Searching For the Needle In the Haystack

September 1, 2006
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"Amazing things happen when you make people feel valued as individuals, when you dignify their suggestions and their ideas, when you show your respect for them by allowing them to exercise their own wisdom and judgment and discretion."
- Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines

It is maddening. You know he/she/they are out there, waiting for you. And you need them - badly. I'm talking about clean-cut, hardworking, ethical quality people who want to build a career (and a life) with your company.

This "needle in the haystack" individual also needs you. Your company offers the secure, fun and fulfilling job they have been looking for their entire life.

So, are these "good people" out there? More importantly, will they be interested in a career in the carpet cleaning industry? Let me give a resounding "Yes!" to both questions. But you will need to reject some common industry myths and practices to find, recruit and keep these quality individuals.

Myth No. 1: "Sharp young people don't want to work as carpet cleaners."

Of course they won't, as long as you feel this way about yourself and the career opportunity you are offering (talk about a "self-fulfilling prophecy!). Carpet cleaning is the Rodney Dangerfield of the service industry. After all, we don't get much respect from the general public. But even worse, we don't respect ourselves. So to attract quality people you must appreciate what this industry has to offer and change your attitude and self-image. Let's look at our industry's advantages vs. hiring on with a big corporation through the eyes of a prospective employee:
  1. Create your own job security. More and more young individuals recognize that Corporate America does not offer true job security in today's turbulent business environment. They are tired of slaving away for bloated companies as a faceless clone where mediocrity is tolerated, only seniority is celebrated and their job can be eliminated with the slash of a bean-counter's pencil. You, as the owner of small but thriving service business, can offer an attractive alternative to the anonymity of corporate serfdom. How? By emphasizing to your prospective new employee he or she can create their own "job security" both by helping your company be successful and making themselves indispensable in this quest. If they take this to heart, you will always find work for them. After all, you would be crazy to let them walk away!
  2. "People people" love working with the public. And these socially adept folks who actually enjoy dealing with customers are the ones you should be searching for. Why? It's best summed up in one of my favorite quotes. "Find a job you love, and you will never work another day in your life." Ideally, your employees are going to look forward to coming to work and will therefore stick around long term. It is so much easier to "hire the smile" and then train your worker technically. The right individual will look forward to each day representing your company by happily interacting with the homeowner. The wrong individual will dread it. (Far too many carpet cleaners are stuck with these anti-social losers for technicians. Bad for them, uncomfortable for your clients and horrible for you! )
  3. Great demographics. The current "baby boom" generation has more money and less time than ever before. Even better, there is a renewed interest in caring for and upgrading the home in America. So these affluent dual-income folks will cheerfully pay, and pay well, for a trusted company who uses good people to perform quality work in their home. The result for a prospective employee? More work, more money, no layoffs and opportunities galore!
  4. More freedom and flexibility. Sure, any business (even yours) needs some rules. But if this great employee has made himself indispensable, my guess is you will work with their requests for time off and other personal needs.

Myth No. 2: "I can't afford to pay my technicians well."

Sadly, you may be right. You probably can't pay more. And why not? Because our industry is afflicted with the terrible curse of "Trying To Do It Cheaper Than Everyone Else!" Very likely, the quickest and easiest business improvement you could make right now is to immediately raise your prices. Not just to make more profit (nothing wrong with more money in your pocket!) but also to pay your employees much better.

Some small-business owners hide behind this excuse: "People won't work harder if you pay them more." I will agree that you won't get double the work out of a marginal employee by doubling their wages. However, a quality individual will give you double the output just because he or she is a good person. And, all other things being equal, you will keep this excellent employee far longer if you pay him or her more than they could make at any other comparable job in your market area.

In the final analysis, you are not competing just for "external" customers who purchase cleaning services from you. You are also competing with other employers for "internal customers," the very best employees. This latter competition is even more important for carpet cleaners because you're not selling durable goods. As a janitorial-service owner with more than 300 workers told me once, "Steve, all I sell is people."

It all comes down to the Law of Supply and Demand. Great people are in great demand...and they know it. But trust me, the most important business-growing task you have is to search for quality people that will share your business vision. So always be sure you pay better than your "competition," which is any other job opportunity open to your employees. Life is just too short to work with marginal people. (Note: Obviously there are other equally important non-financial reasons your employees decide stay or leave your company. More on this in future "To Your Success" columns.)

Myth No. 3: "No one can do it as well as I can."

I admit it. This one has a grain of truth in it. Few employees will care as much about your company as you do. Why should they? It isn't their business! But you can't do everything as well as a combined force of diverse individuals specializing in different areas of your company.

Remember, good people want to do good work and they will if you allow them. Fear of delegation is one of the main problems that will stunt the growth of your business. Good employees want to be challenged with more responsibilities while operating within their comfort level. If you fearfully refuse your worker's quest for more personal growth by acquiring new skills and responsibilities, the good ones will get bored and leave. And you'll be stuck with the marginal, dead-end losers!

Ignore these three common myths and you will find the quality of your job applicants greatly improved. Even better, quality individuals will want to work long term in your company. However, long before you are comfortable hiring these star performers you must conquer your fear of Myth No. 4: "If I hire a really great individual, he or she will shortly go into competition against me." I'm convinced that this is the reason many carpet cleaners subconsciously settle for hiring less than the best employees - the fear of training their future competition.

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