Advice on dealing with technicians working side jobs.

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Last month, I wrote about a contractor who was having a problem with a tech who is doing side work. Worse yet, the tech was doing this work at his customers’ homes.

Here is the rest of the email exchange between this contractor and myself, as well as some good advice for you to follow.

Email No. 4: “Al, what is your advice on how to approach the tech on his side work at my customer’s home? Should I question him if he has been doing any side work for our other customers and see what his answer is, see if he comes clean? Or should I just go ahead and confront him and tell him I saw the check on the front seat of his vehicle?”

I responded, “I think you’ve probably had a gut feeling and known for awhile what he’s been doing but were afraid to confront him. A lot of contractors are afraid they will have to fire that person and find someone to replace him.

“That being said, I don’t know if he’ll come clean now. But lie, cheat or steal and you violate the basic tenet of a positive working relationship between owner and boss. You have the check or hopefully a copy of it and you are welcome to ask before you act, but I’d be prepared to let him go. He can promise to change his ways, but if he knew the policy, he stepped over the line.”

Email No. 5: “Yes, I already knew I needed to start looking for another tech for awhile. What advice do you have on hiring new techs and avoiding this situation in the future?”

I replied, “Hire one or two young apprentices and train them right and they’ll be better employees than this tech probably ever was. This will be especially true if you get out there and help and encourage them. Also, it builds loyalty to you and your company when you do this vs. loyalty to your tech.

“You still need your policies and procedures in writing to cover things such as not permitting side work (or at least not permitting it at your customers’ homes), which is another reason manuals are so helpful. If you have them, the training of new hires would be so much easier. Here’s the good news. You can still start by creating bulleted job descriptions going forward for the work you do if you are not in a position to create full-blown manuals. Make sure policies such as side work are covered.

“You also want to get in place the ‘steps of discipline,’ the steps you take with each staff member based on objective evidence so you can be proactive and in a position to know how to proceed when you catch someone doing something wrong. With this procedure, you’ll be better able to coach your techs.

“Progressive discipline is great, but it’s more for things such as not showing up on time or bad paperwork - not the terrible offense of stealing your customers. That’s just my opinion.”

Warning To Readers

Do you think your techs are working just for you? I recently did a ride-along with a client’s tech. The tech was fielding calls on his private cell phone as we were driving off together to run service calls. Now maybe you’re thinking I’m cynical in believing these were calls he had for his side business, but he volunteered the following:

“I would never work for a customer of our company, but when I’m not working I see no harm in working for others and making extra money.”

I replied, “I don’t make company policy and if there isn’t anything that restricts you from working in a business that doesn’t steal business from the company’s customers, I can see why you’d do it. But, I can share that in my company we would keep you plenty busy so you would have little time to do side work.

“Also, if we ever found you using our tools, trucks or any company property, you’d be finished. The key thing is, can you be physically and mentally ready to be available to the company that not only pays your salary but all the benefits most take for granted? If you want to move to the next level at the company, you’ll have to go above and beyond. Can you do that if you’re burning the candle at both ends?”

He paused for a moment and replied, “I’ve never taken that into account. It’s something to consider moving forward.”

The truth is most guys have never stopped to consider this. Why should they if you don’t help them see both sides of the coin?

If you want to get serious about putting a progressive discipline mechanism in place at your company, email me at al@appleseedbusiness.com and I’ll send you a simple one-page outline template for the critical steps all my customers use.

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