Al Levi | Blog - Contractor Process Development & SOPs

Al Writes

Finally, All the Great Techs You Ever Wanted

It was 2 a.m. and 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 had 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 had to overpay 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 and 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:

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Employee Feedback Done Right

I call them “staffing surprises” and they’re rarely pleasant surprises. You know what I’m talking about. I call it the, “5 o’clock knock.”

Sometimes, it’s where an employee shows up at your doorstep, usually during your busiest time, and asks for more money or special exceptions for them on company policies. And sometimes, it’s actually to dish the dirt about other employees by sharing the whispering that’s going on at the water cooler, the breakroom or parking lot (or more likely these days over text or social media).

This is usually about who is upset about what, how, or who. None of it is good for your business and frankly, it’s not good for your employees, either.

The good news is there are steps you can take to avoid being blindsided by employee dissatisfaction. To keep staff engaged and ultimately from leaving our company, I learned late (unfortunately late) in the game to make the time to walk around and ask them proactively at least once a week the following three questions…

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New Practices for Covid-19

There’s an ancient proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

I know many of you have taken steps to put additional systems and processes in place to keep customers and employees safe in the midst of this pandemic. Kudos to you.

Haven’t done much of anything or still scrambling?

What you need to know is it is not too late! The need for additional systems and processes around this virus (or heaven forbid, future virus pandemics) is not going away anytime soon. It’s going to be some time before everyone is vaccinated and even then, there will be some people that may not be able to receive those vaccinations—and those people will need your services, too.

Here are some helpful protocols you could put into place fairly quickly to make customers and staff alike safer.

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Marketing Needs Great Testimonials

It’s not that potential customers don’t trust what you’re saying about yourself in your marketing. It’s just that… they don’t!

That’s because they figure you’re just saying what you’re saying to sell them something. You do want to sell them something, and that’s OK because you’re typically there because they have a problem or a need they want addressed. The thing is, the saying “Perception is reality!” holds true here.

They need to trust you first, and to do that they need more than the words you’re saying.

Think about it. When you go shopping for a car or need some kind of work or service at your home or office for something you don’t do, don’t you ask your friends, family members if they know someone good?

We’d rather not be a guinea pig, or worse, be taken advantage of!

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Fleet Management Done Right

Would you drive your personal vehicle 100,000 miles and never do an oil change? Ignore the flashing red engine light on your dashboard hoping it will go away? Continue to drive it after you dropped the front wheel into a deep pothole at 70 mph?

Of course not!

You would take steps to maintain and fix the vehicle as soon as possible. That’s because you are the manager of your personal fleet of one, two, three (or more) vehicles and you know waiting will only end up costing you more in the end.

When it comes to the fleet for your contracting business, however, the consequences of not being proactive has yet another layer of risk and a huge financial impact. That’s because each one of your trucks is a rolling cash register and every time one of your trucks goes out of service, your ability to generate revenue for your business goes with it. To avoid this, you need someone acting as the Fleet Manager. Someone has to have the job to make sure those trucks not only stay on the road but also are utilized properly by the Technicians who are operating them.

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The Goal Writing is on the Wall

By the time you read this, most people’s New Year’s resolutions (aka goals) will be a distant memory and they’ll be back to doing the same things they said they were or weren’t going to do (lose weight, make more money, work fewer hours). Maybe you even have a few. Here’s the thing: Setting goals is easy. It’s the follow through on the plan of action that will create the change you want that’s the tough part. A famous author once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

That said, there’s a process for energizing goals properly, and the first step is to put the goal (or goals) in writing. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how much push back I’ve gotten on this one over the years. The reason is because if you never put the goal in writing, you don’t have to be wrong or miss. You can always be perfect in your mind because there’s nothing tangible to remind you of what you said you wanted. You don’t have to confront failure or any of the other negative messages in your head that say you didn’t deserve it anyway.

Here’s the thing: A goal is just a destination. The plan you create to get to your goal is your map or GPS. That’s it. You will inevitably learn new things along the way, and that may cause you to adjust the goal or the plan to get it. Even if you fall short, you’ll almost certainly be better off than if you hadn’t tried. As I told one client who was stressing over this, there’s no “goal police.” The sole purpose of a goal is to give you something tangible to shoot for.

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Checking In vs Snooping

In a bunch of management articles and blogs I’ve read in the last few years, there is more and more discussion about the ever-growing amount of time being wasted in the office (remember when all your office staff worked in the office?). It still happens with personnel there, at home, and also with staff in the field.

The issue I’ve had from the beginning of my first becoming a manager, then an owner, and now an industry-consultant is to find what is the right balance between checking in on staff and what amounts to spying on employees.

I will confess that while at work I’m all about work, and that is pretty much what I expected from my employees, and that’s what I teach my clients to expect from their employees. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for time to… just hang out, chat, and share a laugh. Remember, we come to work as much to socialize as well as just to collect a check.

To my mind, that time of coming together whether in the break room for office staff or at the local 7-Eleven ™ or Circle K™ is vital to team building. It’s worse when people are “stealing” productive time to do solo-time wasting activities.

Yes, COVID has changed things for now, but in the long run, I believe more people will be working safely in an office again or at least some hybrid of home and office. Productivity studies and issues of disconnection from the company are still pointing to the need for face-to-face time and not just FaceTime or Zoom Meetings.

A friend of mine who worked his whole life in big corporate America told me that there was an art to always looking busy whether it was pouring over stacks of reports in the old days when stuff got printed that then turned into staring at the computer when the stuff moved to digital. Productivity didn’t change much… People just found new ways to look busy.

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Owner Procrastination Implementing is the Biggest Problem

In my seminars, workshops and webinars, I often ask the audience the following question, “Why do people resist change?”

I get a lot of good answers like:

1) They fear the unknown

2) They are uncertain about what the outcome will be

3) They worry things might actually get worse

4) They admit they want to protect the status quo

But I’ve learned along the way, both in my own business and now as a consultant to so many other businesses for so long, that the number 1 reason people resist changes is… Fear of Failure!

I didn’t understand this phenomenon when I was young so I was baffled as to why my team would resist the change I was proposing when it was clearly getting rid of something they said they hated with something they agreed could possibly be better.

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Does the 12-Hour Workday Work?

The idea of moving the normal 8 hours a day to 10 hours or even 12 hours a day has been around a long time. And the idea of a longer workday comes and goes with the business cycle and, many times, where we are in the economic cycle and unemployment rate.

In the contracting business, we’re typically all expected to work more than the traditional 40 hours a week and, therefore, more than an 8-hour day.

The nature of most of our businesses that are deemed essential is that we’re necessary and time-critical.

Drains overflowing, water cascading from your second floor bathroom into your dining room, no heat on a zero-degree day with howling winds in winter, or no cooling on a 90-plus-degree day in summer… all are time sensitive for sure. It is going to test you and your staff needing to put in a very long day and, many times, day after day too.

Working hard is one thing, but there is a point of diminishing returns.

Here are just 5 signs to tell you when you’re getting to the downside…

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Making All the Pieces Fit

Commitment to getting better is great, but soliciting advice from too many different consultants or sources of information hurts more than it helps.

Here’s the analogy I like to use to explain this:

Would you build your dream car with a Ford chassis, a Toyota engine, seats and interior by Volkswagen? No!

The car would probably blow itself apart or be some kind of a death trap. It makes no sense.

But, for some reason, too many owners seem to think it’s okay to take consulting advice for their business from articles online, business books they’ve read, and/or multiple consultants.

This works on the idea that all the pieces will somehow fit, but the reality is that’s not likely going to be the case.

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