April 24, 2010

What Baseball Can Teach You About Running Your Glass Shop

By Paul Bieber

1. Eat plenty of hot dogs.

2. Work only in the spring, summer, and hopefully the fall.

3. Since you only have a limited number of players, it is better to have players that can pinch hit, play an extra position and teach the younger players coming in from the minors.

Sure, it’s a cheap shot at a headline, but since glass and baseball (or is it baseball and glass) are the important parts of my life, this makes a great intro to a column on the value of having your employees and co-workers cross-trained in many areas.

Don’t put this off another day. If you are a two-man shop or have twenty glaziers. Give your metal workers enough background so they can pitch-in when an extra hand is needed on a large glass installation. Teach your shop people how to write up a sale at the counter, how to use your computer system to see quotes and how to answer the phone, getting enough information so you can call back with answers to the customers’ questions.

The average worker is off-work 20-30 days per year, between vacations, sick days and events like jury duty or funerals. You cannot afford to be caught short. As your employees get better, and gain more seniority, they probably earn more vacation time–so your best people get more time off than your rookies. These gaps can be easily filled with planned cross training.

Don’t wait until three days before Mollie is on vacation in the office, or Fred is away from the screen table. You cannot afford to tell customers that Fred is on vacation and you will get to their work in three weeks. Believe me, they will find another source.

Establish a cross training program that gives each employee at least two weeks of training in another position each year. Yes, it does cost money to do this. Yes, you can’t see the return on this money that week or month. But when you need it, and you never know when, it becomes the most valuable investment you have ever made.

Make it part of the job responsibility of your senior people to become trainers. When you do your employee reviews, rate each person on his or her success as a trainer, and make their success in this area as a key indicator for raises given. Tell rookies that his or her growth depends on how much they learn, and this will impact how much they earn. After all, a shop or office person who does two jobs is more valuable than one who can only do one.

It starts with management. Trust your people that they can learn. Instill in all of your folks that learning is important to you, to the company, and to their own performance. You need to know a little bit about every job in the place. Spend a day once a quarter shadowing one of your workers. You will be amazed at how things have changed since you did the same job many years ago.

I have never seen a successful company that didn’t have an established cross training program. You will never win the World Series unless your full team can work together and step up to the plate when necessary.