Tracie Garza (left), sales manager, TD Industries, Houston, and Nikki Morgan, vice president service, TD Industries, listened as Steve Saunders spoke to an attentive audience of contractors at the ACCA Service Managers Forum. Saunders’ topic, What Does Green Mean for Retrofit Sales, explored the green movement as either a myth or a mega-trend. Saunders pointed out that the green movement will continue to gain momentum and effectiveness because buildings that are green have been statistically shown to attract more tenants, and owners are able to charge more per square foot.

NEW ORLEANS - The Big Easy never rests, and the HVAC industry is alive and well. For two days, members of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) ignored talk of a business downturn and instead focused on a brighter day. What better place than the French Quarter to relax and concentrate on good times?

Residents and business owners of New Orleans who overcame the adversity of Hurricanes Katrina and Ike certainly know the meaning of resiliency. Perhaps following that lead, attendees of the combined 2nd Annual National HVACR Service Managers Forum, and 6th Annual Commercial Contracting Roundtable joined at the Hilton Riverside Hotel, Oct. 1-2.

The event was highlighted with two inspiring and practical keynote addresses delivered in general sessions, and peppered with cutting-edge workshops specifically for the respective attendees. Service managers could choose from a variety of 15 workshops, commercial roundtable contractors had a selection of 12 breakout sessions. As an added value to the meeting, all participants were encouraged to “cross the hallway” any time they desired, in order to blend the benefits of the service contracting forum and the commercial management forum. Many contractors did just that, and also found the comingling of the two meetings to be very productive in the general sessions, luncheons, and breaks in the foyer - where some of the best networking always happens during conferences.


Bruce Wilkinson, a native of New Orleans with some Cajun influence, opened the meeting with his humorous approach to leadership techniques. Wilkinson told the audience that everyone leads by example, so ensuring that all employees are demonstrating positive behaviors is critically important.

“In 2010, people will be hiring for attitude, and training them later,” said Wilkinson. He then took the audience through an eye-opening comparison of Baby Boomers and Generation Y (Why?), and how their predispositions shape their performance, reactions, and behaviors.

“Some people are like dogs, they accept everything, and readily await your commands. Some people are like cats, they could care less if you are alive,” said Wilkerson. Boomers grew up in a work environment that did not question authority, Gen Yers have grown up questioning everything. According to Wilkerson, the difference between the generations is like the difference between dogs and cats.

“Cats respond differently than do dogs. You must understand that we manage our organizations, but we lead our people. You can’t motivate someone to do something they don’t want to do. However, you can inspire someone to do something they don’t think they can do, and even something they don’t want to do,” said Wilkinson.

He also discussed the difference between training and education. A person of the Boomer generation has historically sought training - training is about how to perform a task, how to do the job. Education explains why something is done the way it is. Gen-Y people want to ask why something is done before they want to know how.

Perhaps in an effort to marry the common components of the generations, Wilkinson said, “True learning takes place when experience meets education.”


A second highlight of the meetings was the closing keynote address by Larry Johnson, a noted speaker and author on constructive confrontation. Johnson presented the attendees with a six-step process (see sidebar above) that could be used immediately upon returning to their respective businesses. However, he first rocked the boat as he created an immediate confrontation with ACCA Vice President, Kevin Holland, about a malfunctioning overhead projector. The verbal jousting escalated into a shoving match - the point made to the audience was that confrontation is permissible as long as it does not end up in abusive behavior.

Johnson involved the audience a few times as he role-played a variety of confrontational situations, but without the shoving matches.

The entire program focused on the fact that in a fast-paced work environment decisions must be made accurately and quickly. That means that effective leaders must confront differences of opinion in a positive, but hard-nosed, manner, according to Johnson.

“Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to confront differences of opinion. Either they don’t speak up and make their opinions known, or they push their point of view so hard that the discussion ends in a battle of wills,” said Johnson.

Throughout the closing keynote presentation, Johnson interacted with the audience as he modeled the behavior that he was talking about.

The 2009 Service Managers Forum program sponsors were Jackson Systems, Jonas, Data-Basics Inc., Davisware, Sawin Mobile, Ultimate Technicians Academy, Appion Star Performance, Building Advice, PureChem LG, Comfort Institute, dESCO, NetServiceBooks, and the Copper Development Association.

The Commercial Contracting Roundtable sponsors were Jackson Systems, Building Advice, USA Refrigerants, Daimler Management Services, Mitsubishi Electric, LG, M&M Manufacturing Co., and Emerson Climate Technologies.

The 2010 events will be held Oct. 7-8, in Fort Worth, Texas.

Sidebar: Confrontation

Here are six steps to constructive confrontation:

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.If possible, take time to think about the disagreement. Prepare your thoughts, get your data together, think about what you want to accomplish, and prepare a plan for the discussion. We always do better in any kind of discussion or presentation when we are prepared.

2. OPEN THE DEBATE.Ask the other person to describe the issue as she sees it. Then ask her to help you define the best outcome for the discussion; e.g., increased profit, reduced risk, improved quality.

3. OPEN YOUR EARS.Listen to the other person’s point of view without prejudice, or thinking about the arguments you can marshal against her point of view. Ask questions to clarify her position and to validate the data.

4. OPEN YOUR MOUTH.Offer your point of view in a clear and firm manner, supporting your point of view with data. (Having done your homework really helps here.)

5. OPEN YOUR MIND.Direct the discussion toward a goal that works for both of you and, more importantly, is the best solution for the company.

6. CLOSE THE DEAL.Restate the agreed-upon solution. Assign responsibilities and follow-up dates. Agree to disagree and commit if necessary.

Publication date:12/21/2009