Drawing of a three legged stool

Most people can picture a three legged stool. However, how many people have had to spend their entire work day sitting on one? If you lean too far to the left, right, front, or back, you will fall off of the stool, most likely hurting yourself and damaging the stool in the process.
Being a manager, sales person, administration, leader, or cleaner in the building services industry is just like that three legged stool. Except, instead of sitting on that stool, we are standing on it.

What am I talking about? Well, I’m glad you asked. Our three legged stool is made up of the three most important parts of our industry:
1. Our customers and our sole reason for being in business.
2. Our employees are not only our most important asset, but our raw material and end product.
3. Financial responsibility to our bottom line.

Without any one of these points, our companies will fall over and break. But the trick is not just having all three legs of the stool, it is the balancing of all legs without favoring one over any other.

Let’s take the first of our three legs first, customers. Without the customer, we have no one to service and no one to pay for our services. Many of our customers are asking for more services, more frequencies of services, better payment terms, and higher wages and better benefits for our employees. Often, they are not willing to compensate us for these requests.

Our second leg, our staff, is the leg where we spend the most amount of time. Human Resources, Administration, and Management spend time locating, interviewing, drug testing, background checking, reference checking, orienting, training, paying, providing benefits, motivating, promoting, coaching, counseling, disciplining, and sometimes terminating. While our industry excels at all of these activities, we still have too high of an employee turnover.

Our goal is to find the best candidates available for each and every job we have. We need to offer growth opportunities to those that have the skill set and offer learning opportunities to those that have desire and ability, but not necessarily the skill set to climb higher on the ladder. Unfortunately, the most common reason people leave a job is a perceived lack of opportunities.

Our third leg — by far the most difficult of the three — is the sometimes elusive “Bottom Line.” Profit is not a dirty word, but the dictionary defines it as:
“…pecuniary gain resulting from the employment of capital in any transaction…the ratio of such pecuniary gain to the amount of capital     invested…the monetary surplus left to a producer or employer after deducting wages, rent, cost of raw materials, etc…”
Without a company profit, we have no opportunity to invest in the growth of the other two legs. We must have a reasonable profit to invest in the growth and development of our employees and our customers. Both demand and deserve our attention to increasing and growing our relationships.
Now the real challenge. I am very happy when we can offer our customers additional services or frequencies of services as a value added. For example, we are able to change light bulbs in some accounts without adding additional time or cost. Our challenge is when the extras become part of the norm and end up being a burden on our employees, making it very difficult for them to do their jobs and also usually costing us more (either in additional time or the high cost of turning over employees), thus hurting our bottom line.
All of our employees want to make more money. However, without increasing productivity or getting more money from the customer, we once again can hurt the bottom line. Conversely, if we focus on profitability without worrying about its impact on our customers and our employees, we will inevitably lose one or both.
It is our challenge, our goal, and our pleasure to balance all three legs. With all of the legs being in sequence most of the time, our three legged stool will stand strong. Our customers will prosper and benefit from us providing a great level of service at a competitive price. Our employees will work hard, feel a sense of pride and make a living. Our company will grow, offer new opportunities to our employees and customers. And we will become financially stable to continue a sustainable company.
Paul Greenland, CBSE, is managing partner of OBP Consulting.