June 17, 2024

You’re the Boss: My Three Problems This Week

Staying Alive

Hi everyone. Here are the problems I’ve been pondering this week:

1) Last year I moved one of my best craftsmen from the shop floor into the office to do sales. We’ve been working together closely, and he’s been very successful. So far this year, he’s made 47 percent of our sales, and I’ve made the other 53 percent, and sales this year have been coming at a pace 35 percent higher than last year. (We’re on track to do $2.1 million this year, as opposed to $1.57 million in 2010.)

Our sales process involves communications by phone and e-mail, and the production of proposals using four different software programs. Nathan has mastered the process, but we both feel that he could be better at speaking on the phone. Phone calls are an important part of the process, but they can be difficult. One has to listen carefully to the client and come up with intelligent solutions to their problems instantly — and then explain them clearly and succinctly. I’m really, really good at this, probably because I’ve been doing it for 25 years. Nathan, without benefit of so much practice, tends to backtrack and repeat himself.

So here’s the question: Does anyone know of a method or program for developing better telephone skills? I did a lot of searching on the Internet and turned up loads of help with public speaking, but that’s different. I’ve been thinking that recording him a few times, so that he can  hear what he sounds like would be a good place to start. But then what?

2) It’s been three years since we did formal employee reviews, but I’d like to get that process restarted. In the past, we had a lengthy list of questions we asked our workers, mainly concentrating on what they thought could be done to improve our production processes. We reviewed once a year, in the spring.

The Partner and I routinely gave out raises to everyone, usually around 5 percent a year. In retrospect, that didn’t work all that well. It’s pretty stupid to ask workers for feedback on their jobs only once a year, and automatic raises led to skyrocketing labor costs without proportional increase in productivity. We now have production discussions every week at our weekly meeting, and I am determined to keep my labor costs in line with the local market.

I’m thinking that the review process will mostly be a way to discuss my perception of how individual  workers are performing, so that they are clear as to what I expect to see from them in the future and so they can tell me what ambitions they have. I can’t promise everyone a series of advancements in the future — we’re simply too small give everyone a career path. (That’s a topic I covered previously.) But I’d like to do what I can. Does anyone have any thoughts on reviews in very small companies or any comments on my current thinking?

3) Speaking of reviews, who reviews the boss? What’s the best way to get my workers to give honest feedback on my performance?

I look forward to your thoughts.

Paul Downs founded Paul Downs Cabinetmakers in 1986. It is based outside of Philadelphia.

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