“Open Space Technology” was introduced and moderated by Bruce Withrow, president of Meeting Facilitators International, Toronto, ON. He described open space technology as a method to encourage people to generate ideas by taking a leadership role in discussing those ideas within a breakout group, and then presenting the ideas to a larger body of other business owners and managers.
Withrow said that he looks for “passion and responsibility” among meeting participants. “It all starts with a ‘Hello, my name is…” and ‘I want to talk about…’,” he said. Withrow encouraged members to come to the center of the meeting room and fill out a topic sheet, make a large sign with the topic name, and attach the sign with a proposed breakout meeting time, to the wall of the room. He asked the same people to take a microphone to talk about the topic and to moderate the breakout session. The moderator’s responsibility was to take notes and transfer those notes into a document format via a series of laptop computers set up in the room.
Once all of the topic discussions were entered into a document file, the file was sent to a local print shop, where results were tabulated, collated, and inserted into a wire-bound binder. The binders were completed overnight and distributed to members at a follow-up discussion the next day.
RULES OF OPEN SPACE TECHNOLOGYWithrow said there are four principles of this process. “First, whoever comes in to the meeting are the right people. These are people who care about the issue. Second, whatever happens are the only things that could happen.
“Third, whenever it [discussion] starts is the right time. Fourth, when it is over, it is over. When it is time and you’re satisfied that it is done, don’t drag it out.”
He added that if members at any time felt that they were neither learning or contributing to the process, it was time to move on. “You are helping no one by being there — yourself or anyone else,” he said. “Find something productive to do.”
Withrow made a comparison about people who contribute to the various breakout sessions, calling some “bumblebees” and others “butterflies.”
“Bumblebees go from group to group — ‘cross-pollinating’ and linking the discussions,” he said. “Butterflies look good and tend to socialize. They contribute in a different way.”
SOME BREAKOUT TOPICSThe theme of the open space technology session for this ISL meeting was “What are the issues and opportunities that are affecting the future success of residential HVAC contractors in North America?”
A total of 12 different reports were generated, including:
1. How to better market IAQ as a mainline opportunity;
2. Techniques for reducing advertising;
3. Employee empowerment and accountability;
4. Implementing open-book management;
5. Recruiting, retaining, and motivating employees;
6. How to become a more effective coach;
7. How to put the right salesperson into your company;
8. Adding services (i.e., plumbing, electrical, commercial A/C, mold remediation, indoor air testing, duct sealing, duct testing, and insulation);
9. Installation department: production, motivation, rewards;
10. Building urgency without weather;
11. Creating a cloneable service department; and
12. Building an ESA [Energy Service Agreements] powerhouse.
Here is a sampling of some of the sessions.
At the session on advertising techniques, one contractor suggested that since marketing is a part of advertising, it is a waste of time to try and sell a company’s products to one member of a husband/wife team. He recommended speaking to both of them at the same time. The same contractor said his company puts a special coating on coils to prevent the spread of mold spores.
“It may not make the sale right away, but the homeowner will ask the next company if they do the same thing,” noted the contractor.
In the “Recruiting, retaining, and motivating employees” session, one participant talked about the interview process. She went through a four-step process before she was eventually hired by her current employer. The process included an initial phone interview, followed by an onsite test for technical knowledge, followed by a group interview, and then the actual “welcome to the company” interview.
“Profiling a prospective employee helps to find a good match, too,” she added. “A simple behavioral test establishes a profile.”
In another session, “Creating urgency without weather,” several different suggestions were made about selling and servicing during the off season and at times of temperate weather conditions and a shaky economy, when the phone doesn’t ring as often as it should.
One contractor recommended offering 30- to 90-day financing on equipment if the customer is getting hung up on price. He said that customers can enjoy new equipment without worrying about making a payment right away.
“People with broken-down 30-year-old equipment are telling us they will buy from us eventually and are asking us to keep repairing the equipment — if we can.
“Financing is one way to pick up the slack in slow times.”
Sidebar: ISL President Urges Members To Be Leaders FirstLAS VEGAS, NV — An enthusiastic group of HVACR contractors met here for a recent seminar. Their bond? All are members of International Service Leadership (ISL) Inc., a member group of contractors committed to raising the industry bar for excellence and improving their businesses’ bottom lines.
ISL president Bill Efird spoke with the 140 attendees via a live telephone hookup. He couldn’t attend the meeting due to a family illness, but he expressed a great deal of enthusiasm over the telephone line.
“I am sure that ISL is on the right path,” Efird began. “Your responsibility is to be a leader in the 21st century. We can bring you programs, but it is up to you to bring these programs into your company culture.
“You’ve all heard of FTTA — failure to take action. It is a major stumbling block to success.”
Efird encouraged members to network with each other and to get to know the ISL advisory board. He said that he has come away from every ISL meeting with several good ideas, thanks to networking with other members.
Efird noted that leadership, part of the group’s title, is perhaps the most important role that any business owner can play.
“There is one common thread that makes the difference,” he said. “It is leadership, and the level of leadership that is practiced. We all have good management — but we need good leadership.
“Growing up in the ‘early days,’ we modeled our businesses after the ‘mom and pop’ shops — which was the wrong model. We programmed ourselves to be good managers, not good leaders.
“Character and integrity are two of the most important qualities of leaders. And leaders must take responsibility for the results of their decisions.”
— John R. Hall
Publication date: 09/09/2002
Sidebar: ISL’s ‘Open Space Technology’ Results — 12 Topics Of Concern To HVACR TradeAs noted above, International Service Leadership (ISL) sponsored an “Open Space Technology” session at its recent Las Vegas, NV, conference. Below is a condensed listing of each of the 12 topics and feedback from HVACR contractors who attended each session.
Many of the bullet point items crossed over into each of the 12 topics and as a result, were not repeated each time. Some, however, made more than one appearance.
HOW TO BETTER MARKET IAQ AS A MAIN LINE OPPORTUNITY
TECHNIQUES FOR REDUCING COSTS OF ADVERTISING
EMPLOYEE EMPOWERMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY
IMPLEMENTING OPEN BOOK MANAGEMENT
RECRUITING, RETAINING & MOTIVATING EMPLOYEES
HOW TO BECOME A MORE EFFECTIVE COACH
PUTTING RIGHT SALESPERSON INTO THE COMPANY
ADDING SERVICES TO EXISTING BUSINESS
INSTALLATION DEPT.: PRODUCTION, MOTIVATION, REWARDS
BUILDING URGENCIES WITHOUT WEATHER
CREATING CLONEABLE SERVICE DEPARTMENT
BUILDING A SERVICE AGREEMENT POWERHOUSE
— John R. Hall
Publication date: 09/09/2002