"We're always looking for good people." Almost every owner I talk with says the same thing, but looking and knowing how to look is the difference between getting a steady stream of unqualified candidates at your doorstep and successfully recruiting qualified employees.

The HVACR industry has made great advances in improving its image. I believe it's also time to trash the worn-out expression, "We're always looking for good people." It's time to start saying, "We only hire the best of the best."

Mediocrity has no place in companies that wish to improve their image, gain more market share, and substantially increase profits. Too many companies employ average performers, never realizing that the only difference between the great service provider and the average service provider is how they provide their service.

While recruiting for plumbing, electrical, and HVAC technicians, we asked owners about their employees' earnings. In general, there were one or two guys way at the top of the salary scale; most of the guys were floating somewhere in the middle; and a few were kept around because "We need the help; we're turning away work."

Obviously, the one or two guys at the top are their superstars.

Using The Crystal Ball

If you had the chance to look into a magic crystal ball and see your company with two or even three times the number of superstars, how would your company look? Would it be the most successful company in your area?

Would you not only have the all money you needed to live a great life, but also be able to give to charity? Would you be able to invest your time more wisely because you wouldn't be putting out fires? Divorce rates are high in the trades; could this improve your marriage and home life?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, it's time to raise the bar and set new goals. To enjoy the success of reaching goals, it's important to first visualize the rewards of accomplished goals to instill an overwhelming drive to make them happen.

More owners are gaining advanced business knowledge; most are able to determine their break-even points. However, few know the stats about how each truck performs separately. In sales, each salesperson generally works in a cubicle and each cubicle has operating costs. Therefore, each salesperson is responsible for generating a certain amount of revenue (quotas) to guarantee profits.

In sales, the operating costs for each cubicle are low. In the trades, operating costs for each truck are high; insurance alone is crippling many businesses operating with low profit margins. Service trucks should be considered separate income generators. It's a simple task to track the numbers. Simply divide your operating costs by the number of trucks. This number is what each truck must generate to break even.

After running the numbers, if your company's performance profile is similar to that mentioned above, you might find the one or two top people generating impressive profits. The average people are somewhere between break-even and low-level profits. The poor performers can actually be costing you money. Without running the numbers, a company is essentially running in the dark regarding employee performance and true profitability.

A Good Environment

When a contractor reaches the heights of creating an impressive company, the rewards go beyond those mentioned earlier: The ability to attract top talent is the cherry on top. Take Microsoft Corporation, for example - the best software engineers are beating down the doors to work there. If you were a programmer, wouldn't you do the same thing, or at least think about it?

The same goes for any industry. The best people migrate to a company that offers the best equipment, training, management, pay, benefits, hours, marketing strategies, business plan, and so on. This is an important point to make because when companies hire recruiters to find top people, they generally list the attributes they desire in their candidates. All too often, the list of qualities they expect doesn't match the qualities of their company.

You can only attract top talent if you provide an environment they are attracted to. The bottom line is, top people have two choices:

1. They can work for a company where they can build a career that provides security and longevity.

2. They can work for themselves.

When professional recruiters, known as headhunters, work with clients to improve their companies, they create dream teams. This requires two steps of action:

1. Bring in the superstars.

2. Fine-tune the existing staff.

When trimming staff to the best people, consider every position in the company. When recruiting in the contracting industry, it was alarming how many call takers I encountered that were untrained and rude. Studies show that a first-time caller will decide within 20 seconds into a call whether or not they will do business with that company.

The way a call is handled is crucial to the success of the company. It's common in this industry for call takers or customer service reps (CSRs) to function outside of the company's radar. Whenever I reach a CSR with a bad attitude, I think to myself, if the owner only knew how much this individual was stealing from the company.

Yes, I use the word stealing because not only are they robbing the company of the service call revenues, they are also stealing advertising dollars and the company's reputation as well. I prefer to use stealing instead of "poor performing employee" because stealing gets taken care of immediately by either hiring the right person and/or implementing training; poor performers tend to get put on the back burner.

With an issue as important as improving a company's front line, this matter needs to be taken care of right away because it's keeping the company from moving forward.

Ray Kroc, the mastermind behind the success of the McDonald's Corporation, said, "You're only as good as the people you hire." He also said, "When you're green, you're growing. When you're ripe, you rot."

If a company isn't growing, it's on its way out of business. It doesn't matter who the company is or how big it is, the day it stops growing is the day it starts losing money. Make hiring the best people your top priority, because top people make top companies. Your employees hold the keys to unlocking your company's future.

Randall Murphy, the founder of Oryan Group, has developed a recruiting guide specifically for the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC industries based on the heavily guarded trade secrets of professional recruiters. He can be reached at 800-274-8020 or by visiting www.oryangroup.org.

Publication date: 06/20/2005