What Is the X-Factor In Hiring In Home Performance?

Posted by David Byrnes on February 27, 2014
 What Is the X-Factor In Hiring In Home Performance?

An article published in The New York Times titled "How To Get A Job At Google" got me thinking about one of the most innovative companies in the 21st century. Google, the people who want to "organize the world's information," was named one of the best places to work in 2012 and 2013 not only because of the free food 24/7, but also because of their culture and the Googlers who work there.

It is a place that many in the tech world aspire to work at one time or another. In the article, Thomas Friedman writes about Google's hiring process and how they place more emphasis on the intangibles, more than test scores. How it's more important to adapt to the group dynamics than it is to be always right, and it's true (you can read the article here).

I have lost a lot of money and time over bad employees. Employees who seemed like a great fit when I first hired them. I remember listening to one potential salesperson brag about their 60% close rate at their last company and after doing some homeowner follow-up, I found out they were promising 50% energy savings from radiant barrier alone.

Owning and operating a small home performance company has thrown me in the fire regarding hiring, managing, and firing employees. Personalities vary greatly from the hard-working attic crawler to the ego-centric sales person, and each have to be managed differently. What makes a good employee in the home performance field? What is that X-factor an employer would likely pay a premium to keep? Let's start with our techs who have one of the hardest labor jobs out there.  

How can you tell the ones who are just trying to support their family, from the ones who want to start their own company, to the ones with excellent customer service, to the ones who are excellent workers and can improvise and finish jobs on time and with great results? In my experience, the interview process, the beginning training, and the work culture can't make great employees but they definitely can make your life a whole lot easier. Here is what I do.

  1. Interview: I like asking scenario questions, such as "tell me of a time when..." and fill in things that are on your wish list for customer service, technical expertise, and loyalty. For example, I would say, "Tell me of a time when you really wowed a customer where if you saw them today, they would be happy to see you and give you a big bear hug," or "tell me of a time where you had to improvise on a job," or "tell me of a time when you had a long day, work was tough but you kept pulling through and had a positive attitude." Watch out for fluff answers; it may be cute, but in my experience anyone who was not prepared or was just talking out of their ass is going to cost you more money than they make for you down the road. Be sure to indicate what you are looking for in your job posting as well.
  2. Training: Create "what-if" scenarios. I have taken my 10 most common errors the crew and I have made and put them into this training program. Each of the errors gets displayed by either a photo or just a what-if scenario to the tech and I give a list of multiple choice questions for them to pick the correct answer. The choices are always what has happened in past experiences. Some common ones are not aligning jump ducts in the ceiling for aesthetics, how to enlargen and place a new return flex off a package unit on the roof (crew and auditors), how to measure a return plenum, customer service when arriving and leaving, inside duct sealing, and others. When someone is just starting for you, that is when they are most receptive to your work standards and company culture. That is the time to mold them, not 4 months later when bad habits have already formed. Their effort and interest give me a good idea how much of an X-factor they have.
  3. Work Culture: Every company's culture is different, some contractors are more laid back than others. In our field of unseen perfectionism though, I'd venture to say that it's a given that most of us are pretty anal about our jobs but it's the personalities that we bring to work that shape our culture. I like a work hard, play hard culture, and I enjoy what I do. Time in the attic is a time to catch up on what's new. I take the crew out to eat twice a year as a thanks and give a Christmas bonus to the ones who have been with me for more than a year. If your crew lead is in the attic swearing and yelling, your crew is going to see that and assume that that is the norm and acceptable. Be watchful and guard your company's culture as you would your online reputation.

These are the things that I do to help boost everyone on my team's X-factor. Natural talent is good to have, but like Google, it is the intangible things that separate you from the competition.


David Byrnes owns and operates Green ID, a residential home energy auditing and contracting company in Phoenix, AZ. You can read his original post here.

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