Weeding Out Bad Apples Leads to a Fruitful Company

A Residential Contractor Shares His Secrets of Hiring Success By I. Ahron Katz I’m going to share the keys to my success in growing from a two-man repair business to a ten-million-dollar company with more than 100 employees. But first, you have to answer these questions: Do you really want to grow? And, if so, why? Is it because you want to make lots of money? That’s fine, but did you know that most companies make less money when they’re growing, than they did when they were small? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "I can increase my profit by increasing the number of my employees." Sadly, that’s not true. Several things happen as you grow. Your overhead increases, and efficiency and productivity decrease. Therefore, profits drop. The good part is that once you master the art of great management, you can come out on the other side of the valley to reach higher peaks than ever before. Many years ago, I went through that thought process. I knew that any service technician I hired was going to be less motivated, less efficient, less productive, and less profitable than I was. But I knew that two or three service technicians working along with me would equal more than I could ever possibly produce by myself, even if they were each less productive than I. A major concern was supporting my family. If I was working by myself and got sick or was injured, my income would drop to zero. Therefore, I decided to grow a little to accommodate those concerns. Now, the question was what kind of people to hire. I started out by hiring "experienced" technicians. This wasn’t a good idea because they’re hardly ever as good as they claim to be. They also bring all their bad habits with them, and generally refuse to change. I sat down and evaluated my options and came up with a totally different plan of action. I decided to take a short-term loss by investing in new people with no experience in our industry and teaching them to do things my way. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Short-term costs — major long term benefits. Now, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of what works in implementing that strategy. Here’s my secret: Hire good people and train them to be great technicians. It’s as simple as that. People always ask, “How do you find good technicians that can talk to customers? How do you find mechanics that are neat, clean, dependable, honest, sober, and intelligent?” You can’t! The great ones are working for someone else who understands the gems that they are, and will fight tooth and nail to keep you from getting them. My strategy has been to make the investment in training quality people. It’s expensive, but I did it from the very beginning, even when I was just a two-man operation. Understand in advance that you’re going to have to kiss some frogs before you find a prince. But once you do, train him well and the investment will be worth it. From my experience, I’ve learned that it’s important to train those first people yourself. By doing so, you teach them to do things the way you want them done, and you can monitor their progress continuously. When my company became large enough, I gave the responsibility of firing decisions to department managers. My mantra was, "Weed out the losers within the first 30-60 days." If we had to fire someone after they had been on the job for six months or longer, my first question to the manager was, "Why did they last so long?" If at some point you feel they’re not making the kind of progress that’s necessary, replace them. Do it quickly. You don’t want to waste a lot of time on people who aren’t going to measure up. As far as the selection process goes, I’ll give you some basic rules that I discovered over the years that were essential in helping me find the right people. Take classes that will teach you proper interviewing techniques. They’re worth the investment. During the interview process, pay close attention to the applicant. Is the person neat, clean, respectful, and presentable? The candidate should communicate effectively and have a stable work background that can be verified. Be sure to observe the demeanor and body language of the applicant. A lackadaisical, lazy, disrespectful, or disinterested attitude should raise a red flag. Attitude is the single issue where I will not compromise. It’s very important to have people around you with great attitudes. Bad ones will ruin your company — I guarantee it. Such people think only of themselves, are inconsiderate of others, and make lousy team members. Evaluate carefully before hiring, as well as after the hire. Remember, a person is always on his best behavior during the first few months in a new job. Small slips in attitude or dependability foreshadow possible big problems later. Be vigilant and patient. Weed out the bad apples fast, hold on to and nurture the good ones, and I’ll see you at the top! I. Ahron Katz is the founder of A-abc Appliance and Air Conditioning in Dallas, TX. He and his wife Lucia host a weekly call-in radio show on Legends 770-KAAM out of Dallas/Fort Worth. Listeners call for professional advice on home appliance, A/C, heating and plumbing repairs. He can be reached at 972/735-8889 or [email protected]

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