I was at a contractor meeting, having breakfast with a non-family manager of a home services business. His technicians were holding him hostage. The techs would do whatever they wanted, such as taking off in the middle of the day to get a haircut, because there were never any consequences.
Do you have an employee manual that states that you just can’t do anything you want in the middle of the day, I asked him? No. Can you discipline them? Not really. Another contractor at the table suggested that firing one bad employee would go a long way toward cleaning things up. I can’t afford to, he replied. He can’t find good technicians.
The contracting firm had started out like many do, with the husband working in the field and the wife handling the office. The wife, at this point in the evolution of the business, had become abrasive and confrontational with employees.
So I told him the story about Steve Miles at Jerry Kelly Heating & Air Conditioning. Steve recruits relentlessly, bringing in applicants, drug testing them, giving them standardized aptitude and personality tests, and then, when he finds a few “keepers,” he trains them continuously over the course of a year. At the end of a year, they’re finally ready to go out on a truck unsupervised and make some money for themselves and the company.
They tried that, the manager said, but when they got to the end of the first year and the techs had been trained, they quit. And why is that happening, I asked him?
W-e-e-e-l-l-l … there was a long pause. It’s one of the owners. The contracting firm had started out like many do, with the husband working in the field and the wife handling the office. The wife, at this point in the evolution of the business, had become abrasive and confrontational with employees. She had been burned by other employees in the past, the manager told me.
I related this to one of my favorite contractors, Randy Baldwin from Manassas, Virginia, and his response was, “I’m sorry your last girlfriend cheated on you.” He had been burned by two SEO optimization firms, and the third one said, “I’m sorry your last girlfriend cheated on you.” When you own a business, it’s inevitable that bad things are going to happen — infrequently, one would hope — but they’ll happen. You learn something from it and then you move on.
This woman had apparently done neither and her manager was dealing with the consequences. If she had made some bad hires five or 10 years in the past, that was her fault. She needed to learn something and move on but she, instead, was making it nearly impossible for her manager to recruit, train, manage and retain employees.
A case in point: the owner got a text on her phone that indicated that a technician had driven outside his geo-fenced GPS boundary. She was ready for a full-scale confrontation until her manager talked her down. He looked at the service ticket. It said that the tech had replaced a bad fan motor under warranty and that it needed to be returned to the distributor for credit. The GPS on the truck went from the customer’s house to the wholesaler (which was outside the boundary) and from there to the technician’s home. There was no reason to say anything to the tech.
I’ve always believed that management deserves the help it gets. That’s definitely true in this case. An employee manual would help establish expectations for everybody all around, including for management. If you need people, there are search firms that specialize in contracting that you can use, such as Bird Dog (birddogjobs.com). There are HR resources, such as Comprehensive Employment Solution (cesolution.us) and Wonderlic (wonderlic.com) for standardized testing.
But you should also take a moment for self-reflection. If you can’t find good employees or if your turnover is high, are you the problem? Of course you’re going to say no, but you would benefit from other contractors in your association, mix group or best practices group giving you some straight talk.
Think about it.