No, I’m not talking about what’s now legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington in varying degrees.
I’m talking about Grow Your Own: Developing Great Employees that are homegrown vs. store bought.
Trying to pirate away staff from your competitors by only hiring “experienced” staff to work at your company is a stop gap approach which is neither effective for growing your company or even maintaining it.
The real path forward is to grow your own great employees by committing to hiring willing people and providing them with all the skills training they’ll need. This approach puts an end to the insanity of hiring spoiled talent and trying to rewire them. I know. I tried for years.
Hiring willing people and providing the skills training applies not just to Technicians. It applies to all the positions at your company.
What are the many positions at your company today? My guess is you don’t really know because you’ve never formalized it.
How do I know?
I know because in my consulting career I’ve rarely arrived at a client, no matter how big a company they were, that had the type of Organizational Chart (aka Org Chart) that defined all the boxes it takes to run their company. At best, some of them had a vague idea in their head about who does what. Yes, I said in their head because it was just assumed everyone would know.
Ah, the temperatures are dropping as we head into the fall (full disclaimer: it’s still hot where I live in Phoenix). Kids are headed back to school. You might be drifting into thoughts of watching the leaves change color depending on where you live. And maybe you have thoughts of going apple picking, drinking cider or indulging in one of the 1 million pumpkin concoctions there are these days.
The change of the season also means it’s time for you to get back to school too. As contractors, we can never stop learning. There’s always more to know about the technology that’s changing at breakneck speed all around. You’ve got to stay up or you’ll be left in the dust. This also applies to sharpening your business skills all the time by relentlessly pursuing more education and then getting down to the most important thing...getting things implemented.
The type of back to school I’m referring to is committing to having super effective in-house training — the type of training that separates you from your competition. This training focuses on honing three types of skills a Service Tech must have, which means you’re always working to get better. This is what increases their mastery and ultimately puts more profit on your balance sheet:
Distance Learning Works...Really! | Al Levi The 7-Power Contractor
I’ll admit it. I was skeptical that distance learning could be a real learning experience for service contractors. I grew up when distance learning meant taking correspondence courses through the mail! (I’m dating myself, I know.)
Today, the availability of increasingly powerful web-based applications such as GoToMeeting, Join.Me, Zoom, etc., has enabled distance learning to evolve into a highly effective way to transmit knowledge to contractors farther and faster than ever before.
For the service contractor, connecting with a teacher or trainer remotely has a lot of advantages over traditional in-person training. You can learn from the comfort of your own office, rather than having to leave your business. You get exposure to students from other parts of the country or even the world whose insights and input you never would have heard otherwise. Distance learning provides you with the leverage that comes with being a part of a group where you can reach out and help each other. And learning can continue on “after hours” as opposed to only when you’re in the class in person
Distance learning can also be done on your own. Some of us want to go at our own pace. We intuitively know ourselves, and what that optimal pace of learning is. Content and tutorials can be stored in the cloud in applications such as Dropbox or loaded up on a Google Drive so that you can access it at your leisure. (In our case, there isn’t much leisure so it’s when your long day is finally done.) You can read an assignment or watch a video over and over until the content sinks in.
Does Group Learning Really Work?...Yes! | Al Levi The 7-Power Contractor
Does group learning really work? Yes!
But, there are some things that need to happen to get the outcome you desire.
Group learning can work if you’re willing to work.
I learned that a long time ago. And I learned that when I’d go off to association training and trade classes that if I committed to setting aside thinking about my business while I was in class the learning was best. Plus, I learned that my being willing to roll up my sleeves and participate when the opportunity presented itself meant real benefits to the group learning experience.
I found being around other like-minded contractors (especially when they weren’t my direct competitors) determined that I learned way more than I could have by either reading a book or going online to learn. Don’t get me wrong. There are times you do need to do individual learning but it has its place and its limits.
There’s real energy when a group gathers to all learn. The learning can be enhanced by connecting with a group because we’re social animals after all and we like being part of a pack.
That said going for group learning worked best for me only when I made a list of my goals and my objectives for the training and meetings I was going to attend. The results in a group setting for me and those I’ve taught who have shared with me is that the results were always better and long lasting than just solo research and learning.
Do What's in the Book, You're Off the Hook | Al Levi The 7-Power Contractor
Growing up a New Yorker, I appreciate straight talking people who say what they mean and do what they say. And I’m pleased to say that has been my experience so far with every one of the business owners I have had the privilege to work with. Midwesterners do this especially well, and without the New York attitude and sarcasm!
But I must admit the New Yorker in me tends to go off unfiltered when an owner in Iowa (or Illinois, or Indiana) tells me, “I don’t know if I can get buy in here for the Operating Manuals.”
“Really?” I reply. “I got these manuals in at my own company, a tough union shop in New York City. It doesn’t get any harder than that. And you don’t think you can get them to buy in here in Iowa…really?”
Despite the quality of my wisecrack, the owner usually remains unconvinced. So after taking a few minutes to compose myself, I share the story of how I got techs to willingly comply at my own shop.
Before we had manuals, one of my many jobs was Installation Manager. In this role, I was overseeing five install crews a day. One of our very best installers had been flipping pizzas when he entered our Apprentice training classes and had risen quickly up through the ranks.
One time I was handing out the assignments for the day and I said to him, “Hey, I can’t be there at the normal 10 a.m. time to go over what I want done here on the new boiler and heating work but I can get there around 2 p.m. Is that going to work?”
He quickly scanned the paperwork I had given him and said, “Not a problem. I got you covered.”
At 2 p.m. I arrived at the customer’s home. As I walked around the basement and saw what had been done, steamed poured from my ears. I pulled the Installer outside and said, “This is nothing like I wanted!”
What Are You Judging Your Staff On? | Al Levi The 7-Power Contractor
With all new consulting clients, I start by asking the following: “How are you judging your staff’s performance?”
The answers are pretty much the same and they go something like this, “We think.” “We’ve been told.” “Because I’ve been in business for a while I know who is and isn’t performing well.”
To which my reply is, “So, you’re basing your judgment of them either doing a good job or a bad job at the work they’re hired to do based on opinion or other subjective measures. Am I right?”
With a sheepish look on their face, they mutter, “Yes. I guess so.”
I know this sounds embarrassing but it’s not meant to be anything but helpful. I know exactly how they feel and how they got where they are because I too once judged my employees’ performance solely on opinion and subjective feelings! Nothing in my company was based on an objective standard until we made a change.
So, how do you tip the scales in the right direction of objective vs. subjective judgement when it comes to evaluating employees’ performance?
Attitude vs. Behavior | Al Levi The 7-Power Contractor
“That Tech has a bad attitude.”
“I don’t like the attitude of our bookkeeper!”
“What’s wrong with the attitude of our dispatcher?”
Bad attitudes are everywhere, it would appear.
In most cases, nothing, other than your opinion, that is. An opinion, by the way, that that colored by your attitude toward others! In fact, my new favorite saying is, “I see what I believe” not the old (and incorrect) saying, “I’ll believe it when I’ll see it.”
As owners and bosses, we’re quick to judge. It’s what we do. We compare people to some fictional version of how we think we were when we did their work. The part we leave out is that our vision of ourselves, especially as times goes by, is akin to the fish growing larger every time the fish story is told!
No, you couldn’t put a water heater in by yourself in one hour. Nor could you install a new heating system by yourself in two hours. You didn’t carry that giant hot tub up four flights of stairs by yourself and install it in an hour, either. And when you were up to your elbows in grunge on a job, or a customer groused at you, you may have come back to the office a little grumpy, too!
I Can Do Everything! The Interview | Al Levi The 7-Power Contractor
Stop me if this sounds familiar:
In the job interview, the candidate told me they could do it. Who knew that they couldn’t? Me!
I got blindsided by this so often in my contracting life. Looking back, it’s easy to know why I didn’t know what they could really do and not do. I hired out of desperation.
Here’s the reality. Sometimes, an employee would give us two weeks’ notice that they were leaving our company. And that was okay. Sometimes, we’d get one week’s notice. And that was tolerable. Sometimes, they’d just leave the keys to the truck in the front door mail slot and leave a note attached to their keys that they were gone. And that was bad.
It was really bad because we were always busy and needed everyone to be onboard. We were in the lucky position of having more work at our company than bodies to get the work done. I say “lucky” because we were able to charge the right price and be more selective about whom we did and didn’t work for and the type of work we would and wouldn’t do.
Yet again, it was a problem because we were always in reactive mode when it came to staffing.
How bad was this approach to staffing? My brother, Marty, called our hiring test “The Mirror Test,” which sarcastically meant that in our desperation, all you needed to do was fog the mirror and there was a good chance you could be hired. We were of course kidding….sort of, anyway.
Hiring the Willing and Provide Skills or Pay the Price | Al Levi The 7-Power Contractor
"Hire willing people and provide them the needed skills instead of hiring spoiled veterans with skills and behavior problems.” This has been my mantra since I was a contractor at my own Long Island plumbing, heating and cooling shop.
When did I latch on to this core business philosophy?
Well, it was at 2 a.m. while standing in my office one night talking to my brother, Richie. As usual, in a company full of 25 plus Techs, we were still out there helping late into the night (I mean morning).
Disclaimer: I’ve changed the name to protect the not-so-innocent and I cleaned up the language, but I bet you can only imagine what true New Yorkers would be saying to one another in this situation.
The conversation with my brother went something like this. “Don was the best Tech at their shop? I mean for heaven’s sake he’s barely mediocre compared to our guys. And can you believe how much money we had to pay him to come work here?”
To which I replied, in an exhausted and muffled tone, “I’m sick of it. I’m sick of Techs telling us how great they are in interviews when we hire them or taking the word of others about how great this Tech is.”