NORTH FEATURES


Train Like it's a Title Fight

Every owner is going to take some blows, but keep punching
By Steve Rak II


Sometimes I think running a business is like a contact sport. If you're a business owner then you know what I'm talking about.

Think about it, you get to work in the morning and your best foreman is waiting to talk to you. He informs you that Chuckles Mow and Blow down the road has just offered to pay him $1 more per hour than you so he is quitting.

Wham! The first hit of the day.

After that, still somewhat shocked, you proceed into your office and begin listening to your voicemail and Mrs. Jones is on the machine yelling that your crew ran into her new bird feeder last time they were there and now she wants you to pay for a new one.

Bam! Another blow to the body.

As you're recovering from the voicemail you begin opening the weekend mail (Yes, it's Monday of course!) and you find a letter informing you that you have just been kicked out of your workers' comp group because of the accident Izzy had last year. That was the one where he cut the tip of his finger off with the hedge shears. Your new workers' comp rate is now five times higher than last year's rate.

Kaboom. A sharp right to the chin, you're reeling and the day just started.

Been there, done that

Everything that I just mentioned has happened to me in my business over the years and I would bet that you have some familiar war stories to share, as well. The question is what are we doing about these problems? Are we training like athletes? If not, why aren't we?

I know this sounds a bit crazy, but think about this for a minute: Do you think a professional football player would go into a game without any training? Or, would a boxer get into the ring without any preparation?

That just sounds plain stupid doesn't it? Yet, there are many business owners that walk into the ring every day and get sucker punched. It doesn't have to be that way. All we need is to train and be ready for whatever comes our way. I know some professional basketball players say they can see the ball go through the hoop before it ever leaves their hands. They get this from training.

Now I'm not the biggest sports fan in the world, but I have learned a few things about sports over the years. For some reason, I often find myself relating what I observe and learn from sports to business. I'm just weird that way.

So how can we "train" for the above situations I just described?

Let's look at the first one, where our best foreman is quitting for $1 more per hour. If we're really paying attention to our employees and the morale and culture of our company then we should never be blindsided like this. If we as owners haven't attended a seminar, read a book or made a point to learn something about employee relations, then how can we expect to be able to deal with these issues when they occur?

If you do not have an HR person on staff then it's your responsibility to be that person. I've attended many seminars over the years on this very topic and I'm confident that I'm much better equipped to handle these situations when they happen again. If you get the proper training you can even on occasion head these problems off before they happen. You see the ball go into the hoop before it ever leaves your hands.

Onsite resolution

Let's move on to the bird feeder. What would Mrs. Jones have done if the scenario went like this? Your employee hits the bird feeder, but then promptly knocks on Mrs. Jones' door and informs her that he will be back with a $50 gift certificate to Home Depot so she can go out and buy a new one. He does this because your company has a policy that any employee can fix any problem for a customer up to $50 with no questions asked.

The employee knows that he will be reimbursed for the $50 and not yelled at for damaging the bird feeder. Mrs. Jones calls your office and leaves a very nice message saying how conscientious your employees are and thanks you for having such honest people in your organization. The employee has been trained and knows the procedure is to be honest. The employee knows that accidents sometimes happen. The employee also knows that there will be consequences if there is a pattern of damages from him, but that he will be treated fairly.

Insurance lessons

The workers' comp issue is the scariest one here and I have had to deal with this on a very big level. I learned a lesson the hard way on this and, unfortunately, got training after the fact. I learned what to do in a situation where an employee is injured and how to minimize the risk of getting kicked out of my group. I learned about different programs that can help lower your workers' compensation rate if your company takes part in them. I learned what to do next time an injury occurs that would be best for both my company and the employee. I can't really afford to strike out again here.

We can't prepare for everything in business, but we can consistently train ourselves to be better at running our companies. There are resources out there for whatever you are facing on a daily basis. Your local trade association is a good place to start if you need help finding them. PLANET and SIMA are great for this as well. JBusiness doesn't have to be a contact sport if you keep training and keep your head in the game.

The author is vice president of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, and is a partner in Rak Consulting LLC. Contact him at steve@sw-landscape.com.