Everybody at a contracting company has a job to do. The owner or general manager (often the same person) runs the business. The salesperson’s job is to get the truck in the driveway. Admin does so many things you couldn’t list them. Production people do the actual work.
Production is where it all happens, where what you sell is actually created. The problem, though, is that a lot of owners believe that just because their production people are engaged in manual labor, they’re really not capable of doing more than that, or want to do more than that. When owners think about training the production staff, the focus is almost always on the work rather than soft skills. They want to teach employees how to install faster and more efficiently. What we’ve seen at our company is that “ soft skills” are at least as important, maybe even more important.
When Customers Go Sideways
In a way production people are the most important people at your company. They’re the ones who deal directly, and most frequently, with your customer.
So let’s say production encounters an issue on the job. That generally falls into one of three categories: 1) a miscommunication, 2) an extra and unforeseen cost or, 3) an unrealized expectation.
Example: a window scheduled to be replaced is pulled out of the wall and there’s termite damage and wood rot. The drywall has to be removed and replaced, along with some framing, then new drywall goes up, which has to be painted. Suddenly that $600 window replacement is a $2,000 job.
The homeowner was never told such a thing could happen. So the production guys look bad.
If that two-man window crew doesn’t know how to manage the situation, what will likely happen is that either the salesperson that sold the job will be called out to the house, or the owner has to handle the issue. If the owner’s pulled in, that’s hours worth of time he isn’t actually managing the company. If the salesman comes out to the house, he starts feeling guilty and giving work away. At some companies this is considered good customer service.
Trained To Win
This is not a way to run a remodeling company and make money. If a salesperson goes out to explain things, he’s not running leads. If your general manager is the one to go out and handle problems on a job, that’s just time taken away from his responsibilities, i.e., running the company.
The best people to handle those situations are your production team. But the only way that’s going to happen is if they’re trained in soft skills. Dispute resolution—how to diffuse situations—is part of that. It’s not the only part. There is also knowing a sales process, to sell change orders. There’s knowing how to talk to homeowners, how to manage the crew, and how to hold the crew accountable. And then there’s the part about the production person knowing that it’s his job to take charge, rather than throwing the salesperson under the bus.
Salespeople need to know some of this as well. For instance, how to recognize a situation that obviously points to problems down the road—like a sagging roof—and put that in writing, so it can be addressed up front and unpleasant surprises eliminated.
When we began implementing this practice in the late ‘90s—training installers in soft skills—our workforce consisted almost entirely of immigrants who spoke Spanish.
The fact that the production people didn’t speak English was seen, at first, as a big obstacle. But then we put someone in charge of production who decided that since this is what we expected, they were going to have to do it. First they needed to learn English.
We brought someone into our offices twice a week to teach English classes. We paid installers to attend. We regarded it as an investment in our workforce. Eventually we had one of our guys teaching English, and being paid to do it. Some of our employees wanted to go to professional language schools to learn English and we paid for that. The result was that we have a whole group of employees who speak English as a second language, and who can communicate not only with us but with homeowners; English-speaking production personnel who can run a project, sell change orders, and solve disputes on jobs. And that frees up my time to focus on other activities. So I’m not pulled into production’s problems. And it frees up salespeople to sell.
Why don’t more people send their production personnel to Blue Collar Management boot camp, where we teach soft skills? It’s just common sense. It’s similar to offering financial options. People who don’t want to do it think that it costs too much money. They’re not seeing it as an investment in the company that increases sales, and like most well considered investments, produces a corresponding return.
by Scott Siegal