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Thread: Management by the lowest common denominator.

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    Default Management by the lowest common denominator.

    This is a long post. If you do not want to read this long post but try to comment on the later comments it will probably cause repetition of subjects.


    ================================================== ========
    Real locators are not warm bodies and management by the lowest common denominator.


    One of the major problems in this industry is the practice of putting warm bodies into trucks. Just having someone employed with the job tile as Locator, Locating Technician, Damage Prevention Technician, Utility Designator, etc. with not enough training and poor post training development.

    A real locator is a responsible person in a highly responsible job. They are responsible for the life and limb of the excavators digging on their marks as well as the people living and working nearby. They are responsible for hundreds to thousands to millions of dollars of utility that if they do not do their job right has to be paid for by the locate firm. They are responsible for the most efficient routing of their work taking into account time of day, appointments, traffic and all the other factors that a computer program cannot deal with. They meet this responsibility and excel at their work. They have the attitude that they will excel at their jobs, that they like their jobs (though in the high stress environment of locating they will complain constantly), that they want to work in this industry as a career.


    The warm body is someone who does not care if they keep the locator job or not. They care not if someone is maimed or killed because they failed to properly mark a site. They care not if the firm loses a contract because they are charging for markings that were not performed. They will drop productivity in order to create overtime, do tickets on overtime they could have done on straight time. They will steal company material. And they will to varying extents cover up all these actions. The not so bright one’s will get easily caught and the more clever will not likely be caught. These employees have the wrong attitude and no amount of management oversight will change that attitude, not by just increasing supervision.

    The most common response to having too many warm bodies is to increase supervision, penalties, rules and procedures. But this is across the board and covers the real locators as well. The result is hobbling the real locators and the warm bodies still continue in their practices, they just cover them up better and the productivity of the good locators is negatively affected.

    Worse than the productivity of the good locators being negatively affected is their morale being negatively affected. Good locators are proud of their high production and low damage rate. Being treated the same as the bad employees is a bitter pill and gets people to thinking that they are not appreciated. This is part of what causes good locators to leave the firm or even the industry. Some become so demoralized they are no longer the good locators they once were and you convert them to mediocre or average employees and in worst case a warm body.

    Management by the lowest common denominator.

    When a warm body’s performance is poor it is supposed to result in direct supervision and correction of that single employee. Company wide changes are the result of so many warm bodies that they are beyond single employee supervision. A company wide change directed at all employees is management by the lowest common denominator. The lowest employees are the warm bodies and the common denominator is the job title of Locator.

    When management routinely implements across the board changes, be they pay cuts or micromanagement rules, they have lost control of their firm. They are responding to the lowest common denominator, the bad locators. The management of the firm is being dictated not from the foremen, shop supervisor, VPs or CEO. Effectively the bad locators are setting the company polices, pay scales, the entire operation of the firm. Failure to recognize this shift of internal power is common and perhaps universal.

    There is an old military saying, take the initiative. The meaning is that if you initiate an action your opponent can only respond. You know what their possible responses are and you prepare for them, you control the field. Taking the imitative also applies in business.

    When the warm bodies dictate changes the initiative has been lost and the company is responding rather than initiating change inherently losing control of their firm to the warm bodies.

    The only way to take back the initiative is to take the only corrective action that is truly effective, deal with the individual warm bodies one on one as single issues.

    By the time the warm bodies have taken over the management structure and team have degraded and are unable to deal with the warm body problem until their problems are corrected.

    When dealing with a warm body takeover of a firm the correction of management problems starts at the top. While the corrections must start at the top it is best understood if what is needed is explained starting at the bottom and working up. This is because what is needed at the top is the support the lower management needs from the top.

    The foreman is the direct contact with all locators and where direct contact with the warm body is most needed.

    The foreman’s job varies from minimal keeping an eye on things to the maximum that is really needed. The foreman is needed for employee training and development, support and morale in addition to keeping an eye on things.

    A newly trained locator has only the minimal skills needed to perform the job. They require further training and development and the only management position in place to do this is the foreman. The foreman provides extra field training that is not just ride with the foreman for your first week. It is constant and ongoing consisting of helping with difficult locates which gives direct training and paring the trainee with an experienced locator as a mentor. The foreman is also by nature of their position a mentor to all locators working under their direction.

    The foreman is directly responsible for the much of morale of their team. He or she must instill in their team a sense of unity and pride.

    Above the foreman is the general foreman or in smaller offices the office manager. Their job is to support the foreman in their duties.

    Nobody is born a foreman and like the trainee locators the newly hired foreman requires the same development as the trainee locator. Whoever is in direct supervision of the foremen must also see to the development and training of the foremen. Foremen require proficiency in locating in order to perform only a fraction of their job, the mentoring, training and development of the locating skills of their locators. Most of their work is “people skills” where they provide encouragement and guidance. They also need to have extensive knowledge of labor and workplace laws so the company does not incur liability for any noncompliance. Whoever is in charge of the foremen is responsible for the foremen learning all of this in addition to “keeping an eye on things” regards the foremen’s performance.

    Above the General Foreman is a person who is the shop / office manager. In small offices the shop / office manager may serve as general foreman.

    This Shop / Office manager provides directly or through various subordinates the supervision and direction of the General Foreman, the Fleet manager, the Equipment manager and the office staff manager.

    The general office manager needs to understand the objectives and needs of each of the internal divisions of their office. Let’s start with the General Foreman.

    The General Foreman needs support in being aware of the legal issues when dealing with employees. This support from within their own office can come from the Office Manager or a subordinate like the office staff manager.

    The equipment manger needs the support that will allow them to keep a sufficient inventory of spares, repair tools and an inventory system.

    The fleet manager needs the usual support in keeping an inventory of spare vehicles, a cost effective repairs shop either contracted out or in-house and an inventory system. There is one other area some fleet managers need direction and supervision, how vehicles are assigned.

    The office staff manager needs all the usual support as well as direction. Offices should run smoothly and transparently to the other segments of the workforce. Paychecks need be on time and accurate with no shorted hours. Paper work turned in by either locators or other employees need be orderly filed and not frequently lost. Rewriting lost paperwork is a big problem in some shops.

    Above the shop manger there is a regional manager or VP. Additionally there are the CEO’s Presidents, Chief Operating Officer and any number of other titles. What is needed from this group is the support to the shop managers for them to carry out their duties in routine business operations and influencing the direction of the firm.

    This group needs to carefully exam the budget which is a very difficult task. The principal employee in any locate firm is the locators as they are the only employee that generate income. Not even the CEO produces money when they sign a contract with a new client firm. All they did was reach an agreement where the firm makes money when the locators complete their work.

    It is from this top group of managers where the attitudes of the firm originate. The attitudes roll down hill all the way to the foreman like water irrigating a field of crops. If the water is clean and free of bad attitudes the firm grows. If the water is tainted with bad attitudes the firm falters and the beginnings of failure are sown.

    The top management must consider their principal resource which is not buildings, trucks, equipment or contracts. The principal resource are the employees and these employees must be given proper evaluation from the regional manager on down to the locator.

    Once the management team is in order the problems with locators can be addressed by the proper one on one meetings with the foreman.

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    Senior Member headcipher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Holy Crap!! It'll probably take most of my lunch tomorrow to read this manifesto!

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    Mke
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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    its 143 words shorter then the Una-bombers manifesto.

    Just kidding

    mke

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    Senior Member sprayandpray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Good points ProLoc, but I think you can sum it up by the following old saw:" You get what you pay for"
    I might not be as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was !


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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    all supervisors and management are all just glorified secretary's! the only people that matter are us putting the paint on the ground. with J**** C**** up here.
    Last edited by TheCableVine; March 22nd, 2010 at 09:31 PM. Reason: Removed name. Don't know if user wants their name posted if that is really their name.

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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mke View Post
    its 143 words shorter then the Una-bombers manifesto.

    Just kidding

    mke
    Actually it was almost twice as long until I edited it down. Unfortunately the Una Bomber manifest was better written.

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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Quote Originally Posted by sprayandpray View Post
    Good points ProLoc, but I think you can sum it up by the following old saw:" You get what you pay for"
    That's part of it. I have held this view for a very long time, seen too many draconian across the board rules due to warm body locators as a management technique.

    The get what you pay for part is part of the current situation that sparked me to write this out. Companies spending millions of dollars on electronic supervision and not getting the results they thought they were paying for. These firms have the problems with management infrastructure that I wrote about.

    I have a lot of conversations off list via PM and e-mail. At the firms like I mentioned good locators now have the productivity rates of half or even less than they used to have. They have been so saddled down with rules and electronic supervision they cannot work at a faster rate than a recently trained locator.

    The companies like I described are a threat to our job security because when they go out of business we lose our jobs. Just today a locator who has located most of their adult life told me they were just waiting for the firm to go out of business so they could get hired on with the new firm that gets the contract. The thing is if the new firm already has an office in the area they will not need all the locators that lost their jobs. I saw one firm pick up a contract and not hire one new locator.

    While on it's path to destruction the problem firm is cutting pay and benefits so by the time it goes out of business the locator has lost their cash reserves, if they had any to lose.

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    Senior Member Bad Robot's Avatar
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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    These are great points Pro, and they could only be drawn by a true locate technician. The point about the cash reserves really hits home. I have seen in the past few years the following in my area:

    - Increased responsibility/ liability for all techs, but mainly seniors

    - Decreased income, due to overtime restrictions, being forced out of the field quickly in winter etc.

    - Decreased morale. Poor planning/ communication between techs and supervisors and DM's . Overall poorer quality of the gear we use daily. Lots of broken or hobbled equipment.

    - Increased workload due to a shift from low profile ( drops, aeration, multiple renewals) tickets, to FTP and other long bore tickets/ project ticket. And the state On Call system has suddenly allowed many formerly limited tickets ( homeowner tree and shrub, fence locates, pool installs) to be called " entire property" tickets.

    The loss of income has impacted everyone here in a negative fashion, yet we constantly are being told that we have " reinvented the industry" and that we are all better off for it! Maybe the folks that own it are, but it sure as hell isn't any of us!

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    Mke
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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Ok PL, I just finished readin it. Its well thought out and makes excellent points. The only thing I would add, is the mentality of the upper management in the locate firms. The main reason they hire Warm bodies is to fill the gap that is left by under bidding contracts. When I first started, the company I worked for was bidding some of the rural contracts at $45 a locate, any locate over 500' was an additional charge. Now you have firms bidding locates at 10bucks a ticket and sometimes even less. When the CFO looks at the money, he realizes the only thing to do is up that bid ammount and lose the contract, or limit what they are paying to the employees. Guess which one they choose? This is where the warm body syndrome starts. If you have 10-15-and 20 yr veterans in the company and they are pulling in the top wages ($18.00) and you can start warm bodies at half that wage. that means you can afford twice the ammount of locators. We all know there is no schooling for this field, so we are classed as an "uneducated" profession. This is where the Catch 22 starts


    There is another thing I would like to start implementing in the contract locating office. Hiring Boards. Instead of a HR rep coming in and hiring Joe schmoe off the street. there should be a panel of 3-4 represenatives from the office that will be recieving this employee, and this panel should be able to conduct 2 interviews. the first, coming after a clean UA, and this interview would be conducted by the area sup, office lead, and two of the veteren locators in the office. After they narrow the field down to 3+ prospects, then comes the Field interview. they don't need to know how to locate, but they need to show some comfortability in learning and being accepting of some instruction. From there, it would be a collaberative process to pick the prospect they want. I feel this would help limit some of the warm body syndrome the company takes on.

    mke

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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mke View Post
    <SNIP>

    There is another thing I would like to start implementing in the contract locating office. Hiring Boards. Instead of a HR rep coming in and hiring Joe schmoe off the street. there should be a panel of 3-4 represenatives from the office that will be recieving this employee, and this panel should be able to conduct 2 interviews. the first, coming after a clean UA, and this interview would be conducted by the area sup, office lead, and two of the veteren locators in the office. After they narrow the field down to 3+ prospects, then comes the Field interview. they don't need to know how to locate, but they need to show some comfortability in learning and being accepting of some instruction. From there, it would be a collaberative process to pick the prospect they want. I feel this would help limit some of the warm body syndrome the company takes on.

    mke
    Agreed.

    I myself have not dealt with a locating firm where HR is nothing more than a forwarding house for job resumes. In the locating firms I have dealt with the job interviews are conducted by someone in the shop office who has some supervision over the locators.

    The “after a clean UA”, is that Clean Underwear Analysis? For locators that standard may be too high!

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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mke View Post
    Ok PL, I just finished readin it. Its well thought out and makes excellent points. The only thing I would add, is the mentality of the upper management in the locate firms. The main reason they hire Warm bodies is to fill the gap that is left by under bidding contracts. When I first started, the company I worked for was bidding some of the rural contracts at $45 a locate, any locate over 500' was an additional charge. Now you have firms bidding locates at 10bucks a ticket and sometimes even less. When the CFO looks at the money, he realizes the only thing to do is up that bid ammount and lose the contract, or limit what they are paying to the employees. Guess which one they choose? This is where the warm body syndrome starts. If you have 10-15-and 20 yr veterans in the company and they are pulling in the top wages ($18.00) and you can start warm bodies at half that wage. that means you can afford twice the ammount of locators. We all know there is no schooling for this field, so we are classed as an "uneducated" profession. This is where the Catch 22 starts

    <SNIP>

    mke
    What you outline above is a good example of the thinking involved by much of the managing teams, flawed thinking.

    If one gets rid of an $18 an hour locator and replaces them with a $9 an hour locator they do not get two for the price of one as their overhead is now higher than if they had one employee at $18 an hour. If we were talking about people sweeping floors the numbers would be closer to accurate but in locating they have now increased their overhead more than the lower rate of pay offset.

    Each locator must be supplied with high dollar items the most obvious of which is a truck. This is usually overcome by reducing initial investment by leasing the truck. Still they must now acquire new trucks and unless they find an sale on a fleet of old trucks, which require an output of cash from them, they must lease brand new trucks. Vehicle overhead just went up.

    Where they had one employee at $18 and hour they paid one workman’s comp insurance on them where with two for $9 an hour they have doubled their payments.

    Each additional employee also needs be outfitted with thousands of dollars of locating equipment and other truck stock.

    Factor in that these new hires will need to be trained during which time they will produce no income. Factor in that when they first get into the field they will have low productivity and can only work at less then the cost of their overhead not even breaking even. There will be exceptions to this but they will be too few to be significant.

    Factor in that people learn by making mistake which in our industry are damages. The new $9 hires will be making their initial learning mistakes so the cost of paying for damages will soar during this period.

    Since these new employees are so poorly paid they will leaving making a higher attrition rate and the entire process will be continuously repeated becoming a constant part of the overhead.


    To get an actual two for one price on employees they would have to pay less than $9 an hour putting them very close to minimum wage. This gets them more and more employees that will not be staying with the firm. These employees will naturally be less concerned with learning their craft or doing their job well. There will be people of exceptional self pride who will do a great job but they will be too few in numbers to be significant.


    The better paid locator is willing to stay with the same firm, some for a lifetime. They will have a higher production rate combined with lower payouts for at fault damages. The percentage of profit, meaning a disproportionably lower overhead, on each will be much higher than the $9 an hour employee. The contracts’ security and likelihood of renewal will be higher. I have worked at shops where when the contract was up there was no seeking competitive bids. If the client is very pleased with the results they will, forbidding laws requiring open bidding, often not even seek to get competitive bids.

    I am not disagreeing with you, it is with the logic of the people you are referring too.
    Many of the higher ups, like Presidents and Boards of Directors, have no real experience with locating firms. On one locating firms’ website, I forget which one, they were touting the background of one of their new VPs which was banking. Sure this buy knew banking and business finance but he was not familiar with the specifics of our industry. He can boilerplate a business plan but not tailor one to his firms business. I even read job wanted ads asking for a college degree for the position of foreman at a contract locating firm.

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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mke View Post
    Ok PL, I just finished readin it. Its well thought out and makes excellent points. The only thing I would add, is the mentality of the upper management in the locate firms. The main reason they hire Warm bodies is to fill the gap that is left by under bidding contracts. When I first started, the company I worked for was bidding some of the rural contracts at $45 a locate, any locate over 500' was an additional charge. Now you have firms bidding locates at 10bucks a ticket and sometimes even less. When the CFO looks at the money, he realizes the only thing to do is up that bid ammount and lose the contract, or limit what they are paying to the employees. Guess which one they choose? This is where the warm body syndrome starts. If you have 10-15-and 20 yr veterans in the company and they are pulling in the top wages ($18.00) and you can start warm bodies at half that wage. that means you can afford twice the ammount of locators. We all know there is no schooling for this field, so we are classed as an "uneducated" profession. This is where the Catch 22 starts


    <SNIP>

    mke
    There is another side to this coin, how locating companions are owned and operated.

    These are corporations with the control in the hands of the majority stockholder. It is common in this industry for investment firms to purchase the majority of stock in a locating firm and they take control of the firm. This often creates a new owner who knows nothing about the locate industry. There are some investment firms that specialize in owning utility related companies but this does not insure that they know much about how the locating industry really operates.

    So the investment firm buys enough stock to give them controlling interest. They sit down with the locate firms’ management, the ones they have not fired and replaced with their own people, and tell them the rate of dividend they must generate per share of stock.

    The locate firm people say back that this is more than before they were purchased. That to try and keep the profits up so they could sell at good price the previous owners had let the infrastructure deteriorate, they need money pumped into the firm, not taken out.

    The investment company makes it clear, they paid X number if millions of dollars and for this they will get back the rate of return they ordered.

    For the investment firm the locate company is not necessarily a firm to be built into something they can be proud of. For some, many or perhaps all it is a golden goose to be gutted.

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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bad Robot View Post
    These are great points Pro, and they could only be drawn by a true locate technician. The point about the cash reserves really hits home. I have seen in the past few years the following in my area:

    - Increased responsibility/ liability for all techs, but mainly seniors

    - Decreased income, due to overtime restrictions, being forced out of the field quickly in winter etc.

    - Decreased morale. Poor planning/ communication between techs and supervisors and DM's . Overall poorer quality of the gear we use daily. Lots of broken or hobbled equipment.

    - Increased workload due to a shift from low profile ( drops, aeration, multiple renewals) tickets, to FTP and other long bore tickets/ project ticket. And the state On Call system has suddenly allowed many formerly limited tickets ( homeowner tree and shrub, fence locates, pool installs) to be called " entire property" tickets.

    The loss of income has impacted everyone here in a negative fashion, yet we constantly are being told that we have " reinvented the industry" and that we are all better off for it! Maybe the folks that own it are, but it sure as hell isn't any of us!
    " reinvented the industry"
    This sounds like a variation of “positive” statements I have heard over the years.

    It has become accepted practice to always state everything is going great regardless of the true situation. To put a “spin” on things. No matter what happens the accepted norm is to always speak positively.

    Technology is making this practice obsolete and counter productive. For this to work the employees need to be kept out of contact with each other. With cell phones in their pockets, e-mail and internet posting sites employees of a firm separated by thousands of miles can share information and compare notes. The misleading “spin” quickly is regarded as an outright lie and the employees develop such distrust that even the truth will not be believed.

    It has not become a bad practice, it always was. Just that now the ability to hide behind words has diminished.

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    Senior Member yahoo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    with all these good ideas i'm reading about....why does management still so quickly get rid of their experienced locaters only to be replaced with newbe's........lots and lots of newbe's!!!!????????
    wise men talk because they have something to say and fools because they have to say something....plato

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    Default Re: Management by the lowest common denominator.

    Quote Originally Posted by yahoo View Post
    with all these good ideas i'm reading about....why does management still so quickly get rid of their experienced locaters only to be replaced with newbe's........lots and lots of newbe's!!!!????????
    My take is the stock phrase “that’s too much to pay a locator” being used as if it was beyond questioning. I doubt that these decisions are made by crunching the numbers. Projecting the costs of more workman’s comp insurance, more trucks and their increased running and maintenance costs, perhaps hiring more office staff to deal with processing the paperwork of a doubled workforce, costs of all new equipment they will need and with it the maintenance costs, costs of increased damages, lower production per hour.

    I never mentioned that a doubled workforce is now twice the size of the office they have leased and they need a new one. I have seen firms go from having general meetings at the office to renting halls at hotels because they no longer had the room. So either renting / buying a larger shop or spending money for rental halls several times a year this can be another added expense.

    I have not been privy to the process but my estimate is that the true costs compared to the expected benefit had not been fully thought out.

    Locators are people and naturally prone to making mistakes. Managers are people and naturally prone to making msitakes. I think these managers are just acting human.

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