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.

Written Processes

Dear Al,

Every week somebody drops the ball and leaves something undone. It's so frustrating! We talk and you'd think they'd know what to do by now, but they don't.

Either two people do it or nobody does it all!

What can I do?

Dropping The Ball

Dear Dropping The Ball,

The problem here is verbal communication. It's impossible to hold anyone accountable when everything is verbal. What I suggest is that you write up every process so nothing slips through the cracks.

Determine whose job it is to do what in all the processes your company does. Also, figure out who takes over if someone is unavailable, so the task gets done no matter what.

Go one better and get the staff involved in writing out the complete set of steps needed for all the tasks you do. This gives you your greatest chance to get buy-in.

Al Levi

Better Training

Dear Al,

I've been reading your articles for a number of years and I committed to building a training center to teach my existing techs, hire and train new techs, and develop my own techs from scratch.

The problem is they work all day and by the time we have class they can't seem to stay awake.

Any suggestions?


Dear Asleep,

Congratulations to you for making the commitment to training!

The problem is they're sleepy and most of us don't learn too well that way. First of all, don't take it personally. We all start out as poor trainers. When I first started, I was told by my good friend, Dan Holohan, the well-known industry guru, to videotape myself.

Wow! That was ugly. I turned my back on the guys for 15 minutes and never looked back. I droned on in a monotone voice and I looked like a deer in headlights when I finally got around to looking at them.

The good news is I got better every time I videotaped myself. Also, I went to classes on how to become a better trainer.

Today, I teach my clients how to become excellent trainers so their attendees aren't nodding off.

Here are a few quick tips:

1. Keep the room cold.

2. Minimize how much food you serve.

3. Only partially darken the room when using overheads, videos, or DVDs.

4. Have them stand and read (it's harder to fall asleep on your feet).

5. Every 10 minutes or so call them by their name. It snaps their attention back.

6. Finally, mix reading, presentation material, and give a lot of hands-on work since that's how we techs learn.

It makes all the difference in the world!

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: 08/08/2005