Remember that you’re in the people business
A complete turnaround.
At a recent seminar, three contractors invited me to have lunch. Two of them had used my consulting services more than 10 years ago and they were trying to convince the third to call me.
He was struggling through some hard times and they assured him that I could help. They had been amazed at how quickly I showed each of them what their company problems were, as well as how to fix them.
Our seminar was finished at 5 p.m. and I was staying at the facility for the night, so I asked the third contractor if he could stay and talk for the evening to share his circumstances. He quickly agreed when I assured him there would be no charge! We found an obscure table in the hotel dining room and since he did not have pencil or pad, I handed him those before we began.
My first statement was, “You are not just in the contracting business. It’s called a people business. If you take good care of your people, they will take good care of your business.”
I began with these questions:
- How long have you been in business? “22 years.”
- How many employees do you have? “Five in our office, two in our shop, 11 jobsite employees and four service techs.”
- How long have these employees been with you? “A couple have been with me 20 years. Many have been with me for a dozen years.”
- How about relatives, yours or those of employees? “Two in our office, four on our jobs and one service tech.”
- Do you follow a rigid written chain of command to clarify responsibility and authority? “No, I was in the army and did not like its rigid chain of command.”
- How many in your top management team were promoted from hiring positions and how many were hired as supervisors? “Less than half were promoted.”
- Do you suffer from turnover of good employees? “Yes, we have some. It is not as bad now since we have a shortage of work.”
- How many hours per week do you spend working? “Maybe about 60.”
- Does your wife work in your office? “Yes.” In what specific position? “She is my payroll clerk.”
- How do you determine how much to pay each employee? “We go by the going rate for our type of work in this market area.”
- Who opens your mail? “One of our accounting clerks.”
- Do you have after-hours training programs? “No.”
- Is every employee registered in your database skills inventory? “We don’t have one.”
- Does your management team receive human relations, employee relations and customer relations training? “No.” How about service techs? “No.”
We stopped to order dinner and the contractor’s first comment was, “I can easily see what you are leading up to. This is what you meant by the ‘people business,’ isn’t it? And if I take good care of my people, they will take good care of my business?”
He said the questions I asked scared the daylights out of him. He wondered if his business had any chance of survival if he was doing so many things wrong. He then asked if he could ask me some questions as we ate our dinner. I considered it a great response from him, that he was more than interested in improving his business.
His questions began with:
- Who should be involved in making those changes? Where should we start?
- How much will this cost?
- How long will it take to change the company and begin noticing results?
- How can we avoid hurting anyone’s pride or feelings?
I told him it’s good to get his employees involved. An easy and effective start is to enclose two sheets (see pdf below for examples) with employee’s paychecks as soon as possible. Insist that they complete the sheets and return them to the payroll clerk with the next time sheet. This way, only he and his wife would have access to the information.
It involves very little expense; you might select one or two key employees to help establish a written chain of command with job titles. Reviewing all employees’ responses will definitely help avoid hurting their pride or feelings. They will be especially proud that you are using their personal input.
This is simply “making changes with them” as opposed to “making changes for them.”
The entire process should take only two weeks so employees will quickly notice the positive results. Another two weeks will probably be needed to assign specific authority, definite responsibilities, proper titles and detailed, written job descriptions to place in each employee’s personnel file for his supervisor’s recording of performance and to review for wage adjustment.
Keep in mind, if a performance plus or minus is not discussed and entered in an employee’s file, you may not bring it up during a review!
Dinner was finished and the waiter brought the check for me to sign. I told him to just add it on my room costs. The contractor said, ‘”No, all the charges need to be added to my room!” I thought that was exceptionally nice of him. I asked him how long he wanted to continue, that I always get up with the sun in the morning and preferred getting to bed early. He told me, he, too, was an early riser, but we still had a couple of minutes left of our evening.
I asked what else he would like to discuss and he told me he needed some help with safety, OSHA compliance and wage administration. I said he would be very pleased with wage administration since his employees’ wages would now be the responsibility of their immediate supervisor in the chain of command.
Although we didn’t have much opportunity to discuss jobsite safety and OSHA compliance, I told him my column in the September issue of Plumbing & Mechanical would cover preventing jobsite accidents or injuries as well as eliminating costly OSHA violations.
As we were saying good night, I told him his well-established chain of command with specific authority and responsibility would open the door to ensuring his employees safety, OSHA compliance and proper documentation.