I was in an email conversation this afternoon with a colleague and I gave him an all too short and brief history of how I hung up my tool belt. What I didn’t mention at all was some of the stories of how I got to the point where I could hand off most of the operation and management of the business to employees. This is one of them…
One of my favorite inspiring books on management is Tom Peters’ Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties. While reorganizing some of my bookshelves the other day I pulled it out and opened it to one of the many post-it notes that stick out of it and re-read a passage and some of my notes written in the margin that gave me some ideas on how to train my own staff and give them the “management experience”.
Midland Cabinet Lets The Market Turn Workers Into “Businessmen”
Robert Boynton Jr. owner of Midland Cabinet Company of San Carlos California, promotes entrepneurship among his 20 employees— and improves customer service along the way. Employees can use Midland’s new multi-million dollar facility after house to work on outside jobs. Boynton charges them 10% over material costs. Workers have to be on board for three months before getting a key, which allows them to come in on their day off.
Boynton refers customers directly to his employees if a prospective job is too small for Midland to do profitably, or if the shop is too busy to take it on. Some Midland employees do a dozen or more outside jobs a year. The privilege broadens employee skills and improves their business acumen workers claim. They learn how to set prices, negate their own deadlines and cut down waste time, which makes them faster and more effective during the regular workweek as well. Boynton doesn’t manage the relationship between employees and their customers once a job is referred. The worker is full accountable — to himself and his peers. One guy wasn’t delivering well at all, and that hurt everybody’s creditability, but the boss wants to keep this privilege going because it broadens us.” one cabinetmaker told us. “The guy did finish the hob, but not without a lot of nagging..He wasn’t reprimanded but he eventually left [Midland]. The company stays out of it, but if you mess up, they definite won’t recommend you for other jobs.” Employees ware also responsible for judging whether or not their extra jobs will eat into their energy during the regular workweek.
Workers end up learning so much about running a business that a half-dozen cabinet shops have started as spinoffs from Midland. Boynton is a proud papa. He adds that having his cabinetmakers build their business skill and lean to deal effectively with customer shows clients that Midland workers can handle any job—large or small.
— Chapter 22 Networks and Markets I: A First Look at “Marketizing the Firm” pg.341
If my recollection serves me right I read this in late 1997 and early ’98 and I wrote in the margin that I thought this was a great idea for training or grooming employees for higher positions or positions with more responsibilities. A few years later I started to do something that I am sure was inspired in some way by having read this year before.
I had created a small job service within my own business called “Housewrights” and essentially “subbed out” those smaller projects at times to one, then two, and then three of my best employees. I let them do all the estimating and planning for those small projects which trained them on my 360 Difference Estimating and Project Tracking software that I developed in house and would then just check their work to make sure I was comfortable with it. And then they would go out and do the job not for themselves like Midland does but for the company and if they needed a hand they could pull someone to work with them too. They were responsible for all the client-customer communication and billing for the job and collecting payment on it just like I seen the Lead Carpenter position described in some of the books and articles I’ve read on that methodology.
Eventually, the projects I handed off to them grew in scope and eventually, two of them essentially took over estimating and supervising the field operations from me and I became the company office manager /general director.
- In a sidebar to an article in FDMC Magazine: Midland Cabinet Co. – California Cabinetmaker Enjoys Being One of the ‘Old Guys’ Boynton again talk about the program at Midland Cabinet Company
- The Midland Cabinet Company – Fine Custom Cabinetry & Millwork website.