Like a doctor treating the symptom rather than the disease, employers often focus on the wrong solution to a problem when bringing on new talent. It pays to look deeper.

Bill Thomas owns a mid-sized mechanical contracting company that had been growing quite rapidly in recent years, but lately had stalled out. Bill was everywhere at once – managing the business, meeting prospective customers, staying in touch with important existing customers, keeping the mechanics in the field on their toes and even diving in himself with the tools on some jobs that needed his expertise or when he was short of staff. The business was holding its own, but it wasn’t growing anymore and Bill’s health was suffering due to the long hours and his inability to figure out how to get off of the treadmill.

Solution – “We Need More Sales”

Bill thought that would be the key to growing the business again. With more customers comes more revenue, more profits and a chance to cut back his hours and take it easy for a bit.

Running an online ad for an inside sales rep brought dozens of replies. Sorting through the resumes took a while, but Bill narrowed the pile down to four candidates who he interviewed and finally settled on one person who he offered the job to and who accepted. Compensation would be a fairly low hourly rate plus commissions based on new billed revenue.

Three Months Later

Nothing much had changed. The new inside sales rep was making calls to prospective clients and some new business had been added. Bill was still working crazy hours and still stretched thin trying to keep it all together. No one thing was done completely or well. His office work was always behind and he didn’t enjoy it anyway. The field technicians weren’t particularly well supervised and Bill was sure that they were taking advantage of him – booking more hours than worked, abusing the use of their company vehicles and gas cards, and not putting in a serious effort to really look for opportunities to offer more services to clients when on a job or to help the company by doing some informal business development in the general areas where they were working.

Internally, Bill had no real reporting. His small admin staff wasn’t trained to generate good financial information or even develop operational reporting on company activities. Bill was brought up in the field and really didn’t know what he should have to run a business. He was in the dark most of the time. He knew his bank balance and what jobs were currently in process, and that was about it.

Getting more sales was somewhat helpful, but in some ways it just increased the stress on an inefficient operation where nothing was working well. Bill was nearing the breaking point. He had to do something different because the current path was not leading him out of the mess he was in. He decided to seek some outside advice and gave Kathbern a call.

We sat down with Bill and got a thorough understanding of the current state of affairs. The stress on Bill was obvious, as was his expertise with the technical aspects and the customer service aspects of his craft. Also obvious was the shortfall of his grasp of the administrative, financial and management side of the business. If only he had more time to spend in the field by having a capable business-oriented manager to assist him, he could work more reasonable hours and the business would run better. He could then limit his “inside” involvement to just the very strategic top-level decision-making aspects of the business. More sales would be part of the solution as well, but only after a stronger structure for growth had been built.

We worked with Bill to clearly define what we felt would be a great complementary skill set which would mesh with his own. He wasn’t totally convinced, worrying that without a clear link to “more sales” another body (and not a minimum wage one at that) would be just “more overhead” and would cost more than it was worth. Nevertheless, we proceeded with his (reluctant) approval and moved into the marketplace to identify individuals who had the background and skillset to fulfill our vision for what Bill needed. We were also on the lookout for a personality type that would work with Bill, who can often be gruff and occasionally “colourful” in his choice of language.

Six Months Later

James was hired as Bill’s General Manager six months ago. He is a technician by training and had sales and administrative experience as well. He seemed like a perfect fit.

James dove in head first from the beginning to understand Bill’s business and to get to know the rest of the team. Within a few weeks James began to produce reports on the various activities that the company was involved in and to measure efficiency and cost effectiveness. With the assistance of the company’s outside accountant, James was able to produce a month end package that included both financial reporting and operational reporting. Bill was now beginning to have a clearer picture of his business that he had never had before. He was starting to relax, because he knew what was going on and there were fewer bad surprises. Also, his required office time was reduced and he was spending more time helping in the field, training the new techs and visiting important clients and potential clients. His personal life was finally returning to normal as well.

After James had been on board for about three months, the business was a lot more efficient and controlled. Regular reporting let everyone know what was going on and what needed to be done. At this point, James began to implement a disciplined business development effort, designed to get the company’s name out to prospective clients on a regular basis. He also began a regular daily review of public tender announcements and developed a standard practice of replying to all such tenders that seemed to be within the company’s scope.

Now, after six months, James and Bill are looking forward to plans for the remainder of the year and beginning to think about next year and even the year after. With anticipated growth, more employees will be needed, as well as more tools and vehicles, and perhaps a larger facility. With James’ help, Bill can now contemplate steady growth while maintaining a reasonable lifestyle – both personally and financially.

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