Sunday, April 11, 2010

An apology to all my past employers...

Customers often ask me how I got into this. I usually give them this short version of the story, but sometimes I simply shake my head and say "I don't know. I have no business running any business more complicated than a lemonade stand."

And that's absolutely true. I never took a business class in college, and was never promoted higher than Third Assistant Urinal Scrubber at a pizza joint I used to work for.

So, the majority of the work I do is a learning experience. While the proverbial School of Hard Knocks is a fantastic educator, the mid-terms are brutal and I fear whatever the final is going to be. So, I look for educational resources wherever I can find them. one of these is Dan Kennedy's book called something like "The No B.S. Guide to Ruthless Management of People and Profits."

What an eye-opener. And to say it makes me a little uneasy would be a huge understatement. I've built this business on a few somewhat nebulous principles like having a "service mentality." Or, we Truck Buddies strive to do anything and everything you'd expect a good buddy to do for you on moving day. (Or any other day -- you need a tire fixed on the freeway? We'll be there if we're not on another job.) I've tried to find the right kind of guys who embody these principles. Fortunately, I have a lot of buddies who do. But, in order to handle the growing work load, I've had to go beyond my immediate circle of friends and bring "strangers" into the network.

I wanted this to be the "anti-job," a way for guys between jobs in this crappy economy to be able to live, or at least to be able to make a few extra bucks.This meant joyfully throwing normal professional conventions out the window. Of course I insisted on punctuality, a clean, if not professional appearance, and casual days every day. (Kind of tough to keep a suit clean in this biz anyway). Things I didn't insist on: regular schedules (I have a big network that ensures extra help is almost always available); uniforms; no taking personal calls when on the job, etc. Institutionalizing "slacker tendencies" may seem counter-intuitive, but it's not slackers I'm trying to cultivate. Anyone who's invited into the MTB network knows the deal -- we're here to work hard, wow customers, maybe even make them laugh, and get lots of referrals. It hasn't been easy, but it's worked.

Unfortunately, it's worked at the expense of my sanity and free time. That's why, gradually, bit by bit, I've moved from "Hey man, want to work tomorrow?" to "Yo -- I'm going to need you to meet me at the job by 9:00 or you're fired, even though you don't technically work for me..."

In a million other ways, I've gone from "cool (I hope) guy to work with," to "no-B.S., give-me-an-answer-now" BOSS. I'm not exactly comfortable with the transition, but hey, I just don't have the time to walk lightly anymore.

So, in reading Dan Kennedy's book on management, I find myself cheering at all the advice, and not a few times, nodding in agreement based on experience. For example, here are some of his No BX Ruthless Management Truths:

1. Employees are employees. I flagrantly violate this. My "employees" are my buddies! These are guys I BBQ with, golf with, ask to watch my son so my wife and I can have a date night occasionally. Nonetheless, I'm coming around to a more "stable" business model, and despite all my resistance to the idea, I may have to actually get employees. Sigh.

3. When food is no longer edible, it must be thrown out. When an employee is no longer profitable, he must go. I've had to disassociate with a few guys over the two years I've been doing this. One, because he hit on some of my customers, and while I'm not the morality police, I couldn't stomach working with a guy who would do such a thing because A) it's ridiculously unprofessional, and B) he was engaged. I had to let another guy go because his whole appearance and attitude made customers so uneasy they even said so.

5. Any broken window is one too many. ("Broken windows" refers to anything that makes a business look bad. It can be a literal broken window in a business' store front, or it can be a cluttered show room, disheveled employees, etc.) My "broken windows" are messy trucks, helpers who look like they just got out of prison, bad attitudes, etc. That's why I tolerate very few of these. (See above).

As I read through this book, I realize that I've been "that employee" all my life. I expected everything and offered nearly nothing in return. Oh, sure, I have some talents and skills which eventually translated into a little bit of experience, but now, I realize that I was coasting on my own sense of wonderfulness. What I thought were irrationally uptight supervisors were really frustrated bosses who couldn't understand why their carrots and sticks weren't working.

So, many apologies, former bosses. You should have fired my butt long before I quit. And for those of you who actually did the right thing and gave me the pink slip, good job! I get it now.

No comments: