Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) held the virtual event PHCC Connect 2020 on Sept. 30 – Oct. 1. The event featured keynote speakers, breakout sessions, a product showcase, a scavenger hunt, and more.
Navigating Tough Business Waters with Resilient Leadership
Lt. General Russel Honoré opened up PHCC Connect 2020 as the keynote speaker, delivering an address on “Resilient Leadership: Prepare Today, Prevail Tomorrow.” Honoré is most well-known for his work as the commander of the military task force that served the Gulf Coast following the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
“Challenges create opportunities,” Honoré said, offering an optimistic outlook toward the future. “This [coronavirus] too shall pass.” He offered three main lessons for leadership, learned from his experience in the U.S. military: Learn to do the routine things well; don’t be afraid to take on the impossible; and don’t be afraid to act, even if you are criticized.
“When things go wrong, nine times out of 10, it has something to do with not doing the routine things well,” Honoré said. He offered the example of making sure that crews routinely park in the correct spots at customer homes, bring the right work orders and tools, wear the correct PPE, and more. Without doing these simple and routine things well, customers may complain about how they were treated.
Honoré wanted PHCC contractors to take on the impossible, not letting obstacles discourage them from leading a business well through challenging times. One large example of this, he explained, is working on both increasing the quality of a company while driving cost down costs, which can initially seem like an oxymoron.
“We as leaders must accept the fact that we will get criticized, but that should not stop us from action,” Honoré said. This criticism most often comes when contractors introduce change into their company. Honoré gave the example of health measures during COVID-19. Since technicians are not used to an environment where they must be conscious of their customer’s health (such as mask wearing and social distancing), those technicians might not adapt to the new measures as quickly as they should to keep customers happy.
But this should not discourage contractors from changing their company when needed.
“The burden of leadership is that of sacrificing to make sure you make, not the most popular decision, but the right decision to grow your business,” he said. “Because if you aren’t growing your business, you’re falling behind.”
Lastly, Honoré emphasized the importance of PHCC members prioritizing their relationships with their families.
“As you crawl up that corporate ladder and are raising kids, you can’t spend a ton of three-day weekends going out to hunt deer,” he said. “You need to stay home to raise your kids or take them with you. You can’t use every Saturday and Sunday to golf; you got to invest in your kids.” He added that a leader’s greatest legacy is their family and children.
Getting Technicians to Embrace Technology Change
In his breakout session, “Why You Can't Get Your Techs to Embrace Technology,” Aaron Salow, CEO of XOi Technologies, discussed the common reasons technology changes don’t go well in contracting companies.
He gave the example of when XOi looked at incorporating technology into smart glasses for technicians. Through experimentation, they learned that giving a pair of smart glasses was too big of a technological leap for many technicians, some of whom were just getting used to smartphones. This was an example, he said, of a technology change that didn’t keep the technician’s best interest in mind, as it just made the job harder for them.
Salow began by saying that the first objection technicians have is that they don’t see technology as a core part of their job. This objection is partially correct — the core job a technician is to diagnose and fix problems, through both hard and soft skills.
“Technology choices should round the edges off of their work by managing the external pressures technicians face while executing the main parts of their job,” said Salow. He described how contractors should look at company processes and identify touch points of friction and wasted time, and then use technology to mitigate those problems.
“By looking at your techs’ current process, and ensuring technology is automating the touch points, you remove stress from their day and win their trust,” said Salow.
Secondly, technicians might object to technology because, “they don’t really have to, since they are in high demand and could go to another company.” Objections like this show that the technology being implemented in the company was implemented with a successful onboarding plan to show the technicians what was in it for them.
“Every one of your contracting businesses is unique and you should require a custom plan to pilot, train, and onboard any new technology, and that has to include technician engagement at every step in the process,” Salow said. He explained that if a technology doesn’t connect with technicians “early and often,” then technicians simply won’t use it. In order to solve this, contractors should ensure that any new technology integrates into existing software systems in a meaningful way — it’s an ease-of-use issue, not a value issue. If technicians need to constantly go back and forth between apps and enter the same data more than once, it can be a burden that reduces the technology’s usage.
Next, technicians might hesitate to embrace technology change because it seems like too much work. Technicians are likely already using field service management software, so another piece of software can seem like an added burden.
“It should be your expectation that any new technology you consider integrates with your existing platforms in a meaningful way,” said Salow. When a technician is on a 130°F roof sweating, any additional work that technology requires will reduce (or altogether eliminate) the likelihood of a technician using it.
Lastly, a technician might not embrace technology because they don’t feel like they need it. They may already feel that they have learned everything they need to know. This isn’t so much technician laziness; rather, it means that the technology isn’t being implemented contextually or with the technician in mind.
“Your techs are working in some of the hardest environmental and physical conditions you can have,” said Salow. “The information we attempt to serve them is often non-existent, hard to find, and not relevant.” If an app is being used to find data like wire diagrams, but it is extremely hard to navigate, then technicians might not use it, especially if they are in an environment where they want to keep their work as streamlined as possible.
The time it takes to learn a new software can also be a burden to entry. Salow said that education should be put in micro-learning, or bite-size pieces. As an example, XOi’s software has technicians watch a quick, 30-second video to learn how to perform a simple action, and then practice it. This is a learning curve that is much easier to manage and will likely increase technician usage and acceptance of technology.
At the Connect 2200 event, PHCC awarded its HVAC Contractor of the Year award to Howard Arata, president of HTA Plumbing & Mechanical in Henderson and Reno, Nevada. The HVAC Apprentice of the Year award was given to Nolan Pridgen, of PHCC of North Carolina Academy and GSM Services in Gastonia, North Carolina.
The dates for PHCC Connect 2021 were released. Next year’s event will take place on October 20-22, 2021.