A brief look at piece work

Have you ever left a job site for a while, and upon your return, found that your crew did little or no work? You would be unusual if this has never occurred.

Quite often, when the cat is away the mice will play. When Sylvester is at the vet getting his shots, the little vermin will scamper about the house with impunity. They take an extra break, wander out to the van to get some caulk, or check out Oprah. They might do a little work, but they won’t act like they do the boss is there.

There are several possible ways around such a problem. One way is to never leave the job site. Another is to mount webcams on every job site. Or you could pay one of your painters to be an informant. Of course, all of these will likely create other problems—like animosity and poor morale.

A more effective and practical approach is piece work. Pay your people for what they produce, not for the hours they work. Pay them for what they do, not for just showing up.

In it’s simplest form, a painter would be paid $X for painting a door, $X for fixing a drywall crack, etc. If it takes him an hour to do the door, he makes $X per hour. If he can do 2 doors in an hour, then he makes twice X per hour.

Under piece work the mice may still play when the cat is away. But they will be doing it on their own dime, not yours.

Piece work as a compensation system

In these tough economic times, everyone is trying to stretch their dollars just a little bit further. As painting contractors, our biggest expense is labor, and if you find your budget pushed to its limits, you might consider instituting a pay system that encourages productivity and caps your labor costs.

Piece work is such a system. Under a piece work pay system, a painter is paid for the work he actually performs, rather than a flat hourly rate. For example, you might pay $10 to paint a door. If the painter can paint 2 doors in an hour, he makes $20 an hour; if he only paints 1 in an hour, he makes half that.

Such a system encourages efficiency. When a painter knows that his pay is based on finding a better way to work, he will likely do so. Of course, you must establish certain standards that must be met in order for the work to qualify as “complete”.

Piece work must be priced fairly. The painter must have a very reasonable chance to meet the production times you use, or he will quickly become discouraged. So if you find that your painters have increased their speed by 10%, don’t cut your prices–that money is a bonus for the painters.

For you, a piece work system caps your labor costs. For example, if you are paying $10 for the door to be painted, your cost is limited, no matter how long the door actually takes. Again, your prices must be fair and reasonable if you actually wish to provide encouragement.

A piece work system can meet with a lot of resistance. Your painters may think that you are trying to become a slave driver. Good communications are imperative when setting up the system, and input from the painters themselves will help with the “buy in”.

If you find that your labor costs are out of control, piece work is one way regain control. And it will also give you some peace of mind.

Using systems to find good help

The inability to find good help is a frequent complaint among painting contractors. Much of the problem results from a lack of systems in the hiring process.

Systems and procedures allow us to achieve consistent, predictable results in our paint contracting business. This is true of every aspect of our business, including the hiring process.

Having specific procedures for hiring new employees accomplishes 2 primary objectives: They help us clearly identify what we want in an employee and they provide a method for achieving that goal.

Systems give us a method for attracting and identifying the type of employee we want in our business. If we go on “gut instinct” or make rash decisions because we are desperate to hire someone, we can easily make a bad hiring decision.

Procedures provide specific steps for the process and allow us to make more objective decisions. Too often the hiring “process” consists of a quick discussion with the prospect. If he meets our basic criteria—usually related to painting experience— he is hired. But the ability to put paint on the wall is a small part of what makes for a good employee. Besides, years of experience do not necessarily translate to good painting skills.

If we follow a process we can identify other traits that can often be more important than painting skills. We can discover if the prospect will follow instructions, arrive at the assigned time, and be responsible. We can discover his customer service skills, his ability to communicate, and his willingness to work as a part of a team.

The individuals we employee will ultimately determine whether we move towards our goals or further away. Hiring the wrong person can quickly more us away from our goals

I’m the best painter

We are probably all familiar with common playground repartees: “My dad can beat up your dad.” “Oh yeah, well your mother wears army boots.” Such exchanges are obviously silly, but that doesn’t stop some painting contractors from engaging in similar activities.

You don’t need to read a painting forum too long to stumble across painters who claim they do the best work. These claims are no different from playground taunts—they accomplish nothing but massage the ego of the speaker.

I don’t doubt that those making these claims do very fine work. But the best? What does that mean? The best by whose standards? And why is being the best painter such a big issue?

I didn’t start a paint contracting company to be the best. I started my business to make money. I soon learned that most customers weren’t willing to pay for a perfect paint job. Most couldn’t recognize one if it snuck up and bit them on the butt. (Ignore the fact that paint jobs don’t have teeth, though I’ve seen some that must have lips because they really sucked

I decided that the time involved getting to a 9.5 or a 10 was simply far more than customers would pay for. I concluded many would pay for an 8 or an 8.5, and there was a large market for this level of service. That’s where I have focused my efforts.

I am certain that there are companies that do better quality work than mine. I’m also aware that many of these companies struggle to stay busy and don’t charge what their service is truly worth. In short, they don’t make much money.

So, if you aim to be the best painter, knock yourself out. I’m glad you take pride in your work. But don’t come bragging to me about being the best. If you think I’m apathetic on the issue, trying telling your grocer that you are the best painter. He’ll still expect you to pay your bill, and being the best doesn’t always accomplish that.

Page 3 of 41234