I was teaching a class not long ago and a man spoke up and said “good employees are hard to come by”. I agreed with him and added that good bosses were even harder to come by. I went on to tell the class that I thought most bosses were terrible managers and missed the point about leadership all together. Puzzled, my students asked me to elaborate.
Most of us never planned to get into this industry. Very few of us went to college in hopes of being business owners in this industry. The fact is that most of us stumbled into the industry through a summer job or even perhaps through retraining as part of a layoff. Or maybe someone convinced us we should consider a trade school instead of going to college.
Most of us worked for someone for a while and then quit to start our own business. That’s what I did anyway and I had no business owning my own business. Like most of you the only thing I knew for sure was that I was being paid far less than they were charging for my time and I thought I could do just as well even if I worked fewer hours. Boy was I wrong!
When many of us started our business we were great to work for. We were flexible and had few written rules. We prided ourselves on being nice. Then we had our first important person quit. It surprised us and made us a little mad. Then we had many other people quit, or take advantage of us, or both. As the years went on we got more angry and cynical about the work force. Trouble is that our bitterness and cynicism is evident on how we conduct ourselves. We are not the leaders that we need to be. We are more like the “jerk” we quit. That’s right. We have become the same person that we quit working for.
Young people today are no different than young people of yesterday. They have their own set of emotional baggage to haul around. Many of these kids come from split homes. Perhaps their dad took off with another women and is now working on his second or third marriage. Maybe mom is dating an alcoholic guy with a lousy job. Drugs, alcoholism, divorce, and all the other things young people have to tolerate means unique challenges for anyone trying to hire, train, motivate, and retain these people. Young people today do not need a tough jerk to work for. What they need is a patient yet firm leader who is part head coach and part psychologist. In order to be successful acquiring, training, and keeping great coworkers, you have a lot to do to become a great leader instead of a lousy boss.
This industry is one of the most labor-intensive industries in America. The average HVAC or plumbing company does about $100,000.00 is sales per employee. By contrast, the average distributor can produce from $500,000.00 to 1 million in sales per employee. That means you need to be a skilled leader of human resources. Are you properly trained in the art of leading people? How many of us are? Very few!
Take a hard look at yourself in the mirror and then carefully look around your office. Ask yourself; “why would a real winner work for me?” You have to look like a winner to attract winners. It’s not easy to admit but a lot of us don’t look like the kind of operation that deserves the loyalty of a winner, someone who is in the top 5% or 10% of their field.
ATTRACTING AND KEEPING GOOD EMPLOYEES
Technicians are the most employable people in America. An experienced clean-cut technician could get a job in about 48 hours, anywhere in the country. The industry has a lot of competition when it comes to attracting winners. You need to create a clear career path to attract winners. That means you need to be able to clearly identify job types, qualifications, and their corresponding pay. Show coworkers exactly how and when they can earn a pay raise and how they can get a promotion. Offer educational opportunities so they can learn the things necessary to do a good job in their respective position.
Create a technical training syllabus and calendar that guides your technicians from wherever they may be to where you want them to be. Your company should offer at least 100 hours of paid training each year. This training should not be limited to technical subject matter. In fact, 2/3 of it should be related to customer service, basic business, and diagnostic driven sales.
Can you imagine playing a football game with no rulebook? When would the game start? When would it finish? What would be considered inappropriate behavior? Well, that’s how many of us are trying to run our company.
We all have an idea of how we want people to act. The trouble is that few of us have even bothered to detail our expectations in writing. We have no job descriptions, policy manuals, rules, or procedures, yet we have the nerve to complain about the performance of our coworkers. No wonder why owners are stressed out and workers keep leaving for “greener grass”!
You must have a detailed employment policy manual that outlines company rules and what happens if these rules are broken. Make your expectations extremely clear. Create a system of policies and procedures that gives people a reasonable chance to exceed your expectations. You should write down your company’s core values and goals. Your company needs short-term budgets and long-range goals that show everyone where you plan to lead the company. You need a comprehensive organization chart that shows where they all fit in. A good organization chart shows current job positions as well as future ones that are not yet filled.
Finally your company needs to start keeping score. Keep score of sales, profit margins, units sold, and the like. Train everyone on the meaning of these numbers. Let them know what your goals are and publish the results for all employees to see.
What if the NFL did not keep score? What impact would that have on performance? When you keep score, people try harder. It’s not enough that you analyze company financial statements. (You do analyze them, right?) You need to educate your coworkers on the basics of sales, gross profit, units sold and net profit. Train everyone on the meaning of these numbers. Let them know what your goals are and publish the results for all employees to see. You should reward coworkers if these goals are met (I’ll go into this more in a future article).
Most contractors wouldn’t dream of spending a thousand dollars or more on a “help wanted” ad, but don’t hesitate to spend far more to advertise an air conditioning system. Most contractors wouldn’t dream of spending hours interviewing every person who fills out an employment application, but spend at least that much time chasing sales calls with almost anyone who calls. My advice, spend as much time recruiting “winners” as you do chasing sales opportunities.
My point is that this is an industry that requires significant human resource leadership skills and very few of us are properly equipped. Other industries have struggled with the same types of troubles but have overcome. The automotive industry is one such group. The manufacturers stepped in with money and technology and that industry is better for it. Our manufacturers have also taken steps to help but they can only do so much. We are ultimately the ones that create change in our company.
Great leadership is vital to train and motivate today’s young people. Is it time for you to get the training you need to do the job properly? Is it time to start acting like a leader and not the boss you once left. Remember, you started your own business because you thought you could do it better. Maybe its time to take a fresh look at the way you manage people and make some needed changes. Lead your coworkers into the future and they will follow willingly!