Al Levi
Editor's note:Consultant Al Levi helps contractors run their businesses with "less stress and more success." HVAC and plumbing contractors seek his advice regularly. Al has agreed to let us share with readers ofThe Newssome of the questions he gets and the answers he provides. The focus is strictly on problem solving and handling the day-to-day operations of a successful contracting business.

To send Al your own questions, which if selected will run anonymously, send him an e-mail at or fax him at 212-202-6275.

This column is meant to be a resource only. Please check with your own trusted business advisers, including your own attorney, to make certain that the advice here complies with all relevant laws, customs, and regulations in your area.

Dear Al,

I have to nag and plead with my installers to do what they're being paid to do. They rarely finish their jobs on time, they use more materials than they're supposed to, and then they generate callbacks.

I tried yelling but that doesn't seem to help either.

Got any suggestions?

Installer Insane

Dear Installer Insane,

This is a common frustration with my clients. The problem is you haven't addressed your installers' "WIIFM" which is "what's in it for me."

What I teach my clients to do is to set up a reward program for installers as follows. The installer must:

1. Bring the job in on time;

2. Bring the job in within a defined percentage of the material estimated;

3. Complete an exit checklist with the customer and turn it into the office; and

4. Generate no callbacks for 60 days.

Do all this and the installer receives a bonus. Typically, I recommend $25 per day that the job takes to complete. So, a two-day job, for instance, would have a reward potential of $50. The money for this reward is figured into the selling price by the person who gives the price quote.

It's a win for the company, a win for the installer, and a win for the customer.

Give it a try!

Al Levi

Dear Al,

I've got an office manager who started with me when it was just my partner and me doing all the service calls. She was great! You couldn't ask for a person who was more loyal.

The bad news is we've grown to a company of 18 technicians and she can't seem to keep up with the new pace.

We hate to lose her but it's getting so combative. She feels we're ungrateful and we're feeling like she's stopping the company from being productive and growing even more.

Can you save us?

Office Obstacles

Dear Office Obstacles,

Wow! That's a tough one. I can appreciate how you feel and how she feels. At the end of the day, it comes down to clear communication that isn't personal but rather objective based.

Let's not focus on what you think she isn't doing or what she thinks is unfair. Instead, focus on creating a written, bulleted list of what you feel the office manager position requires her to do. Having things in writing makes it less subjective.

Then, I suggest you write up a priority project list for the projects you want her to handle. Fill in the "what you want," "why you want it," "how much of a priority," "who's involved in the project," "when it needs to be done," "what it'll cost in time and/or money," and finally "status of the project."

Review the priority project list each week. If she's getting projects done, reward her with praise and set up a bonus program to keep the progress going.

If she's not getting things done, coach her, and then if there's no change, she's written her own ticket out of the company.

Al Levi

Al Levi of Appleseed Business specializes, as his Web site says, in "Making Contractors' Lives Less Stressful and More Successful." Through private workshops, on-site assessments, customized operating manuals, and staff training programs, Levi delivers the benefit of the experience he gained from years of operating a large family-run HVAC and plumbing business. Learn more by visiting You may also contact Levi by e-mail at or by fax at 212-202-6275.

Publication date: 03/07/2005