Appreciate Different Styles – They Could Just Make Your Company Better

By Vicki LaPlant

The personality style of the majority of contractors in HVACR closely matches that of medical surgeons. I don’t have any scientific research that validates this belief. However, I have had 30 plus years of observing contractors and, for one reason or another, have interacted with a number of medical surgeons.

Each medical surgeon is a specialist. When my husband was sent to the orthopedist several years ago, it wasn’t just one orthopedist. No, he had to go to one who only did surgery on backs and a different one who only did surgery on hips.

Similarly in our industry, there are installation specialists who design and build sheet metal duct systems for large commercial buildings and those who specialize in residential. The same is true for the service technician who generally specializes in commercial or residential heating and air conditioning equipment. And both of those specialists are very different from the service technician who specializes in servicing refrigeration systems.

Another commonality is personality style. Surgeons, different from most general practitioners, have little or no bed side manner. In other words, the surgeon can often correct the problem for the patient, but don’t expect much if any clear explanation of what the surgery is or how it will be performed. A persistent patient might hear some technical jargon:  “Oh, it is only a minor lobotomy.” Surgery, in my opinion, is only “minor” when it is being done to someone else.

Pretend you didn’t see this coming – the same can be said of HVACR field personnel.

Recently, we conducted a communication seminar for Central Oregon Heating and Air Conditioning in Redmond, Oregon. The seminar included a personality style inventory using the Myers-Briggs Assessment tool.  (This is similar to the Kiersey Personality Style Inventory, but Myers-Briggs was the original instrument and the one that I was trained and certified to use.)

Everyone in the company – ownership, management, office and field personnel – went through the training and took the assessment. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, 86 %, of the almost 50 people, in the company are Introverts. Only one of the Extroverts in the company works in the field. The other Extroverts are office personnel and salespeople. Again, not surprising.

A misconception is that an Extrovert likes people and an Introvert doesn’t. Not true, but the belief persists because Extroverts emote and interact with people more easily. The Introvert, on the other hand, often seems removed and reserved in his comments and shies away from people interaction.

The Myers-Briggs Style Assessment describes the difference between an Introvert and an Extrovert this way: An Introvert prefers to focus on the inner world and an Extrovert prefers to focus on the outer world. As individuals, we use this focus to both gather and process information about the world. So an Introvert prefers to gather information quietly, without a lot of conversation or interaction with others, and processes information gathered internally. An Extrovert prefers to gather information through interaction with others and processes information by discussing with others. The Extrovert prefers to interact and the Introvert prefers to concentrate.

Back to the comparison of the medical surgeon and a person who works in the field installing or servicing HVACR equipment.  Both must have the ability to concentrate on details and to gather and process information without the input of others. After all, it is the surgeon with a scalpel in her hand operating on my lobotomy and I would appreciate her concentration on me and my brain and not on the other people in the operating room. And, it is the technician alone with a furnace trying to determine what is wrong or the installer, generally alone, with the puzzle of an attic, crawlspace, or basement and a piece of equipment to figure out. The ability to gather and process information independently without input from others is critical for both professions.

This is not to say that either profession is excused from the need to interact with the patient or the customer. Sometimes, it is a requirement of a job that requires us to move out of the comfort zone of our preferred personality style.

Some of the best teachers I know are Introverts. People, who did not know these teachers well, would actually peg them as Extroverts. These teachers are more comfortable functioning with their focus turned inwardly, as Introverts, but when required, due to the work environment, can function as Extroverts.

So what is the takeaway of this information?

The majority of service technicians and installers working for you are Introverts and prefer to focus internally. Praise this trait because it actually allows them to be excellent at their job of diagnosing and correcting home comfort problems. And realize that they are not being stubborn or negative about the interaction with customers required by their job – it is just not natural and comfortable. Encourage, motivate, and train your field personnel to interact with the customer more because it is a part of the job. And establish a protocol that the more likely to be Extroverts, office personnel always suggest that the customer ask questions of the installer or service technician if something is not understood.

And, on occasion, hire an Extrovert for the field!

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These group of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area!

Why Not A Woman?

By Vicki LaPlant

Having been in this industry for over 30 years, I have seen many amazing changes. There have been technological improvements in equipment – furnaces and air conditioners that will tell a technician the last 20 faults that occurred. Technological improvements have enhanced interactions with the customers – instant billing of customers from a hand-held tablet, programs that allow a customer to schedule a service call on-line. Improvements in business processes – recognition of the value of maintenance agreements for the customer and the business, the importance of maximizing the return from labor through pricing methodology and pay for performance systems.

So with all these innovative changes, why are there still as few women in the industry as there were when I got in it 30 years ago, especially in the field? Whenever, I ask this question, I am often told:  “I want to hire a woman, but I can’t find one who has the technical expertise.” My answer:  “So all the men you hire for the field have technical expertise or technical experience?”

The best companies in our industry find young people and provide them the technical expertise they need. So while looking for a bright, clean-cut, well-spoken young person with technical aptitude to add to your technical ranks, why not look specifically for a woman?

I recently had a conversation with Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter, a U.S. marine for eight years who says the marines taught her there are two kinds of leaders: “those that are people users and those that are people builders.” She chooses to be the latter as I hope you do. I asked Mary what women bring to an industry dominated by men. She said, “Women bring a different perspective to a company. Without women in its ranks, a company doesn’t have a complete point of view. It doesn’t have the benefit of the full picture.” Men and women approach things differently and we see and hear things differently. Without women in the field, your company is missing half the picture.

Mary Thompson also said, “Our customer is generally a woman and if you have a woman technician interacting with her, the dynamics are different.” Whether nature or nurture, women do listen differently than men. We generally seem to be better at hearing the underlying connotation behind what others are saying. We seem to ask more questions and are better at clarifying what the customer is saying. Isn’t that one of the most important characteristics of a field person? So why wouldn’t you want someone more naturally inclined to use those skills in the field?

Another reason that I am given about not hiring a woman for the field is that “women don’t want the dirty part of the job – attics and crawl spaces.”  My answer:  “And men do?”

Meet Siobhan, an installer for a heating and air conditioning contractor in San Antonio, TX. She recently attended our class on how to educate the customer – not sell the customer. She could have taught the class. Presently, she is a lead installer for her company. We asked her to describe how she approaches an installation and how she interacts with the customer.

First, when she arrives at the home for an installation, she introduces herself and her helper to Mrs. Homeowner. While her helper is setting up for the installation, Siobhan sits down and describes the process of the installation to Mrs. Homeowner. Siobhan makes sure that the homeowner understands what access to the house the installers will need and determines how the installers should enter the home – knocking or not, and verifies the location of all new equipment and new thermostats. Most importantly, she once again offers the homeowner any accessories such as indoor air quality upgrades, humidifiers, line hides, maintenance agreements, etc. that the homeowner did not opt for at the time of the sale.

Next, Siobhan goes outside, puts on her overalls for the installation, and gets to work. Half-way through the installation, she stops, finds the homeowner, and informs her of progress on the job and reassures the customer about the installation.

At the completion of the job, Siobhan reviews her company’s checklist of installation procedures with the customer to demonstrate that all steps have been followed. She shows the customer the new equipment, on her camera phone if necessary, and has the homeowner demonstrate how to change the filter in a new furnaceIn other words, Siobhan doesn’t just show the customer how to do it; she actually has the customer do it. And she has the customer program her new thermostat.

Siobhan is young, tiny, and wiry. I asked her how homeowners react when she shows up at the door.   She said that at first, the customer is somewhat taken aback, but shortly after she interacts with them as described above, the customer is reassured and knows that Siobhan has the technical expertise needed to complete the installation correctly and professionally.

Siobhan has recently been asked to conduct customer service training for all her male counterparts in the installation and service department. And if the men follow Siobhan’s processes, systems, and advice, her company will be a company to be reckoned with.

Okay, no more excuses.  A woman should be the next addition made to your field force. Prove to me that in 30 years, innovation hasn’t just happened in equipment, technology, and processes. Show me that innovation and out of the box thinking is happening in the minds and attitudes of our male-dominated industry.

 

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These group of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area!

Yes, Your Next Hire Should Be A Woman

By Vicki LaPlant

How exciting is it to write an article on why hiring a woman should be a part of your thinking with that next hire? I, like many people (not just women but men as well), stumbled into this industry. Having taught high school English for four years, I didn’t even know an industry such as ours existed. And if I had any conscious recognition of it, my assumption would have been that it was for engineers or people who wanted to work on the air conditioner or heater. (My Texas upbringing is showing.)

The point being is that 30 years ago upon my entry into HVACR, we were an invisible industry and today we still remain so to most young people – men or women. So for career opportunities, the industry is not on the radar. And this is in spite of the fact that Monster.com states that an HVAC mechanic is one of the top 10 highest paying two-year degree opportunities.

So the first answer to the question of why women should enter this industry is opportunity and money. With the shortage of skilled application and mechanical engineers, technicians and plumbers, our industry will continue to require more people for the foreseeable future and it is an industry recognized to pay well. So the opportunities for women are abundant.

Next, this industry needs women. What we bring is an ability to listen, to translate technical language into consumer language, to recognize needs and provide solutions. When I entered the industry, I didn’t know the difference between a heater, a standard furnace, a condenser, an evaporator coil and an air conditioner. Yet, I was hired to write and edit training materials. I didn’t know the technical jargon, but I did know how to communicate and how to explain technical information in a way that students learning the industry could grasp. This is a skill that many women have based on our willingness to ask questions and or for clarification when we don’t understand. I never encountered anyone who wasn’t willing to help me learn the technical aspects of the industry.

This industry also needs motivators. This is another role women do well. We long ago learned how to motivate siblings, our children, spouses, and employees to reach for more, to accomplish things they didn’t always know they were capable of.  In one of my first major career promotions, I had to create a department that had never existed in the company before.  I had to create goals, hire people to accomplish these goals, and motivate them when we were all tired and somewhat despondent. Women do these activities in their everyday lives so why not apply these same skills in an industry that desperately needs them?

Focus and priorities are often missing elements in many businesses. HVACR businesses have a tendency to run in one direction for a while and then an opportunity – sometimes good, but often not – cause the company to change course and move in another direction without a lot of analysis or forethought on whether the company and the skill sets of the employees are ready for the new course of action.

Yes, change is often necessary, but once again, I think women bring clarity of purpose and focus on priorities as part of our skill sets. We have had a great deal of practice organizing and staying focused on what needs to be accomplished today, this week, and this month both at work and at home. Many times in my career in the industry, I have been tempted or even on occasion altered my focus, only eventually to realize that my skill sets and my personal satisfaction required me to be in the role of educating and helping others realize their potential in their jobs or their businesses. I think women bring that ability to the companies that they work for or the companies that they own.

Some of the most successful women I know own HVACR businesses. They bring their skills of organization, prioritization, motivation, and genuine care and concern for employees and customers to their businesses. No wonder women owners are so successful.

One of the new buzz words in the world of business is gamification. So many young people have grown up playing games on their computers and internet that the concept has carried over into the business world. The younger generation wants to like where she or he works. They want to have fun at work. And who better than a woman to understand how much more effective and efficient people are if work seems like fun? (If you question this logic, just watch the next time a Mom gets toys cleaned up with a timed race.) I always understood the importance of making work fun. At one point, in my career, I had a department of 80 people and once a quarter, we organized a “fun day.” One time, we went bowling at two in the afternoon. Another time, we had a road rally with clues. Work for all of us can sometimes be drudgery so from time to time, do something fun and let women help you with that.

Yes, I stumbled into this industry, but don’t let my mistake become yours. Instead, seek out this industry if you are a woman or if you are looking for an employee, make sure you are including women in that search.

 

Service Roundtable is dedicated to growing your bottom line and helping your business maximize its full potential. These groups of contractors work together to assist you with marketing, sales, business, and so much more. Twice a month, seminars around the United States and Canada are held to network and further assist your business. Visit Service Roundtable.com to see if there are Success Days in your area!