Rick Tullis
Rick Tullis

Two years after starting our HVAC engineering, contracting, and service business, I dragged myself home after another 12-hour day. It was exciting to be a part of a quickly growing business, and my business partner and I still found ourselves living on adrenaline. The start of the business had gone better than we could have ever imagined, and we were going to double our revenues from the previous year.

But, as I sat down at the dinner table with my wife and four children, I knew things weren’t right. The look from my wife let me know that she needed more help at home than I was giving. I remember repeating, “The business will only be like this a little longer. Things will settle down. It will get better.”

Her response was cutting and to the point: “I don’t believe you anymore.”

I chewed on that sentence for a few days and finally had the courage to agree with her. She was right. The business was going to keep growing and so would the demands on my time unless there was a fundamental shift.

I eventually came to understand that the shift would come when my business partner and I learned to stop being revenue producers and become producers of leaders within our company. We needed to raise up men and women to take on the tasks we were doing so we could start working on things the company would need tomorrow and beyond. We needed to work less in the business and more on the business.

Thus began a multifaceted journey that led us into being students of organizational development, leadership training, talent recruitment, and process creation.

The Right Talent

One of the business principles that Jim Collins talks about in his classic book, Good to Great, is getting the right people on the bus and getting them into the right seats. With that in mind, we began to evaluate our current staff to see if they were all properly seated.

Through the process, we came to grips with the reality that some of our team members had reached their maximum potential. It wasn’t that they had changed, but because of the company’s fast growth, their seats had changed. In some cases we were able to help people grow, but we also found ourselves having to let some go because they just didn’t fit anymore.

As painful as this was — because we genuinely liked our team members — it had to be done in order for the organization to move forward, and for that person to have the chance to be successful in a job that better fit their skill set.

We also became more intentional about finding good talent to put on our bus.

We created detailed job descriptions for all roles in the company. No one likes bidding a job without a good set of plans and specifications, so why would we want to hire someone for a job that doesn’t have a scope? Not having an accurate job description in the interview process is like fishing without bait.

We made our interview process more challenging so we could put the candidates under more stress. We didn’t do this to be mean, but as a way to see how a candidate would handle difficult situations. If they cracked in our interview, we knew they’d crack in front of customers, and that is something we didn’t want to happen.

We looked for talent outside of our industry. There are many people in our business that cycle from one company to the next. We fall into the trap of hiring them because they’re experienced. The reality is that a person with lots of bad experience is not going to magically become your top employee. Looking beyond the HVAC world, a person with retail business experience might have the customer service skills you need, or a person from the manufacturing sector might be the one to drive your process improvement.

We hired young talent right out of trade school and college so we could train them to do business our way. This may seem like a long-term approach, but we’ve found that after a few months, the right rookie with the right training can outpace industry veterans.

We offer internships throughout the company, in the office, and in the field. This is a great way to find people you might want to hire without the risk of getting stuck with a bad employee. If nothing else, you get the chance to invest in a person’s life and do it at an affordable price.

Recently, we’ve started to give our candidates an online survey that measures aptitude, thinking skills, and personality. In a short time we’ve already found this tool to be useful in determining how a person will fit into a role and the culture of the company.

Hiring the right people was just the first step in our efforts to achieving a healthy work/life balance. Actually, “step” is not a good word to use because this is an ever ongoing process. Due to company growth and attrition, we have to be continually on the hunt for talent and see this as a major part of our job. The helpful kid at the hardware store could become our next star-service technician, but if I don’t have my head on a swivel I will miss the opportunity.

The Right Balance

Has implementing smart business principles helped? Not long ago I took my family out camping, and as we pulled into the driveway, my neighbor yelled over the fence, “For a business owner you sure do a good job of spending time with your family.” I thanked him for the compliment but it wasn’t until the next day that I realized a few years ago that wasn’t the case.

Thankfully, we acted on implementing these proven business principles. If you are looking for ways to bring your work and family life into a healthy balance, I would suggest you do it, too.

Publication date: 6/18/2012