The advocates for having a process have quite a process when it comes to explaining their process.
Al Levi and Tommy Mello are successful tradesmen, wise consultants and engaging presenters. They’re also a borderline Laurel and Hardy for the trades, two folks who are not afraid to share a quip, often at the other’s expense.
Consider their discussion about manuals, the importance of which Mello learned from Levi.
“All right,” Levi said as they presented during ServiceTitan’s Growth Series, “so on the operating manuals here, I'm going to say, you could create them on your own. I spent $150,000 in today's money, and they were a fraction of what they are, and there's stuff I didn't know about the manuals.”
“I spent a lot with you,” Mello said.
“Yes you did, because frankly I want Tommy’s money,” Levi said. “I don’t really have it. I have it on my wall and I just autographed it.”
“Yeah,” said Mello.
“That’s all I did with his money,” said Levi.
The back-and-forth was common throughout the presentation, one of eight Webinars in ServiceTitan’s master class in business growth for the trades (kicked off by episodes with Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Chris Hunter.)
Levi and Mello’s topic: How to Master Growth With Systems and Processes.
They presented as two old friends comfortable with themselves, their approach and each other. Buttressed, of course, by the reality that Levi was a big factor in helping Mello grow his business A1 Garage Door Service into a $44 million juggernaut that he hopes will be in 22 states by year’s end.
Levi convinced Mello that success is built on processes and systems that stay consistent. Mello believes.
Levi worked 25 years in his family HVAC and plumbing business on Long Island before he retired at age 48. At that point, he made his career about helping other contractors run their business by using one of his foundational phrases: With less stress and more success. The approach is built around his book and program, The 7-Power Contractor.
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Lightning in a bottle? Nah
Levi advocates creating scalable and sustainable systems that represent approach, beliefs and culture. Those who join the company fit in the existing system, rather than bringing their own.
“Don’t search for the magical person who can fix everything,” Levi said.
Finding that person is like finding lightning in a bottle. It can happen, but it’s extremely unlikely.
“Suppose you do get that lightning in a bottle person,” Levi said. “They’re going to do it the way they do it, not the A1 Garage way, not the 7-Power Contractor way.”
Instead of finding the magic person, establish the right systems, backed up by manuals that express the practical and the business approach. Mello saw the difference systems can make once he implemented those advocated by Levi.
“Most of your employees are awesome,” Mello said. “But they’re all firefighters. And my life got so mundane and so easy about a year-and-a-half ago. I said, ‘This is kind of boring.’ I didn’t have any fires. There was a rhyme and rhythm to everything we did.”
Levi calls his systems the seven powers – planning, operating, financials, staffing, sales, marketing, and coaching. The two offered more insights than any single blog post can convey, so we’ll just touch on a few points. You’ll have to watch the webinar to see it all.
ServiceTitan’s Jackie Aubel said the webinar was the most unique she’d hosted in her time as Senior Content Manager.
“I look forward to the day when you both get approached by a reality TV producer,” Aubel said.
None of the fun obscured the substance of the presentation: That systems matter, and a company’s growth is largely dependent on having the right systems in place, systems that allow good people to thrive and grow.
“There’s three reasons why we make mistakes,” Levi said. “No. 1 is we don’t have a system. No. 2, we have the wrong system. And No. 3—this is a lot of the time—the system is not being followed correctly.”
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At this point Mello interjected, saying he might offer a month away to those watching and their families.
“I'm bringing the kids,” Mello said. “I'm bringing your dog. We're going to go to Hawaii, and I'm paying for all the drinks, all the alcohol, the volcano tours. We're going fishing, swimming with the dolphins, all that stuff. The question is, now here's the only deal, we're leaving in two hours, and you can't look at your phone, you cannot jump into your CRM, and you can't put fires out.
“You're not working for a month.”
Would the company go on? If it does, it’s because it relies on systems, not on people.
“If it doesn’t,” Mello said. “You really don’t own a business. You own a job.”
Mello compared it to being in middle school when a gym teacher gave out a weekly pamphlet about how to play certain sports. Young folks learned the basics about innings and pucks, quarters and left tackles. Mello said those were his manuals.
“So I learned how to play the game,” Mello said.
But, he said, it didn’t have “weird stuff.”
“Like what if a truck rolls eight times down a hill?” Mello said. “People always ask the stupidest questions. You know the one guy in the room that would be like .. what if this happens?”
“Your truck goes eight times down the (hill), what should I do at the bottom?” he said. “But my driver is Tiger Woods.”
Ahem … back to the topic.
‘Offering them a better career path’
When it comes to applying the 7-Powers to staffing, Mello said he used to believe the best approach was to “steal my competitors’ best techs.”
“He doesn’t mean steal,” Levi said. “We mean offering them a better career path.”
By career path Levi means following an organizational chart that allows employees to grow in the system that has the manuals in place.
“We've got well over 200 technicians,” Mello said. “I would tell you that 80% of those were made, not found from another competitor. Because I don't want all the stuff they picked up from that last company, because you can't unlearn that stuff.”
Levi stressed that a clear org chart tells employees where they can go and how they can grow. Depth at every position in the company is vital.
“And cross-training, which again takes policies and procedures,” he said.
The first thing Levi said to Mello as Levi assessed A1 has become well-known in the trades. After taking a tour and seeing the building, Levi looked at Mello and said: “I could use your forklift to steal your whole inventory.”
“It was a nightmare, and he brought calm,” Mello said.
And it wasn’t all warm fuzzies.
“I remember walking into these meetings, and I'm like, ‘Dude, I got stuff to do’” Mello said. “He's like, ‘Sit down and shut the hell up.’ So that's the way it is.
“No, no, I did it in a really nice way, right Brian?” Levi said, referring to a colleague in the room. “Brian's off camera.”
We've got well over 200 technicians. I would tell you that 80% of those were made, not found from another competitor. Because I don't want all the stuff they picked up from that last company, because you can't unlearn that stuff.”
From the bottom to the top
Getting back to the present, Mello told of how he just promoted a lead tech to an area manager.
“It was the first time in the company a guy went all the way through the rankings. And that means a lot to me, because he literally climbed the whole ladder,” Mello said. “And I'll tell you what, that, to the whole company, meant a lot, that you'd gone from down here, and moved all the way up. It really was a breakthrough for us.”
“You take the heart out of your people when you've got to fill the position from outside the company,” Levi said. “They never will say it to your face, but I will. "What am I? Not good enough for you? I thought I came here for a career. Why is this other person, who's got nothing to do with our culture, hasn't come up, doesn't know the systems?’
“That's really a problem.”
He then looked at Mello.
“Tommy's yawning, so I have to ask him a question. Do I have to ask you a question?” Levi said.
“No, no,” Mello said. “I'm just … more coffee.”