Sunday, February 26, 2012

20 seconds of Courage: Facing Down Your On Board Terrorists

Sometimes as cleaning business owners, we manage to convince ourselves that our problems are special and unique.  We do not think anyone can understand what we face every day and no one has ever had the same kinds of issues.  This week I have been in Texas all week for the Home Cleaning Technician class ( and then I met with some cleaning business owners and college friends.  I was meeting with a friend from college who owns a company.   Her company is nearly identical in size to mine with the same number of employees.  But she does not own a residential cleaning company, she has a physical therapy practice.  She bills over $100 an hour and her employees must have a Master’s Degree.  Her employees as seen as true professionals.  She has to be bringing in 3 to 4 times the revenue that I am with the same number of employees.  What on earth does she have in common with my business were I have to fight like mad to bill over $30 an hour and many employees did not graduate high school? 

She is being driven crazy by her employees.  Some have bad attitudes.  Some call off way too often.  Her call off rates are 2 to 3 days per MONTH.  She has no idea who is going to show up to work from day to day.  She told me one of her “favorite” and “best” employees calls off the most.  She is terrified to be too tough her therapists, especially the “good” ones, because they may go independent and do home health care without all the same over head that she has with office rent, liability insurance, and so on.  She is starting to hate her business because she feels trapped by her employees who could go out on their own and steal her clients at any time.  It is a conversation I have had hundreds of times with cleaning service owners.  We often fool ourselves into thinking we have the problems we do because of the “type” of people we employee.  I have news for you, all service businesses have the same issue whether you pay your people $9.00 an hour or $50.00.  It is a problem of leadership, not a problem of the “type” of employees we have.

I have also been reading a new book “Selling Sunshine” by Tony Hartl.  Tony made his fortune by building the largest and most successful chain of tanning salons in the world.  My brother, who owns My Maid Service Dallas, is also owns a barter brokerage and Tony is one of his clients.  Shawn said Tony is a great guy and gave me a copy of his book to read on Wednesday.  I am only on chapter three but I love what I have read so far.   Tony’s business sounds so much like ours.  I am going to quote him here. 

“Starting early in my career, I refused to be held hostage by employees, even if it meant taking extreme measures.  I always believed that I could work myself out of any situation.  I wasn’t going to let the inconvenience of working longer or harder get in the way of pulling the trigger on a problem employee.  You just do what’s got to be done.

I was having some staffing issues, and rather than put up with it, I fired five people in one fell swoop.  Obviously, that created a huge gap in the work schedule, forcing me to open and close the club for several weeks.  I had to work around the clock and sleep at the club to pick up the slack.  Believe it or not, this schedule was much better than dealing with problem employees.”

Tony eventually created a culture that attracted some of the best employees but if you think he never made a mistake, you are wrong.  Bad employees will sneak in and you need to get rid of them as soon as possible, regardless of the cost.  Keeping them is far worse than losing them, no matter what you may think.  At an ARCSI meeting, one of our speakers had a great name for these employees. He called them On Board Terrorists.  They will do everything in their power to take you down from the inside.  They recruit others to their cause and they take customers as hostages.  They will terrorize you and your good employees until they destroy your company and your peace of mind.  You need to get rid of you on board terrorists as soon as you identify them.

Finally circling back to our industry, at the House Cleaning Technical class in Dallas I met a franchisee with 4 offices in two states most of us only visit on vacation.  This man is living the dream.  His business runs largely without him and he summers in one state and spends his winters in a much warmer client.  We asked him to tell us about a turning point in his business.  He told us that several years ago he realized one of his offices was having a huge morale problem.  He tried several times to fix it but nothing seemed to work.  He finally fired everyone in that office including the manager.  He literally was left with an empty office with a list of clients and no employees to do the work or even train new employees.  He called all the customers and explained what was going on and if they would stay with him for 3 or 4 weeks he would have a better staff in place to service them and he would give them a free cleaning.  He replaced the whole group including training in three weeks and lost only 3 customers a result.  He was losing more than three customers a week due to the poor service and attitude from the previous employees.  He said it was both one of the most difficult and best decisions he ever made in his business.  He learned he never had to be heard hostage by his employees again.

This is all a lesson it took me far too long to learn.  I kept poor performers on for too long because I was worried about how to service my clients.  I have learned it is far better to call a client and politely tell them you are short on staff than to send a bad employee into their home.  Of course I want to do everything in my power to hire the best possible people.  But when a bad person sneaks by or when a good employee goes bad, you have to make the hard decisions.   You are in charge.  If you don’t do it no one will.  To quote Tony again, “You just do what’s got to be done. “

Let me give you one more thought of encouragement.  I went to a movie with my daughter this weekend, “We bought a Zoo.”  In that movie one of the main characters explains to his son that your life is often shaped by just 20 seconds of insane courage.  Your business is not so different.  When we are truly honest with ourselves, we do not fire people due to fear.  We know it needs to be done but we hate firing people and we are afraid of what will happen when we do.  There was a discussion I saw on Linkedin this week when someone asked “When is it time to fire an employee?”.  My answer which I still believe is as soon as you start to ask that question about someone, it is time to let them go.  In all my years in this business I have never had a problem employee that turned around nor have I met a cleaning company owner that did.  You need to be fair and follow your procedures but when the time comes, you need to muster up your 20 seconds of insane courage and just do it.  Do not drag it out with some long lecture.  Be professional but be polite.  “I am sorry but you have broken company policies too many times and I need to let you go.  We will need your company supplies back tomorrow by 9 AM.  We will send you your final check on Friday”  Done.  20 seconds of extreme bravery.  If you cannot do that, I honestly recommend you sell your clients and go work for someone else.  If not you will never have employees who work for you, you will be working for them and it is far better to work for 1 boss than working for multiple employees.  It pays better too.


Shayla Glass said...

Great thoughts you had on how to handle employees. I am a very small cleaning service (right now, anyways!) and have only one employee. She is family and we get along well, so let's hope nothing goes sour there! She and I have talked about when my company will be ready to hire more employees, and that we will have to have a company policy laid out. These will be things I will have to think about - I will have to set standards, rules, guidelines, policies... But I think you are right: if you don't take charge and command, your employees will be running you, and you will no longer be in control. Sometimes it is necessary to make that brave move if it means maintaining quality, fairness, and the integrity of your company.

Cherylanne said...

Great post Derek - I think it applies equally to firing terrorist CLIENTS - 20 seconds of bravery but it makes all the difference to your employees...

Amy Armour said...

20 Seconds of Courage, will that be a movie that will be out in 2012? Sound like a great title for one. :)