One owner tells how he conquered total turnover to get his business back where he wanted it.

What's it like to have all of your employees quit? In the November issue, I visited with Steve Dohner, owner of Dohner Plumbing Co. Inc. in Dayton, Ohio. He made some big changes - he moved to flat rate pricing at a new, profit-producing rate and started to hold employees accountable to written policies and procedures. And just about every employee left.

When we last checked in with Steve (find my November PM article, "Bouncing Back," at, he was bouncing back from almost total turnover. I decided to call him up and ask how things were going. Interesting conversation. Here's part two of Steve's story. The saga continuesÉ

Steve reports: "It was rough, to say the least, going from six techs to one. But today I feel good about my decisions, about my intention to run this company the right way. We have bounced back. We found and hired great people to replace the ones who left. This year, our sales are up more than 40 percent over last year.

"I understand that I am responsible for the success or failure of this company and the people who work here. Whenever I encounter a problem, I know that I played a part in creating that problem. I take responsibility. I hold myself and my team to this standard: Do the right thing every time."

I pressed Steve: "Doing the right thing. Nice thought. But how do you know what the right thing is?"

"It starts," Steve advised, "with belief in your own principles."

Brave New World

"I have a lofty vision of what Dohner Plumbing can be, and we are getting closer. We've improved every aspect of the company," Steve continued. "Our recruiting and hiring procedures are much more involved. We take our time finding just the right person. I don't panic and hire anyone with a pulse. I make it my practice to talk to an applicant over the phone before I invite him or her to the shop. I'm looking for courtesy and manners. I've learned to do a thorough background check, too.

"I used to place technical competence and experience as my top requirements," Steve explained. "Now, if a person is interested in the company and demonstrates good communication skills, I will commit to his technical training. I don't expect to find technically skilled recruits.

"We've changed our operating hours. I've become a data fanatic. I track everything. We discovered that 30 percent of our sales were from evening and weekend calls. Wow! So we expanded our after-hours availability and started marketing those hours. No, the techs weren't delighted about it. But they could see the numbers, and it made sense to cater to our customers. We did implement a generous on-call compensation program. But taking your turn on the night shift is not optional. We've hired an evening CSR who will answer the phones and dispatch at our office until 9 p.m.

"I spend time each week going over individual statistics and sales data with each service tech. I've simplified the information so I don't overload them with complicated financial data. It has been an effort for me to learn the numbers side of the business, so I know how confusing it can be. I love it when one of the techs is really close to a new record or working on a great bonus for the week. I make it my mission to help him get it.

"I try to pay attention to every employee and every developing situation. I want to handle problems before they get out of hand. As the owner, you are like a father to some of your employees. They will test the boundaries, but they'll respect you when you draw the line and hold them accountable. When you let an employee bend or break the rules, the others who are in compliance resent your cavalier approach. You are disrespecting them by kowtowing to the problem employee."

Drug Free World

"I started using a safety expert a few years back. I needed some help with OSHA mandates and hired an excellent consultant. He created and delivered our safety training and saved us thousands of dollars on insurance premiums. I turned to him when I copped to the fact that I was avoiding drug testing.

"I had to implement it. It's the right thing to do. We announced our decision to the troops and created our program and plan for implementation. Then we did our first round of drug testing."

"Not everyone passed. I wasn't surprised at the test results. The big decision when you set up your drug-testing program is whether you're going to fire them or stand by them. Either option is justifiable. I had decided that we were going to offer those who tested positive a chance to get clean and keep their jobs.

"Our program works like this: Anyone who tests positive is referred to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), available through our Chamber of Commerce. The EAP is a collection of doctors and professionals who can offer advice. They talk to the employees; they don't prescribe drugs.

"The EAP professional will make a recommendation for the employee. It might be attending the EAP outpatient drug rehab program or suggesting the employee check into an inpatient program. The employee submits to random monthly drug tests for one year, at his own expense. If he stays clean for a year - I call this the 'show-me-you're-clean' year - then he is off the hook for the monthly testing. Then he participates in the random testing (the company pays for this), which is standard for all Dohner employees.

"The EAP program is paid for by Dohner Plumbing. If they need an inpatient program, the Dohner Plumbing-provided health insurance pays for it. I'm grateful to our safety adviser for helping us create such a supportive program. And the reduction in workers' comp insurance more than pays for the program and the consulting."

Scary New World

At this point in our conversation, I couldn't help asking: "Steve, weren't you afraid that you were going to have to start over again? After all you had done to rebuild your company, weren't you afraid of losing your techs again?"

Steve replied: "You know, nothing scares me anymore. I started over once; I can do it again. Or, I can do something else. But it is not an option for me to drop my standards. I will be successful, or not, but I will run this company one way - the right way."

That's the point. To live a life that matters. Meaningful work is critical to the owner, as well as the employees. Barbara Sher, in her book "It's Only Too Late If You Don't Start Now," says:

"We need to know about people like the woman who started her own school in Chicago and taught classes to underprivileged kids and got them into college. The student who studied history on her own simply because she was interested and the school didn't teach it. The nun who went to Africa by herself because no one would give her permission, then sat under a tree until the children brought her food and villagers got to know her, and taught them to read and write and ultimately built 20 schools.

"We need to see what they look like, what they care about, how they made their choices, how they got started, if we're ever going to learn what we need as individuals. Because only from their example can we hope to touch our own potential for greatness."

We need to know about people like Steve and the Dohner Plumbing team.

When you face the end of your life, can you rest knowing that you held onto your principles? That you held yourself to a higher standard? That you chose the right way, to the best of your ability? That you had a dream É and you went for it?

Best of everything to you in your brave new world.