BY BRYCE JOHNSON AND CHERRI MARRESE

If you've been in business long, it's a pretty safe bet that someone has offered you advice by suggesting you read a certain book or magazine article.

Several years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Good to Great, by Jim Collins. I was very impressed with the research, ideas, and conclusions it offered; so impressed, in fact, that during my next ACCA MIX ®group meeting, I strongly recommended the book to my colleagues.

At the next MIX group meeting, I discovered that one of the members of the group had not only read the book, but had asked others within his organization to read it, and had invited those individuals to his family's cabin for an off-site discussion about the book's themes.

I had been trumped. I had read the book first, but my friend had used the book not only as a tool to improve himself, but more importantly, as a tool to improve others in his organization.

Not to be outdone, we invited one of the better facilitators I know to help us embark on what has become a journey for our company. This journey has led us to more books, annual retreats, monthly meetings, weekly updates, and a daily, ongoing focus on individual and organizational improvement.

Growing the Culture
We continue to develop and maintain our culture through meetings during which we discuss the books and tapes that are central to our vision.

Company-wide meetings, facilitated by Don Kardux of Business Navigators, Toledo, OH, helped us focus on company values that are revealed in two Charterhouse International Learning Corporation videos, "Fish!" and "It's So Simple," used by Business Navigators.

We also used the video "Fish Sticks" to kick off our dedication to becoming a "coaching culture."

We dedicated ourselves to becoming a "coaching culture," which contains two important conditions:

  1. I give permission to be coached by anyone in the company
  2. I accept the obligation to coach everyone, whether they are acting within or outside of our vision.

Our monthly departmental meetings cover training issues, profit and loss reports, and a re-view of key elements of the company culture.

In addition to the monthly meetings facilitated by Business Navigators, we've held retreats in the mountains in northern Arizona.

  • The first retreat was reserved for managers, and featured a discussion of Good to Great, a key tenet of which is that you must have only the best people — those with winning attitudes —"riding your bus" to success.
  • The second retreat was open to all employees who had to "won a seat" on the Good to Great bus by studying Marcus Buckingham's book, First, Break All The Rules. They also wrote essays explaining why they should be chosen to attend a retreat, and participated in interviews with their supervisors and other decision makers. More than 20 applied and six were chosen.
  • The third retreat was open to everyone in the company. Thirty-two out of 35 made it to the mountains to review the book , Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham, and to review the results of a test they had taken to determine their top five strengths.

Throughout all of this reading and meeting, our intent was to translate the concepts represented by the books, tapes, and our own input into actions that would result in consistent, positive behavior in a strengths-based culture.

Finding and Developing Our Strengths
Each of the 34 strengths identified by Marcus Buckingham in Now, Discover Your Strengths has a unique meaning.

For example, our dispatcher has "restorative"as her #1 strength, which means she is energized by solving problems.

When faced with a complex situation involving many factors, an "arranger" enjoys managing all of the variables, aligning and realigning them until they are arranged in the most productive configuration possible.

Our retrofit manager considers individual strengths when he sets up his crews. If he sees that a lead installer and a helper are both strong "arrangers," he will probably separate them, to have the strengths of an "arranger" in as many crews as possible.

Equal Voice for All
In our understanding of "strengthsbased management," every position is equally important to the overall goals of the team. Decision makers support their departments and team members, and everyone has a voice.

When everyone is encouraged to offer ideas and criticism, and they realize that it comes without reproach, they tend to tell you exactly how they feel. The challenge for you as a manager is in how you respond to their honesty.

If a team member believes he has the answer to a particular issue, there's a possibility that his idea will not be practical from a business standpoint. How do you respond?

This can usually be overcome by explaining why the idea wouldn't work. It's even more challenging if the idea was tried in the past and didn't work, because the employee thinks that you didn't do it right; or, if he is a new employee, he may not trust that it had been tried at all.

It's important that the team member be heard, and that his idea be considered and discussed. If the timing at the meeting is not appropriate to talk about the idea in detail, be certain everyone knows the idea will be discussed in detail at a future meeting.

Sharing a Common Vision is Vitally Important
Facing the tough stuff head-on will never be easy, but we are getting better at it. Situations such as terminating a seasoned lead installer at the onset of summer (see sidebar) or patiently working through an adverse work situation with a valued employee will never be easy.

Confronting these issues rather than ignoring or dismissing them has been very worthwhile. We still have customer complaints, the occasional grumpy technician, and other battles that come with running an HVAC company.

However, when the right people buy in to a common vision, success is imminent, and fighting the daily battles as a team is much more worthwhile.

Bryce Johnson is president, and Cherri Marrese is general manager of Air Conditioning by Jay, Scottsdale, AZ. They can be reached at 480/922-4455; cherri@acbyj.com; bryce@acbyj.com

CRISIS AND RESPONSE

Cherri Marrese

Our lead installer had been with us for more than eight years, and he had always provided a consistent and quality installation on every job he completed. He showed up on time every day, always looked professional; his truck was immaculate and never had any "external" customer complaints.

The challenge was that his "internal" customers — his co-workers — didn't want to work with him. He had been through several helpers because he didn't have the patience to train them. He decided he was tired of field work, and wanted to move into a different position. As we were trying to find a different seat on the "bus" for him, he chose to oppose his manager in a public meeting.

Our culture promotes "coaching from all levels to all levels." However, in this particular situation, the fact that the installer spoke up and "confronted" the manager was not the problem. The problem was that he was disrespectful, and he had made his confrontation in pubilc.

The decision to let him go was one of the toughest challenges we have ever faced. At that moment, I was making the decision to remove a seasoned installer from the battlefield.

The feedback was mixed. He did a good job, but had caused internal disruption; and May in Scottsdale, AZ is the wrong time to be downsizing your installation department.

But when I asked the opinion of another lead installer (his counterpart), he answered, "We can make anything happen with the right people. We'll just have to pull together like we always have, and get it done."

And we did. The summer was tough. Salesmen, owners, and managers manned jobs as needed to cover the workload. The office spent Saturdays making sure that the guys had food and kept hydrated. Although we were all tired and overworked, it turned out to be one of our best and most prosperous summers.

From my perspective, this represented the breakthrough point for our organization.


LEARNING PATH

For more information on this topic, go to: www.busnav.com