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Bracing for hiring challenges in 2021? Of course you are, especially if you own a service company in the U.S., where there’s no end in sight to the skilled tech trade shortage and the burden of finding new recruits continues to grow.
The solution, however, is within your organization—and control—whether you perform HVAC work, plumbing, electrical, or some other trade, says Eddie McFarlane, Vice President of Learning and Development at Haller Enterprises, a 400-employee, multi-trade service company in Pennsylvania.
What’s the solution? Simply unlock the essential leadership skills within yourself and your own company to inspire your techs, CSRs, sales staff, and managers to perform at a higher level. Like honey attracts bees, company success can invite even more success and give you a competitive advantage.
“Essential leadership—it's just the ability to transparently share and communicate your values, and then allowing others to join in that vision you've shared, and developing the muscle memory for these skills,” says McFarlane, a former service technician who’s driven by a passion to change the lives and careers of today’s technical workforce.
In a recent webinar hosted by ServiceTitan, McFarlane breaks down essential leadership skills into three simple chunks:
Leaders remove hurdles, then create runways.
Leaders inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.
Authentic leadership gives you your own superpower for recruitment.
“Imagine if we had all the horses in our stable pointing and galloping at the same speed, in the same direction. What would the difference be to you, to your business, even to your family?” McFarlane asks. “Leadership can consume all of us. It’s not just a title, it’s a way of life.”
Leaders remove hurdles, then create runways
A critical function of a leader is to remove friction.
A service company makes money when frontline team members engage with customers, whether it’s CSRs, installers, service techs, or commercial techs. They fuel the company’s gas tank, and it’s a leader’s job to remove any friction or hurdles that stand in the way of driving more revenue.
“Everything we do that is friction to our frontline employees inhibits our productivity and our profitability,” McFarlane says. “Your job is to ruthlessly edit every process, procedure, and rule.”
That way, everyone knows the rules, future recruits don’t repeat the same mistakes, and you regain better time management.
Leaders create beautiful runways to help the team grow.
The more you empower your team to succeed, the more success they’re likely to achieve. Potential new recruits see your happy, successful employees almost like a magnet, pulling them in to find out more about your company.
“People are attracted to people like them. So, when we remove hurdles and create runways for incredible team members, we're in a hyper-connected world, and they're probably getting asked at least weekly, ‘Hey, what's it like over there?’” McFarlane says. “How incredible would it be to say, ‘It's awesome, man. They just keep out of our way and we just get to do our job.’
“The number of technicians I've talked to are like, ‘I just want more range time.’ And that's why technology can be super important in tools like ServiceTitan that decrease known range time,” he adds. “So, if you get nothing else, remove hurdles and create beautiful, beautiful runways.”
Who qualifies as a leader?
"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, or do more and become more, you are a leader." — John Quincy Adams, sixth U.S. President
Not every leader in your organization comes with an official title, McFarlane says, but they’ll inspire you to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more. The idea of disappointing them or letting them down drives you to succeed.
“Your team is filled with these people, if we can create the bandwidth,” McFarlane says.
In Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” he talks about two types of leaders: the ordained or defined leader, and one with the power of moral leadership, like Gandhi, who brought the British Empire to its knees.
“He was not an elected official, he didn't hold office, he didn't have a blog, he wasn't tweeting,” McFarlane says. “He was just somebody who lived his values so loudly that people were drawn.
“If we can get our leadership style and our values aligned, there's a hunger in the world for authentic leadership. And that's its own superpower for recruitment.”
In 2019, 4.5 million Americans quit their job each month.
“That’s bonkers! That’s absolutely bonkers,” McFarlane says. The year before, he says monthly job-quitters numbered 3 million per month. And that’s when his company double-downed on its efforts to grow more leaders.
High turnover rates from trained employees who quit come with a cost, McFarlane says. According to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS):
Because of a poor onboarding experience, lack of clarity surrounding job duties and expectations, or a less-than-stellar boss, 31% left in the first 6 months.
Employees who are “engaged and thriving” are 59% less likely to leave.
The cost to replace a highly trained employee is 200% of annual salary.
People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.
“Gosh, man, that’s just a tough mirror to look at, isn’t it?” McFarlane asks. “But I can tell you, I haven't always been a great leader. I've had a lack of development, I had ego and immaturity. I can take responsibility for that.”
While becoming a stellar boss takes time, simple things like onboarding—and clearly explaining job duties and expectations—should be something you put some effort into now to retain new hires and current employees. Remember when they’re scheduled to start, set up an orientation process, and give them the necessary tools to do their job well.
As for creating a company culture of engaged and thriving employees, McFarlane says those are more than just trendy buzzwords.
“Up until a couple of years ago, I thought ‘culture’ was something that grew in a petri dish, right? But it's a buzzword, and we need to pay attention to it,” he says. “We need to understand our team, so we can understand how they engage.”
“We can be efficient with things, but we need to be effective with people.” —Stephen Covey
Leaders get busy, and it’s not uncommon to feel a little frustration when someone walks in the office to ask the same questions you’ve already answered four other times, especially when you’ve got a customer waiting on the phone, two job sites to visit, and another meeting to attend.
Be efficient with your tasks (schedule a ride-along or assign a mentor), but be effective with your people, and don’t just try to “handle” them. Take a pause, understand how they learn, and communicate more effectively.
“Leadership is hard. That’s why it’s lonely,” McFarlane says. “But so is managing turnover, right? So is placing another job ad, paying another $5,000 for a billboard, or paying some headhunter $10,000 for a tech who’s going to last six months.”
Clarify Roles of a Managing Leader
“Clarity is kindness.” —Brené Brown, American professor & author
People say they want certain things, such as money, time, or integrity, but what they crave the most is clarity.
“They cling to it and they run toward clarity, because it's simple, and it's easy. It's what we simply crave,” McFarlane says.
A good managing leader creates clarity with:
Clear expectations: Show them how to get the ball through the goalpost, and they’ll find a way to score.
Clear capabilities: Give them goals and milestones to reach, and be clear about how you’ll help them succeed.
Clear measurement: Championship teams want to know the score. Explain how they score points, how you measure success, and the ultimate end goal.
Clear feedback: Employees want and need feedback, whether they tell you so or not.
Clear consequences: Be clear about consequences from Day 1, and enforce them consistently.
Managing employees also requires the understanding of a few key concepts to inspire extraordinary performance.
“As a leader, if we understand this, we can also understand how to not put too much stress on ourselves, and how to keep the relationships healthy. They know their role, you know your role, and we understand why people are the way they are,” McFarlane explains.
Key Concepts to Inspire Performance:
Everyone is different … and that’s more than OK.
Employees can be challenging at times, and some personality types can be more difficult to manage. Just remember they’re different, and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad leader, it just means you’re human.
Good leaders ask a lot of questions. They generally ask more questions than they answer.
Good leaders do ask questions, which represents a paradigm shift, because they probably became leaders by being the person with all of the answers.
“If we can flip that and say, ‘I don't know, what do you think?’ We start to build capabilities,” McFarlane says.
People are like banks. In relationships, before you make a withdrawal, you must make a deposit. You never want to be overdrawn.
Think of credits and debits when managing employee relationships. If you repeatedly ask your CSRs or techs to work late, day after day, they’re going to feel like you’re overdrawing their account. Instead, strive to keep the manager-employee-relationship account more balanced.
You don’t know everything. Seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood.
Employees might ask questions over and over again, and your first impulse might be to just answer them because it fixes the problem quickly. You think you’re being efficient, but you really need to be effective.
“If we seek to understand why they aren't getting it and stop being the person with all the answers, your team will grow,” McFarlane says.
In God we trust. All others, bring data.
There is a huge difference between subjective and objective. Don’t run your company by emotions. “Your gut is great, it's what got you there. But at a certain point, speak with data, make decisions with data,” McFarlane says.
Our favorite radio station is WIIFM.
What’s In It For Me? Everyone is hard-wired to care about themselves. Even you.
So, don’t take it personally when a potential new hire takes a job down the road that pays more. They’re just looking after their own interests.
“There's blood on the streets when it comes to labor, and they're getting great offers,” McFarlane says. “When they operate in their own self-interest, let's remove the emotional baggage about that and understand it's not personal, it just is what it is.”
One-on-Ones and the Power of Positive Feedback
Approach one-on-ones with employees as a time to talk about performance and understand the person, rather than try to label them and put them in a box. Look for more than what’s wrong. Find things you like and praise them for it.
Good managers also give regular, positive feedback that’s authentic, and not simple platitudes. They make positive feedback specific, timely, and direct, and find ways to celebrate the success with the entire team.
“By and large, people are three times more likely to quit if they go unrecognized,” McFarlane says.
In fact, one study found the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams is the ratio of positive comments to negative ones:
Highest performing teams had an average ratio of almost six positive feedback comments to one negative.
Middle performing teams had an average ratio of almost two positive feedback comments to one negative.
Lowest performing teams had almost three negative comments for every one positive one.
“Here's what separates great leaders from good managers: They understand they don't get to define what was positive and what was negative. That's the role of the person receiving that feedback,” McFarlane says.
Neutral feedback can seem negative, because we all want incredible, awesome feedback.
For instance, recognize a tech when they stay late to help a customer, then share that success the next day with the rest of the team. It will be specific, timely, and direct. “It’s kind of like a superpower,” McFarlane says.
Keep in mind, however, that most skilled tradesmen won’t tell you they want positive feedback. But it’s your job to provide it.
“When it's business as usual, and we're not being proactive and leading from our values, then yeah, you're going to have attrition,” McFarlane says. “What kind of self-respecting, kick-ass installer is going to be like, ‘Hey, man, I developed feelings last night, can you tell me I'm awesome?’ It's not real.”
What is a leader’s role in unlocking an employee’s true potential?
Prove How Much They Know—Not You
No Making Fun of Anybody
Make Them a Hero
“The communication of knowledge and understanding, it's all about connecting ideas relative to something the person you're talking to already knows,” McFarlane says. “We need to understand what they know about our vision, identify the gap, and then share those things they don't yet understand in ways they can.”
To do that, he suggests following these 3 Rs:
Repeat. Repeat the question/statement, so everyone can hear it.
Redirect. Redirect it to someone else in the room and be prepared to call on people.
Restate. Restate the answers they came up with or rephrase to provide the correct answer.
For example, a new tech might ask a question about a specific issue during a service meeting. You ask the room if anyone else experienced the same issue, then redirect the question to a more experienced tech. When they offer a solution, restate it so everyone learns.
“The nut of it is, you create engagement by being engaging,” McFarlane says.
Finally, leadership in 3 steps:
Lead with questions.
Dig into the answers.
Set goals around the solutions.
“Now, you've created an opportunity for engagement, for understanding, and they've created their own goals,” McFarlane explains. “All you are is the gentle hands on the wet clay. They made the vase. It's their vase, you're just helping sculpt the process.”
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