Ah, it was the end of the workday and time to settle back in my chair at the office and finally spend time getting caught up on paperwork and preparing for the day ahead. This is after having a steady parade of people approaching me all day long and asking me, “Got a minute?”

Finally, I’d be out of crisis mode and into problem-solving mode. At least, that was the plan.

But at 5 o’clock, someone else invariably presented another kind of interruption. A staff member would be knocking on the doorframe (I had an open-door policy), and they would be asking me, “Got a minute?”

Based on the time of the day and the pressure in their voice, I could kind of guess that I was about to be taken hostage.

Why would they want a minute of my time to talk, considering it was after the official end of their workday, too? Well, at that time of day, it was to either let me know they had another job offer or to “ask” me for a raise so they could stay.

What time of year did the 5 p.m. knock happen most? You guessed it — our busiest times during our busiest seasons.

I was now forced into playing defense and trying to talk the employee into not jumping ship so I’d have to sweeten the deal to keep them. Most often, that meant overpaying them to keep them onboard. And when this would occur I would feel captive, like a hostage. I hated feeling like a hostage, but at that point in my business career, I didn’t know how to be proactive. So, I caved more times than not.

Sound familiar?

Know that once an employee knows they can hold you hostage, they will be back again. In an even worse way, the rest of the team knows they can do the same.

Frankly, I was angry at them. But, over time, I came to realize it wasn’t their fault. I had never defined how someone moves ahead and makes more money at our company. I had never even considered what it was like for them to have to come and ask me for a raise. I had put them in the position of coming to see their dad if they wanted a hike in their allowance. When I pulled myself away from the anger and saw it from their perspective and no longer from my perspective alone, I realized this arbitrary process of getting a raise was bad for me and bad for them.

That’s when I set about to create a fairer system in based on objective, demonstrated performance that was tied to known salary levels that matched the upward movement along our organizational chart. It defined in writing for all to know how you moved up the ladder and how you could make more money. Later on, the extra sweetener for techs was the opportunity to sell more things and earn a justified bonus if they sold the right way, which meant it served the customer better. A customer who is satisfied because a tech sold the right repair or upgrade benefits everyone.

Having salary levels even helped me hire better. Now, I could sit with a new potential hire, and, during the interview process, I could share with a new candidate where they could go in the future and how they could make more money with us. It was the first time I didn’t let these potential staff members force me into overpaying them at the expense of my own staff because I was being oversold on what they could really do.

The hiring conversation became more like: “We don’t know where to place you along our salary levels, so over the next 90 days of your structured orientation process, we will be doing both in-house testing and real-world testing to see where you fit. Know that this system will ultimately let you make more money as you demonstrate you’re worth it. We will even help you get better because it’s in everyone’s best interest. You will never need to guess or hope a raise is coming — you’ll know!”

Remember, good policies and procedures known by everyone of your employees will also help people be effective at your company and demonstrate they’re worthy of more money as they prove they’re more productive. Good policies and procedures are designed to empower people to handle what comes up 80 percent of the time successfully.

Think positively about your staff and, yes, even learn how to love them. Then, create a fair set of rules to play by and make sure they get a voice in how you do your work. This is what builds buy-in and longevity at your company.

Ultimately, your customers, your staff, and your bottom line will be better off.


This article was originally titled “Don’t be a 5 o’clock hostage” in the December 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.