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One of my favorite conversation starters is, “Tell me about the moment you decided to start a business of your own.” A new friend responded with, “I was working for a guy who talked down to me all the time. He told me what to do and never said please or thank you. Not once did he ask my opinion. One day, I was working on a boiler. I just had a breakthrough with my troubleshooting and was considering my next moves. He walked up and saw me standing there, looking at the system. He went ballistic. He berated me for being lazy and started to take over the repair. I worked for him for two more months, but that was the moment I ‘quit’ and committed to a business of my own.”
I’ve heard so many variations of that story.
“I was ignored.”
“My opinion wasn’t valued.”
“My boss thought he was smarter than me.”
A business guru pal recently started a Facebook conversation by sharing this thought: “It seems like lots of people are looking for good jobs. And the owners I talk to are looking for good people. What gives?”
What developed was a discouraging thread of disparagement toward prospective employees by owners, and vitriolic ranting toward bosses from disgruntled workers.
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” — Cool Hand Luke
So, once someone gets hired, the default relationship reflects stereotypical generalizations like, “Kids today just don’t want to work,” or, “My boss is a jerk.”
As a result, lots of great technicians hang up their shingles and start their own businesses. Perhaps that’s why you started your business? Unfortunately, many owners struggle, because being in business is a whole other set of challenges. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. And sometimes those workers-turned-owners morph into jerk-y bosses.
My pal Jim did. He started his business after he retired from the Air Force. As a tidy, organized person, he struggled with the mess he created with his drain cleaning company. The shop was filthy, the tools often broken and the techs were dirty and smelly. He admitted to me that he hated the people who worked for him. He just wanted to get his company running well enough to sell it, and get rid of it.
Therefore motivated, he committed to putting manuals in place, and training his employees. But the real shift occurred when he started to ride along with his techs. Riding shotgun, he asked them about the pictures on their dashboards. He learned about their families. He shared his hopes and dreams and listened as they shared theirs. And, Jim fell in love with them.
He let go of trying to control every single aspect of his business, recognizing the futility of it. Instead, he consulted with his team and started to delegate projects. To his delight, he discovered that most employees are eager to work … and know what needs to be fixed and how to fix it. That has made all the difference to his culture, and his business. His mission shifted, too, as now he is determined to help the fine people in his company expand their skills and careers.
What if more good people stayed put and helped grow awesome businesses? As a business owner, that may interest you. My number one suggestion for building a rockin’ team is to spend face-to-face time with each person. Ride-along. Spend time side-by-side. There’s more to it, of course. Business involves planning and a host of systems to create, teach, implement and uphold. However, if you develop real positive relationships with your team members, they will help you do all that.
I’m obsessed with the ride-along. Most of what I know as a successful business builder I learned riding shotgun. That quality time together breaks down prejudice and sets the stage for meaningful relationships. Only good comes from that. At first, ride-alongs are awkward and, well, can feel weird. But as you communicate your intent, “I’m here to learn and help,” it gets easier.
Interestingly, the same pointless pre-judging and prejudice happens at the customer level. On ride alongs, I’ve discovered a lot of customer bashing.
“Customers are always afraid they are getting ripped off."
“Calls that come from this part of town never turn into a sale.”
“I hate it when they follow me around, breathing down my neck like they don’t trust me.”
From the most successful service techs — winning at sales, operational standards and technical skills — I learned the importance of the tag-along. Great techs follow a solid sales process, on each and every call, without prejudice. They ask good questions and listen. They do a complete diagnosis. They make Plan A and Plan B recommendations. They smile and use good manners.
They communicate their intent to "be of service," to their customers.
“Mrs. Fernwicky, I’m going to take a look at the system and see what I can find out. You are welcome to tag along. I’ll share what I am doing and why. You can help, because I may have questions for you. You may learn a little about the system, how it works and how it works best.”
Mrs. Ferwicky may or may not want to tag along. The offer alone builds trust. If she does tag along, the tech has the opportunity to develop a friendship. If she doesn’t, he may say, “Tell you what, if I find something that you should be made aware of, I’ll come find you.”
Once on a ride-along, the HVAC service tech discovered a cockroach in the capacitor. Both the cockroach and the capacitor were fried. He found the homeowner and brought him outside to show him the crispy critter. He pointed to it and said, “That’s bad.”
That’s all he had to say to communicate the problem. When he shared the price for a new capacitor he didn’t need a hundred words to justify it. Most problems look bad, smell bad or register on a meter. A tech can share his discoveries with his customers as he makes them, and his credibility skyrockets. Relationships develop. Love ensues.
Want to get along? Time together dissolves prejudice and stereotypes. You are well served to ride along with your team members. They are well-served to have their customers tag along with them.
Ellen Rohr provides “in the trenches” insight that business owners can relate to. Comments? Questions? A different view? Reach her at 417-753-1111 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the Bare Bones Biz community, at www.ellenrohr.com, for free tips, problem-solving webinars, money-making tools and lots of love.