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Driving Staff Productivity to Finish the Season Strong

20 February, 2020

The end of summer is near. The days are feeling long, and you and your team are doing your darnedest to finish your production commitments and make your yearend goals. “Make hay while the sun shines” isn’t just a cute saying to us northerners… It’s a real thing we all know a little too well. If we don’t finish our projects and hit our goals in the time nature gives us, THAT’S IT. No overtime, no extra innings, better luck next year.
This is why end-of-season fatigue presents such a danger to our production season. You know what I’m talking about… Feet start to drag, voices start to grumble, jobs drag on, quality slips, and the painting machine of a business you’ve spent the last eight months building starts showing its first signs of weakness. You and your team are close enough to the finish to see the light at the end of the tunnel, yet you find yourselves stuck in a lethargic daze. Right when producing jobs on-time and on-budget matters most, your team members stop doing exactly that. The snow will be here before you know it. You need to pick the pace back up and you need to do it fast. So where do you start?

Identify the Performance Gap
If someone is underperforming, they are usually missing one of two things: skill or commitment. Have a look at your crew and ask yourself: Who is on my team?

All Star: Always on time, has a positively killer attitude, gets the job done, customers love her.

Maverick: Mavericks are talented and capable; they can work circles around most of their teammates but their poor attitude and lack of “buy-in” can cause friction and keeps them from reaching their potential as a true all star.

Loyal Worker: You love this guy. He’s a team player, looks up to you as a leader, customers and crew members alike love him for his temperament. He cares about the business and your clients. But he’s slow, and his quality of work could use an upgrade. It would be crazy to get rid of a team player like him, but if you’re honest with yourself, his performance needs to improve.

Low Performer: Not only is he a lousy painter, but his attitude is in the gutter too. You find yourself wondering “why the hell did I hire this guy?”

I like this framework a lot. It’s simple, but that’s the point. It’s always helped me understand who is on my team and what they NEED to do to improve. All Stars are the ideal you wish you could clone, so make sure they know how much you appreciate them and treat them like gold. On the other end of the scale, Low Performers are simply too far away from where they need to be to justify pouring your finite resources into them in an attempt to develop them. Chalk it up to a bad hire, let them go as soon as it’s reasonable, and move on.

The Maverick and the Loyal Worker – these guys you can work with. You’ll need to approach each type differently to push them towards success. The Maverick is lacking commitment, but working on his skills would be a waste of time because at this point, he’s probably a better painter than you are. What’s missing for him is simply “buy-in” – he needs to care more about the company and his role in it. The Loyal Worker is already trying his best; he just needs to be skilled up. He needs coaching, mentorship and specific feedback on where he can improve his jobsite performance.

Skilling Up
Improving the Performance of “Loyal Workers”
Staff productivity depends, to a large extent, on your employee’s competence. But what is competence? Think of it as two parts you can influence:

1. Knowledge – I have learned how to do something.
2. Ability –I have practiced something and gotten good at it.

So how do you give people the knowledge and ability they need to be productive? You start by giving them a tool that outlines how to do something and then gives a consistent, step-by-step method for practicing that skill in a way that the employee can gain experience and gather feedback on their performance. This is called a Competency Model: a framework for defining the tasks, skills and knowledge necessary for successful performance in a specific role.
The purpose of the Competency Model is to give the Loyal Worker the needed dose of straightforward, concise instruction, and to empower them with a clear method of practice so they can gain feedback and further their ability along the way. What’s the outcome? More productive staff. If you don’t have a Competency Model, don’t worry. You can use the one I’ve built; I’ll even give you a fillin-the-blanks template so you can customize it for own company! Just go to and use APCSTAFF19 as your download code.

With a complete Competency Model in hand, spend an hour a day for a week with your Loyal Workers. Grade their performance against the checklist, and you’ll quickly start to see where these guys need to be coached. The power in observing performance with a Competency Model in hand is that you are able to give extremely specific feedback. I promise you –there are a couple very obvious things your Loyal Workers are doing incorrectly that, once addressed, will bring their speed and quality up substantially!

They will appreciate the time spent with them more than you can imagine.

Increasing Commitment
Improving the Performance of “Mavericks”

Mavericks are tricky. They’re good at what they do, and (unfortunately) they know it. They ride this talent and see it as more than compensating for their lessthan-desirable commitment. For most Mavericks, the first step in increasing commitment requires you to actually have some healthy conflict. You need to have a very real conversation with them. Scary, I know, but oh so necessary if you want to turn this team member around. There is likely something left unresolved, something they aren’t telling you. He’s mad at you because his crew isn’t as fast as he is and it’s holding him back. She’s frustrated because she feels she is entitled to more compensation. I don’t know exactly what it is, and neither do you… that’s the problem!

Offer to buy your Maverick lunch or dinner, and go somewhere nice. It’s important not to have this conflict conversation anywhere near work. A gesture like this makes your Maverick feel valued, and being away from anything business-related will make them feel a lot safer and open to being totally honest with you. Ask them how they’ve been doing: What’s going well? What are you struggling with? Are you frustrated with anything? Get them talking, and then shut up and listen. Once they’ve got it all out, acknowledge their challenges and make them feel understood. Now it’s your turn to calmly and assertively let them know they are underperforming. Tell them how much potential you see in them, that you want to see it fulfilled, and that you want to discuss ways of problem-solving whatever might get in the way.

For the Maverick, motivation comes from knowing what is important and understanding why it’s important. I like to assume employees want to do good work, but they need to know what “good work” is – and the hard truth is that employers often don’t communicate this. The whole point of an employment agreement is to clearly communicate why the role is important, why the employee should care about it, how to do it, and what needs to be done. Now would be a great time for the two of you to reread his or her Employment Agreement so they know, in no uncertain terms, what their job entails. If you, like most painters, don’t have Employment Agreements for your staff, I’ve got your back. I’ll share with you a completed sample, as well as a fill-in-the-blank template so you can quickly make your own. Go to and use APCSTAFF19 as your download code to request these documents.

Keep it simple, guys! Your Loyal Workers legitimately need skill development, and as their leader, that’s on you. Your Mavericks need some conflict resolution and little realignment. Get that Competency Model built, review some Employment Agreements, and coach your team like the epic entrepreneur that you are. There is still some season left…make the most of it!

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