What’s all the buzz about the importance of creating the right sort of “culture” within your company if you hope to have any chance at all in achieving success over the long term? Webster’s definition of “culture” includes the ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc., of a given people in a given period.
So how does that apply to the success of an HVACR company?
Peachtree Heating and Air Conditioning, Atlanta, GA — the company I operated from 1990 until 2002 — enjoyed tremendous growth and profitability during that 12-year period. This HVAC service, maintenance, replacement, accessory, and IAQ company (Peachtree did not participate in new-construction work) grew from $4,000,000 in revenue in 1990 (with 4,000 maintenance agreement customers and pre-tax profits of 7%), to almost $18,000,000 in revenue in 2001 (with over 18,000 maintenance agreement customers and pre-tax profits of 17%).
I am absolutely certain we would not have been successful in increasing the bottom line — profitability as we did in the face of such tremendous growth — had we not established and constantly reinforced and monitored a clear and concise company culture.
For example, in 2001 alone, Peachtree completed over 70,000 service calls and 2,700 equipment installations. Having 60 to 70 service technicians and 16 to 18 two-man installation crews driving through extremely heavy Atlanta traffic in company-identified vehicles, and working in homes and businesses while wearing company-identified uniforms, could have been a recipe for disaster had we not developed, practiced, reinforced, and monitored an appropriate company culture.
Realizing that the vast majority of work our technicians performed — as well as the over 1,700,000 miles they drove every year in our vehicles — took place outside of their direct observation and supervision, our management team fully understood the importance of a firmly established company culture.
In 1990, when our management team first began developing a company culture, we overcomplicated the entire issue to the point our co-workers did not fully understand the culture, or what it actually meant on a practical basis. In other words, we did not have full “buy-in” among all our co-workers. We then applied the age-old Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) principle. In late 1990 our company culture was finally established as follows:
WIN! + WIN! = WIN!
The First Winner: The Customer
Everyone in our company understood that in every interaction with a customer, the customer was to always be the first “winner.” The customer was to receive full value for every dollar he or she spent with us. They, along with their property, were to be treated with the utmost care and respect. Whenever possible, we were to conduct our business with customers at their convenience, not necessarily at our convenience. Every service or maintenance call, as well as every installation, was to be thoroughly quality-audited at the end of the procedure. And finally, at the end of each call, the customer was to be told how much we sincerely appreciated their business and that we truly valued them as a customer.
The Second Winner: The Co-Worker
Managers and supervisors were taught to understand the importance of treating all co-workers with dignity and respect. Co-workers were given the appropriate training, equipment, and tools to perform their tasks correctly and safely. Our management team knew that our co-workers’ careers and families were as important to them as ours were to us. Co-workers were communicated with so that each of them fully understood how they, as well as the company, were performing against clearly established performance standards and goals.
If corrective action was necessary when dealing with a co-worker, it took place in a private environment and in a calm, constructive, positive manner. All co-workers understood their jobs and the criteria used for measuring their job performance. Co-workers received a minimum of 60 hours of training per year. Co-workers were recognized and presented with rewards at the monthly company communication meeting.
The Third Winner: The Company
During the period of 1990 to 2002, Peachtree was successful in achieving remarkable growth and profitability, as well as becoming the HVAC Employer of Choice in the Metropolitan Atlanta marketplace. Peachtree Heating and Air Conditioning has received widespread recognition throughout the HVAC industry. The establishment, practice, reinforcement, and monitoring of its Win! + Win! = Win! company culture helped make it all possible.
Over the next three issues of HVACR Business we will go into greater detail and present a step by-step process to assist you in establishing a winning company culture in your business.