Do What’s in the Book and You’re Off the Hook

Growing up a New Yorker, I appreciate straight talking people who say what they mean and do what they say. And I’m pleased to say that has been my experience so far with every one of the business owners I have had the privilege to work with. Midwesterners do this especially well, and without the New York attitude and sarcasm!

But I must admit the New Yorker in me tends to go off unfiltered when an owner in Iowa (or Illinois, or Indiana) tells me, “I don’t know if I can get buy in here for the Operating Manuals.”

“Really?” I reply. “I got these standard operating procedure manuals in at my own company, a tough union shop in New York City. It doesn’t get any harder than that. And you don’t think you can get them to buy in here in Iowa…really?”

Despite the quality of my wisecrack, the owner usually remains unconvinced. So after taking a few minutes to compose myself, I share the story of how I got techs to willingly comply at my own shop.

Before we had manuals, one of my many jobs was Installation Manager. In this role, I was overseeing five install crews a day. One of our very best installers had been flipping pizzas when he entered our Apprentice training classes and had risen quickly up through the ranks.

One time I was handing out the assignments for the day and I said to him, “Hey, I can’t be there at the normal 10 a.m. time to go over what I want done here on the new boiler and heating work but I can get there around 2 p.m. Is that going to work?”

He quickly scanned the paperwork I had given him and said, “Not a problem. I got you covered.”

At 2 p.m. I arrived at the customer’s home. As I walked around the basement and saw what had been done, steamed poured from my ears. I pulled the Installer outside and said, “This is nothing like I wanted!”

He growled, “Well, your brother showed up about an hour ago and told me ‘Do it this way’.”

What an awful moment! And a really important one. It made us realize that since the three of us had never defined the way the work should be done—in writing—how the work got done was open to interpretation!

This had to stop for three reasons:

  1. The Installer felt that I laid awake at night trying to figure out how to ruin HIS day.
  2. I felt that the Installer laid awake at night trying to figure out how to ruin MY day.
  3. Our disconnect put the customer in the crossfire and so ruined THEIR day along with their desire to ever work with us again!

What changed? Everything. Here’s what we finally got busy doing:

  1. We created a detailed procedure for exactly what the checklist approach needed to be on how we did our installation work.
  2. We created detailed procedures for how to commission (start up the right way) whatever we installed.
  3. We took pictures of what we were installing and submitted them to make sure they fell within the design parameters sort of like a feedback loop.
  4. We met weekly to discuss:
    • What install jobs had gone right and why, so we could do it again
    • What install jobs went wrong and why, so we could make adjustments
    • What install jobs are coming up next week and what do we need to discuss now so we can be ready.
  5. We created incentives to the installers for bringing jobs in on time and on budget with no callbacks for 30 days
  6. We created Exit Checklists the Installers had to fill out that led to fewer callbacks and more happy customers who willingly gave us pictures and testimonials.

But, the best thing is, there was buy-in and here’s why. The installer had coined the phrase that spread like wildfire to all my union employees and that was, “Do what’s in the book and you’re off the hook.” What that really meant was, if they followed the written procedure and the job hit the parameters and I or my brother didn’t like it, well, it was tough on us. We could always edit the manuals together with the team to keep making them better.

And that’s how operating manuals get rolled out and create wins for everyone across the board—a win for our staff, a win for our company and its owners, and most importantly a win for our customers.

Al Levi teaches contractors how to run their businesses with less stress and more success with operating manuals. To get control of your business and grow the right way, get his Build Your Operating Manuals Online Program at today.

Also, check out Al’s latest business adventure, Zoom Franchise Company, at’s a living example of the power of manuals and more in action.

More Ways to Become a 7-Power Contractor

The 7-Power Contractor book lays out 7 simple business powers to help you run your business with Less Stress and More Success. And now, it's available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

The Build Your Operating Manuals (BYOM) Program provides you with 90% completed manual templates plus step-by-step instructions on how to edit them, roll them out, and train with them.

The 7-Power Contractor Radio is a podcast series hosted by Al Levi in which he shares insights on how to better run your business. Listen wherever you are.

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