My dad believed I should never ask any employee to do what I hadn’t done myself. Frankly, I didn’t appreciate this when I was a kid growing up in the business because it meant everything from mopping floors, unplugging toilets, going onto a roof in freezing-cold weather and crawling through a hot attic with fiberglass insulation creeping into some places I’d rather forget about.
But as I got older, I grew to appreciate his wisdom.
What it enabled me to do when I became more of a manager and less of a technician was to sit across from a potential new hire and say, “If I’m not going on the roof in the dead of winter, you don’t have to go either. But if I’m going up that ladder, you better be right behind me.
“If you’re looking to work at a place where the owners or managers will meet you any time you’re stuck, any time of day or night, this is a good place to work. But if you’re looking to work someplace where you can hide out in the field, this isn’t a good fit and you ought to consider looking elsewhere.
“If you choose to stay, here’s my organizational chart. You’ll see this is where you are today and know you can go on to fill all these other positions in the future.”
Rarely do I recall anyone leaving an interview. I believe it’s because most people appreciated the honesty and the fact that I was going to be fair and consistent, and be there with them when the sledding gets tough. Plus, they knew where they stood and what their future opportunities could be.
Today, I get owners and managers asking me, “Must I change who I am to be effective as a boss? What I mean is, I don’t want to yell at people to get them to do things and I like to be friendly with those who work for me. Is that possible?”
Follow these steps to being effective and friendly
The answer I give them is, “It absolutely is! But you do need to set up the ground rules and objective standards for how people on your team must behave and how they are going to be judged as effective in their positions.” And then you must supply the following:
1. Progressive steps of disciplinethat are applied each time with each person so no favoritism exists. Your employees need to know where they stand with you.
For example, as a kid I hated cutting the lawn. The only thing I would have hated more is if I knew one of my brothers didn’t have to do it. The same rules apply to all.
2. Training that allows them to tell you what they don’t knowor are unsure of without repercussions. If you embarrass employees in front of their peers about what they don’t know, do you think they’ll ever show you what else they don’t know? The answer is a resounding no!
I was the boss’s kid and the second-best tech at our shop of 25 techs. Richie, my brother, was and still is the best tech. Want to know a secret? I used to talk some customers out of a repair that I wasn’t super confident about. I had holes in my own knowledge.
Can you imagine what your own techs are covering up if you make it unsafe to share what they don't know?
3. Training that allows them to move up the organizational chart.There’s got to be a reason besides just professional pride for your technicians to learn more and get better at what they do. One great reason is the opportunity to move up in your organization. It allows them to make more money, and do more interesting and challenging work, which benefits the customer and the company.
4. Support when something out of the ordinary comes up.Being a tech can get very lonely when you feel it’s just you out there. Especially so when you’re running after-hours calls. It’s great to know you can reach out to someone else when you’re stuck, need help or are overloaded. When you do this, you build a team mentality and you increase the retention of good employees.
5. Consistent positive feedbackfor when employees are doing well and coaching when they’re messing up. Both of these have rewards and consequences.
Either give them attention by finding them doing something good or they’ll get your attention by doing something bad. It’s crazy but it’s how we’re wired.
Here’s what I do know: yelling and screaming at employees doesn’t work!
And telling people that it’s their job doesn’t work anymore. I’m not sure it ever did; maybe if you were a boss about 50 years ago. My dad told me you could get away with it back then.
But that was not his style of management. In fact, he was loved by the people who worked for him because he was consistent in the way he handled people. He cared about them in a way that went beyond treating them as just employees. This didn’t mean he’d turn a blind eye when they were falling short.
Part of his preparing me to step into a management role vs. being a tech was learning how to apply these principles. When the time came to fire someone, I did it in a way that respected him as a person yet let him know there was no longer room for him at our company.
It was very difficult to terminate an employee back then. I was young and painfully shy at the time and the thought of confrontation was scary. But I learned that providing ongoing training, coaching and objective standards, along with applying the Steps of Discipline, made it easier for them and for me because we all knew where we stood. When it came time for the axe to fall, it wasn’t that much of a shock.
Having systems that are part of your business culture means you can stay true to yourself, be friendly and welcoming of your staff while being fair and firm.
Ultimately, it will make your company the employer of choice.