Operations Manuals

A Better Way to Say Goodbye to Low Performers

Years ago, when I first entered the family business as the last brother in to what was then a 3rd generation service contracting business—now a 4th generation plumbing, heating, cooling and now electrical contracting business—my dad said to me, “You can no longer hire anyone until you prove you can fire someone the right way. Face it. You like hiring people. And who doesn’t? But you need to do both.”

Well, I didn’t like that message much, but I knew he was right. As an empathetic person I am able to put myself in another person’s shoes and see things from their perspective. And I could only imagine how bad it felt to get fired!

Our service contracting company was and still is a NYC Union Shop. When it came to employee relations that was both good and bad news. The good: there was formal process for disciplining and terminating employment. The bad: we were not consistently following the steps. (In our defense, they were not all that clear!)

The first few times I fired a bad employee they were genuinely surprised. Naturally, they wanted to unload their frustrations but I just wanted to get it over with so usually I cut them off. It went so badly a few times I’m lucky I didn’t get shot!

Something had to change. We had to figure out a “right” way to say goodbye to a bad employee. The answer was to create our own formal process, which we called “The Steps of Discipline.”

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How to Build a Business that Runs without You | The Site Shed Podcast

Ready for a business that can run without you? All businesses, no matter how big or small, need to create systems if they want to grow.

In The Site Shed’s podcast episode TSS210 named “How to Build a Business that Runs without You,” Al Levi joins host Matt Jones to discuss why operating manuals and organizational charts are fundamental to creating a business that runs without you.

You can check out the episode here!

Supercharging Your Processes with Operating Manuals | The Home Service Expert Podcast

Ready to supercharge the processes in your business? The foundation of streamlined processes is operating manuals. It’s a big task to create your operating manuals, but Al Levi can walk you through step-by-step.

On The Home Service Expert podcast, Al Levi joins host Tommy Mello to discuss the supercharging your processes through operating manuals. Ready to dive in?

You can check out the episode here. It’s now live!

Police State or Permissive Where Anything Goes?

I was working with a client a number of years ago and he was a fantastic contractor, as were his partners. The majority of my work was with this one partner who was a smart, effective and knowledgeable leader of their fast growing plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical company.

He was the rare owner who not only knew the technical side of the business, but he and his partners knew what it took to grow a company, which meant learning and implanting the business side of things.

My reason for being called in to consult was that they had experienced explosive growth and they were suffering the ill effects that came with it. He and his partners were realizing that the way they answered their phones, to the way they dispatched, to the way they had their Techs run calls, had to be fixed.

They (not me) had said they had the worst group of Customer Service Representatives (aka CSRs) ever. And what made it worse is that they had eight of them. Sad truth is… they were bad. At least, they were when we first started.

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The Danger of Trying to Do It All

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” That was told to me by a very smart contractor who had reached the end of his career and was lamenting how he had wasted so many business opportunities.

What he was speaking to is what he felt he learned all too late and that is…just because you, the owner or manager, CAN do something it doesn’t mean you SHOULD or that you’re the right one to be doing it.

It’s a fact that most of us owners and managers started as Techs and it was our ability to do pretty much any tough job they could throw at us that helped us rise through the ranks. It’s also what enabled us to believe we could succeed when we chose to open our own business.

Unfortunately, your ability to do everything is a double-edge sword. In fact, this skillset and mind set may well be what stymies the growth of your business. Because if you’re always the best choice to do it all then you better figure out how to clone yourself. The reason is you’re going to run out of both time and energy and then opportunities will be squandered.

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What if I Train Them and They Leave?

Resistance—I get a lot as an industry consultant but when it comes to convincing a contractor client of the importance of training, resistance is something I can bank on.

I listen politely as they recount a bad experience or two they have had because they invested in someone who then left the company and went work for someone else—usually a competitor.

After a few minutes of this, I interrupt them and address the elephant in the room: “So, what you’re asking yourself is, ‘What if I train them and they leave?’”

“Yes.”

My reply, the only one that makes any sense, is, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

The next thing I typically hear from the owner is, “Darn it. I know you’re right and I hate it.”

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I Can Do Everything… In a Job Interview

Stop me if this sounds familiar:

In the job interview, the candidate told me they could do it. Who knew that they couldn’t? Me!

I got blindsided by this so often in my contracting life. Looking back, it’s easy to know why I didn’t know what they could really do and not do. I hired out of desperation.

Here’s the reality. Sometimes, an employee would give us two weeks’ notice that they were leaving our company. And that was okay. Sometimes, we’d get one week’s notice. And that was tolerable. Sometimes, they’d just leave the keys to the truck in the front door mail slot and leave a note attached to their keys that they were gone. And that was bad.

It was really bad because we were always busy and needed everyone to be onboard. We were in the lucky position of having more work at our company than bodies to get the work done. I say “lucky” because we were able to charge the right price and be more selective about whom we did and didn’t work for and the type of work we would and wouldn’t do.

Yet again, it was a problem because we were always in reactive mode when it came to staffing.

How bad was this approach to staffing? My brother, Marty, called our hiring test “The Mirror Test,” which sarcastically meant that in our desperation, all you needed to do was fog the mirror and there was a good chance you could be hired. We were of course kidding….sort of, anyway.

Well, something had to give, and finally it did.

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Hire the Willing and Provide Skills or Pay the Price

“Hire willing people and provide them the needed skills instead of hiring spoiled veterans 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.”

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What’s Finally Going to Fix Things at Your Company?

What’s Finally Going to Fix Things at Your Company?

Well, let’s start with what won’t fix things at your company.

Putting out a daily fire without focusing on fire prevention is just wrong. Because that fire is bound to break out again tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow until the day you finally lock the front door of your company and say “Goodbye!”

What is going to fix things?

Becoming proactive about running your company instead of letting the company run you. That starts with putting the right tools in place to make running your company day-to-day way saner and way more sustainable.

The biggest and best tool is to document what it takes to run your company, without you having to ride your white stallion to the rescue from sun up to sundown.

That’s why I’m advocating you dedicate a portion of your week—no matter how crazy that week is—to creating a series of documents designed to keep fires from starting in the first place.

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Urgent vs. Important But Not Urgent

Everything in business is Important!

Not everything in business is Urgent. Thank heavens!

The trouble starts when all your focus is on fighting fires—dealing only with Urgent items—leaving no time to focus on any Important-But-Not-Urgent items.

When you’re firefighting day after day, how will you ever work on the importance of Fire Prevention?

Answer: You won’t!

This is the daily struggle we face as business owners, and even moreso as Contractors.

All of it feels like it’s urgent. This is especially true when there’s an unhappy customer yelling at you and threatening to post their unhappiness online to everyone on planet Earth.

Breathe.

Now, you and I both know that if everything is urgent, there’s no way to prioritize and maximize your and your staff’s day. You must develop the ability to separate the Important-But-Not-Urgent things that are going on at your company today, just like they did yesterday, that are likely to continue that way until the final moment you put the key in your office door.

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