If you remember the last episode ("Here Is a Story About a Man Named Jed," March 7), Jed's business topped the $1 million mark, and Jed found to his surprise that he was losing his shirt. As an owner with several people on payroll, Jed felt inclined to ask the question, "Who failed me?"

In reality, he may even have come to the conclusion that there aren't any good people out there. Well, with a little help from his friends, Jed found out who the employee was that failed him. Picture Jed's face when he discovered that the problem employee's name was Jed. He failed by trying to do the impossible, juggling all of the decision-making balls.

It has been demonstrated hundreds of times a year that when an HVAC company gets to about $1 million in revenue, there is a distinct need for at least one more leader with decision-making ability, training, and authority. This includes the authority to make mistakes (and then fix them, of course).

When making a change, three key questions need to be answered:

1. What to do? Answer: Add a new leader.

2. Why do we need to do it? Answer: To provide leadership and accountability.

3. How should we do it? Well, that's the million-dollar question.

Needing Answers

Jed's preoccupation is now focused on the questions that come up on the issue, "How do I find, then train, and finally get operational the next leader in my company?"

The following issues begin to bubble to the surface:

  • What tasks should the new leader be taking over?

  • Where do I find a clone of myself?

  • How do I teach my system to someone else?

  • How much money should I pay him?

  • Where is the money going to come from?

  • How do I avoid having to take back what I delegated because of the failure of the new leader?

    There are more questions, but let's just deal with the first two issues for now.

    1. What tasks should the new leader be taking over from Jed?

    This challenge may have at least two answers, and two choices are always better than one. The first option may be to determine what it is you like to do the most. For many contractors like Jed, the most frustrating part of the week is when he needs to sit down and do the inside things. Doing payables, payroll, hiring, firing, employee evaluations, figuring out what the accountant is talking about, etc. This frustrates Jed to no end.

    It just so happens that Jed has a friend from church that has a great numbers mind and loves to plan and organize. It's possible that Skippy is the right man for that job.

    A second approach may be appropriate if Jed is comfortable with all the areas he is attempting to cover now. Taking the opportunity to find the best leader already on the team may be the right way to go. The right person is probably not the person that has been with the company the longest, and it may not be the most capable technician. The right person to lead will need the following attributes, in this order:

  • Character - He or she needs to understand that there is right and there is wrong, and almost none of life is lived in the gray area.

  • Good attitude - Regardless of the weather, hours worked, or situation at home, this person comes in ready to contribute with enthusiasm. In recent years, attitude was held out as the most important attribute, but experience tells us that it is the second most important after character. And, Jed knows this as he's already found that there are some very enthusiastic thieves in this world.

  • Technical capability - Of the three issues that are at the core of a good leader, the technical part is the only one that is trainable. Jed has come to the conclusion that, if he needs to do so, training the technical side is probably the most doable.

    A Mini-Me?

    Once the character-driven person is identified, Jed would need to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate. Suppose one of Jed's technicians, Larry, is the person that stands out as the candidate of choice. He has a high level of character, and is the go-to guy for answers from other techs.

    Larry also is comfortable with things like accountability, communication, being responsible for more than just himself, and would like to do more than he is doing now for the company. Jed sees "service manager" or "operations manager" when he sees Larry.

    Jed has two good choices regarding leadership assistance and is probably leaning towards hiring Skippy to be the inside team leader and eventually the business manager. This would allow Jed to do what he likes best: diagnose and fix equipment and lead other technicians to be better.

    2. How do I make the candidate into a clone of myself?

    Jed is convinced that Skippy is the right person to lead the inside team. But now the dilemma: "How do I get Skippy to think and make decisions like me?" After all, it took nine years of learning on the job, making mistakes, and fixing them that got Jed to the $1 million revenue mark. Jed wonders, "How can I cram all that education into Skippy? How do I make him a clone of me?"

    The answer is remarkably simple: Don't!

    It's true, the experiences and courage that it takes to lead a company to $1 million in revenue is a special thing. The discovery for Jed is that it takes something totally different to take a company to $2.5 million in revenue. In fact, some of the management things that got Jed's company to $1 million will be the things that prevent his company from getting past that mark.

    Generally speaking, relationship, control, and personally knowing what is going on helped Jed become successful in the past. Now, additional factors need to be introduced. Delegating control of issues like systems, establishing cultural expectations, and setting standards (or, key performance indicators - KPI) will play equally important roles in success going forward.

    Jed's preoccupation may be best invested in the question, "How do I replace myself with someone better than me at building culture, building systems, and using KPI as an accountability tool?"

    With this leadership preoccupation, the option of hiring Skippy becomes the optimal choice. Skippy thinks entirely out of the "contractor box," and that is precisely what Jed needs most to grow the business as opposed to drive more revenue while losing money.

    Next month: We'll talk about where Jed found the right person, and other ideas that may help contractors find good people.

    Mondul is coach/member with ISL. He can be reached by e-mail at deb.bowen@islinc.net or leave a message with Deb Bowen at 800-585-4452.

    Publication date: 04/25/2005