It's important to set standards to drive up sales

BY JIM HAMILTON BUSINESS COACH WHEN PEOPLE SEEK employment with your organization, they are saying, "I want to work for you." The same applies to your current employees meaning, "I will give up doing whatever I please, show up at the shop and behave the way you want me to behave, as long as you pay me in exchange." You, the employer, promise to pay them with a good check and the assurance that they

BY JIM HAMILTON
BUSINESS COACH

WHEN PEOPLE SEEK employment with your organization, they are saying, "I want to work for you." The same applies to your current employees — meaning, "I will give up doing whatever I please, show up at the shop and behave the way you want me to behave, as long as you pay me in exchange."

You, the employer, promise to pay them with a good check and the assurance that they will not be injured in the course of employment. What you have done is entered into a "behavioral rental agreement." If you look at employment agreements in this manner, you can better understand why you have the right to insist on things being done your way.

In order to create a truly sales-focused company, you must first set the standards of service under which you will operate. These standards will ideally define the culture of your business. Once you set the standards of behavior, they are non-negotiable. That doesn't mean you are taking away creativity. Employees certainly need to bring their own personality to the party when serving customers. Certain behaviors, however, are non-negotiable, period.

I have found that up to 75% of a manager's time can be spent correcting shop personnel on behaviors that they never told them about in the first place. Setting the standards you want your employees to follow is only the first step. The most important step is communicating your standards and ensuring your communications got through the way you intended. To communicate your non-negotiable standards, I recommend using a six-step process of communicating and acknowledging the communication was understood and accepted by the employee. Here are the steps:

  1. All standards should be clearly written, with nothing left to interpretation. Written standards should always be given to employees.
  2. When you know you have the attention of employees, you verbally tell them the standard you expect from them.
  3. You must visually show them the standard and what behavior you expect.
  4. When you have communicated the standard to an employee, both verbally and visually, the employee should then tell you, in his own words, what you meant by the standard. This step often clears up any miscommunication.
  5. This is the most important step. After the employee has given you a verbal description of the standard, he must show you how he will carry out the standard — three times. Both you and the employee must acknowledge that the standard can be accomplished both physically and mentally.
  6. The manager should have the employee sign a copy of the written standard containing a statement acknowledging he understands the standard and will abide by it. If an employee chooses later not to perform his job up to the standards that he has been taught, it then becomes a question of willingness. It is absolutely fair to terminate someone's employment if he is unwilling to follow your standards.

Non-negotiable standards can be anything you want them to be. My set of standards focuses complete attention of the company on sales. I also advocate a short list of your most important standards. The shorter your list of standards, the more enforceable they will be.

Each position in your shop should have its own set of standards. Here's my suggested list of standards per role in the company.

Technicians: Be on time, every time; wear shoe covers; provide three options for every proposal; ask for the sale; clean the work area cleaner than you found it.

CSRs: Be on time, every time; show empathy to the customer; control the call (use scripts); ask for the sale; keep the work area clean.

Dispatchers: Be on time, every time; have the next call scheduled; call the customer with the technician's ETA; happy-call the customer when the technician leaves; keep the work area clean.

Accountants: Be on time, every time; update payroll, deposit money daily; monthly financial reports in by the 10th of the month; keep work area clean.

Service managers: Be on time, every time; conduct weekly staff/technician meetings; perform an individual technician coaching session weekly; post company sold hours daily; keep work area clean.

A few standards are in every position. To me, these are basic practices of being responsible. For instance, I repeated, "Be on time." Sure, some circumstances will prevent you from staying on schedule. You have a radio and cell phone. Calling to notify staff and customers with a new arrival time is the responsible thing to do.

The primary reason managers fail is because they rarely have standards. When they do, they don't stick to them, communicate them or assure their understanding. If you are not willing to write up and terminate an employee for violating your standards, don't call them non-negotiables. Call them suggestions.

Jim "Bone" Hamilton is a business coach for best practices group Nexstar. Hamilton has spent 37 years in the plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical service industry. He bought 28 under-performing businesses and turned them into profitable additions to his operations. He sold his businesses in 2001. Information about Nexstar is available at www.nexstarnetwork.com or by calling 651/426-2000.