This regularly recurring column is brought to you by APSP’s Manufacturers Council, featuring hot issues impacting today’s industry, business insights and tips you can use to enhance your personal development and business success.
The pool industry is a trade you are always learning. It is virtually impossible to arrive at the point where you know everything you need to know about the pool business. Every service call you make, even if it’s been on your route for 10 years, is a “surprise.” You have no idea what you’re about to walk into.
Hopefully you’ve done your due diligence beforehand and have a pain-free visit. As you progress in your career, you learn to find the solutions to little problems before they become big problems. Ultimately, that’s how you run a successful pool business.
And so you’ve realized that if you don’t hire and train your company’s new employees really well — a relatively small problem — you’ll soon have bigger problems like maintaining quality and overstretching resources. But how are you going to train them well enough to make them as efficient as you?
From my own experience, training is one of our industry’s biggest weaknesses. By that I mean it’s one of those things that often appears to be overlooked or approached with an “ah, let’s just wing it” attitude.
While that casual approach is common, I’ve found that infamous saying, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link” is inevitably true in the pool industry. In fact, for smaller companies, a weak link can destroy your company. Take the time required to train hires properly and make them an extension of you. Below are some tips on how to do so.
HIRE BEFORE YOU REALLY NEED THEM
Your employees are overloaded; there’s barely enough time to take a break or eat lunch. God forbid you get some inclement weather — now you’re really behind. Because of the extra stress, an employee gets fed up and walks out on you. Now you’re in desperation mode and are scrambling to get a body just to limp through the day to get your pools done. This vicious circle happens time and time again. (And quite often to the same company!) How can we avoid this killer mistake?
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Hire when you don’t really need new employees. That way you can really take the time to train them. Have them shadow a few of your other employees. I’m sure they will appreciate the extra help. Heck, you may start getting better work out of them while simultaneously giving your new employee time to adapt to the way you want things done. It’s a win-win and vital to your success as a company. Going through the expense of hiring someone early may not only save you thousands in mistakes in the future, it may also save your company.
LESS EXPERIENCE, LESS HEADACHES
You hired early? Great, now you’re on your way. Let’s talk about experience! The less experience they have, the more time you’ll spend training them. It’s as simple as that. Not only are you teaching them how you want things done, but you’re also teaching them what to do. Personally, I’m a big advocate of hiring someone without industry experience. That way you’re not spending time and resources having to undo someone else’s bad habits.
Here’s a personal example: About a year or so ago I was out at one of my properties servicing the pool and a guy rolled right up in a competitors’ truck. He was working, too. He made some small chit chat with me for a few minutes and asked if I was hiring. I was. So, I asked him to tell me about how he cleans a pool. The first thing he said was that he cleans a pool in 5-6 minutes. I interrupted him and asked if that was full service. He said yes. I abruptly ended the conversation and went on my way.
I’m sorry, but it’s not physically possible to fully service a pool in 5-6 minutes. Clark Kent himself could not do that. I did not want to try to break his habits; we would constantly be bumping heads because he is obviously used to taking shortcuts.
On the other hand, a hire with zero experience does not know any better. That person is not thinking in the back of his/her head, “Boy, the last company I worked for didn’t make me clean a pool like this.”
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Don’t automatically turn down a potential hire because they have no experience. Hiring them and taking the time to correctly train them may be the best thing you ever did for your business!
DON’T MAKE THEM GO SOLO AFTER THE FIRST WEEK
You hired someone early. Check. You chose to hire someone with no experience. Awesome. You’re almost there! To keep things going well, don’t hire them and put them on the road right away. There’s no need to, and all that’s going to do is cause you problems down the road. Why? I’m glad you asked!
Even seasoned veterans need more than one week of training before you put them on their own route. They need to learn how you want things done. Are you using a service software program that he/she has never used before? That could take much longer than a week to learn, especially if they are not technologically savvy. Do they know how you want them to load up and tear down at the end of each day? Things like this take time to learn for a new hire, regardless of experience.
My most recent hire had zero pool experience. (Yes, I do practice what I preach.) I did not cut him loose after a week, a month or even two months. He shadowed me and I trained him for three months before he serviced a pool by himself and in his own truck. By that time, he was very comfortable with servicing a pool, talking with the clients he met months ago, troubleshooting problems and so much more. This is because I invested the time to train him properly.
A side note here: Clients do not like seeing a new tech each week. So, if I put him on a route without the clients getting a chance to meet both of us together, that could make the transition a little harder for my clients.
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I hope this article has spurred some thinking about how to train future hires. Remember, there are few things as important as good hiring and training. It’s amazing how much easier that makes everything else.