“Hire willing people and provide them the needed skills instead of hiring spoiled experienced employees with skills and behavior problems.” This has been my mantra since I was a contractor at my own Long Island plumbing, heating and cooling shop.
When did I latch on to this core business philosophy?
Well, it was at 2 a.m. while standing in my office one night talking to my brother, Richie. As usual, in a company full of 25 plus Techs, we were still out there helping late into the night (I mean morning).
Disclaimer: I’ve changed the name to protect the not-so-innocent and I cleaned up the language, but I bet you can only imagine what true New Yorkers would be saying to one another in this situation.
The conversation with my brother went something like this. “Don was the best Tech at their shop? I mean for heaven’s sake he’s barely mediocre compared to our guys. And can you believe how much money we had to pay him to come work here?”
To which I replied, in an exhausted and muffled 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.”
Richie said, “What do you think we should do?”
I yawned and said, “Well, this isn’t working. I’m not only disappointed by the work of these so-called veterans, I’m sick of their behavior issues, too. Why don’t we try hiring willing people and providing them with the skills they’ll need and see how that turns out?”
Richie nodded in agreement, and on that we both headed home to get a solid four hours of sleep before we had to be up and at it again.
Driving home I was pleased that Richie could see that this was the right way to go. I mean how many times can you bang your head against the wall before you say, “Ouch. That hurts. Let’s not do that again.”
By the time my head hit the pillow, however, the fear was mounting on how exactly was I going to make that noble recommendation a reality. I didn’t know, but I was in pain and what I did know is that if there's enough pain, you’ll take the medicine if you have any sense at all.
Waking up refreshed from my nap, a plan of attack was already beginning to form in my mind. Here is what I came up with.
Al's Plan for Hiring and Training Great Techs
- Document the procedures at all positions at the company, but start first and foremost with what the Techs do, since that was our most urgent need.
- Create a fully functioning in-house Training Center for the plumbing, heating and cooling trades we did, so we could teach willing people the technical skills they needed, and also fill in the knowledge holes for our existing Techs in a safer and more effective way than trying to do “on-the- job training.”
- Create an Organizational Chart that was based on the roles or “boxes” it took to run the company, and not on fancy titles. This accomplished the following:
- Told new hires where they would be starting at the company
- Told them where they could go tomorrow with our training
- Told them who really was their boss
- Told them who they could go to for help
- Create a career path that also tied to salary levels, so they’d know from the time they were hired the following:
- Their starting pay rate
- What the leap to the next higher box on the Org Chart would mean in terms of salary and possible earned bonuses
What did all of this get us?
We got so good at building Techs from scratch by hiring willing people and providing the skills, it became a rarity when we’d hire someone who was a skilled veteran. And when we did, we tested them and held them accountable to our standards, because we had a pipeline from our own “Minor League” of young willing people dying to achieve more and move up.
Here’s what I didn’t count on. Once I stopped trying to find “Lightning in a Bottle” with a magical hire of an experienced veteran, I really liked the people on board. They all wanted to be there and they were excited about the company and their own futures because we delivered on what we promised—a career not just a job!