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Operating Power

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The Danger of Trying to Do It All

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” That was told to me by a very smart contractor who had reached the end of his career and was lamenting how he had wasted so many business opportunities.

What he was speaking to is what he felt he learned all too late and that is…just because you, the owner or manager, CAN do something it doesn’t mean you SHOULD or that you’re the right one to be doing it.

It’s a fact that most of us owners and managers started as Techs and it was our ability to do pretty much any tough job they could throw at us that helped us rise through the ranks. It’s also what enabled us to believe we could succeed when we chose to open our own business.

Unfortunately, your ability to do everything is a double-edge sword. In fact, this skillset and mind set may well be what stymies the growth of your business. Because if you’re always the best choice to do it all then you better figure out how to clone yourself. The reason is you’re going to run out of both time and energy and then opportunities will be squandered.

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Grow Your Own

Yes, Grow Your Own!

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.

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Back to School: Not Just for Kids

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.

Hang on.

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:

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Distance Learning Works…. Really!

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.

There are a few downsides…

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Does Group Learning Really Work?

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.

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Do What’s in the Book and You’re Off the Hook

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!”

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How Are You Judging Your Staff’s Performance?

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?

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Hire the Willing and Provide Skills or Pay the Price

“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.”

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What’s Finally Going to Fix Things at Your Company?

What’s Finally Going to Fix Things at Your Company?

Well, let’s start with what won’t fix things at your company.

Putting out a daily fire without focusing on fire prevention is just wrong. Because that fire is bound to break out again tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow until the day you finally lock the front door of your company and say “Goodbye!”

What is going to fix things?

Becoming proactive about running your company instead of letting the company run you. That starts with putting the right tools in place to make running your company day-to-day way saner and way more sustainable.

The biggest and best tool is to document what it takes to run your company, without you having to ride your white stallion to the rescue from sun up to sundown.

That’s why I’m advocating you dedicate a portion of your week—no matter how crazy that week is—to creating a series of documents designed to keep fires from starting in the first place.

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Urgent vs. Important But Not Urgent

Everything in business is Important!

Not everything in business is Urgent. Thank heavens!

The trouble starts when all your focus is on fighting fires—dealing only with Urgent items—leaving no time to focus on any Important-But-Not-Urgent items.

When you’re firefighting day after day, how will you ever work on the importance of Fire Prevention?

Answer: You won’t!

This is the daily struggle we face as business owners, and even moreso as Contractors.

All of it feels like it’s urgent. This is especially true when there’s an unhappy customer yelling at you and threatening to post their unhappiness online to everyone on planet Earth.

Breathe.

Now, you and I both know that if everything is urgent, there’s no way to prioritize and maximize your and your staff’s day. You must develop the ability to separate the Important-But-Not-Urgent things that are going on at your company today, just like they did yesterday, that are likely to continue that way until the final moment you put the key in your office door.

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