It's easy to be great.

"You can pour a cup of water -- 8 ounces! -- in one of these babies and it will NOT leak!"

I love this industry. I think plumbers are just wonderful. At dinner following a recent training class, one of our Revolutionaries was waxing enthusiastic ... about shoe covers.

"They are TYVEX," Barry Taylor, of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, Omaha, Neb., explained, to the oohhs and aaahhs of his fellow Plumbers. "Have you ever put shoe covers on over wet boots and had slush seep through to your customer's carpet? Well, here's your answer. But it gets better." Barry leaned in, and so did the rest of his tablemates, several of whom were starting to foam at the mouth.

"Put a pair of them on your sewer machine wheels. No more wheel track marks!"

A cheer rose from the table. High fives all around. Barry nodded proudly, knowingly. Plumbers love this stuff.

Are you looking for the missing piece? The silver bullet? The ONE THING that will make the difference between success and failure in your business?

Well, there isn't one thing. Success is a matter of little things -- done well. It's a matter of being passionate about those things. Success comes from not neglecting to do those little things (like shoe covers) day in and day out.

My latest, favorite business book is "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. The CD version of the book is better than the bound version. Buy it and plug it into your "rolling university" (i.e., car or truck.) Here's a recap.

Level Five Leadership

Companies that made the move from good to great have Level Five leadership. Collins categorizes leaders into levels.
  • Level One leaders are highly capable individuals who deliver results via talent, skill and good work habits;

  • Level Two leaders expand their contributions to team projects, accomplishing objectives as a productive group member;

  • Level Three leaders are competent managers who effectively and efficiently achieve goals;

  • Level Four leaders lay out a vision, a plan and hold to high performance standards; and

  • Level Five leaders build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.
Are you a Level Five leader? If you care enough to wonder if you could be, you can be. Even if you aren't there yet, resolve to do what it takes to get the job done. Do what you can. Keep your nose to the grindstone. Results will win out.

The paradox is that Level Five leaders often don't see themselves as such. Level Five leader Darwin Smith of Kimberly-Clark paper, commenting on his stellar business achievements, said, "I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job."

Determine First Who, Then What

Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, the right people in the right seats. Then figure out where to drive it.

De-hire the people in your company who are sucking the life out of you. You know who I am talking about, don't you? Collins suggests two powerful questions to help you get out of your denial:

    1. Would you hire him or her again, knowing what you know about him or her?
    2. If he or she quit, would your instant reaction be dread or delight?
"Letting the wrong people hang around is unfair to all the right people, as they inevitably find themselves compensating for the inadequacies of the wrong people. Worse, it can drive away the best people," says Collins.

Think you are being nice by letting the underachievers hang around? You're not. You are enabling them to be losers. And that is not OK. Everyone has a gift to share. Let them go. And let them win elsewhere.

Have you noticed that the right people don't require motivating, cajoling, "selling," badgering or babysitting? The right people are right there. And they want to do great things. They would do great things with or without you. It's an honor to have them on your team.

Confront The Brutal Facts, Yet Never Lose Faith

If you were to create a scoreboard for your plumbers and hang it up at your shop, I promise you that you will have an increase in sales. Probably right away.

Maybe not. Maybe at first, the scores might be so low that the plumbers convince you to take the scoreboard off the wall. Don't do it. Leave the board up. And figure out what you need to do to make the score better.

A compelling vision can be motivating, but it's a temporary fix. The statistics, the score, can galvanize the right people to a compelling objective. Consider the challenge of breaking the four-minute mile. Imagine suggesting to Roger Bannister that instead of pursuing that goal, a goal that had not yet been achieved by anyone, he should stop timing his races.

Address the brutal facts about the technical competency of your team. Ride along. Follow up and check on jobs. Track call-backs. Is the work done to code? Is it done to your even higher standards? Checklist what you want done, and how to do it. Measure performance against your standards and resolve the technical skills issues that are keeping your company from being great.

Keeping score has another powerful effect on your company; it creates an environment of truth-telling. No matter the score, there is always something to do to make it better.

Operate On The Hedgehog Concept

Stick to the knitting and do that at which you can become great.

In other words, do what you can become great at doing. Do you LOVE what you do? What area of plumbing or heating inspires you? Home service? Radiant heat? Drains? Water conditioning? Or is it time for you to find another industry entirely? No harm in that! If you are miserable, why not move on?

If you are passionate about what you do, you are on the right track. A great company is one that becomes the BEST at what they do. Do you have the best in you? If you are operating several companies or several divisions and NONE very well, pick the one you love the most and become the best. Ditch the rest.

Have A Culture Of Discipline

Discipline is defined by Funk & Wagnalls as "Training of the mental, moral and physical powers by instruction, control and exercise." Discipline is paradoxically liberating. With discipline, you need less hierarchy and bureaucracy. It means that everyone on the bus does what needs to be done and avoids that which is nonproductive or wasteful.

It's characterized by not neglecting to do the little things. Like picking up trash in the parking lot on your way into the building. Like answering the phone with the appropriate script every time the phone rings. Like bringing your "A" game to every service call.

Get The Flywheel Turning

Use small, repeated pushes on the wheel. The flywheel is the metaphor for your plan. There is no silver bullet. There is no magic moment when one great push on the flywheel gets you launched. There is a relentless series of little pushes and little victories, building until the flywheel starts generating electricity.

Collins reported the great company representatives couldn't recall a single moment when the momentum shifted or "when it all changed." The daily wins add up, the results become more and more visible and the reasons for believing become bigger.

Be on the lookout for a better way. Passion about details creates a culture of excellence. It can be as simple as upgrading your shoe covers.

The old adage, "It's quicker to do it right than twice" rings true. Do not neglect to do the things you can do. The things that are easy. The things you are passionate about. The things that make you great.

Ellen Rohr At ISH NA 2003

Ellen Rohr is a scheduled speaker at this year's ISH North America Tradeshow held Oct. 1-3 in Las Vegas, Nev. She will present "Easy Money: How to Stop Doing the Things That Keep You From Being Successful" on Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. To register for the show, visit www.ish-na.com.