Connect 2011 focuses on positive thinking, clean energy and motivating the workforce

Oct. 4, 2011
MINNEAPOLIS — Positive thinking, cleaner energy and water, and how to understand and motivate employees, including the younger generation, were some of the main themes of Connect 2011, held here at the Hilton Minneapolis, Sept. 21 – 24.

MINNEAPOLIS — Positive thinking, cleaner energy and water, and how to understand and motivate employees, including the younger generation, were some of the main themes of Connect 2011, held here at the Hilton Minneapolis, Sept. 21 – 24. Tom Flick, former NFL quarterback, now training consultant, gave the keynote presentation to open Connect 2011.

Flick told business owners and contractors to push frontiers, chase dreams, and help people in order to be the best you can be and run a successful business.

“Overall, I think the keynote speaker, Tom Flick, was great,” said Melissa Pauli, vice president of Pauli Plumbing Inc., Watertown, Wisc. “Dan [Pauli] and I came away from that looking at the business problems we face in a positive light. Instead of focusing on the negative, you need to focus on the positive.”

Flick also pointed out that contractors are leading change at a difficult time, and that change creates both hazards and opportunities, but it’s the opportunities that need to be tapped into.

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During the session, Managing the Younger, Changing Workforce, Randy Cheloha, licensed psychologist and president of Cheloha Consulting Group, a leadership development practice, talked with contractors about motivating employees, including the younger generation, and increasing productivity.

When asked what can contractors do to keep employees productive and decrease turnover, Cheloha said that building a relationship with them is important.

“Get to know them as people, and understand what makes them tick,” said Cheloha. “Understand what's important in their lives including hobbies, families, career/life goals, etc. Periodically team only with them in the field on a job to build a working partnership.”

Cheloha also said that as their boss, periodically ask them what do they need and how can they be helped.

“The reason being the individual may be experiencing some frustrations or be unhappy about something, but are uncomfortable or too shy to say anything, or even afraid that it will reflect poorly on them as employees,” said Cheloha. “For example, they may feel that the tools they have are inadequate or not properly maintained for the job assignments. They may feel they always get the less desirable assignments/jobs. Or they may feel like they always get assigned the worst truck.”

Regarding how contractors can relate with younger technicians and apprentices in contracting businesses, Cheloha said that this can be challenging since interests are different.

“The older employees and owners may be coming out of the era where a cell phone was a spectacular innovation; while the newer, younger employees are playing Fantasy Football with their smartphone and trying out new apps,” explained Cheloha. “My suggestion here would be to find an area of common [personal] interest, be it sports, raising children, favorite vacation spots, hunting/fishing, etc.”

When Cheloha opened the floor for discussion, Pauli shared with attendees and Cheloha that at Pauli Plumbing they have had success with pairing up younger technicians with older ones.

“The younger generation has a lot to offer, especially in regards to understanding technology,” said Pauli. “We can put the positive spin Tom Flick offered us during his keynote to the younger generation. Instead of looking at the negatives of the younger generation we can look at all the positives, such as their knowledge of technology, their thirst for knowledge and learning new things, such as renewable technologies, etc. You can get the best of both worlds this way: by utilizing the positive attributes of both younger techs and older techs.

“I gained a lot from the conversation I had with other contractors in the session,” added Pauli. “By listening to industry specific issues, and how others have dealt with them, we can learn different ways to do things. You can apply what others have done to your own business. You also know you are not alone… a lot of contractors are dealing with the same challenges.”

Wrapping up the session, a contractor asked Cheloha what is the best way to create loyalty in employees.

“It comes down to the basics,” said Cheloha. “Treat people they way they want to be treated and build relationships with employees.”

Cleaner energy, water

During the session The Next Generation: Policies and Possibilities in a World of Cleaner Energy and Water, Kirk Alter, president of Fast Management Inc., associate professor at Purdue University’s department of building construction management and program director for the PHCC Educational Foundation management courses, told attendees that there is a range of regulatory and non-regulatory issues that will impact the industry.

“We can affect change by voting,” said Alter. “We need to stop dealing with babble and pay attention to our businesses. We need to be business savvy, and we need to be able to turn on a dime. The U.S. Economy underlines much of public debate today. We need the government and market place, we need both, and we need a balance, a middle ground.”

Besides voting and knowledge of policies affecting the industry, Alter pointed out that contractors also need to stay up-to-date on technology and educated themselves, so they can understand it, promote it, and sell it, and they need to consider recommending services that are outside of the scope of plumbing and HVAC, such as sealing building envelopes.

“We need to recognize trends and opportunities and expand our area,” said Alter. For example, look at vertical farming ... There is going to be more urbanization and less suburbanization. People are already building vertical farms, so food can be grown where it is consumed. This is already being done in China, so we know it’s doable. As a plumbing contractor, ask yourself if you can create a niche for your business by doing agricultural plumbing for this type of business. Can you add value to someone’s enterprise?”

According to Alter, contractors can take the following steps to stay abreast of energy and water conserving technologies and policies affecting their businesses:

1. Stay up-to-date and keep codes updated.

2. Know the trends in the codes.

3. Consider if we, as an industry, should be talking about mandatory fenestration and insulation values relative to our codes.

4. Enhance duct and systems’ sealing.

5. Increase emphasis on equipment sizing and efficiency.

6. Change the way we think. Should we sell based on operating costs?

7. Have a more holistic view of sustainability.

8. Master intricacies of government agencies, such as the EPA, DOD, etc., in order to better understand the agencies and the policies affecting the industry.

9. Pay attention to what the U.S. Military is doing, they are green leaders. Contractors can learn from them and what they are working on.

10. If contractors focus on running a business, it can be a heyday. There are many opportunities out there in which contractors can expand their businesses.

Alter continued to discuss energy and water conserving technologies in the session Selling in the New Norm. Alter focused on what steps to take in order to sell sustainable technologies.

Alter said when it comes to selling state-of-the art technologies, contractors need to be experts about energy costs in the market place, and provide energy use cost analysis for customers. Plus, contractors need to carve a niche for themselves by going to workshops and educating themselves regarding the technologies available.

Alter’s PowerPoint presentations, along with other Connect 2011 PowerPoint presentations, can be viewed online by clicking here.

About the Author

Candace Roulo

Candace Roulo, senior editor of CONTRACTOR and graduate of Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, has 15 years of industry experience in the media and construction industries. She covers a variety of mechanical contracting topics, from sustainable construction practices and policy issues affecting contractors to continuing education for industry professionals and the best business practices that contractors can implement to run successful businesses.      

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