Archive for October, 2008

In Tough Times, Smart Businesses Focus on Differentiation

I do lots of presentations on serving the customer.  And each time I begin, I see the faces up front, doubting, hoping, wondering “What is there about customer service that hasn’t been said, and said, and said again?”  “Please, don’t tell me to do what we all know I cannot do…make them love me!”

So, I ease into the topic.  “Why” I ask, “do you suppose customers fire us?” I get blank stares.  Savvy managers know it’s typically not anything we’ve done to the customer…it’s the total impact of the customer experience that deals the death blow.  I forge ahead.

“To understand why we are fired by our valued customers, we must look at how they became customers in the first place!”  I talk about how customers are sold; how we set expectations.  And I do that because that is the starting point for developing a serious reputation for service excellence.

Now, I’m a consultant working mostly in the home services industry…landscaping, lawn care, pest control, etc.  So, my clients typically don’t interact with customers face to face that often…unless of course, there is trouble. Then, half of them cancel service without ever letting us know of their dissatisfaction! Wow! What’s a service company to do? Is there a process that will translate into customer loyalty?  Briefly…sure.

This is a big topic.  For purposes of this post, I simply want to expose the topic and see what interest there is in exploring the process for building what I refer to as E-Service or, defined my way, E for excellence in service.

What is E-Service? My defininition is ‘doing whatever it takes to make each customer feel special.’  That’s it.  Not complicated but not easy either.

Is it possible? Yep, I work with businesses doing it every day.  How do they make it happen? Again, not complicated…but not easy either.  They go about the work of creating a true CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE.  It can and does happen. I see it, so, I know it’s real.
What are the requirements? First, and most vital to success, is a top down recognition that, without a reputation for service excellence in today’s service industry, you have one and only one thing to offer….price. And, as we all know, when you sell with price, you lose customers the same way…to the first ‘low baller’ who comes along and undercuts you.

It is possible to differentiate with service. This sort of differentiation is not new. Nordstroms and Southwest Airlines, each a representative of the high and low end products in their respective industries, have done it for decades.  So, it can be done.

In hard economic times…like the ones we face today and will in 2009, I believe it’s worth looking at creating added value through E-Service.  As I said, it involves and requires a paradigm shift for most organizations. Still, it can and is being done.  Some of initial moves are bullet pointed below.

  • Recognition that selling price leads to low quality sales and no customer loyalty.
  • Setting reasonable expectations is a must in the marketing-sales message.
  • The sales process must provide continuity with the marketing message and brand reputation.
  • Service delivery must mirror expectations set.
  • The E-Service company will subscribe to the philosophy that “If you see a problem, you own the problem.”
  • Service delivery and satisfaction levels are closely monitored. Results drive business tactics.
  • Employees are trained and cross trained to appreciate all team functions.
  • Communications skills are an absolute….and using them is NOT an option.
  • Customer ‘touch points’ are maximize and a personal, almost intimate relationship developed.
  • E-Service companies establish customer focused lines of authority and a reasonable escalation policy for problem-complaint resolution.
  • E-Service companies have a well thought out ‘service recovery’ process, ensuring that quick problem resolution resulting in complete customer satisfaction and brand strengthening.

These are a few of the skeletal fundamentals that are basic to the E-Service philosophy.  If you are interested, let me know it with a comment below.

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Training On The Job

The busier you are, the tougher to schedule pure ‘training time’.  For years, I’ve encouraged the use of ‘small bite’ training in the form of Monday morning meetings or, as they are known in landscaping, ‘tail gate’ sessions. 

 

To really change behavior, your training technique must be more than effective in the classroom; it must easy to use on the job.  Recently, working in the field with a new hire, I was reminded of the necessity to ‘teach not tell’.  As I attempted to explain what seemed like a simple task, I recognized the unmistakable stare of a new employee who had no experience and didn’t really get my message.  In a hurry, I repeated the message… “Just do it the way I told you to,” I repeated.  For the second time, the new person failed to properly perform the task.  While it might seem obvious, I realized that I had forgotten a cardinal training rule… “Teach don’t tell”.  I had not taken time to DEMONSTRATE the expected performance and relied on words to communicate.

 

Every now and again, I have to remind myself that we are visual learners.  Experts have shown that as much as 85% of our knowledge is gained visually, while only about seven or eight percent comes through the spoken word.  In sales training sessions, I have often taught learners that “words create pictures” and that communicating on the phone requires the effective use of language and speaking skills.  But there is no question that SHOWING BEATS TELLING every time.

 

Here is a simple process you can use to train effectively; I call it the “AC/DC” process. 

  1. ACTIVITY performed.  Assuming the trainee has received proper advance instruction, have the trainee perform the task or “activity”.
  1. CRITIQUE.  Observe the action, reinforce proper procedure, identify any changes needed.
  2. DEMONSTRATE.  Perform the proper procedure for the trainee.  Show, don’t just tell!
  1. CRITIQUE.  Again, observe and critique.  Be sure you reinforce proper procedures…explain and demonstrate any corrections indicated.

 

That’s it…AC/DC!  A training/coaching process that’s easy to remember, easy to use.

 

Just a note about the critique: It’s important to let the trainee know what he/she is doing right!  If you are talking only about what it wrong, the message is “you are a loser”.  Complimenting satisfactory performance is important to keep the message positive.  Remember, when a trainee feels they are making steady progress, they will be motivated to continue learning.  That, of course, is the objective.

 

Finally, readers may know by now that my view of the trainer’s responsibility is that we trainer’s are responsible to not only teach job skills but to help ensure that employees are willing and able to execute what they have learned…and do so consistently. In a later post, we’ll explore training techniques that will help get your crew through the busiest months of your business season.  But why wait?  Start thinking now about the need to plan and show your concern for the physical and emotional condition of your team members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eliminating Team Busters – Landscaping business example

It’s a mid-summer Monday morning in Grassville.  You have just completed your regular team meeting, making assignments, recognizing top performers….steering the ship through another week in the green industry.

 

At this week’s meeting, you tried to emphasize your strong belief that if your small company does not deliver better, more personalized customer service than the competition, your business will suffer.  You talked about knocking on the door of each customer’s home, checking with homeowners every chance you get to identify any questions or problems that may need attention.  You talked about ‘doing the job right the first time’, to avoid unnecessary service calls. 

 

A quick survey of the crew’s faces signaled that they got the message.  Heads nodded agreement at every point.  You ended the meeting satisfied.

 

After the session, you watch over the day’s ‘start-up’, making sure the crew is organized and on the road, then turn your attention toward repairing the breakdown of an important spray rig.  In the middle of the job, missing some parts, it’s clear you’ll have to pick up some supplies to finish the job. 

 

Since another employee is using your pick-up, you borrow the Office Manager’s car and head for the store.  About a mile from the shop, you notice two of your vehicles at a Mickey D’s.  Strange…you provided all the necessary coffee and doughnuts the guys could eat only 20 minutes earlier…why Mickey D’s?  Why now?

 

Unable to arrive at a logical reason for their presence, you pull in.  Parking the unfamiliar car in the rear, you go in through the side door.

 

In the middle of the room, sitting behind a row of plants, are two of your people.  Interestingly, one is a new employee, on the job only a few weeks.  The other person is a long time veteran.  The two are absorbed in their conversation and don’t notice your arrival.

 

Like a stealth fighter, you slide undetected into a hidden seat opposite the row of interior plants.  Only five or six feet away and completely unaware, your two employees provide an easy-to-hear conversation.

 

What happens next should happen to all managers at least once in their careers.

 

Listening with growing interest, you become the uncomfortable witness to an all too common employee ‘mind set’ or attitude you’ve come to know as ‘The Team Buster’.  The ‘TB’, as you now refer to these insidious negative employees, can, if a very short time, eliminate positive thinking.  They create divisiveness and negative attitudes that can destroy a team’s morale, productivity and loyalty, leading to increased turnover.

 

As the conversation progresses, you find it hard to stay cool.  Tom, your six-year veteran is lecturing Anthony, your new employee.  In his monologue, he goes into great detail about his extensive experience working with customers.  He tells Anthony that ‘what you heard in the meeting is the typical bosses ‘take’ on customer service’.  With a superior sneer, Tom carefully outlines what he calls ‘the real world’, and lets Anthony know in plain terms that ‘what ‘he’ told us to do is what all ‘bosses’ try to get employees to do’.  Continuing, ‘these owners don’t do what we do kid…in fact, most of them haven’t touched a spreader or spray rig for so long, they wouldn’t know what to do with one’.  The lecture went on, ‘if you want to know how to get the job done…I mean hit your production goal and still have a life…I mean, you know, get out of here at a decent hour, here’s what you do’.  Then, Tom proceeded to undo all the instructions and training you have provided the new person.

 

By the time the bottom of the coffee cup was visible through the last drops of Mickey’s great brew, you new employee had been indoctrinated by ‘The Destroyer’.  He now understood that ‘knocking on the door wastes your time’, that ‘nobody’s home anyhow’.  He learned how to write little comments on invoices in advance because ‘doing it on the lawn takes too much time’.  Anthony had also been carefully instructed on how to answer the typical question ‘those stupid customer’s ask’, and why ‘all you really need to do is blow a little smoke at them and get outa there’.  Good old Tom didn’t miss a thing.  He even told the new man when, where and how to relieve himself in the bushes.  That part of the story he told with great pleasure, emphasizing that ‘if you are good enough, you’ll never get caught’.

 

Tough as it was, you controlled yourself in order to take it all in, until…until Tom began to describe his technique for observing specific female ‘sunbathers’ in his territory that ‘really make the job fun in the summer’.

 

That’s when the game ended.

 

You’ve had it.  You get up, approach the startled workers and say, _________________

 

This is where I am going to stop.

 

What do you say?  What would you say to a veteran like Tom?  What action would you take?  What damage was done?  Can the damage be repaired?  How long had this been going on?

 

Ask yourself, ‘has this happened in my operation’?  Could it happen to me?  How should I eliminate the threat posed by ‘The Team Buster?

 

Sooner or later, in every operation, you encounter a negative ‘Team Buster’

 

‘TB’s’ are negative people.  ‘Destroyers’, left in existence will poison your team. Eventually, ‘TB’s’ will lead to negative thinking followed by negative feelings and resulting in negative behavior.  These negative people will tear down your team’s morale and your business will suffer.

 

How to deal with ‘The Team Buster’

 

Set positive standards.  You have a clear right to run your business any way you choose.  That privilege includes establishing customer service attitudes as well as procedures.  And, your staff has a responsibility to meet your standards.

 

Your actions, in response to learning you have a destroyer on the squad, should be as follows:

·         REACT…AND REACT IMMEDIATELY!  Failure to react, hoping a negative person will ‘see the light’ and change ‘once things get less hectic’ never happens.  React now.

·         First, be certain you have clearly and effectively communicated exactly what your standards and expectations are.  Make 100% sure everyone understands what you expect.  Often, we assume our thoughts are clearly understood.  At times, the best of us may send mixed signals.  Under difficult circumstances, even the most committed of us may fail to live up to our own standards.  So, before you blame and take action, check out your training and communications effectiveness.

·         Next, convinced the employee knew how the job was to be done, conduct an immediate personal and private performance intervention interview.  Take the employee off the premises for a private meeting.  Do not discuss the details with other employees, do not draw conclusions in advance of your interview.

·         In the interview, review the training and communication you have provided, the instructions you have given.  Get the employee to acknowledge that he/she understood the ‘rules of the road’, the job performance standards.

·         Now, communicate the specific performance problem in detail.  Be specific, detailed and unemotional.  Confine comments to specific performance.  Do not attempt to analyze why the performance was unacceptable, just describe what actually happened. 

·         Ask the employee to explain his/her performance and give input.  Listen with an open mind.  Do not jump to conclusions and do not ‘bait’ the employee in order to prove your point.  In other words, stick to the facts.

·         Based on what you learn and assuming the performance was unacceptable, most managers believe the employee deserves at least one verbal and one written warning.  Depending on the severity of the unacceptable performance and it’s impact on your business, you may decide to terminate the employee on the spot.  If you decide to warn the employee, give the employee specific and detailed instructions on the type and level of performance you expect in the future, beginning immediately.  Do not argue, do not negotiate.  At this time, you are giving clear and non-negotiable instructions. 

·         Establish follow up performance ‘benchmarks’ and a time table for improvement.  Always follow up quickly.  As performance improves, performance checks can be made at increasingly longer intervals.

 

The worst thing any manager can do is NOTHING.  If you don’t like what you see or hear, only you, the manager in charge can bring about change.

 

Keeping ‘Team Busters’ off the team

 

Once stung, most managers react one of two ways.  They either develop the general opinion that ‘people just don’t want to follow directions’ and ‘they don’t make em’ the way they used to’, or they learn to keep a closer ‘ear to the ground’.  I prefer the second alternative.

 

Here are two specific things you can do to minimize the chance that a ‘TB’ will invade your staff through:

·         Require staff input as a part of the planning, problem solving process.  People are positively motivated and will work harder to succeed when they feel ownership in the process and objective.  You do not have to turn over the decision making or procedure establishment process to employees, but getting their ideas and input while you are developing your own thoughts will take advantage of the power of synergy. People working together with a common goal, will almost always make better decisions than even the smartest individual working alone.  Not only will group input in the process improve the quality of your planning, it will motivate employees, building ownership and loyalty.

·         Hold regular ‘one-on-one’ meetings with your staff.  Make them frequent, private and personal.  Ask questions that probe the employee’s mind.  Learn as much as possible about their overall level of satisfaction, their frustrations.  Be bold enough to ask your employees straight out, ‘how can I make your job a little bit easier’?  You do this to show you care about your people.   Once they know you genuinely care about them, they’ll care too.  People respond in their own way to work and stress.  The more you know about each individual, the better able you’ll be to deal with his/her issues and needs.

 

Hiring Heroes – A must in the service business!

Please…not another one of those articles on people!  I read them, I think about the ideas but nothing ever seems to change.  Year after year we struggle to ‘fill the chairs’, to maintain a staff of motivated, productive and loyal…yes loyal employees.  And year after year we watch the almost constant ‘churn’ of employees.  Often, when we lose employees, we don’t know why…but we should.  And we should understand that the high turnover in our green industry IS NOT a given.  Better still, if we apply a few proven strategies and activities, we can hire what I call “heroes”.

 

This article will discuss the people challenge from a positive perspective.  You won’t find rhetoric letting you off the hook or buying into the common belief that hiring great employees is a lost cause.  If that is your mindset this will not be a reassuring read.  But if you, like I, have experienced the excitement of hiring someone who actually turns out to be a “hero” in your organization, you will be motivated to learn all you can about who these “heroes” are, how to attract more of them and keep them on your team.

 

Let’s begin by clarifying the meaning of “hero”.  Webster’s definition of a “hero” includes the following, “the principal character in an event”, “exhibiting marked courage”, “a person admired for his/her qualities”.  Know anyone who fits the bill?  I do and I’m betting you do too.

 

My point is simply this; some of us are succeeding in hiring these special people today.  All is not lost.  In our search to build strong work teams, we don’t have to settle for “the best of the worst” or “ the worst of the best”.  We can hire “heroes”.

 

Key question, are “heroes” born or developed in our organizations?  No question in my mind, they are not born…they, like successful leaders, develop and grow over time.  Must a “hero” have certain characteristics, like a strong work ethic, honesty, desire and the willingness to discipline him or herself to meet objectives?  Of course.  But do “heroes” come gift wrapped and ready to go? Not in my experience.

 

Where are these people?  How do we spot them?

 

“If heroes were reptiles, we’d all be ‘snake bit’”!

 

What would you give for a real “hero” to walk through your door?  About anything, right?  Don’t look now but it may already have happened.

 

Heroes are all around us.  Before you spend all your time on a search and locate strategy, look carefully at your own organization.  Heroes tend to stick out…but you need to be looking or you may assume your potential “hero” is just another employee. 

 

A potential hero is someone who:

 

  • Is more interested in tomorrow’s opportunity than today’s paycheck.
  • Is hard at work when you least expect it.
  • Is a “finisher”, driven to succeed.
  • Asks lots of questions.
  • Makes suggestions and focuses on solutions rather than problems.
  • Volunteers when not required.
  • Places a high priority on team success…along with personal gain.
  • Has the self-confidence ask for help rather than failing quietly.
  • Is honest with a clear sense of ethics.
  • Most of all, believes what you believes, sharing your values and philosophies.

 

Remember, you may have a “hero” in the making…not yet fully developed but with the potential to become great.  Look first at your team.  Have a conversation with those who show you the most and determine the extent to which you can mold and build such people.  A “hero” will jump at the opportunity; taking the lead if you provide direction and help them focus their energy.

 

To attract the very best become a “people magnet”

 

If you expect to attract “heroes”, your recruiting plan [and you do need a plan] must be aimed at the kind of people who share your company values and objectives.  Typically, I don’t find these folks in the classifieds.

 

Here is my recruiting sequence:

  1. Define your company.  I’m talking about your goals [or mission] and how you’ll reach them.  If you doubt the importance of this step, you’ve not successfully interviewed “heroes” because they will want this information.
  2. Establish a strong local company image.  If yours is a small company, celebrate that fact.  Many great candidates don’t feel comfortable in the corporate world.  Sell your opportunity and work environment.  Get the message out that you and your team are the kinds of people with whom the very best will want to become associated.  Do this by sponsoring events that promote community good.  Be an active member of the BBB and service organizations.  Consider sponsoring a sports team.  Work with  high school service clubs.  Do all you can to see that your image is widely known and that it sends one clear message…”IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN A CAREER YOU NEED TO JOIN OUR TEAM”.  This has worked for others; it will work for you because few hiring managers will take the time to follow this strategy.  Invest the time up front.  It will pay off in the end.

 

The result of a concentrated community outreach campaign will be to “magnetize” your company.  Before you know it, the phone will ring.  I see it every day, people searching for a place to work that they are convinced will provide a positive, rewarding work environment.  Let people know yours is that company and your recruiting will improve immediately.

 

 

  1. Focus your recruiting effort where you believe the best people in your area will see your message.  If you want an sales rep, run a classified ad for a sales rep. Skip the generic ads. If you want a route driver, focus on that specific job.  But if you simply want a growth oriented, driven individual, go a different route.  Look in places these people can be found.  I’ve had success in community colleges.  Often, people with some higher education go there to restart careers.  These folks attend night classes and work hard to get it done.  That is what you want.  Make teachers your recruiters.  Take the professor to lunch.  Ask how you can help support their program.  Let them know exactly the kind of person you seek.   If you help them, forming a strong relationship, your support will be returned in kind.  This is a guarantee.  It does take some time and money but so does often-fruitless advertising in newspapers that can charge over $1,000 for an ad in the Sunday edition.  Put your money and effort where it will yield perhaps fewer people but more high potential candidates.

 

Never stop recruiting.  Even when you are “staffed up”, maintain a list of people to contact if you encounter unexpected turnover.

 

Your very best employees can help.  Let them know that you need more people with the very same high level of dedication they demonstrate, and that you are willing to provide great incentives for their recruiting efforts.  Finding a potential “hero” is near priceless, so don’t be stingy. If it’s cost you $1,000, you will have spent the money wisely.

 

Do you use the internet to recruit?  If you think this tool is only for large companies, think again.  The potential “heroes” you want live on the cutting edge and will see you job ad on “monster” or one of the other great sites.  And, internet recruiting ads are MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE than a multi-ad newspaper plan.  For about $300, your job opportunity will be seen by literally thousands for weeks.  Use this tool.

 

Improve your interviewing effectiveness

 

 

The interviewing process should begin before the candidate walks through your front door.  Take my advice and be sure what they find is what they seek. 

 

This is a “biggie” folks.  Oh how many times I’ve traveled excitedly to visit a service branch in peak hiring season…only to be dismayed and disappointed on arrival to find the operation in, shall we say, less that professionally spit shined condition.  A potential “hero” will expect a professional operation and won’t often settle for less.

 

I recall on one occasion, standing in a lawn service branch awaiting an expected candidate the manager was to interview.  As I stood there peering out the dirty, smudged window, I saw what had to be our your man drive up.  He approached, slowed down, leaned over to “eyeball” the place, paused…then drove away.  Another candidate lost…without an interview!  Shameful.  And do you know the worst part?  The manager A. didn’t see him and B. never knew he’d lost the recruiting battle again.  Think about this…as I asked the local manager to do; if a “hero”, the ideal candidate had been in that car, would he have driven away?  I say, yes.  More disturbing, what kind of candidate would have parked his car, made his way past the pile of cigarette butts by the front door and come in?  I think we all know the answer.

 

Don’t lose “heroes” before you have a chance to interview them!

 

How does your interviewing process stack up?  If the answer is anything but “great”…now is the time to make needed improvements.  Follow these rules to ensure the “heroes” find what the seek:

  1. Provide neat, clean and convenient candidate parking
  2. Post the interview schedule in the front office.
  3. Appoint a candidate “greeter” to welcome candidates, offering them a beverage and up-front paperwork before the interview.
  4. Keep the office area and restrooms clean and neat.
  5. Confirm that the staff a candidate may encounter is aware of the interview and looking his/her best for the work being done.

 

Conduct a professional interview

 

This article does not provide space to lay out a complete interview process.  For my purposes today, suffice to say that if you do not know how to interview, you will lose “heroes”.  A hero will know about your business. and may ask questions that even you cannot answer.  Talk about embarrassing…but I’ve seen it happen!  So, be prepared for the smart, probing candidate…the person who wants to know just as much about your business and the opportunity to grow as you do about him or her.  The future “hero” will give you a challenging interview.  Be prepared.  Have your business metrics, growth projections and strategies well in mind and ready for discussion.  Be ready to explain how you differentiate your business from the competition.  You cannot expect to hire a “hero” without communicating why he/she should want to play on your team and the place to build a rewarding career.

 

The interview should be held in privacy with no interruptions. 

 

Get the clutter off your desk.  The focus should be on the candidate’s employment application, which you should have read in advance.

 

Have four or five probing questions have been pre-written [to keep you on track and ensure that you learn as much about the candidates past experience as possible].  Your questions should probe past experience to learn what the candidate has done to demonstrate he/she has the personal qualities and skills necessary to help you succeed in a reasonable amount of time.  

 

Now comes the controversial part.  Who exactly are we trying to hire?  Is this “hero” the most skilled and prepared to add value today?  Is it smarter to “hire athletes” who require more time to become productive but who will learn to play more than one position in the future?  Not a simple answer.  It depends on what you want the employee to do and, importantly, whether or not you expect the new hire to grow into greater responsibility.  You must define, for your operation, what your true “hero” is.  And remember, you will need more than one type of employee.  Some people are simply not growth oriented.  Does this mean they are not valuable?  No. You simply need to define how many of each you need and hire accordingly.

 

Writing from my 20 plus years in recruiting, hiring, training and managing people in the green industry, I can tell you I’ll go for the athlete who wants to play on my team every time.  Years ago, a crusty old manager looked at me in a hiring discussion and said  “Bill…guys in this business have to things…big thighs and big mouths…and we’re better off hiring the ones with big thighs”.  I got his point.  Now he’s gone and the business we both worked for is gone too!  Think about your needs. 

 

In today’s multi-task work environment, we need people who have brains and the desire to be part of a strong team. That is why the hiring process must begin by establishing your company as “the place to be” for the best people.

 

One last point on the interview process; if a potential “hero” is sitting in front of you, I believe you will know it and should make at least a conditional offer [pending driver’s license check and drug test, if applicable].  Making the offer is fun!  For me, it’s a simple summary.  “John, I believe we have a great fit and that you have what we need.  How do you feel”?  If he agrees, I tell him that, pending any necessary checks, I’d like to make him an offer.  I understand many of you insist on second interviews and that is fine.  But I have never gone through a second interview and felt more positive about a real great candidate than during the initial conversation.  And I have never conducted a second interview that removed any significant negatives.  That being the case, and knowing that every great candidate will get great offers, when the chemistry is right, I want to come as close as possible to closing the deal. 

 

On-boarding and training to keep “heroes” on your team

 

With the right hiring decision behind you, the real fun begins.  You absolutely must ensure a positive start up process.  And it should be filled with lots of early successes!  I firmly believe that, with an organized post-hire on boarding and training program [which must include in-field management follow up] a bright, motivated man or woman, almost regardless of present job skills, is your best entry-level hire.  Smart, motivated people can and will learn quickly.  Note: when I say I’ll hire the motivated, driven person and teach them the business, I am talking about filling lower level positions.  When hiring managers, I’ve learned that the opposite is true.  At the management level, the requirements are more specific and demanding.  I don’t want someone from outside our industry.  The learning curve is too steep and the time available always to brief to bridge the gap.  While you wait to see whether or not they learn and like your business, the process is costing you time and money!

 

I will avoid hiring a group of “buddies” from a competitor just because they may not require entry-level skill training.  As every one of you already knows, each time we “hire the competition”, we bring into our organization, the bad habits of others.  Unless your business standards are sub-standard [in which case you need not bother looking for “heroes”] you want to hire people who will learn the business your way and execute according to your philosophies and standards.  The only competitor I am really interested in is one I have seen in action and who seeks a more professional working environment.  The new hire MUST BELIEVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE to become your “hero”.

 

For new hires, D-day is day one!

 

Training must begin day one.  The first day on the job is the day each new hire begins to decide [D-day] whether or not he or she has made the right decision.  We often overlook the fact that our new hires evaluate us just as seriously and deeply as we evaluate them.  Occasionally, when we fail to clearly communicate our expectations and what the job requires, new hires quit before they have even completed training!   

 

Above, I mentioned manager follow up in the field.  Most training includes at least some classroom work.  Manuals, pesticide applicator quiz prep and probably some video education.  And until the snow melts [in the north] most of us do try to provide decent functional training.  But in season…all bets are off.  New hires, even potential “heroes” are thrown in a truck with a veteran and taught…well; sometimes it’s tough to tell what they are taught.  That is why management coaching in the filed is vital.  It is a critical step we often omit…because we are too busy.  Bad mistake.  Don’t make it.  Coach on the job, confirm an understanding of not only how to do the job right the first time but why you want it done your way.  New hires must believe in your system vs. simply the fastest system or eventually they will begin to slip and quality will drop.  So, get out in the field to reinforce training and be sure these four things happen:

 

1. The new hire and potential “hero” enjoyed the training process and felt it’s content made good sense to him or her.

2. The new hire understood the training content and retained the most important parts.

3. The new hires behavior has been verified and your best practices have been confirmed as standard operating procedure.

4. As a result of training and behavioral change, the new hire has performed successfully.

 

 

Number 1 you accomplish with a training evaluation process…written, verbal or both.

 

Number 2 you confirm with a test…written, verbal or both

 

Number 3 and 4 you must observe on the job in the field. 

 

This process will help your new hire succeed, which, of course, is the first step in creating the motivating atmosphere required to develop “heroes”.

 

So, you and I can hire “heroes”.  Who are they, where are they, how to attract, hire and develop them?  Not a simple challenge.  But nothing you do is more important to the success of your business.

 

I truly believe that, without these outstanding people, those who consistently go the extra mile for your team and for themselves, your success will be limited. 

 

You can “build” heroes.  They will lead your team.  Take the first step today.  Remember, no resource in your arsenal is as vitally important to your company’s success as the human resource.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Great Trainers Know

Ever sit through a classroom training program in our service industry’?  I’m sure you have and I’m equally sure you’ve been less than excited about the material.  In the old days it was slides.  Today, it’s ppt presentations….still boring, right?

 

Truth is, the kind of training we do is typically required by a state or the federal government.  So, having fun with these [mostly technical] topics can be challenging. 

 

Point: Great trainers…those whose sessions and presentations create real ‘water cooler buzz’, have one thing in common.  Great trainers help to fill the room with interested learners…those who want to be there.  They have learned that interested, involved people retain and use more of the information presented.

 

Wait a minute…I train the people we hire, right? I don’t get a choice do I?  That is exactly my point.  If the hiring manager[s] in your company does not carefully screen candidates and select only those people who come to your company believing in your company philosophies and willing to follow your procedures, training will never meet expectations.  Said another way, if you hire people who just want a job vs. your job, no training program can be counted on to convince them that your way is the best way..or to significantly impact their thinking.  Training can only help willing learners.

 

Year after year, time stressed ‘service industry’ managers go through their spring training process as best they can, often with little preparation and inadequate tools.  Inevitably, we see a few disinterested new hires yawning, heads down or staring out the window.  I want you to know that, while we owe our adult learners challenging and participative training, we cannot make a disinterested person interested.

 

So, don’t blame your training program for achieving poor results if the people in the classroom didn’t really want to be there in the first place.

 

Great trainers help management focus on candidate selection.  There is simply no excuse for hiring “warm bodies”.  To make training pay off, fill you seats with ONLY those candidates who have satisfied you that they want to learn the business and will follow your procedures consistently. 

 

Be certain your interview process includes effective, open ended, probing questions that uncover the candidates past behavior.  Before making the hiring decision, learn from each candidate what specific experiences they have had that convince you he/she will follow your procedures, learn and apply what they are taught? 

 

And, once on board, know this….training begins day one!  Great trainers control every part of the early employment experience.  Nothing is left to chance.  Learning is delivered effectively in small bites and reinforced with on-the-job ‘ride along’ coaching.  At the end of each training day, the new hire’s morale and feelings are monitored and help guide the trainer in his/her direction and handling of the trainee.  Not all of us learn at the same rate of in the same way. Some “get it” from our presentations, some don’t really learn until we are with them,  post-classroom, on the job. Both training situations are important and an effective program.

 

Great trainers ensure that each new hire experiences lots of support and early success.  They know that success motivates us all and that new hire who is taught to succeed early is far less likely to quit.

 

Let’s review.

  1. Great trainers impact the company hiring [recruiting/interviewing] process by helping ensure that new hires want ‘this job vs. a job’.
  2. Great trainers understand training begins day one and control the new hire’s early experience completely.
  3. Great trainers see to it that each new hire is heavily supported by positive people and experiences early success.

 

Think about the above three points. Where is your new hire training program?  Now, right now, is the time to improve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Making Of A Leader

 

A quick retrospective on the leaders I have known reveals two key characteristics all possess.  Yes, there are identifiable characteristics common to all.  And both are vital.

 

Years ago, in the midst of an after hours conversation, a very successful businessman and fellow association board member, described what he believed were absolute requirements for leadership success.  He talked about the Big D and the Little D.  He said you need both, but one of them separated real leaders from the want to be majority. Since that time,  experience has taught me that his light hearted definition of what it takes to lead makes good sense.

 

“Bill,” he asked, “what do you think the Big D is?”  He gave me two choices, desire or discipline.  I thought for a moment.  My top of mind response was – desire.  “You’re wrong,” he happily replied, seeing I’d taken the bait.  “Everyone thinks desire is what it takes.  But it’s more, a lot more.”  Based on his success as a leader, he made it clear that, while it’s easy to say “I want it,” the real measure of a leader is taken in his or her level of discipline. 

 

“Some things aren’t complicated.”  He scooted up on the edge of his chair. I knew he was trying hard to make his point.  Finger in my face, he repeated, “You gotta be disciplined and do the work every day.  That is the Big D, discipline, the Little D is desire.”  I listened. Obviously, I was hearing life lessons from someone who’d learned about leading the hard way. 

 

Since the night of that brief conversation, I’ve thought many times about what I’d been told.  I’ve applied that standard to dozens of managers with whom I’ve been associated  and, by golly, I totally convinced my friend was right.

 

While I’d love to give you his name, I don’t have permission and attempts to contact him about this article have failed.  So, I can only hope you’ll accept my story as factual and evaluate what you’ve read.

 

At my final manager training session, before retiring from the ‘corporate world’, I summarized a few basic conclusions about what it takes to become an effective leader. 

 

Big D or no Big D, you first need the desire to lead.  Through the years, I’ve watched repeatedly as strong individual performers were forced to take leadership jobs unprepared and uninspired.  They fail.  Leadership is hard work. You must want it.

 

Next, as my friend taught me, the discipline must be there on an every day basis.  You must discipline yourself to do what leaders do, and that is to be “hands on” and develop their people.  Failing this, you won’t make it.  Leaders cannot survive by simply working hard and giving orders.  We provide a motivating workplace environment and we teach our team members win.

 

Finally, you must feel comfortable in the leader’s skin.  Tough to describe in words, while leaders really aren’t born, some of us just take to it, like birds to the sky.  The most successful leaders I know love the process. They can’t wait to get out there with the team; to face the challenges and celebrate every little accomplishment.  And when their people win, they win.  It’s a feeling, a sense of purpose.  Leadership is a calling.

 

If you are developing a leader in your organization and need some support, let me know.

Why Self-Made Leaders Sadly Fail

 

One of the toughest things I do as a service industry consultant is to tell a hard working, self-made manager he or she is failing.  I know; it’s a hard thing to say; harder still to witness. 

 

In our 21st century workplace, an environment in which the “generation y” employee is more interested in personal choice and a balanced life-style than helping the business succeed, the person at the top, visibly different than the employees, sticks out like a neon sign in a dark room. 

 

Today’s small to mid-sized service industry operator is a vital part of what our country is about.  Small business is the backbone of our economy.  And the owner/operator is in a battle to survive.

 

Summarizing a few inescapable conclusions reached over the last 20 plus years working in the field with home services managers, I have found the following to represent a  serious challenge for the industrious, self-made person who has built his or her business from the ground up and struggles to lead their growing organization.

 

The old rules no longer apply.  What rules?  How about hard work pays off, for example?  Many, many of today’s existing small business operators came up the hard way; taught by experience that, if you want to get ahead, you work hard and it will come.  But what if, by simply working hard, often without a well constructed business model and plan, you succeed by shear force of will, in spite of yourself?  How do you sustain and grow your business?

 

This is not an uncommon scenario.  I see it, deal with it daily.  Fact is, as small business evolves and the workplace changes, the self-made operator who relied on a strong back and was motivated by the need to feed the family, is very often limited in his or her ability to keep the business afloat.  And the challenges mostly involve people.

 

Granted, I am a people trainer, not a CPA. So, my view may be a bit narrow.  Still, as I see operator after operator struggle to grow the business, I see people, the human resource, as the limiting factor.  I will go farther.  When the hard driving, self-made operator fails, it is chiefly a result of an inability to lead today’s worker.

 

There are reasons for the struggle.  None are beyond our ability to manage and overcome.

 

Most of today’s self-made leaders were taught the work was everything.  Task achievement was the way to the top. Do more, out work the others and you are the king of the hill.  We were not taught to lead.  Caring, or showing one cared about the feelings of workers was, only a couple of decades ago, considered a sign of weakness as a leader.

 

Things have changed.  In today’s world, bosses lose, coaches win.  The “generation y” worker demands flexibility, wants to be taught, not told.  They want to be included in the planning process and recognized as important contributors.  Once on the job, a pay check is no longer the primary source of motivation.  There must be more.

 

Possessing outstanding computer skills, 21st century workers have little verbal or writing ability and must be taught.  Teaching is definitely not what the self-made boss is prepared to do.  And so it goes, the discord is obvious.  We have a group of self-motivated, self-propelled owners who have, for a time, beaten the odds though hard work; winners who struggle to live in a changing world.  Without the tools of modern leadership, they will not succeed.  Witness the number of acquisitions in our industry.  Point made.

 

 The solution? Adapt or fail.  How?  The subject of a much longer article.


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