People thought this would never happen (including me!)...

For many months now, probably even a couple of years if I think back, some of my installers have been asking me when am I going to get out there and experience what they go through day in day out and actually get stuck in to one of our installations on site.

I’d decided a long time ago that it was never going to happen. Not because I’m too important to install our tanks, or too soft(!), it’s always been because I consciously decided that I have to do what I’m good at in the business and they have to do what they’re good at. That made simple business sense to me. Play to people’s strengths and make sure you’re spending your time creating the most value for the business as possible, which for me meant not spending a day installing crates in a hole in the ground. 

That was however until a few weeks ago, when we were really up against a deadline on a tank installation. Suddenly it became a question of; “do I spend my Saturday recovering from the week and getting some well-earned R&R or do I do my bit and contribute to the Saturday morning team who we’d drafted in to catch up on a job that was taking longer than it should?” So of course, I chose the customer over free-time, as most of us would, and I got stuck in.

It’s 7:30am on a Saturday morning and I find myself on site in London in torrential rain, preparing to spend the morning clipping blocs together and trying to get us caught up on this particular installation. It was wet. Really wet. But it was fun! Finally after all this time I was actually doing some work on site! Anyone that knows me will know this is not exactly my comfort zone. I didn’t choose the construction industry because I like wearing boots, a hard hat and hi-viz jackets like some people! In the past I have pretty much done whatever I can to avoid having to go to site meetings, it’s just not really my area of expertise! I’m much more suited to an office, with carpets, and a coffee machine. You get the picture! But that was back then. It’s all different now!

I’m not professing to be an expert now or anything, far from it, but I got stuck in. I did my fair share! It was hard work. A lot of hard work. And of course, I wasn’t used to it, or more-so my body wasn’t used to it, so I felt it the next day. And the day after that! But I got so into it that I was actually back there on Monday morning. You know, once you get involved with something and the end 

is in sight, you want to see it through! So I decided it was worthwhile to get there for another early start on the Monday morning. I didn’t see it through to completion in the end because I had some of my ‘normal’ work to do from lunchtime onwards on the Monday but it did mean I got to work with another couple of our installation team. Which meant that they’ve also seen me do it so they can’t go on at me anymore about it either! It was quite the eye-opener though. However well you think you know how things work, until you’ve actually been there and done it yourself you don’t know it all. You can be close, but I would certainly say after this experience that the best way is to just do it and fully immerse yourself in the situation. Get involved. See life through your team member’s eyes and experience things first-hand.

It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to wearing a disguise and going in to different parts of the business like they do on ‘Undercover Boss’. I can totally see why they go in undercover though, because I did get treated differently and that’s not really the point when you’re trying to see life through other people’s eyes. It’s such a powerful experience to spend a day doing someone else’s role. Have you ever done it? I’m not talking about having done it in the past. I’ve worked my way up so I’ve worked in yards and in warehouse’s and answered all the calls in the sales office, I’m not talking about having done it one day in the past, I’m talking about doing it right now. To see how that part of your business operates in the present moment. Is it as good as it should be? Do things happen like you want them to? Are people following clear procedures? Is everything done in the quickest and most efficient way possible? If you don’t immerse yourself in it and try it for a few hours or a day or so then how do you ever really know? I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t trust your people and what they tell you, I trust all of my team in every area of the business, but to experience it first-hand, completely yourself and do the job itself, that’s when you learn about what could be better. Or what needs to change. Or what’s really good and should be rewarded. 

I’ve gone full-circle on this subject and it’s all because I chose to spend a Saturday getting wet and dirty on a construction site. Those few hours on that day, followed by some hours on the Monday morning, have given me laser-sharp focus on what needs to happen with our installation business. I’m very grateful for it too, because our installation business accounts for almost a third of our total sales. That’s a big chunk of business to treat at arms-length. Especially when in reality it’s our installation teams and the job that they do that gets most viewing from our customers. They’re the ones many of our customers will remember because they’re the last people they deal with once the tanks get buried underground.

Whatever your involvement and your position in your Company, give some thought to the other people around you and what they do in their job. Do you really know what they’re doing? Can you help them a little bit more? Are they making your life easier and deserve some rewards or are they causing you pain and they need some extra TLC and support? It’s a great time of year to review progress in all areas of your business, just as we’re doing here at Graf UK, and I’d encourage any owners or managers reading this to step into your people’s shoes and see life from their perspective. If only for a few hours or a day. Try it and see what you might change.