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It was 2 a.m.; I was standing in my office at our family’s plumbing, heating, cooling (and now electrical) business on Long Island, talking to my brother Richie. In a company of more than 25 techs, we — the owners — were the ones still there, working late into the night — I mean morning — to fix some issues other people created.
Richie said: “That guy was the best tech at their shop? Really? He’s barely mediocre compared to our guys. And can you believe how much money we overpaid him to come work here?”
To which I replied, in an exhausted and aggravated tone: “I’m sick of it. I’m sick of techs telling us how great they are in interviews when we hire them or taking the word of others about how great this tech is.”
It was very frustrating and it went on for years! The good news is we were eventually able to solve it; I’m about to tell you how you can, too.
To fix this problem once and for all, you’ll need to learn and implement the five main components of Staffing Power:
These five things are the main things you’ll need to be doing all the time — pretty much until you put the key in the door and finally say goodbye to your business (in a very good way, I hope). It’s the best and only way I know to build a pipeline of willing people. It’s all about you becoming the employer of choice by making good on the unique promise of offering a career, not just a job. This takes making sure these five steps are completed to your specifications.
1. Always be recruiting
My dad, my two older brothers and I weren’t always this way. We were actually quite the opposite. We waited until someone gave us two weeks’ notice, one weeks’ notice, or we found the keys on the dashboard. My brother Marty sarcastically referred to our recruiting process as “The Mirror Test.” It means we were so desperate, you were hired if you could fog the mirror.
The first step is to put an end to reactive recruiting.
The good news is we learned to get proactive and not wait for someone to leave or get fired because we’d be scrambling to find a body to run the calls. So, I’m telling you that you want to be proactive and create an ongoing recruiting program.
Instead of buying more experienced techs from other companies, you need to begin looking for willing people you can bring on as apprentices to be trained by you so they can rise up to be the great techs you’ve always wanted.
Get your whole staff involved and reward them with a bonus if someone they recommended comes on board. If you run ads, make sure the copy appeals to what the future apprentice would want — meaning the “What’s in it for me?” It’s about more than just what you want.
2. Always be hiring
To be successful with this approach, you want to hire people with a willing attitude, then train on the technical skills. Always be looking for good people. Don’t be afraid to hire and train more than one applicant at the same time; not everyone will make it through. Some will wash out. The goal is to have a lot of choices!
That said, you can weed out most of the people who won’t be a fit through a series of rigorous steps:
• Have applicants fill out an extensive employment application.
• Create an interviewing and hiring procedure. Pull this together and then, before you see the first candidate, role-play it to make sure it is what you want. The procedure should include interview questions, as well as checklists for first and second interviews.
• Test for willingness during the interview. I have a test that’s worked great for years at my shop and now at my clients for more than 19 years — have applicants sing during the interview.
Halfway through the interview, you look up to the candidate and say, “This is going to sound strange, but part of our hiring process is we’re going to ask you to sing. It can be embarrassing, so I’m going to start you off.”
Note: Every owner initially resists this test, but they relent and ultimately never hire for any position at the company without doing this test. And know that I have an awful voice, so it’s safe to think they can sing better than me.
3. Always be orienting
Once you hire your willing candidate, you must put him or her through a comprehensive orientation process. This allows the new employee (and you) the greatest chance for success. A few things to include in this process:
• Welcome new employees to the company with a guided tour.
• Address buyer’s remorse by getting new employees active and involved in your company right away.
• Communicate behavior-defined “10 Golden Rules” (service guidelines) and the consequences for breaking them.
• Start new employees out by reading aloud the detailed operating manuals containing 80 percent of what they’ll need to know to fill the box they’re being hired for on the organizational chart.
4. Always be training
Out of all these, employee training is the most critical to long-term success — theirs and yours. For this system to work, you must develop a documented training program that provides the communication (and sales), operational and technical skills they need to progress to the technician box on the organizational chart.
Have a clear training schedule with clear objectives on both the trade side and the sales side.
You also will need to create a training center where the apprentice can practice the trade — not on your paying customers. To build the right hands-on training center, you need the operating manuals for your trade.
If you don’t have the room or the funds currently for a hands-on training center, you can reach out to family and friends, even local organizations, who would benefit from discounted work. Optimally, you’ll build a classroom as well since if you do this right, there will be a steady stream of people to train, so the training never stops.
5. Always be retaining
If you have done a great job with the first four elements — recruiting, hiring, orienting and training — then retention should be a matter of maintenance. Since you’ve attracted these new apprentices with the promise of a career and not just a job, employees should understand exactly where and how they could move up via a properly designed organizational chart.
Get them excited about the different paths they could take, such as field supervisor, system advisor (aka big-ticket salesperson), and even run a satellite shop for your company if and when you’re ready to become a multiple-location shop.
Finally, continue to support their development by doing ride-alongs and team-building exercises.
Does this approach really work? Yes! It is so much easier and better to “grow your own” technicians than to always fix the holes in your existing techs and find and fix the holes faster in the newly hired “experienced” techs.
Follow this process and soon you will have a company full of willing people who will help you be more successful — because they will be, too.