Differentiate your firm with your people

BY BOB MIODONSKI Of CONTRACTORs staff BALTIMORE Your competitors may sell and install the same products you do at the same price. Still, you can differentiate your company. The one thing your competitor doesnt have is your people, said Bill Raymond, co-owner of Frank & Lindy Plumbing & Heating Service in Peekskill, N.Y. Raymond conducted a workshop, Leadership and Human Capital: Your Untapped Competitive

BY BOB MIODONSKI

Of CONTRACTOR’s staff

BALTIMORE — Your competitors may sell and install the same products you do – at the same price. Still, you can differentiate your company.

“The one thing your competitor doesn’t have is your people,” said Bill Raymond, co-owner of Frank & Lindy Plumbing & Heating Service in Peekskill, N.Y. Raymond conducted a workshop, “Leadership and Human Capital: Your Untapped Competitive Advantage,” Sept. 13 during HVAC Comfortech 2002 here.

Many prospective customers have low expectations of employees who work for plumbing and heating service companies, Raymond admitted. In fact, these customers may consider such employees to be L.O.S.T. – Late Overchargers who are Smelly and Track stuff through their house.

Your employees, however, can surpass these expectations and be an asset to your company, Raymond said. One of the keys to developing good people is to hire correctly.

“I hire for willingness,” Raymond said. “I can teach technical stuff, sales and customer service.”

Once you hire correctly, you must provide a work environment where employees can motivate themselves. Important elements include training and rewarding employees properly and then holding them accountable.

“You train them to be successful at their job so you can transfer responsibility to them,” Raymond said.

“Training never ends; it’s a constant. You need to train yourself too. It’s not just for your people.”

Training points out the importance of measuring statistics to make sure an employee’s performance is improving, Raymond said. Offering encouragement through coaching, which is another stage of training, also relies on measurement.

“To be a good coach you need statistics,” he said. “You have to know what you’re coaching.”

Rewarding employees means more than giving them a paycheck. They want an interesting job, sincere appreciation and a feeling that they are part of the company, Raymond said.

Many contractors do a good job of training and rewarding their people but then do not hold them accountable out of fear that they’ll quit, he said. Yet successful service companies demand that their managers and employees comply with standards that dictate job performance or cover policies on uniforms, shoe covers and other aspects of conduct.

Some employees who do not comply with standards are not up to a particular job despite training. Another spot should be found for them – either inside the company or with a competitor, Raymond said. Other employees who simply won’t follow company standards should be shown the door.

“If you terminate someone who needs to be terminated, you’ve increased your credibility,” he said. “This actually is a retention device for your other employees.”

Demanding accountability is one of the fundamentals of leadership, he said. That means taking action and doing what you say you’re going to do.

“I encourage you to have a disciplined environment,” Raymond said. “Set a strong personal example. If you want your employees to have a neat, orderly truck, your office should not look like a bomb just went off.”

Other fundamentals of leadership are objectivity, which is the ability to see your strengths and shortcomings as they are, and vision, which is the ability to see what your company will be in the future.

“Part of vision is belief,” Raymond said. “You have to believe in something and it will exude from you.”

Raymond, a senior trainer for Contractors 2000 and a member of its board of directors, also cautioned contractors on knowing their financial numbers.

“If you don’t get your pricing right and don’t know what your expenses are, you will fail,” he said, “even if you get all this other stuff right.”

Comfortech is an annual seminar program and technology showcase that is produced and managed by Contracting Business, a sister publication of CONTRACTOR in Penton Media’s Mechanical Systems Construction Group.