Want less stress and more success in your contractor business? Check out Al Levi’s 7-Power system every constructor must master. The key point of this system is to use operating manuals. Al explains that writing operating manuals is your only hope of making sure the company performs consistently. How so? By giving your employees clarity on what they should expect from you and your customers. All the knowledge you’ll ever need is jam-packed into his brilliant book The 7-Power Contractor. For a quick rundown, listen to this episode and upgrade your contractor business seven steps higher!
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What Are The 7 Powers A Contractor Must Master? With Al Levi
This is an exciting episode. For those of you who are in any of the coaching groups, you are seeing Al Levi. I’m excited to talk to him. This is the first time we’ve spoken together. We’ve interacted a lot through the groups. He’s a smart guy and is somebody who’s been one of my mentors from afar. He hasn’t physically mentored me on a one-on-one basis but I’ve taken a lot of his knowledge and advice. Even the answers that he’s given to questions from other people in the groups, I’ve taken that advice from him without him even knowing it. Huge shout-out to Al for all of that.
There’s stuff about Al that I didn’t even know. We were talking about being on the show together. I downloaded his book and listened to it. It’s one of those books that you can listen to several times and get stuff out of every single time that you listen to it. I’m thankful for everything that Al does for the industry, and brings to light information and knowledge. He’s one of those guys who had a contracting business, was doing it for a long time and has been in multiple trades.
It’s one of those things where it’s like, “I want to do air-conditioning, plumbing, electrical and fuel oil, but I don’t know who to talk to who’s done all of these successfully.” I’ve seen people doing them all the time but then one of those trades might fall off or it’s like, “It looked like they were doing it but then all of a sudden, they shrank back down.” Al and his family have done a great job with it. Al took that. He created the processes and manuals, and offering that to people.
The struggle that I’ve had for years is the org chart, accountability chart, and stuff that’s like, who do you go to? When you’re small like a $1 million, $2 million or even $500,000 company and you’re trying to get out of the truck, you’re saying, “Who wears this hat or that hat? I wear all of these hats so why am I even creating an org chart?” What are your thoughts on that, Josh?
We’ve talked about processes and systems. This is such an overlooked thing because it’s not sexy. It’s not something that people wake up and be like, “I want to put some processes together today.” We know it has to be done, but we also don’t know where to turn because you may get some free resources online or talk with someone in a group.
It’s only little bits of information. It doesn’t put together the entire puzzle from your org chart down to who should have access to all these processes. You’re filtering those out to your people and then holding them accountable to those processes. It is maybe even harder than putting together the process in the first place. We’re going to talk about that.
For those that are reading, Al’s book is The 7‑Power Contractor. You can either get that on his website and maybe Al can tell us if there’s another place to get that. He’s going to dive a lot deeper into those seven things so you don’t feel like you have to do a million things. It gives us the seven powers that contractors must master and hopefully, you can learn something.
You can get the Audible version on Audible.com where you get to listen to Al. With that being said, welcome to the show, Al.
Thanks so much. Who would not like to listen to this voice? By the way, Josh, I’m bringing sexy back. The sexy back part is operating manuals. It’s not sexy. I get it. It’s understood but you know what’s worse than that? It’s not having operating manuals and systems, and living the nightmare of putting out the fires that you thought you had out yesterday, but are going to break out again. I was doing a little skit that I always do speaking about the power of manuals. It’s that I do something in a seminar this way.
You out there, tell me if this sounds familiar, “Tersh, I heard you say yesterday that shoe covers are important to protect the customer’s house. Where do I get them?” Tersh tells me. The next day, “Tersh, I know you said those shoe covers are important. Where do I get them?” He tells me again because I asked again. “Tersh, where should I get those? I had a fight with my wife and I wasn’t listening or the dog bit me.” Here’s what all of you need to know. If you are happy with always being the answer person, everyone on your team is happy to play question person and they will to the day that you die. How does that sound?
Here’s the other thing that you need to know. I was great at sales and marketing. My team was great at blowing it up. That’s how I became the operations guy. I had to fix the mess every day. We were making tons of money. Do not misunderstand that but it took an enormous amount. There’s a reason that my tagline is, “Less stress, more success.” That’s what I wanted. I felt like I was a pretty smart guy. I was lucky enough to go to college, get a degree of which I never worked in engineering. I’m sitting at my desk thinking, “How come this isn’t all working? There’s got to be seven million things that I’m missing.”
Every time I went to a webinar, seminar, read something in a magazine or online, it was like, “I must be missing something.” That’s what got me back to what I knew to do in my other business. My family was a serial entrepreneurial business. We did a multistate real estate. We owned a chain of liquor stores. We had ice cream shops and a radiant heat manufacturer. Those are some of the ones that we did.
It was funny because we took the right approach, which is building a foundation and those were the seven blocks that I think about for anything. Those are planning power, operating power, staffing power, sales power, sales coaching power, marketing power and financial power. Those are the seven things. That is what I went all around in this beautiful country of Canada for years.
By the way, outside of trades that we did, plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical were my family business that started back in 1936 out of my great grandfather’s gas station. I was going out working with contractors that I had done none of those trades because contracting is this much different from anything you do. I worked with the great Tommy Mello Garage Door company. I never did garage doors before that. I worked with a great kitchen cabinet company where we built kitchen cabinetries. I worked with a great condo builder in Montreal and I have never built a condo. I said, “The businesses are more alike.”
The funniest and strangest one is there was a photographer up North of San Francisco who says, “I’ve seen all your stuff. You have to come work with me.” I said, “I take pictures but I’m not a photographer company.” She goes, “My photographers like your techs. My person who sends people out to do these big shoots, they’re like a dispatcher. I need the org chart and basics to the manuals.” If you’re out there thinking, “That’s fine. I’m not in PHCE, Plumbing, Heating, Cooling, Electric,” you are mistaken. If a phone rings and you send somebody to do a service or install, you have to get contracting.
Plumbing, heating, cooling, electric is the bread and butter. Everyone talks about those but they don’t talk about garage doors, septic, carpet cleaning and restoration. You can go on and on. All these businesses have a similar setup. They have a call center. They have someone to go out and does the work. They have an estimator, salesperson and technicians. It’s all very similar. Getting the core processes put together can be beneficial to any of those types of businesses that are in the home service trades.
Al, you have the option in your platform to do more than one trade and new trades. What is different between the trades?
Truthfully, it’s where you shop in a grocery store, picking out tomatoes. We were in the fuel oil business. If you’re in the Northeast, you know what that is. If you’re not in fuel, think of propane. It’s the same thing. We were making great money but I could see down the road that that’s one gift that I was lucky enough to have, being the youngest of three brothers in the business and my dad.
[bctt tweet=”The better you are as a trainer, the better you become at sales and marketing. ” via=”no”]
Are you a psychic?
I am a psychic. I knew you were going to ask that question. I could see the runway running out. One of the things I also could see is if we didn’t take control of the customer’s basement, we were inviting our competition into our basement. When I explained that to my brothers, they go, “We’re not having that.” We were great at acquisition already. That was my dad and my uncle buying other businesses.
Where we were was a beachfront town in New York City. The area got wiped out from urban renewal and our customers were moving. If my dad and uncle hadn’t gotten good at acquisition, there would have been no business by the time my brothers and I showed up. We happily learned that it’s a great way to acquire businesses and great marketing. It’s not the only tool. You want to be great at organic marketing and acquisition too. Both of them have a lot of merits.
We learned some key lessons by systematizing the fuel oil business. One of the things I was sharing was we were sitting at a seminar. My brother Richie and I were the last two techs that are always standing in the basement at 2:00 AM. The conversation spanked. Thankfully, there’s no video but it was pretty hysterically stupid. We would have these conversations about why don’t techs do this and that? My brother’s going on.
Finally, I said, “Richie, if they could do all that, why are they here? Why wouldn’t they go run their own business?” If you’re going to keep on hiring what I call lightning in a bottle, which means you find that magical tech who can do sales, operation, technical if they’re a service tech, or they’re great at communication, operation, technical if they’re an installer. You’re going to run out of runway with that. That’s what the main thing was.
We’re sitting at a seminar a lot younger than this. The guy on the stage was saying, “The average age of the tech is trending to 50.” You think as a 25-year-old about a 50-year-old tech being out there for you. That’s a very scary thought. We said, “We got to build a training center.” We went off and built the training center. Here’s the bad news. I got them trained up and then they’re out in the field. My brother Richie is calling me up and going, “Did you show motor rotation? Didn’t you check how to do electrical?” I was like, “I did but they’d been out of the training for two years and they’re disconnected.” That is what caused us to backtrack and write the operating manuals.
Once we had finished the manuals, to our horror, we realized we built the training center wrong because the manuals tell you what should be in the hands-on training center. How do I check them off for these tasks? The bridge between the two is what I call the training curriculum. Between the manuals and the hands-on training center is our training curriculum.
When I’m thinking about training and a video of training, I think about all the things I do as a service tech throughout the day. I’m like, “It would take me years to train someone the same way.” As soon as we get PSE motors down and all of a sudden you come out with a true variable speed motor, we’re like, “We got to retrain everybody.” Was it updating constantly like that? How did that process go?
They are not meant to be static. They are meant to be live and always being a living document. We rolled it out with everybody. There are a lot of techniques about that, having them stand up and read. What I learned from sales is unless they’re talking, they’re not buying into it just like what you know from sales 101. If you’re always talking, then you’re selling. If you get them talking, they’re buying. It’s the same concept.
There’s a triangle I always talk about. The better I got as a trainer, at sales and marketing, that triangle is very strong because you have to sell a concept. These manuals are not like I never did plumbing, heating, cooling or electric because that’s how we did as we had trades. We built a separate module and the manual first, then we built the right hands-on training center and the curriculum. We kept adding on these trades so that we could own the basement, which was our original goal.
We got better and better at training. The other critical part of this is becoming great trainers. That’s what I go out and had done. It’s to train people to become great trainers. This is another stupid conversation between me and my brother. We were like, “We need to train. What do we do?” We’re thinking, “Maybe we can go out the industry and get one in.”
Pretty soon we said to ourselves, “Here’s what we know. You may be great at knowing your subject and the best in the world. The bad news is I’ll be asleep because you are so boring.” The other one is, “You’re electric and fascinating to listen to but, heaven forbid, if I asked you any real question of any depth and I find out exactly what you don’t know.” It’s a very limiting list. It’s like lightning in a bottle. We realized that the majority of the training had to come from us. The rule of thumb is about 80% of the training came from us because we controlled it and we knew what we were doing.
Here’s the great thing that you brought because I don’t want to lose this point. It wasn’t like, “I never did plumbing. Here’s the manual. Go get them.” It was, “Can I send twenty guys an hour from your shop and they all arrive at a toilet reset and can pretty much do the ABC way of doing it?” That’s what that manual is about. The other part of it is that when I built it and first started, I did a variable speed and all the other things come in. Here’s the magical, great thing. It is so much easier to be an editor than a creator. I promised everybody on Facebook this would be fun.
That’s our goal. Otherwise, it’s like what you said. You have someone that has tons of knowledge but then they don’t keep your engagement and attention. That’s not what we want on our show.
I’m going to date myself but if anybody watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off years ago, the teacher that’s up there going, “Bueller,” that’s the kind of thing that you do not want. That’s why you have to become a great trainer.
The seven powers, could you go over those one more time?
Planning power is where it all starts. That’s where I first come if I was to work with anyone one-on-one, which I don’t anymore. Planning power would be all the great ideas that are in your head and all the key people out there. Do you need one more great idea or do you need one great idea implemented? We know the answer is an idea implemented.
That was in my book, why I needed an editor. When I told her I was going to write the book, she goes, “You have all this content. Why do you need me?” I go, “Because I have 150 of my kids in the audience going, ‘Pick me.’” That’s not a book. The same problem for you is you have 150 of your kids out in the audience saying, “I should be the next project.” You’re not going to be able to do it.
[bctt tweet=”You don’t have to wait until the end of the process to be good. You can become better along the way. ” via=”no”]
What planning power is think of it as a funnel. At the top of the funnel is where you load all the great ideas, your ideas and your team’s best ideas. That’s where they sit. They work their way down that funnel to the top 30. The way they get there were two strainers. One strainer is fixing the biggest problem and challenge for the greatest chance to grow and be profitable.
The example I use is you send those twenty techs an hour from your shop and they don’t have the parts to do a simple toilet reset on their truck or they don’t have the knowledge to do it your way. That’s a problem. You need to fix that. It’s the greatest chance to grow and be profitable, “I need to call up Josh because this phone isn’t ringing.” That’s the thing here. I’ll get to that next about marketing but this moves you down the funnel.
The idea is I don’t care how much money you have or how big your company is. You cannot work on 30 things at the same time without driving anyone insane and it will not be done right. Use the same strainers and get down to the five. That five goes up on a wall, even though we can do it digitally. You can do wall and digital. What is it you want? Why do you want it? That is the trick. Where are you in the process?
Here’s the other kicker. On your schedule, Mr. or Ms. Owner, there’s got to be a meeting with me and in that meeting with me is your last chance during the course of the week to find out how well did you do working on those five because you picked the five. You said that would fix your biggest problem and challenge to grow and be profitable. Tell me what’s more important in the work you’re doing this week than that. The answer is nothing. That’s where the progress comes.
Don’t pick five giant projects. You’re going to make yourself crazy. I usually let guys pick 2 or 3 big projects like manuals, which is easier because I was coming to do the program with them. Find two relatively quick things you can knock out. “We need to change the uniforms,” just to pick one thing. “We need a new logo,” which is not a small thing. “We need better wraps or anything else of that nature.” It’s got to have a definition of small. If you wrote, “We need more calls,” that’s nice but are you ever not going to need more calls? Make it like, “We need to get 100 more calls a month.” Something that’s measurable and then why, “I need those extra 100 calls because I got to keep another twenty.” I’m just picking a number out of the air. I need to have that status, which is, “I’ve been in touch with Josh. We’re energizing this program.”
This is what planning power is about. Operating power is policy and procedure in writing for 80% of what goes on, not the 20% weird. I know all of you are like me. We are crazy perfectionists but here’s what you have to ask yourself. You have no manuals. One page beats nothing. Don’t try to write the perfect manuals. They’re never going to happen. My manuals are meant to be live. Tersh was a good example. It’s changing so we go in and make a few edits. It’s simple.
We had a lot of regulatory issues in New York City. There’s no shortage of agencies. Many are over-conflicting. Once we mastered what we needed to do such as permitting and filing and we put in our manuals, it’s much easier to edit them. It’s not like you’re always reinventing the wheel. Those are some of the big things about operating power.
Staffing power is working on three things. Finding the holes in your existing techs because they all have it. By the way, everyone at your company because they oversold themselves. They’re afraid of what you don’t know. Find the holes in the new people who will tell you in an interview they can do everything. Have you ever had somebody interviewing for your accounts payable and receivable who tells you, “Can you do QuickBooks?” “Yes, I can.” Your tech can fix everything. They could sell everything too.
The last most important thing is to build them from scratch. Take willing people and provide skills. That’s what allowed me to happily put myself out of a job so that I could leave and go do what I can do. That’s staffing power in a nutshell. It is then sales, which I call ethical selling. My step is a five-step system. It’s not 500 steps to sales. Some of this is learning how to listen, ask the right question, do a survey, all of that but it’s about sales power. I teach techs how to sell the right way and what I call system advisor big-ticket people how to sell the right way. That’s sales power.
Sales coaching is managing the KPIs for those things and providing the necessary feedback to make those teams bigger and better. It then comes down to marketing power. The three rights of marketing. It’s the right amount of calls from the right customer at the right time. Your website gets a lot of eyeballs. You’re in Omaha. Are you happy to know that everybody in California is looking at your website? Unless you’re going to California, I don’t know what that’s doing for you.
I was looking on our analytics and we were like, “We had a huge uptake in some content, volume and people visiting the site and stuff.” I was like, “They’re all from China.” What did I do? I got on some site.
Hopefully, they got a broken air-conditioner.
The goal is if you can make way calls than you can humanly do in a day, you get to decide who you’re going to and how much you get to charge. The last piece is financial power of which I am not your financial power guru but I learned the hard way because we didn’t do any budgeting way back in the dark ages. At the end of the year, the accounts would walk in and go, “You had a great year. Go buy something. Pay yourself a bonus,” which we loved. The next year, they would show up and go, “We had a bad year to keep the bank statements and everything. I hope that you have money in your bank because you’re not getting paid for two months.” It’s bad to wear blinders on.
What Ellen Rohr always teach is there are two types of accounting. There’s accountant accounting, which is important because it helps defer taxes, minimize your taxes, but you cannot run your business financially that way. There’s what she calls real-world accounting, which starts with knowing how to do budgeting, how to arrive at the right sales price, and knowing financial position. In her case, the great analogy is you’re driving your financial car by looking out the windshield rather than waiting for your accounting stuff that’s driving your car through the rearview mirror.
If it’s on the 10th or 12th of the month, even if you’re lucky enough to get it that soon, you’re still almost two weeks behind. For those who don’t know, who’s Ellen?
Ellen Rohr was a great contractor who became a great friend of mine. The forerunner of Contract 2000, which became Nextdoor, which we both belong back then and then she went off. One of her big accomplishments for many years is she was the mother of Ben Franklin Plumbing. She was the one that put that whole thing together. When she finished her non-compete, we had worked with clients together and separately.
We agreed to always date but never get married as business coaches. She said, “I would like to do franchising again. Would you like to do it with me?” I go, “Yes, but one big difference. If everything else is a mile wide but an inch deep, that’s fine but I’m not doing that. We’re going to be a mile wide and a mile deep.” What I mean by that is it’s got to have the seven powers and the depths we have at all of these systems so that contractors can make calls and make techs. Those are the two big powers you need.
We put together the Zoom Drain franchise. I was a founding member of that along with Ellen. She said, “Who do you think wants to do this?” I go, “I have one client and he worked there. Let me call them up.” I called up Jim who was with Zoom Drain. I said to him, “I remember you said you wanted to do licensing and franchising. Are you still interested?” He stops and goes, “I was wondering when you would call.”
[bctt tweet=”There’s value when someone tells you to your face what others would not. ” via=”no”]
Part of that was funny. I came to his shop. It was a small shop. He had five techs at the time and they’re dressed awfully. Everything you would think about a drain and sewer company, all stereotype. He’s buttoned up and goes, “I’d like to license and franchise.” I’m looking around the shop, these guys and the trucks. I go, “I’ll tell you what. How about we see if we can get them dressed right and then we can come back to licensing and franchising?” He had grown to twenty trucks and did the whole seven powers.
How long of a process was it for him? A better question, for somebody who’s reading this, realistically, how long should they expect it to take to implement the process and then for it to take effect? What are you seeing? I don’t know if you’ve done an official case study or anything like that.
I’ve done it when I was doing one-to-one consulting. Let me start with that. I was doing one-to-one consulting and then I brought Ellen in for the sales coaching because we pushed to our reward programs together. That’s what sales coaching is. She would do the financial because you cannot give out rewards until you do your financial homework. Otherwise, as we always hated, are you taking money out of your pocket to provide bonuses or is it money they create? The answer should always be the money they create. That’s what it’s always designed to be.
To run the whole gamut, it usually takes 2 to 3 years, Mike Agugliaro from when he was a gold medal, he and his team were phenomenal. They didn’t just race through. They did a lot of great things and he had some great things already. The thing about it is you get better with each of those steps I rattled through. It’s not like you have to wait all the way to the end to get good. You’re getting better everywhere along with those steps.
The one program that I offer is operating power. The reason I offer operating power is because it’s the most important. You can’t even do staffing until you have those manuals in place the way I was sharing before. It is the biggest keystone block in putting this all together. That’s the first thing. People go, “How long will it take?”
I go, “It’s a matter of your time, energy and money.” The money, we’ve already got. The time is, are you going to put two-hour time blocks together with you and the key managers? This is all you do. You watch my videos, go through the workbook, edit the manuals, get them rolled out and keep them in the culture with the meetings the way I tell you to as a virtual coach.
If you buy the all-access version, then you get me in the form of this, which is six 30-minute video calls. The problem is they too chase perfect. They stall but people who are willing to do what I say and get all my hipsters within 60 days should have that edited tech manual in the rollout. That’s as long as it should take. If it’s taking longer than that, I ask why.
How much are you going to implement? How quickly are you going to implement it? We are our own worst enemy oftentimes whenever we try. It’s time to implement something new but I’m going to make it perfect and make sure it doesn’t break before we implement it, and then you never implement it because you never finish it, so done is better than perfect, for sure.
I’ll take a line that Mike taught me one day when we were working together. He had awful CSRs when I first arrived. That was his assessment but I agree wholeheartedly. They got so good with the training that I provided, the manuals and the rest of it. They were on the website at one point. He looks at me and goes, “I get it.” I said, “What do you get, Mike?” He goes, “Less done all the time beats perfect once in a while.” That was big because it was something. We want this perfect thing. If we belong to a Facebook group, a trade association or whatever, we look at these guys and go, “It’s got to be perfect because otherwise, I would already be that big monster.” The answer is no.
I’d love to say it’s about intelligence but it’s about committing the time, energy and money to what you need to do to make these things happen. In the case of the manuals, I cost my family $150,000 back in 1996 in today’s money. It was about that thick but it was well-written and that’s what it needed to do. There are 31 manuals in the program because of everything I’ve done. I didn’t know what I didn’t know when I finished. I thought it was words on a page because you used to print them but it was way more about the tone.
“What do you put in? Does it sound like your big brother and big sister coaching you or are you yelling at me because everything is in caps and red?” You can’t hand it out and think that it’s all done. You need to know the rollout process. How to get buy-in is the big thing. Otherwise, it’s like taking a rubber ball, throwing it against the walls and watch how fast it’ll bounce back at you.
How often should you revisit them?
When they’ve been rolled out, it’s everyone at your company based on the right box org chart, which is where it all starts and that too is part of the program. If you have a manual and you do, every week, you’re in your own meeting, whether it’s 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour typically for the techs, the installers and the big-ticket people. You are reading 1 to 2 pages out loud. It’s not you but them. The words that leave their lips are the only ones they listen to. That’s the key thing.
I have a quick story. I worked with a great company up in Vail, Colorado for plumbing, heating, cooling and electric in a big residential and commercial. When I first arrived, I got to talk to their techs because I always have these private interviews, which I will not tell the owner what anybody said. They will air the dirty laundry everywhere I go. I find out that their culture is like this or like this. We put the manuals and training in. The guys are getting careers. It’s like kumbaya compared to that. It’s great.
He would always call me up to share success and things that he’s had. It was great. One day he called me up in the middle of this pandemic and he goes, “I don’t know what happened but all of a sudden, we’re back to this again.” I said, “Has anything changed?” He goes, “No. We don’t have our meetings anymore.” I go, “Time out. You get back to the meetings and reading 1 to 2 pages every week. You can do it in Zoom. I don’t care but there is never an excuse, everyone who has a manual.” He called me up three weeks later and goes, “It’s like it never happened.” It is that powerful.
I don’t know about you but we didn’t have meetings because we were too busy. That’s the fallacy. Everybody has a stupid idea. Akin to that is I come across when you’re in the woods, chopping down trees with a dull axe and I go, “If you come back with me and we sharpen up this axe, we can chop these trees much faster.” You go, “I would but I’m busy chopping down this tree.” That’s the hard part for us as contractors.
I find that either you’re too busy to do meetings or the meetings turn into a complaint-fest like the dispatcher is not doing her job or this job.
They don’t stay on point. It goes off for like an hour instead of a good solid twenty minutes.
[bctt tweet=”When you work with the best contractors, you become smarter. ” via=”no”]
When you get done and you’re like, “What did we finish and accomplish with this meeting?” Nothing.
I know why people hate meetings. When I said meetings, I didn’t mean crappy meetings. You hate meetings because you’re thinking about your house of worship meeting and town hall meeting where we just talk and talk. We eat donuts, drink coffee and next week, we’ll be back talking about the same thing. That is not what I’m talking about.
My brother and I didn’t have meetings until one of you screwed up, Josh. We’re going to drag the whole team in and everybody knows it was Josh. We’re sitting there going like, “We’re here because of Josh.” We haven’t had a meeting in six months so we’re going to make up an agenda that’s this long. I can’t even fit it on the screen. We’re going to tell you how much you disappointed us. Waiting that long for feedback is a problem.
If you don’t have documented systems, what are you talking about? That’s where the manuals play a key central role here. They’re not everything you do in meetings. If you’re judging me as a tech on my sales performance and you don’t check my homework, that’s what that meeting is about. Ellen and I call it and get it solved for our meetings. In that meeting, we talk about what went right in terms of sales. We reward those and then private coaching.
It’s the same old thing. You criticize in private. You praise in public. That’s what those meetings are set for, but we do our role plays and things. We also keep the manual alive. The first time through, we just want to know what’s wrong and what you hate. The manual should stay 90% to 95% the way that I’ve got them put together. That’s after long years of doing this, but the point of it is they do get to put their fingerprints on it. That’s part of the buy-in process. They just don’t get the high jacket. Putting their fingerprints is their time. This is one of the reasons they love going to the right meeting.
I wrote a thing called the 10 Golden Rules for Meetings. It’s got everything you described. You told me this meeting is important but the light is blinking over here. The heat is 180 degrees in this room and I’m on fire. My chair is broken. These are the things that are stupid. You also have a case where people are throwing every comment out. I’m talking about parking and Josh said, “I got a question.” I go, “What’s the question, Josh?” “Where do I get my uniforms?” If you answer that question, “The free for all is a go.” I go, “Josh, that’s a great question. I would invite you to look for your manuals. If you want, when this meeting is over, I’ll be happy to talk to you because now, we’re talking about parking.”
These are the ten meeting guidelines. Also, guidelines for trainers, which is something I put together in the staffing power program was to make you better, not only at training but making you a much better person at running meetings. They happen every week. I tell people, “Unless we tell you don’t come, you’re here. We have meetings.” I ran meetings with techs because we were a shift company, not like on-call, 7:00 to 4:00 AM, 8:00 to 5:00, 10:00 to 7:00, 2:00 to 11:00 and in the dead of winter, 5:00 PM to 2:00 AM. Those were staff shifts. It was a big company.
That’s something that Richie and I realized when we finally moved to a good office, which is why I got good at office design and I’ve done 40 of them. We built the training room where you sit in the classroom area so it can only accommodate fifteen techs. I work with great clients where they wanted to build this monstrous hall. I go, “Once in a while, you’re bringing everybody together and if it’s going to bring everybody together, I invite you to go hook up with the hotel and go find a room. Don’t do it here.” Most of us can’t command a room like that. When I sit in the room with everybody and go like this, “What’s this got to do with me? I’m doing everything great.”
I purposely made a meeting on Tuesday with some of my techs and I had all the rest covered in the morning. I had Wednesday afternoon so I could catch all the late people and then Thursday morning. I would do the same meeting multiple times because I knew it was way more effective and they got a chance to talk. If they don’t talk, it’s worthless but there’s a way to talk and there’s a time to talk. It’s not a lecture.
I despise meetings. I am that person and it’s because I’ve been in so many bad meetings. Cameron Herold wrote Meetings SuckIt is a great book. Cameron is a great person in general. He’s a Canadian that transplants to the US half the year or used to. He’s written tons of wonderful books, free PR, getting press for your company for free, and all this great stuff. He wrote a book about why meetings suck. Wholeheartedly, I took a lot of stuff from him because as a technician, we would come together.
Every Wednesday, you got to be here at 8:00 AM or 7:00 AM. We’re going to come together. It turns into this chew out-fest of one person who failed and then everybody else was like, “I didn’t do that.” They’re sitting there ignoring you. There’s no input. It’s just one person at the front of the room talking. I was that person at one point talking and doing the stuff.
I began hating the meetings myself and I despised having to do it but at that time, I was just a manager. I was told to have those meetings and we did it. At that point, I didn’t know Cameron. I wasn’t educated on how to fix that problem, which I learned later but it’s exactly like you said. I love how you break them down. While our company is small, we’re growing. This is a very new company. I can already feel it.
With the office staff, we’re going to meet together in our weekly huddle and then the field staff, we’re going to do our weekly huddle. Even during the summer, if they’re not finding value in the meeting, 100% they’re pissed that they’re at the meeting because they’re like, “I could be doing this. I could be in the attic right now and then not in an attic at 3:00 in the afternoon.” I love everything that you said.
It’s such a valid point. I was lucky in my New York City union shop. I had a couple of guys who would tell me to the face what others would not. I value that. We had a meeting with a guy and this is after the manuals were in. I’ve finished the meeting up. He comes up to me at the end and goes, “If we didn’t have to be in this meeting, I could already be running calls for us.” I go, “I hear you. Here’s what I also know. Every time we meet, magically sales get better, fewer callbacks and everybody’s happier starting with the most important people, customers first. You tell me what’s more important than this meeting and never had a discussion again.”
They need to know why we are in this meeting. These ten guidelines can change your business. I have it on my site so it’s not like I’m trying to hide it. I’ve written a lot of articles over here. The ten meeting guidelines is very critical but what are you going to talk about? If Richie and I didn’t have these meetings, we had a very short tight agenda. It came back to when I became a better trainer. You need to know the three things that you’re going to talk about. Mention them at the front, talk about those three things only and at the end, go around the room and see if they got the three things. Tell me how that’s different than a sales call or anything else that I’m talking about, whether you’re marketing. These principles, we disconnect it from our meetings.
That was one of the better things that we did at the last place. I’ve always known that we needed to have meetings. When I was green and thrust into running the first company that I was with, I had a one full page list of things we needed to talk about. As time goes on, you start talking about stuff that you don’t even care what’s on anyone else’s mind. You just go through your list.
My checklist is good. What do you get? I learned later on to hyper-target those meetings for the people that need to be there. We got a lot better than the last place we were at, which we did a good job with that. The team, the culture and everybody was closer and tighter-knit because of it. People will bring up problems in the meeting or we find solutions to certain things that we didn’t even know in the office exists.
Unless you put out all that and get the chance to talk to people. One of the reasons they love to come to the meeting as we kept on going through is when the manuals were fully rolled out, we’re going to go through a procedure. You have a better, cheaper and faster way because if we all agree, we’ll go back and change these manuals. They’re meant to be living documents. With rare exceptions but periodically, it would come up, it was a chance to problem-solve together, which was very important.
The other thing where I start is the CSR dispatcher to tech. There’s a tech manual that tells you what to do from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed other than the work you do. People think, “I need the trade manual.” You do but you don’t need it as much as those three key manuals. They need to be integrated, which is the beauty of it. They’re not plucked from everywhere. I’ve worked with some great companies. They will always get better or they’re already broken because that triangle of communication is broken.
Where can people find you and some of that stuff there? I know that people are asking this because whenever we were talking, it didn’t take me 30 minutes to ask you. Where do we find that information?
It’s www.7PowerContractor.com/SOMS but you can just go to www.7PowerContractor.com. Go to Products and Service if you’re working on the goal. There’s a lot of great information there. I know it’s mine but I do attribute that my stuff is a whole lot smarter than me. I worked with some of the best contractors out there. Every time I did, I got smarter. That’s pretty much fun to be at this stage of my life and tell you that but it’s true. How do you get better as a teacher? Teach. It’s that much and these are the key things.
It does change the dynamic. I left my business famously at 48. I was one of the lucky guys that didn’t have to work again. I gave my brothers and my dad three years’ notice that I was leaving. If you’re like me, you’re lucky you get two weeks maybe from your employer. A lot of times, we used to have the key on the dashboard and go, “Is he gone?”
I spent three years making sure all of these systems work. It’s a case of I needed to know that they were in good shape but frankly, I was not coming back. I was going out. The reason that I’m so passionate about it to this stage of my life is because if these great mentors did not come into my life, which I paid up for and happily so, I would be in a basement turning a wrench into the late hours of the night and that is not a pretty sight.
Josh, you got anything you want to close out with?
All these topics could go a lot deeper but Al is usually very active on Facebook groups like best practice groups. Find him on Facebook. Go to his site. His site is very well laid out. It’s very clean of what needs to be done so you can find the information you’re looking for, which kudos to you because what I look at all day are websites.
I take that as a big compliment. It’s not me. I have good people but I’m great at marketing. I learned a long time ago that your website is marketing first and then make sure it works. When you go to my website, there’s a chat feature. If you want to hit the chat and you have a question or you want to set up even a free 30-minute, I’m happy to offer that as a give back to my mentors.
Go to his website, 7PowerContractor.com. Al is a wealth of knowledge. He’s been there, done it and coached it. He knows his stuff. You would be very wise to reach out if you have questions.
Thank you for reading this episode of the show. It’s truly our honor to be able to meet and greet you, Al, and talk to people like yourself. Without people like Ron, who are actively following the show and interacting with us, we wouldn’t be able to put on the show. With that being said, I hope you have a wonderful and safe week until we talk again next time.
- The 7‑Power Contractor
- Tommy Mello Garage Door
- Ellen Rohr
- Ben Franklin Plumbing
- Zoom Drain
- Meetings Suck
- 10 Golden Rules for Meetings
- Facebook – The 7-Power Contractor
About Al Levi
After working for more than 25 years in every facet of my family’s plumbing, heating, cooling (and now electrical) business, I sold my share in the company to my brothers and retired from the contracting business.
There’s now a fourth generation in my nephew, Michael, along with my brother, Richie, that continue to grow the business. And my brothers and I, we’re as close as we ever were.
I was able to do this and set my family up for continued success because I was so successful in implementing business systems and training people that by the time I was ready to go, the business was running so efficiently it could run without me.
Today, I live in sunny Phoenix, near many golf courses. And when it gets too hot in Arizona, my wife and I travel. In short, my wife and I are living our dream. We kept our promise to each other – to retire from the rush of business before the age of 50—and then to help others do the same thing.