There is so much happening in our business world today that it is often difficult for us as contractors to stay focused on the real purposes for which we are in business. In our case it means fulfilling our mission of being the best heating and air conditioning contractor in our area. While as an owner/manager we have to deal with all of the outside issues and pressures that affect our business, we can’t lose sight of the internal issues that greatly affect us as well. Because we get caught in worrying about those outside issues, we must remember that to our employees those issues are probably not all that important. And, in fact, they have their own list of issues and problems that they deal with daily which more than likely don’t coincide with our issues.

These issues that are affecting our employees really do affect us and our company as well. Even though we, as owners, feel that money is the No. 1 issue on the minds of employees, surveys have repeatedly shown that those employees put money far down on their list of concerns. They typically put recognition and awareness of the job they are doing as being much more important to them than the money they receive. Therefore, even though we are busy dealing with the outside issues, if we are going to be successful, we must take time to recognize and understand what is going through the minds of our employees.

Some companies use surveys, either anonymous or not, to ask employees how they feel about their job, their company, their co-workers, etc. We have come upon a different approach which I would recommend to each of you. We have arranged for me to meet personally with small groups of employees, typically away from the office on a very informal basis. Depending upon the group, I will typically buy them breakfast or lunch and then we will spend no more than 1 ½ hours in discussions. We found that getting the service technicians together at anytime other than breakfast was impossible, so I meet them at 6 a.m. at a local breakfast spot. Our installers, drivers, and shop personnel have been on a 35 hour week — four – 7 ½ hour days and one - 5 hour day for over a year so it has been relatively easy to schedule lunch with them on the 5 hour day which is Friday.

Meeting Parameters

Some of the parameters we have used for the meetings include: no immediate supervisor of anyone who is in attendance attends the meeting. In other words, neither the service manager nor the dispatcher attends the meetings when I meet with the service technicians. Similarly, the foremen are not invited when I meet with the field or shop personnel. This is obviously done to encourage free discussion which might reflect upon their supervisor. There is no rigid agenda for the meetings. I explain that the purpose is to allow them to tell us what we could do to make their jobs easier and better. I then typically bring them up–to-date on any items that might be pertinent to them in their particular areas. For example, the May 2013 change to 90 percent furnaces for our region.

From that point I open the floor for their input. It often takes a question or two to get them to open up. A good one is: “If you ran the company for a day, what is the one change that you would make?” The answers to this question will open your eyes. However, once they get talking and exchanging ideas, it is amazing what excellent thoughts and ideas they have. Just one small example. Here in our area there are 96 different municipalities and over a dozen fire districts. Many have different interpretations of the codes and how our installations must be done. From one of these meetings came the suggestion that we assemble a matrix showing all of the different municipalities, etc. along with all of the various items which those areas require. We distributed this to all of the installers and it has been an invaluable tool which has reduced questions, phone calls, etc.

This is just one example of a usable idea we received from one of the meetings. The main point of the meetings is that I am personally recognizing and thanking each employee for his contributions to our company and in addition am bringing his ownership of our company into the mix by asking each employee as to how we can make the company better. I realize that it takes a little scheduling effort to make this happen, but I encourage every owner, regardless of the size of his company to make that effort. I assure you that all of that effort is more than worthwhile.

Publication date: 10/1/2012