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Eliminating drama from your business

By Nick Dancer
Adapted from Day In, Day Out: The Secret Power in Showing up and Doing the Work.

Imagine that you have a leaky faucet in your house. Your spouse has reminded you about it several times. This coming weekend, you have some time. The project is just small enough that you think the charge for a plumber is too much, so you decide to do it yourself. How hard can it be, right? 

With a cup of coffee in hand, you watch an online video on easy plumbing fixes, plan a materials list, and head to the local home supply store. You pick out a few shiny new tools and twenty dollars’ worth of PVC pipe in various shapes, and head home to master your domain. 

Back in your kitchen, you execute a few contortionist moves to get under the sink. It’s not until you take everything apart that you realize you forgot the thread tape. You mutter a litany of blue language, but you know the pipes will leak again without the tape. Your only option is to drive back to the store, despite the checklist you made that morning, adding another hour to the project.

By the time you’re back to the house the second time, the water has been shut off for half of the day. The “easy” plumbing fix has turned into a daylong debacle. The additional trip is an example of what I call a “drama point.”

Working harder–and longer

A drama point is a moment where you are working harder or adding resources, but the results don’t line up with the work you’re putting in. Drama points are pesky intruders, and worst of all, they’re almost always avoidable. 

In lean business operations, a drama point equals waste. If one of our team members at Dancer Concrete Design drives to a worksite an hour away and only then realizes he forgot a special tool, he needs to drive all the way back. This creates a drama point. The added trip adds extra transportation time and more work–but ultimately achieves the same (or worse) results. 

Eliminating waste

We can’t always eliminate every drama point, and getting frustrated by them usually makes matters worse. So, what can business owners do? We can recognize common drama points and minimize them as much as possible. 

Take some time today to commit to identifying the most common drama points in your business. Your most common drama point might only cause a ten-minute delay, but if you know it happens multiple times a week, you can see the bigger picture of how much time you waste. 

You might add a checklist to a process. You might get organized ahead of time so that you don’t have that ten-minute delay. By taking simple steps to identify and minimize drama points, you’ll be able to focus more on results and less on putting out fires. 

Thinking proactively

In our business, I noticed that one of our machines consistently broke down on the job. Every time the machine broke down, we spent an extra two hours fixing it, falling behind on our daily goals. Our eight-hour day turned into a 10-hour day, but we ultimately did the same amount of work. In other words, we worked for 10 hours, with eight hours of output. The drama point that slowed our progress was the machine breaking down.

Eventually, we realized that we needed to spend a little extra time preventing this recurring issue. Instead of just working on machines when they broke, we added a process to our workflow, so the machines would go through a breakdown and cleaning after each job. 

We didn’t initially want to add this maintenance procedure because of the time it takes to break down one of our machines. But eventually, we realized it was worth doing more maintenance to avoid reacting, rushing, and overnighting parts when something broke. The maintenance is now planned, and time is allowed for changing parts and greasing. Sometimes we spend the time to take apart a machine and find that it doesn’t need any work done to it, but it’s still better to dissect it on our schedule than to tear a machine down on a site and hold up a whole project. 

When drama is unavoidable

Ultimately, your goal is to eliminate drama points as much as possible in your life and your business, so you can run efficiently and without hassles. However, you might find that certain areas of your life consistently have a lot of drama points, and inevitably take up more time and energy than you expect. In those cases, you can avoid drama by bringing in experts.

For me, plumbing is one of those areas of life. Whenever I have a plumbing problem in my house, I now leave it to a plumber. I know that the cost to hire a plumber is high, but I’ve also crawled under the sink with a wrench one too many times, only to waste half of the day.

The same holds true in my business, where we now hire an outside company to handle payroll and taxes. When I first started Dancer Concrete Design, I spent Saturday mornings handling this on my own and then, a few years later, our office manager took over the task.

Then I rethought this approach. When you do your own payroll and taxes, 90% of the time, things go smoothly. People get paid. Taxes are reported and paid. BUT, every once in a while something goes wrong, and when that happens, you need to communicate with all sorts of parties: the bank, the state, your people, and it turns into a ton of unexpected work (and drama points).

For that reason, we now hire a payroll company to manage this. They know the ins and outs and make fewer mistakes than we would make. When the inevitable mistake is made, our business doesn’t even skip a beat; they take care of it. 

As you scale up, “Stick with what you do best and let an expert handle the rest” is often the best approach to keeping drama to a minimum. It may seem more expensive than the DIY approach you used when you first started your business, but in the long run, it’s far more profitable. And it’ll keep you and your team out of crisis mode.

Nick Dancer, author of Day In, Day Out is founder and CEO of Dancer Concrete Design in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Email him at [email protected], follow more of his writing on Medium, or follow his business Instagram account @dancerconcretedesign