Do you set a good example? Do you encourage, guide, and challenge your team? The way you relate to your employees has a great influence on the growth of your business.

Organizational growth at HVAC companies is often stunted by "dysfunctional" behavior that leads to inefficiency and a constant need to do things twice. There are, however, logical, reasonable, and economical solutions to common dysfunctional quirks.

Make a List, Check it Often
Checklists and forms can help you ensure things are done right the first time.

I once called an ACCA chapter president to encourage his participation in monthly call-in meetings. He said to me, "do you realize I have 27 technicians to dispatch every morning?"

That proved to me that there are people who are still doing things the way they did them when they first started out in the business.

Doing it right the first time means you have a written process in place whereby a dispatcher directs the activity of those 27 service technicians. That's not a job for the president of the company.

If you have a dispatcher, who, for some reason, is shirking those duties, you've got a bigger problem, and need to resort to more authoritarian measures to put things in line. Fear of dismissal is never desired, but is sometimes necessary.

Take Responsibility
Remember when you were children, and something happened at home that you and your siblings knew would get you all in big trouble? Dad's "Who did it?" was quickly followed by emphatic denials of responsibility, and maybe some finger pointing.

When you take responsibility as the leader, a culture of responsible behavior will soon prevail throughout the company.

On the other side of that coin, I used to work with a man who, whenever you asked him a question, always answered, "Because."

By using such a simplistic answer, he was hinting that he knew the answer (because we didn't have enough sales; because a job went poorly), but was also communicating that he had no intention of getting to the root of the problem. All that does is close the front door and the back door to uncovering something else that's causing the problem.

When you stubbornly claim to know all the answers, you close off all other solutions that are out there.

Another common reply is, "we've always done it this way." Doing it right the first time means you have to be open to new possibilities, rather than the same old denials and excuses.

Promote According to Talent
When you go about promoting someone, do you base your decision on talent, or do you stick with experience, intelligence or determination?

Raw talent may be the better determining factor in giving someone more responsibility. You must find the right fit for all open positions, not just bump someone up to the next rung on the ladder. You must have the confidence to do this, even though they may not feel they're ready, or may not want to take on more responsibility.

Bowling Blind
When setting outcomes, define the outcome, not the "how-to." Define what you want to see, not how they're going to do it. If you don't set up the rules correctly, your employees will still follow them, and then blame you because you didn't set up the rules correctly.

When finding a way to motivate employees, focus on individual strengths. How many times can you do a review and focus on what they didn't do right for the past year? That isn't very motivational.

Many corporations don't assess employee goal attainment until the end of the year. That's like a blindfolded bowler asking, "How many pins did I knock down?"only to be told, "Don't worry about it, we'll tell you after the game is over. Roll another ball." That approach creates frustration and animosity.

Why Employees Leave
The biggest cause of employee turnover is not money, or benefits, or the job itself; it's the employee's relationship with his or her immediate supervisor. There is something in the way the supervisor acts that turns people on or turns people off.

"Eating your own dog food" means that, as the leader of the organization, you are expected to act like the leader. Your employees watch your every move, and may even imitate the way you react to pressure when faced with challenging situations.

  • How do you react under pressure, or when you are confronted?
  • An unhappy customer can get pretty nasty. Do you yell back and slam down the phone, or diffuse a difficult situation with tact and empathy?
  • You may be elated when the company wins a project. But do you get angry and throw things when you don't win a bid?
  • When faced with an issue of integrity, what road do you take, the honest road or the low-brow, "everybody does it" dishonest road (also known as the "road to ruin.")

Are your employees truly "buying in," or are they just along for the ride?

Inspire commitment in others by keeping your own. Don't make a commitment you don't intend to keep. Do what needs to be done, no matter how unpopular. Deal with fear, confusion and doubt up front.

When Jim Collins wrote Good to Great, he wanted to know why people stayed with an organization. He found the most successful organizations hired people who liked their coworkers, and were drawn to the corporate culture; they wanted to go wherever that organization was going, no matter what.

Find the people who want to stay on your bus, and treat them right. Get the ones off your bus who don't want to go where you're going.

It Starts with You
First, break all the rules. Think outside the box when hiring, training, developing, and promoting employees. Be aware of how your actions affect others and become an inspiration to them.

Understand the impact of your communication style, and manage well during the good times and bad times.

Questions to Ask Employees

  • Do you know what is expected of you?
  • Do you have the materials and tools to do your job well?
  • Do you have the opportunity to do your best everyday?
  • In the last seven days, did you receive praise or recognition for a job well done?
  • Do you think the company leaders care about you as a person?
  • Do you feel your opinion is worth something?
  • Is the mission/purpose of the company a complement to your job?
  • Do you have a good friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone talked to you about your progress?
  • Have you had an opportunity to learn and grow?

Mitch's book list

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don't, by Jim Collins.

The Corporate Mystique: A Guidebook for Visionaries with their Feet on the Ground, by Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman.

First, Break all the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.

The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni.

For more information about the 2006 Commercial Contracting Roundtable, contact Richard Ware at ACCA, 703/824-8843, or watch www.acca.org or www.contractingbusiness.com for details.

Mitch Slavensky is president of ACS Controls Corporation, Pleasanton, CA. He can be reached by calling 925/485-0062, or by email, at mitch@acscontrols.net

Give us your feedback on this article at letters@contractingbusiness.com

This article is based on the presentation, Do it Right the First Time, which Mitch Slavensky gave at the 2005 Commercial Contracting Roundtable, held in Scottsdale, AZ, Oct. 25-26. The Commercial Contracting Roundtable, which also incorporates the Design/Build Seminar, is co-sponsored by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and Contracting Business magazine. In 2005, the Roundtable presented 16 business management and technical sessions specifically tailored for commercial HVAC and Design/Build contractors.