CLEVELAND - Attendees to one of the many seminars at the
recent Affordable Comfort Institute (ACI) Home Performance Conference in
Cleveland got an earful on the subject of retaining and keeping employees
happy. The seminar was titled “Profitability & Productive Employees: Keys
to a Successful Contracting Business.” Speakers included Skye Dunning, founder
of Building Performance Specialists (BPS) of Wilmington, N.C., Greg McAfee,
owner of McAfee Heating & Air Conditioning, Kettering, Ohio, and John R.
Hall, business editor for The NEWS
Business owners in attendance were treated to a variety of
different reasons why employees are so vital to the success of a business,
perhaps even more important than customers.
Discussing employee retention at the ACI Home Performance
Conference were (from left) John R. Hall of The NEWS, Skye
Dunning of Building Performance Specialists, and Greg McAfee of McAfee Heating
& Air Conditioning.
THE COMPANY EXISTS FOR THE PEOPLE
Dunning began his presentation by explaining his business.
He is an inspector and a certified energy rater. He joked about the difference
between his business goals and those of his employees. “Fixing houses is a lot
easier compared to managing employees,” he said.
Dunning believes that employees come first - always. “The
company exists for the people,” he said. “By putting employees first, I know
that the customer will always be treated well.
“Every opportunity should be taken to align the employee’s
interest with the company’s interest.”
Dunning added that the best approach to dealing with
employee conflicts or problems is to get to the root of the action in order to
avoid repeating it in the future. “Change the system so they no longer have the
motivation to repeat the action,” he said. “Systems should always be changing,
especially for a company that is growing.
“It may take time to accomplish this goal, but the result is
a team of happy, motivated employees.”
Another key to keeping employees motivated is to train them
to do other people’s jobs; to keep them interested in how the company works
from another employee’s perspective. Dunning
thinks that every company should have a worker who knows every task, but is not
necessarily an expert at any task. “The key here is also to have flexible
schedules because employees have overlapping abilities,” he added.
Having employees involved in a number of different tasks
also lays the groundwork for them to become more involved in how a business
operates, of which Dunning is very supportive. “Most businesses keep employees
outside and only allow them to look through a tinted glass window to the
inside,” he said.
Dunning wants his employees to know how the business
operates so they can understand what it takes to make a profit. Part of that is
not paying his employees for nonbillable work, which teaches them a valuable
lesson in profitability. “We use a simple spreadsheet to determine what
percentage each employee gets for each job, including any bonus pay,” he said.
“I want to pay out bonuses on every job because that means we are profitable.”
Dunning talked with seminar attendees about what he does to
keep employees happy.
WHO MOVED MY THERMOSTAT?
McAfee, a 2006 NEWS’
“Best Contractor to
Work For,” themed his speech around getting employees out of their comfort zone
and used an analogy to the famous book, Who Moved My Cheese?
He held up a thermostat and asked the audience “Who moved my thermostat?”
“I want to challenge employees to get out of their comfort
zone,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why our company has grown steadily
and increased both gross profit and sales every year,” he said.
McAfee then came up with a bit of a tongue twister. “If you
try to do what you do better than anyone else, you will be very busy doing what
you do best,” he said. “You should evolve and change, otherwise you will die.”
He noted it is possible to change your thinking, adding that
attitude is important and changeable. “Lose your ego, too,” he said. “It
doesn’t get you anywhere. Be a sponge and learn as much as you can from other
people. Your company is never too small or too large to start something new or
McAfee continued on his theme of challenging people to be
different, including hiring people who are different. “You will never be
successful if you hire ‘yes’ people,” he said. “Don’t surround yourself with
people who only hold you accountable and who are afraid to be critical of you.”
One thing McAfee said that should remain constant is the
level of professionalism in a business. “What does your office look like?” he
asked. “Is it clean and organized? It should be because it shows
professionalism. Our employees see that we care enough about our office and
they in turn, take care of themselves and their trucks. Image is very
important. If our job is to clean our customers’ air, then we have to be clean
in our appearance. Everything matters.”
A lot of McAfee’s presentation included hand props. One was
a small model airplane that he flew around the room. The plane represented
flying above the clouds and aiming high - the goal of any successful company.
He also showed a wooden spoon and asked, “Do you want to be known as the old
wood spoon or the new silver spoon? You have to decide which one you want to
McAfee said that each company should have its own unique
identity. His company’s is the “McAfee Way.” This is what makes his company
What also makes his company unique is the open communication
between himself and his employees. “The best kind of communication is still the
one-on-one, face-to-face talk,” he said. “And not an e-mail or text message.”
Finally, McAfee said that in order to get quality, you have
to pay for it. “Hire quality people and pay them well,” he said. “They will
eventually pay off in the long haul, but not for the short run.”
McAfee used some of his own experiences to talk about
WHAT EMPLOYEES SHOULD KNOW ABOUT A BUSINESS
Hall, like Dunning and McAfee, said employees should be
involved in how a business is run. The more they know about the everyday ins
and outs, the more respect they will have for the business and the business
owner. He used the continuing saga of contractor Terry Boone as his example.
Boone is a Virginia HVAC contractor who has struggled with
success, but has received a lot of guidance in running his business from a
number of industry professionals. “There are key points for employees to know
about running a business,” he said. Some of these points include understanding
cash flow, knowing how to correctly price a job, developing a niche, finding
the right people, targeting the market, and knowing the competition.
“The key to being successful is knowing your costs and being
able to manage them,” Hall said. “It comes down to being able to price a job
correctly so there is enough left over to pay the bills and make a good profit.
With a good profit, you can afford to hire good people and pay them well.”
For any business to remain in business, it is important to
have a steady cash flow. Hall pointed out that Boone has struggled with this
concept, and it has hurt his growth. Employees should be educated on which jobs
create cash flow and which jobs do not. In Boone’s case, a steady diet of
service calls is the lifeblood of the business, not the $15,000 retrofits or
replacement work that looks good on paper but takes a while to pay out.
One of Hall’s objectives was to also show that successful
business owners are those who spend more time working on the business instead
of in the business. It is up to employees to help alleviate the workload for
“If employees understood what it takes to run a business,
they are in a better position to help the owner run the business,” he said.
“Open up the books and show them your costs. You don’t have to tell them
everything, but make them feel like they are part of the business.
“That way, you are making them part of the success, too.”
E-mail email@example.com for a copy of Hall’s
presentation titled “What Employees Should Know About Running a