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The No. 1 challenge facing business owners? Staffing. I’m in a great position to listen and learn from the brightest and the best in our industry. Here are my latest top tips for finding and developing great team members at your company.
Note: It’s a good idea to start with the team members you have already.
Quit hating on them
A small action that can have a huge impact? Stop saying, “I can’t find good people.” The people on your team are listening. What are they, chopped liver? Instead, discipline yourself to speak of what you want to happen: “I’m getting better and better at recruiting and finding the right people to work with the great team we are developing.”
Consider the power of your words and actions.
We need to be better leaders — and become better at developing new leadership. Often, we promote team members based on their success in sales or production, and they are ill-equipped to deal with the personalities and motivations of the people who report to them.
I chuckle when I hear someone in their 20s say, “Kids today don’t have any kind of work ethic.” Kids today are as problematic as kids have always been since Cain and Able started causing trouble.
Or have you heard a young manager complain, “Nobody wants to work anymore,” or “Everybody wants to get off early”? We run into trouble when we paint with a broad brush. Nobody and Everybody don’t exist. Using those terms is a cop-out. People have their own unique reasons for doing the sometimes frustrating things they do.
It's easy to hire someone and then spend the rest of their time with us pointing out their faults. Field supervisors and young managers can burn out if they don’t know how to communicate with and respond effectively to their team members.
A tip for getting leadership training started: Launch a book club.
I’m a big reader and have learned so much about life and leadership through the experience of others. At Zoom Drain, we are currently reading “It’s Your Ship” by D. Michael Abrashoff. Once a week, a group of managers discusses a chapter.
I’m impressed with how open and vulnerable our conversations have been. We talk about job challenges and ideas for getting team members to engage and help with projects. We share when we’ve blown it and offer suggestions on how to recover.
Great leaders clarify what needs to be done and why. They listen and ask questions to find out what is important to their team members. They train their team on the behaviors that keep them safe and allow them to be successful. They hold people accountable and measure their results. They honor and respect the motivations of their crew. And they love on them.
People are going to come and go at your company. Sometimes they stay a long time and become valued veterans. Sometimes they become like family. Sometimes we interact with recruits or team members for a day or a week or a month.
No matter how long they are with us, while they are on our watch, could we make a powerful, positive impression on them? Could we love on them instead of hate on them?
Mix it up
The ideal team includes older people, younger people, people of all colors, stripes, personalities and orientations. Diversity is what makes us human — and divine. Good people want to do honorable work in a supportive workplace with people who treat them fairly and respectfully.
A tip to improve recruiting: Look for people who are under-represented in our industry. I know I could do better. How about you? Have you turned over every stone to find people who may not be aware of the great careers you offer?
I love young people and delight when a youngster discovers our industry. However, we’ve just added a couple of nicely seasoned vets to our crew. Brothers John and Dave Galligan recently merged their company with Zoom Drain. They have invaluable experience and knowledge and are helping us train our up-and-coming apprentices and service techs. I am excited about the exchange of energy and ideas.
Mary Jean Anderson of Anderson Plumbing, Heating and Air told me the company has 12 women technicians working with them. Impressive! I’m inspired to target ads towards women specifically and offer ride-alongs right away to learn about our trade.
Anderson also focuses on recruiting U.S. service veterans. The home services firm offers a 90-day pre-apprentice program designed specifically for military people in the San Diego area who are transitioning to civilian life (https://bit.ly/3hFjYz2).
Don’t discount the dirty bits
A tip for promoting our industry: Let people know how cool the work is. One of our team members took his nine-year-old son to work with him recently. He sent me a heart-melting video of his son working (safely!) with the crew on a sewer line repair job.
The young fellow wrote an essay for school about what a great day he had digging in the dirt. The sun was shining; he was working with the big boys and big toys (including the excavator). They got pizza for lunch! His reward at the end of the day was a hot, relaxing shower.
We take for granted how awesome the work is that our team members do: People working together to figure out problems, using physics and mechanics and specialized tools and equipment. It can be attention-getting and character-building when Plan A fails, and Plans B and C come into play.
It’s satisfying when the job gets done right. There are adventures and lessons learned. There are friendships developed and fun to be had. And there are stories to be shared. These are intrinsically motivating reasons to go to work. Yep, money is important. Yes, the hours can be tough. However, the work is very, very cool, and we should promote that in our recruiting efforts.
Failure is an option
Another great book-club book (https://amzn.to/3wH8D5Y): “The Gift of Failure — How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.”
I heard the author, Jessica Lahey, on a podcast and was struck by her tough-love wisdom. Yes, the book is written for parents, yet the sound advice applies to managers and leaders.
Lahey suggests that we do our children (and team members) a disservice when we protect them from failure. Our obsession with success can discount and bypass the process by which we become successful. We can establish standards and accountability and provide the training required to complete tasks safely. Then, we should also provide the space and freedom to let them take a swing or two before they connect with the ball.
Do you ever jump in and finish the job when your child (or team member) botches a task in their first attempt? Do you run the part to the tech (or deliver lunch to your child) when they leave without it? Let them deal with the consequences of their decisions, as long as no one could die or be injured. Leaders provide the gift of failure.
One more tip: Let them figure out how to do something well or complete a satisfactory task without micromanaging, even if it takes a few tries. It takes patience, an underrated leadership skill. The mutually beneficial reward is capable, competent, confident team members — now and in the future.