Hiring Professional Managers


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Management may not hold the title of “World’s Oldest Profession,” but it has to be a close second.

More than 5,000 years ago, the Egyptians developed a management system that enabled them to execute engineering feats such as the Great Pyramids. My own management training began when I was in grade school. My father would hand me applications for entry-level positions to review. Being exposed to management at that early age gave me an appreciation that management itself was a unique job.

So what does it take to be a manager? Managers have five basic functions: planning, organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling.

These functions are irrespective of the organization’s goals; it does not matter if we are diagnosing HVAC system failures or running a hospital. Managers excel when working effectively through others, not in doing the job themselves.

John Holland was a noted psychologist who proposed people are drawn to and perform well in occupations that suit their personality types. Managers are “Enterprising” occupational personality types. They are goal-oriented and want to see results. They work with and through people, providing leadership and delegating responsibilities.

HVAC technicians, on the other hand, tend to be “Realistic” types. Realistic occupational personality types like to work with their hands and focus on things in the physical world. So with all the challenges in our industry, why is our industry rife with managers who have no experience other than as technicians?

We would consider it a waste to take a highly skilled plumber and make him an HVAC apprentice, yet we think it is perfectly reasonable to take a highly skilled HVAC technician and force him into the job of the department manager.

More than 50 years after Holland’s work was published, I find a preponderance of HVAC company owners who believe managers must be able to do the job of a technician. Not only is it unnecessary, there are benefits to hiring a non-technician to manage in your business:

The size of the talent pool. There are about 750,000 employed by U.S. plumbing, heating, and air conditioning contractors in firms with 10 or more employees. Across all industries, however, about 100 million people work in firms with more than 10 employees. General Managers are easier to find.

The manager will manage, not do. I have seen managers fail because under stress they resort to doing the job instead of managing the function. Lay people will not create this problem. I have no HVAC expertise, but I do know how to bring resources to bear. Having great technical people on staff is critical to my success, but I simply need to leverage their technical skills, not build my own.

Diversity makes for better decisions. Researchers have found teams made up of people with similar personalities and experiences are happiest, but teams with greater diversity make better decisions. If you want quality decisions, look for people with dissimilar personality types and experiences.

The power of analogy. Analogies are powerful analytical management tools, and hiring managers from outside the industry brings a wealth of managerial experience and reasoning that cannot be found within the industry.

Let me share one example of the power of analogy. At Parrish, we coach our technicians to think of themselves as “trusted advisors,” and we use the example of a veterinarian. The veterinarian isn’t cheap. He is knowledgeable, credible, caring, and trustworthy. People have taken their dog to the veterinarian only to be told the dog needs to be put to sleep, and dog owners follow the veterinarian’s advice.

And what do those same people do after they are finished grieving over their lost friend? They get another dog, and they take that dog right back to the vet who told them to kill their last dog.

We have found this analogy to be a powerful story for our technicians. It helps them feel comfortable in their role as trusted advisor and puts payment for their services in a more compelling context. Broader analogies come more easily to people from outside an industry.

So the next time you need to hire a manager, be sure to broaden your search to include experienced managers in other industries.

Linda Couch
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Opinion

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