You need manuals, and here’s why
Businesses either get better, or they get worse. At least that’s what I finally realized at my own service contracting company years ago. It’s akin to pushing a boulder uphill. The business is either moving up, or it’s moving down. You don’t want to be caught in the path of that rolling boulder.
Yet in so many businesses, rocks big and small are continually sliding back down to the bottom of the hill because, as the owner, there’s never just one rock for you to push up. We dream of the day we can stop pushing, yet we can’t even keep what we have going in the right direction.
The only way you’re going to get it down to pushing just one rock uphill is to make a vow to yourself — and your team — that you’ll finally get serious about finding a way to get others to push the rocks they should be pushing.
Hey, it’s exhausting to run around day after day pushing the same rock uphill that you rescued from the bottom just the day before. It’s even more draining knowing that it and others will be rolling right back to where they were again — unless something changes.
Consider Albert Einstein’s famous quote: “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Einstein was a “relatively” smart dude, and this is one giant reason.
So what do you need to do to stop the insanity (insanity being the way your company is operating today)?
Let me give you a head start.
People at your company are working with no systems, or broken systems. How do I know? My now fourth-generation plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical company did it for years and years. That is, until we decided to make a profound change in the way in which we operated our business.
The problem was we were trying to keep everyone pushing their individual rocks up the hill at our shop by talking to them, or writing up “shouting” memos.
“What’s wrong with that?” you ask. Everything! How can you hold anyone accountable to what you think you said to them and what they might have heard? You can’t.
Here’s how this goes.
The boss says, “I told you that your truck needs to be cleaned out and washed every Tuesday, but your truck is not.”
The tech replies, “You never told me that.”
The boss replies, “Yes, I did.”
The tech replies, “No, you didn’t.”
Are you starting to see how this circular conversation is worthless?
The second lousy way to communicate is in one-way memos. You know, the ones that say: “Clean up after yourself. Your mother doesn’t work here.” Or, “Overtime slips must be turned in.” Or, “Test for carbon monoxide anytime you work on heating equipment.” Is any of it effective? No.
Here’s how my brother Richie and I used to create these worthless memos. We’d meet up at the office at the end of a crazy long day as the last two men standing. Richie would tell me a story about something he discovered techs doing in the field. And then he’d ask me — because I knew how to type — “Can you write a memo about this?” To which I’d reply, “Yes, I can.”
I’d type the memo up and show him, and he’d invariably say, “Good, but can you make it tougher?” So, I’d type it all in caps and show it to him and he’d say, “Great. But can you make it even tougher?” So, I’d type it in big red letters to convey that we were not kidding.
We felt great, but nothing changed. That was until the day I mustered the courage to ask the staff to bring in all the memos I had distributed.
Well, here’s what I found:
They managed to scrounge up some of the memos, which were crumpled and coffee-stained because they’d been filed on the floor of their truck. Many of the memos had been updated years ago, but they only had the oldest and most obsolete ones.
Way more of the memos were missing.
I took bold action. I decided from now on that the techs had to sign off on each memo. And that’s when I heard for the very first time, “What is it I’m signing?” That told me the memo was being read for the very first time then and there. But at least now the techs would know what rocks they were responsible for pushing up the hill.
It was a good start, but more was needed. I realized that for our company to operate properly, I had to create living, breathing operations manuals for every role within the company.
We spent nearly $100,000 and hundreds of hours in meetings to create these manuals. I couldn’t have done it alone. I hired a professional industry writer, PM columnist Dan Holohan, to help make sure they were written in plain English. It took me a year to just outline the policies and procedures that would enable our company to run without my brothers and me jumping and micro-managing any of our staff.
And you know what? Between the increased productivity and the reduction in callbacks and insurance claims, we pretty much got back all we’d invested within two years.
Ready to enable your employees to do their jobs better so you can focus on making your company better, instead of micromanaging their every move? Commit to creating the operating manuals required to run your company today. Who knows, maybe then the day will come when you can take a day off from pushing that boulder up the hill — at least once in a while.