To Improve Your Company: Challenge Someone to a Duel

Aug. 1, 2004
by Leland Smith and Jim Cooper An owner or manager of an HVAC company can be compared to the coach of a football team. While devising a winning strategy

by Leland Smith and Jim Cooper

An owner or manager of an HVAC company can be compared to the coach of a football team. While devising a winning strategy is your main role, motivation of players (employees) is also an important element of the job.

However, unlike football, there is no “Super Bowl” that you can use to inspire your team forward. In many companies, there are no real incentives for employees to strive to reach and maintain a higher level of performance.

At Service Champions of Southern California, we have found a way to overcome the day-in, day-out doldrums that can beset a company. It's effective, inexpensive, and, best of all, genuinely fun for everyone involved.

What we have done is created an ongoing, friendly competition with a company in Northern California.

We invited our comfort advisors and technicians to participate in this competition. The competition can take place in whatever categories you determine are appropriate. Here are some of ours:

  • Maintenance agreement sales
  • System sales by a comfort advisor
  • System sales by a technician
  • Installations by an installation crew.

All we ask the participants is that they track their numbers. Each week during our Tuesday morning technician meeting, we have a conference call with our competitor, Service Champions of Northern California, in Concord. The technicians and salespeople from both companies report how they performed in their various categories during the past week.

After four months, we total up the numbers from both companies, and determine who has won the competition.

In reality, we know in advance who will win: everyone. The key to remember is that it truly isn't about who wins and loses the competition. The real reason to do this is that is makes both companies better.

Sharing ideas is more important than sharing numbers. How can the guys in Northern California help our guys in Southern California, and vice-versa? It's designed to help everybody improve.

The technicians and salespeople who participate keep in contact with each other to share information. They talk about how they succeeded in a given week or month, and where they struggled. They offer advice to each other on how to do better.

For the technicians, seeing is believing. When technicians see other technicians selling successfully, they realize it can be done. They know the guys who are doing it. They talk to other technicians who tell them, “I know you can do it because I've done it.” That makes guys step up and realize what they're capable of, and makes everybody a winner.

Pick the Right Competitor
If you'd like to try this at your company, the most important element is to pick a competitor that's similar in size to your company, and that has a similar management philosophy.

In our case, we had known Kevin Comerford and his family for many years. When Kevin started his new company a few years ago, he liked our “Service Champions” name so much that he adopted it, with Leland's blessing. So they were a good fit for us, and our competition gains a little momentum from the natural Los Angeles - San Francisco rivalry.

Pick a company that's not in your area. The best bets are companies that you meet through national organizations such as AirTime 500, International Service Leadership (ISL), or the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).

Once the “winner” is determined, the “loser” flies his team to winner's location. Both companies spend a couple of days together. The winner gets a small trophy, and the companies go to a nice restaurant and a baseball game together.

The guys have really become good friends. Now, when we call them every Tuesday, we all share in each others' successes. It has really helped everyone improve.

We don't stand to lose anything in this competition. Whatever the numbers end up being, we get a better company and have a little fun in the process.

Of course, it wouldn't be right not to point out that, at the moment, the trophy is right here in Southern California, where it belongs.

Leland Smith is president and Jim Cooper is operations manager at Service Champions of Southern California, Yorba Linda, CA. They can be reached at 714/777-7777.