PODCAST: How to Stabilize Then Strengthen Your Business During Uncertain Times, by SGI President Rebecca Cassel
Now Is the Time to Focus on Culture, Overcommunicate with Your Team, Tighten Up Your Operations, Increase Your Marketing, and Know That a Brighter Tomorrow Is Soon on Its Way.
The following interview was conducted on SGI’s recently launched podcast: The Successful Contractor. It is available to both members and the podcast-listening world through every major player, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and Pandora.
We have new episodes dropping every week! You can listen to this interview with SGI President Rebecca Cassel sharing highly strategic insight on how to lead your team through these challenging times—or check it out in the written format below. This podcast is created for residential contractors across HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, and Roofing.
Rebecca, for those who don’t know you, could you give them a short version of your history in contracting and with SGI?
Sure, absolutely. I’ve spent the last 24 years in the home-services business. And my husband and I have owned two HVAC businesses together. He actually has owned several others, but that was prior to me meeting him. But in 1999, we wanted to help contractors and invested in a group called Success Group International, which is SGI today. And we both held executive positions there for many years. In 2014, we had the opportunity to buy SGI and are continuing to help contractors achieve the success that they desire through proven business systems.
Thankfully, most of the contractors SGI works with have been deemed essential in their states and provinces. What’s been your message to them? How have you been trying to keep them positive?
So, first of all, I think you said something that’s really key—that is that we are essential. And I’ve really tried to relay to our membership that we’ve been given a gift that many other industries have not. We are very lucky that we actually can go out and still earn a living. While it being hard, I’m very thankful for that and I’ve tried to make sure that people can stay focused on that.
I also have wanted them to be very focused on the fact that, while we aren’t doctors or nurses, our technicians are heroes. They are the people that are going out there into the home, serving the customer, and taking care of their needs. And so, our contractors’ jobs as leaders is to make sure that the technicians, their call-takers, their dispatchers—everyone who works for them—keep that positive mindset. That’s been one thing.
The other thing I talk to them a lot about is find things they can solve. So right now, things are very hard and it’s easy just to say, “This is too hard.” Our job as leaders is to help find solutions for new ways to adapt to this current situation. And then of course, I’m telling them all the time, “Focus on what you can control.” We have no control over what’s going on with this virus. We have no control on what our states are mandating for homeowners to do. And so, we have got to stay focused on what we can control.
What are some of the things that contractors in residential service should be focusing on daily to find success even in these trying times?
Go back to the basics. These are the things we should be focused on every single day, but right now, I think they become even more important. And first of all, since we depend on our people to deliver great service and take care of the customer, we really need to be focusing on our people and our culture. Really, how are they doing? What are their concerns? What do they need from me as a leader? And how can I help them? How can I protect them? And how can I inspire them to go out every single day and do what they do? So, first of all, people are so essential. This is a people business. It’s kind of our machine. We have products, but in order to deliver those products and in order to deliver the service, our people are the machine. And so that is a critical thing to focus on. We know that if we focus on our team, they’ll go out and then take care of the customer.
Of course, that’s a huge focus of ours right now—letting our customers know that we are protecting them as well, and that we are open. I think a lot of homeowners right now don’t understand that we are essential, we are open, and we’re taking all these precautions. Everything the CDC says, we are doing— gloves, masks, shoe covers, sanitized trucks and equipment, and taking temperatures of our employees before they head out to homes.
We must also have a daily focus on our numbers and our KPIs. This is a business that is driven from calls, and so, we need to understand what our call count is. Right now, what’s going on is challenging. We may have fewer calls. We need to focus on what we can do to increase that call count or maximize the opportunity on every single one that we have to make sure that we can cover all of the overhead expenses. I mean right now I’ve been talking to members saying, “Hey, you might just need to be able to break even, so that we can cover the overhead, and so that we can get through these challenging times, so that you’re really financially going to be okay.”
You mentioned communicating with your team. What does that look like in today’s environment? How often should contractors be talking to their team members?
You know, I don’t think you can overcommunicate right now. And I think we’re having to find more creative ways to do that. I know we’re using Zoom to be able to do morning huddles. And those are our times where we can get together with our teams in groups and get to see their faces. But then also via texting, we’re doing a lot of celebration via text and a lot of high fives via texting. But also, I think we are now going back to the good, old pick-up the phone and talk to somebody, hear their voice, and making sure that they’re okay. I know that FaceTime and technology today has allowed this to be a little bit easier than it would’ve been 20 years ago, so thank God for that. I would suggest if you can, do a group message or a group communication every single day. And then, if you can touch base with as many people one-on-one, whether that’s via text, via phone, via email, FaceTime, whatever, that is critical, too.
You mentioned earlier that call volumes for most people are down. Contractors obviously want to stress to their teams the importance of every call and every appointment. How do you do that without putting pressure on them, which could lead to unethical behavior?
We have a tool that we’ve used for years, and this is a tool that guides the technician on what they’re supposed to be doing in the home. And a lot of times, when we have lots of calls and business is normal, we’ll rush through some of the things that we need to be doing. So, what we’ve done at our company is just reminded our technicians, “Hey, you have time to go through the ‘Systems Performance Report’.” And you also have to remind them that it may take them a little bit longer to do some of these calls because we are taking all these extra precautions. So, you’re going to have to sanitize your tools after every single call. You’re going to have to make sure that you’re wiping everything down. You’ve got to overcommunicate all these extra things that we weren’t communicating before. So, we are seeing that maybe you’re not running as many calls, but the amount of time that we’re spending has been fantastic to be able to build the relationship, or to be able to be more thorough. I think most people are happy, even though they might not be running the normal number of calls, but if they are seeing the ability to be able to stay busy and continue to work, install, repair, I think that’s what we focus on.
When business owners are looking at big goals that they’ve set for the year, the second quarter may not be the best. Should they recalibrate their year-end goals, or should they still just strive to achieve them and if they fall short just understand, hey, this was out of my hands, I did the best I could, and try to learn something? What are your thoughts on that?
I think this might be a different answer depending upon where people are and what their situation is. I mean I think there are people all over the US and Canada right now that are being affected by this in different ways. If I’m in a hotbed of where the virus is, I’m probably going to see dramatic changes to the amount of revenue or the amount of calls I’m going to have. And so, in those types of situations, especially if they’re prolonged, I would recalibrate your goals. I would do an estimate of where you think you’ll be at the end of the year. Because what we don’t want to do is have these high expectations when people come back, and it’s a little bit more normal, and it demoralizes our team, right? They’re going to go, “Why do we have the same goals? We had all this challenge going on, it was out of our control, and now you’re going to hold my feet to the fire?” To your point, that can drive unethical behavior. I believe that the culture that you create in your company will drive the right behavior. We provide 100 percent money back guarantees. Our guys know that we will take care of the customer whatever it costs, then there’s accountability for them to do the right thing.
When it comes to goals, we want to make sure that they are attainable and that they are achievable. And with what’s going on, it’s probably unlikely in a lot of peoples’ cases that they’re going to end up at the end of the year where they thought. On the flip side, I know people right now who are exceeding their goals. They’re blowing things away because they’re able to be able to go out, they’re still generating a tremendous amount of revenue. It comes down to a case-by-case basis. Goals always have to be achievable, to be attainable. Goals have to be something that will inspire people to push forward. If there’s no realistic way to do that, I would definitely recalibrate the goals. If you’re exceeding them, and you believe that you’ll be able to continue to work your plan as is, then I would continue just to move forward with that.
At SGI, we talk a lot about core values and establishing culture. I know it’s easy to lose sight of those when this all struck. Many people were in panic mode. Once everyone has had some time to gather themselves, why is it more important than ever to re-emphasize your core values?
Well the whole purpose of core values is to help drive the decisions that get made in your business. And right now, there are a lot of hard decisions that are getting made. And so, we need our teams to be aligned with who we are and what we’re doing more than ever before. We really want to continue to stress our core values and talk about them. They do shape your culture and they do inspire action. It’s critically important that everyone is reminded of that, and that will feed into the vision. It will feed into the messaging. And then it will inspire your team to continue to say, “Hey, this is who we are, this is where we’re going, and we’re going to come out on the other end stronger for it.”
What are some things contractors can do to kind of strengthen their culture now, given the challenges of coming together?
I think we touched a little bit on that already, which was communicate, communicate, communicate. Our teams need to be lifted up every day. And they need to be reminded that they are heroes. I really communicate that to my team a lot. They’re heroes, they’re essential, and I’m thankful for them, and I’m thankful for our opportunity to have jobs. And I just remind them every day that we are very blessed to be able to be doing what we’re doing. And so, they need to hear that message all the time.
I would also then schedule one-on-one time with as many people that you possibly can, to just check in with them how they’re doing, how their family is. What can we do to help them? And I also remind them, “Hey, this is going to pass. This will be something that we’ll look back on and go, what did we learn? How do we get better? What efficiencies did we get? What are things about our business that are going to be changed forever as a result?” But from the fun perspective, I do think it’s critical to make sure that people have the opportunity to laugh, so if there’s an opportunity to have just a Zoom meeting or Zoom get-together where you’re seeing everybody, they’re maybe talking about some positive things, talking about what they’re grateful for, and being able to connect that way. There are some virtual ways that we could still instill a little bit of fun.
Contests are fun right now. You could also send them a care package to their home. The little things are appreciated more so now, just because we’re limited on what we can do.
Another thing that we should continue to do to foster culture is train as much as we possibly can. If we don’t have calls, or as many calls as are needed, I know lots of people who are investing in their people and have a training culture.
Some states are opening up. What should contractors be doing to prepare themselves for when things start to normalize a bit more and the demand starts to increase?
I would be prepared to be very busy. If people are putting off having people in their home because they are concerned about what’s going on, then they will need someone eventually. And with all the people at home right now, they’re putting a lot of stress on their home and their systems. I think right now we should be advertising, so when all of that happens, people will know we are the company that they should call. I think it’s very important to focus on being where your competition is not so that we are top of mind.
I’d also be focused on recruiting. Right now, I know there are companies that have laid off people in my marketplace. We are actively recruiting and have put more of a campaign together to talk about the fact that we stayed open, we stayed busy, and here’s what it’s like to work at our company. And that’s starting to resonate in the marketplace via radio and some of the other things that we’re doing. So, I would definitely be recruiting and be very focused on getting anything in my business that’s not organized or systemized in place so that it’s really smooth when things start to return to normal.
In wrapping up, what are you doing on a personal basis to keep yourself centered and positive?
Well the thing that I have pretty much eliminated is the news and getting on social media in a very limited basis. I just feel like what’s on there right now is very negative and some of it’s not accurate. There’s so much misinformation. I just choose not to watch it. I choose to go to the sites that give me fact-based information. And I really try to focus on what I can control.
I know that being fearful and panicking, no good decisions get made when those things happen. I’ve really tried to find positive influences. I also make sure that I have people in my life that if I’m starting to be concerned or have a challenged mindset, I can pick up the phone and call them and say, “Hey, okay, talk me off the ledge here, I’m having a moment.” And it gets me right back on track. But, yeah, choosing my attitude and choosing my mindset every single day is something that I think all of us need for success through this.
If I’m not mistaken, at dinner, doesn’t everyone in your family take a turn to say something they’re grateful for? Even with everything going on, we can be thankful about at least something.
Absolutely. So, we used to do this when we just were on vacation. We would share what was our favorite part of the day at dinner. And once we all started being at home and having more family dinners together—we’re calling it a staycation—I said, “Why don’t we share our favorite part of the day every day?” And so, it’s turned into kind of something that we’re focused on: What was good today? What was our favorite part? What are we thankful for? And it’s been interesting, some days are funnier than others, but yes, we have instituted that new tradition now every day.
Last question, any last bit of advice you’d share with contractors?
As leaders, we are really being tested right now. And everyone is watching us, our employees, our families, and you set the tone. If you are scared and fearful, then that is what your employees are going to be, that’s what your family is going to be. We must find ways to lead people, inspire people, stay positive, have a great mental mindset, and stay strong. And we will come out of this stronger on the other side if we take that approach.
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