Sharpening the Axe Before You Need to Use It

It was still hot and sweaty in the midday sun. I mean it was just a couple of days after Labor Day in NY and you’d think we were out in the yard in the dead of winter. But to the Service Manager, Tommy, at my family’s company he had all of us out there laying out truck tire snow chains.

This was an annual ritual triggered by the calendar. No, not Outlook or Google Calendar the one with pages you had to flip.

If you haven’t quite pictured Tommy yet, he was not a guy you questioned!

Get in the yard now and don’t dare mess up or you’ll quickly understand how he could bury you with the worst of the worst tasks that needed to be done. Tommy was a master at breaking the arrogant and the obstinate. I know because he busted me into little pieces for my own long-term good.

Tommy shared with me that he had worked in the trades from the time he was 10 and he was trained as a young boy coming up under some very tough taskmasters that impressed on him that you train before you need to do something, you make sure everything in your tool box is where it should be so it’s ready to go and that you’re ready to go when the weather hits.

This is the legacy he passed along to all of us who trained under him.

But honestly, when I was young and unknowing, I thought he was a little crazy. Well, maybe I thought he was really crazy. Picture if you will all of us sweating under the summer sun straightening out snow chains, labeling them with the correct truck number and finally storing them  on the proper hooks.

Of course, I learned only a few years later after Tommy had retired and we had stopped this goofy process that the only one who was really crazy was all of us.

That’s because the first big snow storm of the season hit and of course that season we had no idea where the chains were. The ones we were able to find were not labeled so good luck knowing for sure if they were the ones that you needed to put on your truck. And if you were lucky enough to find the “right” snow chains they were so snarled and tangled you’d have successfully straightened them out and have them on the truck by the time the snow would have melted.

We had ignored the brilliance of Tommy by disregarding his constant prodding of all us, “You need to make sure the axe is sharp before you need to use it.”

Today, I coach many clients about the value of looking ahead, being prepared and staying ahead.

One example of how this, “Getting the axe sharp before you need it” works was illustrated in an email I got from a client in August this year while the heat was still on:

My client:

“You mentioned today that every fall and spring your company re-rolled out the heating or cooling chapters as a refresher and did other stuff to get the Techs ready for the change of season.

I would also like to do this but when would be a good time and also who should pay for this type of training”

My reply:

“Great questions!

My company did the re-rollout of the heating chapter [this was much faster than the initial rollout when we had first written them] starting August 15th and ending on or around October 1st. It was coupled with hands-on live troubleshooting and simulated calls in our working Training Center so we could be as ready as possible for the heating season.

We also mixed in with the “tricking up” of the equipment in the training center by having them act as if they were running real service calls. We did that by making them act as if they were:

  1. Coming to the door
  2. Asking the key questions and writing the answers they got
  3. Getting the permission to do a survey
  4. Presenting the menu
  5. Getting the invoice signed
  6. Doing the actual work
  7. Going to exit the call the right way

This whole process got repeated with our cooling manuals and utilizing the cooling side of our training center around late March or early April and the training ran till around May 15th. It helped us get fully ready for cooling season

As to who pays for this type of training, our company paid for all company training time. Ultimately, I was taught by Frank Blau that the customer pays for everything. And that approach only makes sense because all the things we do from training, trucks, communication and more is in the customer’s best interest. That’s why training costs were part of our budget.

When you pay for training, it stamps that training as important and non-negotiable versus needing people to volunteer.

The bulk of the training was done in two hour blocks usually from 5 to 7 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We brought in pizza and bonded as a group.

The only exception about paid training was when we offered big block training which was about career advancement and this big block training they, the Apprentices and Techs, would have had to pay a school for it and still it wouldn’t ensure they move up our salary ladder and prepare them the same way we could to advance their own careers.”

Are you looking ahead, preparing now and getting ready for your best season ever?

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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