Steven B. Andrade

There are many benefits to building a positive company culture at your business, aside from the obvious — positive is good. To do so, though, you must build this positive culture across all departments of the company. A positive interdepartmental culture is not possible without providing an atmosphere and feeling that comes from working with others all striving to be the best.

One of the biggest benefits to creating this type of great work environment is that it opens up many opportunities for success. There’s growth potential for every employee, and it sets the company up with competitive benefits and salaries.

At A.O. Reed, we’re a family. We’ve been privately owned since 1914, and currently have 36 employees with more than 20 years of loyalty to our family. Many of our employees include multiple family members or multiple generations of employees. This is possible because of the pride our employees take in the company and the culture in which they work.

Keys to Success
First, and foremost, you must insist on quality. Quality in everything you do from every employee. I can’t stress this enough. In our 94 years of existence, our employees have understood the importance of maintaining the reputation of the company through quality.

Our customers count on us for a quality job, and we want our customers to know that we’ll always be there for them. We’ll do it right every time. It’s because of this that we’ve been able to maintain a reputation for impeccable service for 94 years.

When you provide quality, you build long-term relationships with your customers — close, personal relationships. Maintaining communications with your customers at the highest levels keeps these relationships honest.

Next, you must ensure a safe environment. As they say, safety is king.

There are many simple things you can do to make your employees and your customers feel safe with your company.

We run pre-employment drug and alcohol testing for both office and field workers. We perform background checks, and a clean driving record is required for employment. In addition, whether in the office or in the field, a post-accident test is mandatory.

We do these things because we care for our employees. Every piece of safety equipment that they need is available to them. They’re not a number to us. We want them to work safely.

Of course, we do other things to encourage safety as well. For instance, we have a safety awards program. We give out t-shirts, flashlights, safety knives, and letters of appreciation. You might not think about it, but this all goes a long way in increasing everyone’s awareness and enthusiasm for a safe work environment.

Provide the right tools.
Listen to your people and know what they need to do their jobs. Provide everyone with the proper training to get the job done.

The right tools and materials make for an extremely productive work environment. Give them what they need to do a GREAT JOB!

And don’t forget to share the praise. Look for someone doing something right, and thank them when you “catch them.” Post thank you letters, e-mails, or faxes — and remember to give a copy to the employee or employees who are being thanked.

We send out an A.O. Reeder newsletter. A company-wide newsletter is a great way to praise your employees for a job well-done. Also, select an Employee of the Month and reward them. Give them a monetary bonus, or a preferred parking space, or a trophy or plaque.

Everyone likes to hear when they’ve done a good job. It reminds them why they come to work every day, and keeps them coming back.

Lastly, and I can’t emphasize this enough, let go! That’s right, learn to let go. You’ve hired great people. Set goals and make your expectations clear. Give your employees the power to do what’s best for the customer. Remove obstacles to their performance, and get out of the way. Let go! Step in only when necessary.

Interdepartmental Cooperation
Interdepartmental cooperation is key to creating a positive company culture. Hold weekly divisional meetings so that all departments are on the same page.

We have three divisions at A.O. Reed: construction, light commercial, and service. Each can work together on a project to give our customers the quality we guarantee.

Regular meetings are held to discuss ongoing and potential projects. At these meetings, we determine which department will propose and/or handle a project and/or customer. With these three departments, usually one stands out as the best to serve a customer’s requirements.

Remember, always do what’s best for the customer.

It’s also important to have intradepartmental cooperation within your service department. This includes your sales staff, sales manager, HVAC project salespersons, HVAC maintenance salespersons, and technicians … everyone must cooperate and work toward those same keys to success outlined above.

Leaders vs. Managers
Finally, it is important to figure out whether you’re a leader, or a manager. There is a difference. Leaders are not always managers, and likewise, managers are not always leaders.

Leaders evoke respect. Managers evoke fear.
Leaders need the respect of all those who work for them. That doesn’t mean employees have to like the leader — it’s helpful — but they must respect the leader’s knowledge, experience, and trust that the leader knows that what they’re asking will lead to success.

Leaders inspire action. Managers demand action.
Leaders lead and managers push. Leaders need to inspire employees to “buy in” to the process needed for success. The co-workers need to have input, ask questions, and be given permission to make a change if required.

Leaders expect failure. Managers fear failure.
Not every great idea or project succeeds in every aspect. If you expect failure you can be ready for it with alternative plans. Sometimes a very minor change is needed to succeed.

Leaders listen to others. Mangers listen to themselves.
Listen to your fellow workers. If you have hired the right people they know better what will work than you ever will. If you ask them, and listen to them they will help the group excel. No one wants to be ignored, and no one wants to work for a losing company, department or manager. They want to work for a leader!

Leaders are vision oriented. Managers are doing oriented.
A leader lets their co-workers “do” the work. The leaders job is to eliminate obstacles to their performance, help them succeed, and not get in the way micro managing them.

A leader does the right thing, a manager does things right.
Leaders do right things. Managers do things right.

The difference between the two is very subtle. A leader makes sure to do the right thing for the company, the customer and/or employees. Doing the right thing may not be by the book, but it needs to be right.

Leaders determine what to measure. Managers measure.
A leader’s job is to set the tone, the standards, goals, and work ethic for their areas of responsibilities. Others should perform the work, meet the standards and goals, and provide the “measurements” back to their leader for review.

Are you a leader, or a manager? The sooner you become a leader, the sooner you can lead your company down a successful path — the path where all employees and all departments are working together toward one common goal. To be the best.

Steven B. Andrade is president of A.O. Reed & Company, a successful mechanical contracting company in San Diego, CA, and the 2007 Contracting Business magazine Commercial Contractor of the Year. He can be reached at www.aoreed.com.