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. The administrator does so many things you couldn’t list them all. And production people do the actual work.

Production is where it all happens—where what you sell is actually created. The problem, though, is 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 (nor want to do more than that). When owners think about training production, the focus is almost always on the work rather than “soft skills.” They want to teach employees how to install faster and more efficiently. Actually, we’ve found that soft skills are at least as importantor maybe more so.

When Customers Go Sideways

Of course, in a way, production 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. If that two-man window crew doesn’t know how to manage that situation, what will likely happen is either the salesperson who sold the job is called out to the house, or the company owner has to handle the situation. The drywall has to be removed and replaced, along with some framing; then new drywall goes up, which has to be painted; and that $600 window replacement is now a $2,000 job. The homeowner was never told such a thing was possible. So the production guys look bad. If the owner is pulled in, it’s hours worth of time that he isn’t actually managing the company. If the salesperson comes out to the house, he/she 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 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. If a salesperson goes out to explain things, he or she is not running leads.

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, but far from the only part. There’s also knowing a sales process for 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/her job to take charge, rather than throwing the salesperson under the bus.

Salespeople need to know some of this too. 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.

Multilingual

Soft skills are what we teach at the CCN Blue Collar Management boot camp. At Maggio Roofing, we began implementing this practice—training installers in soft skills—in the late ’90s. Our workforce consisted almost entirely of immigrants who spoke Spanish.

The fact that the production people didn’t speak English was, at first, 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. But 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; who can communicate not only with us but with homeowners; and 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. |QR


Scott Siegal is owner of Maggio Roofing in Washington, D.C., and also owns the Certified Contractors Network. You can learn more about CCN by going to the website contractors.net.

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