Shoelaces showed John Rotche how to build culture.
When he bought a one-van air duct cleaning company, Rotche asked an industry pro how to set his business apart.
“He said, ‘I focus on the little things, and it’s the little things that added up to make one huge thing,’” says Rotche, who remembers the man opening a closet to reveal shoelaces of every length. “He said, ‘If [technicians] see that my attention to detail goes down to the color of their shoelaces, that sends such a message … and it just escalates from there.’”
Now, Rotche serves as president of BELFOR Franchise Group — an $18 million operation that includes the air duct cleaning franchise DUCTZ International LLC and its kitchen exhaust cleaning sister HOODZ International LLC.
The culture comes down to the little things.
“If we can do our part, focusing on every culture-building opportunity that we can, it makes for a great place to work,” Rotche says.
Smart Business spoke to Rotche about empowering employees to build culture.
Invite little things. I let the team [determine the culture]. First thing, you’ve got to be ethical and have integrity, but it’s got to be fun as well as productive.
We often ask, ‘Hey, what else can we do to make this really fun?’ People come up with, ‘Let’s bring our dogs to work. Let’s do barbecues. Let’s make cookies.’
It’s out of empowerment. If they make a decision and it’s about building culture, as long as it’s ethical, I will never challenge it.
We purposely created a lot of lounge areas around the building for people to come together and communicate. We built a kitchen in the center of our building purposely, because where does everyone hang out at grandma’s house? In the kitchen. One of our team members really enjoys fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, so she would always make a batch. There was not a strategic initiative surrounding this, but … everyone loves having fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Why not in a corporate environment?
So we encourage new ideas from people. But the most important thing to do is never squash a bad idea. Make one person feel lousy about a not-so-good idea; watch how quick people put their heads in the sand and don’t talk.
Even bad ideas, there’s a certain strand of logic or at least spirit. Say, ‘Hey, you know what I love about the idea is that you’ve thought enough to share it and to think out of the box. It may not work in this particular instance, but good for you, and thanks for sharing it.’ It comes down to respect.
Focus on productivity. You inspect what you expect. We have regular staff meetings [where] we list each person’s goals and objectives, but also they have to give a report on their progress. It all comes down to empowerment and accountability.
You either have people on your team that you can trust to take the ball and run with it or you don’t. If you have the team in place, find out whose skill set best would match the needs of the program. You have to be willing to hand that ball off to that person and not micromanage.
You have to be able to empower them to not be afraid to make mistakes. If they’re going to be on your team, they need to know it’s a safe environment as long as they’re trying hard and they’re being honest and they’re willing to get better. It still has to be followed up with accountability, performance reviews and so forth, but they can’t be paralyzed by fear of making a mistake.
Reward employees. You just have to celebrate the wins. Just by stopping and saying, ‘Do you guys realize how well we’re doing or what we’ve done?’ Just stopping to say, ‘Hey, forward the phones; we’re leaving for an hour to go have ice cream sundaes.’ It may not fit in the Harvard textbook management, but in our organization, it works.
To some of these young folks here, I say, ‘What do you want your resume to read in two years? Are you just a regional service manager; all you do is answer phones and listen to people complain? Or do you want to be the national director of business development? There’s no pay change, but how do we want to set up your job and what’s going to inspire you?’
I’m going to say, ‘Where’s your passion and where’s your gifting?’ [They say,] ‘I really like to do this.’ [Then I say,] ‘OK, you still need to do this, but we’re going to add this onto your plate. You’re going to be in charge of this program.’
It’s amazing how excited they are. They don’t come back and say, ‘How much more are you going to pay me?’ If that’s the first question they’re asking, then are you bringing in the right people?
Hire the right culture. You can’t train culture and you can’t train ethics and you cannot train integrity. So it really begins with the interviewing process.
Every new [franchisee] candidate spends breakfast and then the end of the day with me. I talk to them about: Have they ever managed employees? What’s the greatest thing an employer’s ever done for them? What’s the worst thing an employer’s ever done to them? By asking certain questions about how they look at leadership, that gives you insight into what type of leaders they’re going to be, how they treat their employees and the culture they build.
Our entire staff eats lunch with the candidates. You can see how comfortable are we with them and are they with us. The next day, our team will get together and talk about the candidates because I’m not in every session. I may think someone’s great and then I may find out that this person showed some signs they may not be really nice or they may have other social challenges.
A great indicator is [asking] my team, ‘Hey, would you guys like to see them at a convention next year, or would they be someone, if you were walking down the hall, you’d probably duck into another room?’ If you’d want to duck into another room, that’s probably a good sign that they’re not someone we want to bring on board.