Don’t Be a Business Owner Who Wastes Employees’ Time

There are only so many hours in the work day, so it’s important that your management style allows employees to maximize their productivity

Don’t Be a Business Owner Who Wastes Employees’ Time

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You've heard the phrase, “time is money.” For plumbers, that is often true in a very literal way. We can only serve as many customers as we have appointments in a day. That is the limit of a service-based business and the reason I bet you have watched employees “waste time” and gotten frustrated. But have you ever stopped to wonder if you are wasting their time, too?

Productivity is the art of getting more done with fewer resources. We all like to think we are productive. We all like to think we run a tight ship. Or at least control the chaos. You hear about large corporations going to extremes to improve efficiency, and it's easy to assume that productivity is only a problem for big business. Every company experiences some time-waste, though, especially when trying to grow or scale operations. It’s an imperfect process. Without intention, we create problems that our employees spend their day working around.

I'm willing to bet time and money are things you complain you don't have enough of. For that reason, ask yourself how you can improve your organization’s time management. As always, it starts at the top — with you.

Unintended Consequences

When a problem catches our attention, we tend to react with new rules, policies, procedures, reports, accountability measures, or programs. We do this because we want to improve our business. We want to "fix" it. We expect a certain amount of moaning and groaning because we are asking for more effort, and that makes it easy to brush aside employee concerns. The reality is that these pet projects oftentimes backfire. They lead to unintended consequences, which can sometimes be positive but are often negative.

These are rampant in government policy. Small business isn't immune either. Water heater insulation changes are a great example. The goal was to improve the efficiency of water heater tanks. Sounds noble enough. So they increase the insulation. A few inches, no big deal. Well, as we all know, that size increase is often a very big deal. Aqua-huts, attics, and water heater closets weren't built with forgiving dimensions. For these homeowners, this is a costly unintended consequence.

We could argue over whether this is a positive, negative, or neutral consequence. Regardless, I guarantee it wasn't the intention of the change. For homeowners forced to relocate their water heater, it is a negative unintended consequence.

Sometimes solutions just create different problems. It can be worth it, but it probably depends on who you ask. Changing how you do business affects your employees, so make sure that the realities are worth it.

Before you decide to make a change, consider the following:

  • Listen first. Instead of “talking to” your employees, ask questions and listen to their ideas. They may have a better idea or convince you the problem isn't as dire as you assumed.
  • Include everyone. It isn’t unusual for the office workers to think of a solution that doesn’t work for the field team and vice versa.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Get some perspective. Sometimes things, jobs, people, or moments don’t go right. That doesn’t mean you have to overhaul how everything works.

Unclear Policies or Procedures

Few things waste as much time in small business as unclear expectations. Employees without direction don’t know what to do. You can’t mention a policy or procedure in passing. You can’t even get away with talking about it once. Taking the time to train your employees is one of the best investments you can make in your business.

Changing behavior or creating habits takes time and patience. Once everyone is moving in the same direction though, you get real momentum. It may even lead to better ideas and innovation.

Your employees have great ideas, insights, and experiences that you don’t have. That’s the nature of them being unique human beings. They are going to think of things that you haven’t. Let them, but only after they understand why and how you want it done.

Here are some tips for making sure that policies are clear and communicated well:

  • Write it down. Everything is clearer on paper. Written policies leave little room for misunderstanding or excuses.
  • Get feedback. Before you make a policy official run it by a few trusted advisers. Make sure it is someone who will talk you off the ledge if it needs doing.
  • Walk the walk. If you expect a rule to become law, prepare to follow your own rule. Do as I say and not as I do will not work.


Your employees are adult humans with functioning brains, autonomy, and free will. A reminder, in case you needed it. All decisions cannot and should not get made through you alone. Don’t get hung up on “they can’t do it as well as me.” If they could, they would have a business and you wouldn’t have any employees. You can’t be everywhere at once.

As a business grows, leadership roles change. First to a manager and then to an executive. When shifting these roles, you might not know where to focus your attention. That is normal. The most important skill you can learn as a plumbing manager or business owner is how to delegate. Why would you pay someone to sit around and wait for you to make a decision so that they can start working on something?

Presumably that “something” is either making or saving you money, so why bottleneck the process? Even if the decision isn’t exactly the one you would have made, chances are it is a perfectly fine decision. If not, then it is a great training opportunity so that next time a better decision can be made. Most decisions don’t make or break your business. Little by little, you will learn to let go and delegate.

If you think the answer to every question, problem, or opportunity is a phone call to you, you are a bottleneck. I promise this frustrates your employees. They will be much happier if you train them on how to make the decisions you would make.

Here are a few ways you can learn to let go:

  • To-do list shakedown. After you make your to-do list, go line by line and challenge yourself to delegate everything humanly possible. Bonus points if you can delegate everything.
  • What would you do? When an employee comes and asks you what they should do, turn the question around on them. If the answer works, they get a confidence boost. If not, you teach them. This builds confidence on both sides.
  • Trust, but verify. Completely delegating things like tax payments or payroll can have scary consequences. It's OK to check up on employees once in a while to make sure standards are kept.

A Final Word

Put together, unintended consequences, unclear policy, and bottlenecking can waste huge amounts of employee time. That means it also wastes payroll. No one has time or money to throw away.

Some days it feels like we are putting out fires all day long. Don't let this create a panicked management style. Look for opportunities to improve, engage, and increase productivity in your plumbing company.

About the Author

Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at


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