Working On Your Business: Getting Off the Truck, Part II

Getting Off The Truck To Work On Your Business, Not In It

Getting Off the Truck, Part II

For small business owners, just as there was likely a learning curve every time a new tool was used, a learning curve also exists when the decision is made to hire a new employee at any level. There is a mental effort in training and disciplining an employee. It’s common to think, “This would be much easier to do on my own,” because it would be mentally easier. This is the first “truck” that owners must get off: getting ideas and experiences out of their head and learning how to teach, train, and coach a new employee.

The following story from Chris illustrates this concept. It involves Steve, his high school sweetheart’s father, and his lawn business. Steve was a classic solopreneur until he hired Chris!

Throughout the years, Steve had started several businesses with various partners—some of them family, but that’s a different story. He enjoyed having a simple business offering high quality and regular service. Just like other trades, there is nothing glamorous about cutting lawns, especially in Texas. You wake up early, maintain and clean gas-powered equipment, hope that it doesn’t rain on you, and drink enough water throughout the day for four people. But Steve loved it.

Steve knew that the number of accounts for the upcoming summer were too many to cut on his own and that his operation would be more efficient with two other people in the single-cab Dodge Ram. He devised a plan to hire help for the year, which started with me. Training began two months before the mowing season kicked off. To be honest, running a lawnmower is not difficult, so most of the training took place while we planted spring flowers. We hired the third member of our team as the mowing season started.

As a three-person crew, we each had a job to do and a routine that we followed. With 111 accounts at the height of the season, we started and ended on the same jobs every week. Each one had small but critical details: where there was danger of the mower rolling over as we were on a steep hill, which gates accepted larger equipment, where the high sprinkler heads were located, in which areas it would be more efficient to use a grass trimmer to run through them. Steve continued to give instructions, over and over, until the third helper and I could repeat the plan in the truck on our way to the next service stop. As a focused team of three, we completed more than 20 jobs a day, which led to what I can only assume was a profitable summer for Steve.

The first transition for owners getting off the truck involves shifting from doing work to getting work done through other people. It also involves skills that owners may not have exercised in quite some time, if ever. One of those is trust—trusting someone to do the work as well as you believe you’ve done it. Trusting that they will treat your customers with the same care and attention that you have. Trusting that others will act with integrity regarding their time, the company’s money, and management of the company’s assets.

Skills like communication, organization, and planning are also important. This is a big leap for many entrepreneurs, and one that over 80% of small business owners aren’t willing to take, as mentioned in Part I of this series.

Did you notice how Steve worked through his role as a trainer? For many owners and managers, this role is foreign to them when they first begin training. They may think, “You mean I have to teach someone how to do the work that comes naturally to me?” This is often followed by questions of where to begin, what pieces are critical, what level of work or competency should be expected, what is done when the new employee doesn’t understand the teaching given, along with all of the emotion of getting work done. Use caution here.

Managers, especially new ones, often go from the realization that they need to teach someone straight to the action of teaching them with little or no planning. Using the pattern of “Teach, Train, and Coach” is something to consider for the next time. Here is a basic description of the pattern.

Teach – What does a new person need to know about what they are being taught? Tell a first-time employee the basics of the job in a simple, orderly way. They will likely only retain 30-40% of the information that they take in on any given day. Give them the benefit of knowing critical information now and then build on it over time.

Train – Training is where we test whether or not the employee understood the teaching that was delivered. During this period, the high points of how to complete a task should be repeated along with setting a goal for the task. Take the time to confirm what the steps are, even if they say they understand. Make sure you recognize their activities that regularly follow exactly what you wanted for the position. If not recognized for doing a good job with how you trained them, their actions may fall off one by one.

Coach – Work with new employees doesn’t stop after they have been taught, trained, and spent time with. 30-40% of a manager’s time should be spent with their team, directly working on their skills and increasing the understanding of their positions. This may look like hopping in the truck to observe their skills once or twice a month, reviewing reports from their work area together, or discussing a process change. This is the highest value of a manager’s time because it multiplies the efforts that can be produced.

In part III of this series, we’ll address some of the first positions that an owner who is getting off the truck should be filling.

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