Six Lessons Re-learned in a Foreign Land
Traveling can teach you a lot about your HVAC business
I have a bucket list. Fact. Before I meet my maker, I want to accomplish as much as I can from that list. The good news is that I have had the luck and opportunity to pursue many of the items on it. The bad news is, I can’t stop adding things — my list just keeps growing. Now, the bad news isn’t really bad news, but to some it may look like I will never accomplish everything I want to.
I have a different viewpoint. To me, my ever-growing bucket list is challenging and exciting and keeps me on my toes. One of the major “components” of my bucket list is traveling to all the places I always dreamt of traveling to. This spring, I checked off one of those places after my wife and I and two good friends took a 14-day vacation together in France.
Traveling, at least to me, offers a lot of lessons about human nature, life, and yes, the HVAC industry. It can be a microcosm of entrepreneurship and business acumen. What? That’s crazy, right? But not really. Having a successful trip, especially when traveling with another couple, requires planning, organization, compromise, and skill. Running a successful HVAC business requires the same things.
Here are six lessons that I re-learned while visiting a country that has been on my bucket list for much of my life.
SET GOALS AND WORK TO ACHIEVE THEM
The France trip was the result of a very simple conversation. A good industry friend of mine and I were talking about places we wanted to visit and found we mutually had France on our list. He’d already been there but really wanted to go back. Obviously, I had never visited the land of the Bourbon Kings and really wanted to go. So, we set the goal to make it happen. We got our wives involved (a wise move), a travel agent friend, and spent a year planning. But, the goal was set (as was the date), and we worked steadily toward achieving it.
As the owners of HVAC companies, goal setting is something most of you do every day. You deal with lots of goals — financial, service, installation, growth, market share, training and certification, process implementation, and so much more.
Lao-tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
As friend and industry consultant Charlie Greer once said, “A journey of a thousand miles requires that you concentrate on making each step the right one to take you to where you want to be. And unless you’re really into taking the ‘scenic route to success,’ the most efficient way to get where you want to go is to plan it out.”
Goal setting and action plans are how you make things happen in your business.
COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE
Since we were traveling to France, we all agreed it made sense to learn a bit of the language, so we could have an easier time communicating while there. The cool thing is that there are many apps for that! We downloaded and used something called DuoLingo that made studying French into a game and, by golly, it worked. We found that we understood much of what people said to us in French and could make ourselves understood, as well.
What a great feeling to be able to have a conversation (as simple as it was) in another language.
In your companies, communication to your team and customers is equally important. We may all speak English, but do our customers really understand our HVAC lingo? When you try to explain what’s wrong with their systems, do you explain it to them in a manner so they understand what you are talking about and can make good buying decisions based on the information you share?
Do your employees understand their roles in the company and how they impact its bottom line? Some say sharing financials with employees (also known as open-book contracting) really motivates them and makes them want to work harder to meet goals and be rewarded. Keeping them in the loop helps to keep them engaged and loyal.
SUCCESS IS CREATED THROUGH TEAMWORK
Our vacation involved two couples traveling together for the first time for 14 days. The recipe for disaster was ever-present. However, we avoided that by working together as a team. We paid attention to each other’s needs, worked together to overcome obstacles, compromised, and communicated. Because of that, we had a game plan that worked and accomplished more as a result. We had fun — lots of it.
Teamwork is another important characteristic of successful HVAC companies. You’ve heard it said that there is no “I” in the word “team.” This is truth. Great organizations work as units with communication and cooperation between departments. This results in an understanding of each company’s game plan and leads everyone down the path to success.
COMPROMISE IS NOT A BAD THING
Everyone has different things they want to do, sights they want to see, and places they want to go. By working together, listening well, and sharing openly, four people with the same goal can create a great mutual vacation experience. Case-in-point: While in Les Baux de Provence, we decided to visit a site known as the Carrieres de Lumieres — an art and music experience where famous Medieval art is projected onto cave walls, floors, and ceilings in beat to pulsing modern music.
It wasn’t a high priority for some on the trip, so we compromised and all eventually agreed to go. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire trip.
Aaron York, founder of Aaron York’s Quality Air Conditioning in Indianapolis, once said that every contractor at some point in time must become a skilled negotiator, which is really considered compromising. All of us feel inadequate, especially when we feel as though we are the only ones doing the giving. We must remember that others likely feel the same way. The crux of negotiating occurs when both parties leave feeling they have been treated fairly.”
Treating your customers and employees fairly during a compromising situation is a good thing.
No vacation ever happens without things going wrong. Trips don’t always work as planned. Things happen, and sometimes it is hard to get past certain obstacles. This was true on our vacation. There were several things that could have derailed us, like when we first came through customs at Charles DeGaulle airport, and our driver wasn’t there to pick us up. Or when I discovered I had forgotten half of my medication at home. Or when we got stopped exiting a train station because one of us had thrown away our boarding ticket and you couldn’t exit without it. Or when it rained when it wasn’t supposed to. Any of these things could have proven catastrophic. Instead, we tried to be flexible, to chalk things up to “lessons learned,” worked together to find a Plan B, and moved on.
“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” These are wise words from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and running your organization with this in mind is critical to its success. After all, how many “fires” light up in your typical work day? If you let each issue stop you, your business simply wouldn’t survive. That’s why overcoming obstacles is all in a day’s work.
Let’s face it — going on vacation is fun. Going to France with good friends is fun, and we worked together to create events every hour of every day for our mutual enjoyment. We took lots of photos, so we could remember where we were and what we saw.
Creating fun events at work can be motivational and may help build camaraderie. They make the day go by quickly and encourage people to look forward to coming to work. Whether you have friendly sales competitions, theme days, white elephant parties, or picnics, fun work environments spur positive team members, which translates to happier customers.
Oh, by the way, take lots of pictures. Post them to your bulletin boards in the office or on your Facebook page. You can write about them in your company newsletter or on your website.
Dale Carnegie, one of my management training heroes, wrote that, “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”
Finally, it’s obvious that these aren’t breakthrough ideas being shared for the first time — they’re reminders of things we already know that might have gotten lost in the whirlwind of our workdays. Sometimes it takes a vacation to bring things back into focus. You don’t have to travel to France or any other foreign ports to re-learn them, but sometimes it sure helps.
Publication date: 7/17/2017