are great carpenters but new to our shop.
- on top of everything we did implement CNC technology a year ago. The shop guys may also be reacting to this still.
Chad, I agree that the time Coach was using to train new employees was time that he could have put to producing a product. However, by investing his time into the new hires, they will be able to more work than he could by himself. That is the goal of the game. To have others do the work, so we can deal with the many other things that happen during course of our day.
I started using checklist training several months ago and it has helped . First, it helped me and my existing crew as we had to put in writing all the things that we did. That was eye opening to how each person varied in how they did the job. Now we have one way that works for all. And that is all the new hires know. They are not taught any other way, so they do it the same as everyone else which means that the product produced is consistent.
There are many motivators for people. Most positive motivational items involve recognition of the employee as an important person. So, small things work...recognition of birthdays, family things like kids illness, graduation, etc., a shirt with their name, hats, special treats at DQ when they do something that you want to continue, you cooking a BBQ luncheon for them, you cooking lunch for them and their family, and so on. A key is that motivational items are unexpected, so a salary increase is never motivational as they expect to be paid. But a bonus is motivational. When a visitor comes to the shop, make sure this important person is introduced to employees...this shows how you respect your employees. Involve employees in decision making, especially when the issue involves an area that they are knowledgable about. Be flexible in work hours, especially if a worker has a spouse or child that needs to go to the doctor, etc. with grade school kids, giving the worker a long lunch so they can have lunch with their kid at school.
Consider posting the employees pictures in the office and giving them a title that represents their skills.
Whenever possible, as the employees for their solutions to the problems. This is much better than dictating and also shows that you respect their ideas.
Every employee will get this recognition and will be motivated, so the key is for you to provide it, rather than the bowling team, church, club, scouts, etc.
As an added note, 60 years ago there was an idea that the color of the painted walls was important, and indeed, when painted green, performance improved...for a while. Then when painted blue, performance again improved...for a while. They finally recognized that it was the attention being paid to employees and not the color that was the key. Form this work came a theory on motivation by Maslow that was and still is effective. In this theory, if an employee is worried about safety, health, security, etc., including spouse and children, you will find it hard to motivate them with recognition...they have more basic concerns that will motivate them.
I took a semester class on motivation, so this only scratches the surface.
We are able to get around the problem of time over runs by making each job a sort of subcontract. We agree a price to do the job, be it one chair or a whole kitchen, with the individual or team that is doing the job. The men draw their normal salary while the job is on going, If the job finishes sooner than the paid for elapsed time and is on quality, the balance owing on the job is treated like a bonus. It is agreed that if the job goes over, the job is completed on the worker's time.
Both management and staff share responsibility for getting the labor costs right before the client is quoted. Under pricing a job shows up as a reduced pay envelope. If we have to cut price in a tight bidding environment everyone involved agrees pricing and strategies. With a fixed labor cost, we have to really have something unforeseen happen to kill the job's profitability - and that does sometimes happen.
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