Monday, August 31, 2009

Empowerment and Super Techs

So what happens when you have a “Super Tech” who just will not buy into the program? I honestly feel that you must get them onboard quickly, or they must go. If not, and it is allowed to fester any length of time, it will end up badly, guaranteed. To me, it boils down to that old adage of trying to have a leopard change its spots, it just does not happen very often. I can really relate to this very same issue, as a few years ago I hired an old friend of mine that I had worked with some 30 years in the past. He had who had all of the trade skill qualifications you would want in a Service Tech. He could do Plumbing, Hydronic and Forced Air Heating, as well as A/C. He had been in business for himself for 25 years or so, and was totally burnt-out and done with the headaches of being in business. He maintained that he was ready to work for someone else, and was ready for a change. He was also a dyed in the wool T & Mer, and had some questions about sales in general, as well as the Flat Rate business system.

In order to insure he was comfortable and it hiring him would work for both parties, we met several times and spent quite a few hours going over just what was expected of him if he came to work for us, and in the end, I really thought we were good to go. However, it turned out he just could not accept our program no matter what was tried. In addition, he did not get along with my oldest Son who was managing the company. He soon became incorporative and sullen, and was not the least bit interested in trying to become part of the team, which was causing all kinds of negativity and distractions for the entire company. So much for having all those skills and knowledge, it just proved that if someone is not happy and unwilling to buy into what management is selling, it will not work.

So after all of this past history, time, effort, and pre-planning, what happened? When he was hired, I had just turned the business over to my sons, and was no longer involved in the day-to-day operations. Therefore, he had to work for someone who was 25 or 30 years younger than him, which as it turned out did not set well with him at all. I believe he also expected me to get involved and override my Sons, but I refused to do so.

I had decided some 20 years or so earlier to empower my sons as tradesmen, since they had started out at the tender age of 14 and had grown into above average Journey level Plumbers. Then, when I retired, I had to empower them to take over and run the business I had stated out of my garage in 1975. This was an entirely different kettle of fish, as the business had been my life for some 30 years, and giving up complete control of it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do as an owner and father. However, I realized that if the company was ever going to grow and succeed without me at the helm, it just had to be done. I was determined to let them have a free rein, and not second-guess and interfere their decisions just as I had done with their work in the field earlier, and trusted them to seek my advice or help if they needed it.

So why did I do the empowerment thing in the first place? One day my oldest son Gary who had worked for the company 10 years or so, came to me and said something like “Dad, you have to stop being angry all of the time, and let us do our work without second guessing everything we do”. It is no fun working here, and if you cannot stop how you treat us and yourself, I am going to quit”. This really shocked me, until I thought back to when I worked with my Dad, and guess what? He did the very same things to me, until I finally quit. I decided that very day to stop second-guessing and micromanaging everything they did, as well as getting up-set over every single little thing that went wrong. I really started working on trying to stop letting things I could not control, control me, which is for anyone who has tried it, much easier said than done.

Later on, when I started working with other companies about crunching their numbers and switching to Flat Rate, I started seeing firsthand how some owners/managers were not letting people be free to do their jobs. This environment makes the workplace a miserable place to be at best. It gets real ugly when family members are involved, and when favoritism is shown too them over the other employees. I feel management is very simple; everyone needs to be treated equally and fairly in a calm and consistent manner. If not, it will always have all kinds of strife and turmoil within the ranks. I firmly believe that constant meddling and/or favoritism by management will end up destroying the morale of any company. Think about it, if you cannot trust someone to do their job without constantly nit picking and interfering, then why are they even working there? If you allow such conditions to exist under your watch, it just proves you are a bad manager, pure and simple.

The final result of this Super Tech thing was my Son called me and said it was just not working, and since he was a friend of mine and I hired him, as a favor could I talk with the him and see if I could try and get things resolved and maybe back on track. However, after a very short and awkward meeting with my old friend, he said he was done and moved on. Looking back, I realized I probably forced his hiring, even though I saw some red flags going in. I was so jacked about having someone who could do so many things in the field; I failed to really ask myself could he actually be expected to change his very work culture for the past 40 years? In his case, he could not, and I believe in most cases like his, the result would be the same! The problem is, this experiment cost the company a lot of money and unnecessary stress. As a result, I resolved in the future to try to make all my decisions based on reality, not on what I hoped and wished for.

As far as empowerment with your family members is concerned, I offer that perhaps a few heart to heart discussions might help it get started. You never know when a break-through will occur; you just have to keep banging on the door. I am forever grateful my son did just that.

Just my thoughts,

Gene B

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