One Key Document to Better Manage Your Most Precious Resource

In some of my previous articles, I’ve discussed the importance of processes. This is because processes are a big part of a successful construction contracting business. In this article I’d like to look at how defining your policies and procedures in one key document will help you manage your biggest resource.

In construction, we don’t have the luxury of lengthy and thorough onboarding processes for staff. None of our projects are ‘practice runs’ – they’re real builds paid with by our clients’ money, and our reputations are at stake with each project we take on.

No Liberties Taken

Many have learnt a trade under someone else, usually as an apprentice. However, despite the theoretical part of that journey being somewhat equalized in a classroom setting, the really important stuff – the on-the-tools training – has been at the mercy of employers or supervisors. Everyone has learnt from a different teacher and those teachers can be anyone. So naturally, when you hire new staff for your team, you’re taking on crew members who have been trained and honed by others and not necessarily in your way – or the “right” way.

This becomes a problem when you throw your team’s newest addition in the deep end. Even if your company can afford a healthy dose of proper training and supervision for the new team member, mistakes can and do happen. So what’s a contractor to do? Documenting your onboarding process along with other processes relevant to a new recruit will ensure that even before they are hired your new staff are managed in a predetermined way that minimises the chance for things to fall through the cracks. What’s more, is that your supervisors and other crew members will know what’s expected of the new recruit and what their roles are when someone new joins your team. No guessing, no taking liberties, just a (mostly) seamless process that saves everyone time, energy, and money, and minimises mistakes with potentially serious consequences.

You’ll Wish You Did This Sooner: Defining Processes

By working within this mindset – and instilling this mindset in your team – you’re doing your best to minimise risk. We know that clearly defined policies and procedures give us a higher chance of getting our projects done within budget and on time.

Ideally, it would be great to start a business with a proper business manual already in place, but realistically this doesn’t usually happen. What is more likely to happen is that your business will grow to a certain size where documented policies and procedures are now needed. You really want to arrive at this realisation sooner rather than later. However, one big benefit of making the decision to create a business or operations manual is that to do so, you’ll need to take a good hard look at your business. This often leads to some important revelations about how your business is running. Defining roles may reveal gaps in responsibilities or even areas where labour is wasted on double-handling. Defining processes and outlining new procedures creates opportunities to identify where old ways have been lacking and how you can really tighten things up with a more considered approach. After going through this process, most contractors will find themselves wishing they did this sooner.

Choose a Format that Suits Your Business

Deciding which format or platform to use for your company manual is the first step to putting it together. In this age of technology, there’s nothing wrong with having a hard copy in your main office. However, it is worth considering a digital platform that allows information to be changed or updated and then distributed to all users instantly. There are some truly excellent digital platforms out there that are designed specifically for construction contractors. So if this is the way you want to go, make sure you get in touch with the provider and get a demo to find a version that is most suited to your business’ size, structure, and work type.

Now, I know what you might be thinking – what does this have to do with hiring a new chippy? Well, a business or operations manual will encompass all aspects of your business – including onboarding and training procedures and responsibilities. And this covers all positions on all levels, from apprentices to CEOs, and can also be extended to cover sub-contractors and external trades.

What Goes into a Business Manual

What should be in your manual? Well, as much or as little as you like. And remember, there are templates, and there are online or cloud-based digital platforms – as well as consultants who can assist to put this together. There’s plenty of guidance out there. But what’s most important is that your manual is relevant to your business and its operations. And remember, it can also be included in tender applications and investment presentations, so it’s worth covering all bases. Some of the following are worth including and thinking about:

  • General company information
  • Personnel contact info – and this means all personnel, even external contacts such as regulators, Safe Work or WHS contacts, sub-contractors, insurers, emergency services, and other regularly used services, etc.
  • Definition of roles – think job descriptions, who is responsible for what, etc.
  • Onboarding and training processes for new staff
  • Grievance and other policies
  • Employee Manuals – like induction manuals and other key documents used by employees.
  • Employee entitlements including pay awards
  • Bidding and tendering processes
  • Estimating and Quoting processes
  • Project planning processes
  • Incident reporting and handling

Keep it Updated

You can start to see from the types of information you include in this manual, just how beneficial it can be when employing and managing your staff. There’s a procedure for every step of the recruiting process, and – importantly – a paper trail for legal and compliance purposes.

Once you’ve got your manual in place, this is a very solid step forward for the profitability and credibility of your business. And don’t forget, you should review your manual frequently – updating outdated policies, procedures, job descriptions, pay awards, safety info, and also adding anything new that becomes relevant.

That’s my quick summary of the humble business manual. Not just a means of managing your most precious resource (labour) but also a resource in itself that will help prevent so many costly, unnecessary, and rooky errors.

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