#6 Trust But Verify (with Ray Gessner from A Step in Time Chimney Sweep)

Show Notes

Today we're joined by Ray Gessner from A Step In Time Chimney Sweep to talk about how to trust your employees, but also have systems in place to verify what they're doing! This could save you TIME and ENERGY from having to stay on your employees 24-7. Ray's website: https://chimneysweep.com

Episode 1 (What Winning Looks Like): http://reallifeleader.com/ep1

Opening and Closing Checklist

For more resources, visit https://www.reallifeleaders.com/podcast

Have a leadership question you want answered? Email [email protected] and you might even be in an episode!


Chantel Ray: Hey guys, welcome to this week's episode of the Real Life Leadership Podcast, where we share real life stories from real life leaders to help you become a better leader in your organization. And we are so excited, we have Ray Gessner as our guest host, he has a business called A Step in Time. And he's got this great jingle, kinda like I do, but his is “A step in time, a step in time”, Josh'll put that in there. His website is chimneysweep.com. Ray, welcome to the show.

Ray Gessner: Hi, thank you, it's good to be here. It's a great place you have here, it's a wonderful area.

Chantel Ray: And we always have Heather Roemmich, who is an amazing leader, with us.

Heather: Hello, everyone.

Chantel Ray: All right, today's show is called Trust, But Verify. I wanna tell you where I got this story from. My mom ... My dad passed away, and my mom got remarried to a guy named Verle, and one time we were at dinner and some girl texted Verle. You know how you could see on the phone, “Ashley texting”, or whatever. And so my mom, before she could even read it, she snatches it and she's like, “Now, who is Ashley?” And I was like, “Mom! Golly! You don't trust Verle?” She was like, “Oh, I trust but verify.” She uses that all the time now, so it's kinda like a joke in our office. We're like, “Oh, we trust but verify.”

Chantel Ray: What kind of stories can you guys think of where you actually need to do this, trust but verify?

Heather: Yeah, we have one recently. A lot of our systems verify everything for us, we don't wanna have to go in and count numbers. Basically our managing partners are required to make so many calls a week recruiting, that's how their job gets going, that's how they recruit for their offices. So we said, “Okay, everyone needs to make 100 contacts a week.” And everyone's like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm making 100 contacts a week, 150, 200.”

Heather: So we were like, “Okay, great.” But then we weren't quite seeing that increase in agent production, so-

Chantel Ray: Yeah, we weren't seeing the agents come in, we're like, “Okay, wait a minute, either you're not making the calls, or you're just terrible at converting. One of the two's going on.”

Heather: Yeah, so we made this really awesome system where we were like, “Okay, great, I'm so glad you're making your 150 calls. So I want you to make a note in there each time, and that's gonna make a tally mark so I can see how many you're actually making.” Coincidentally, there was not 100 calls in there. So that's where we trusted them, but we were going to verify how many they were making.

Chantel Ray: And a lot of times it's not like they were lying, but in their mind they were like, “Yeah, I think I made 100 calls.” They weren't counting them, right? So they were like, “Yeah, it felt like 100” even though it was actually probably 50.

Heather: Right, yeah.

Chantel Ray: So when you have something to verify that ... What about you, Ray?

Ray Gessner: I think our office has a trust-and-verify type of operation. Our office is awesome, I think, and I've got nice people in the office who answer the phones. And a key importance of the office is always just be friendly. Talk to the customers and be very friendly. How we verify, though, is that we will take and monitor every phone call using a program called CallFire. It tapes all the conversations, and essentially it will spot check.

Ray Gessner: Let's say that there's a customer who calls up and says, “Hey, I wanna have my chimney cleaned, and it's gonna be done between 12 and 2.” And the office person had scheduled it in between 2 and 4, but the person swears that they had it between 12 and 2, and the office person says, “Hey, I swear it's between 2 and 4.” So you just pull up the telephone conversation, listen to it. If you wanna send it to the customer, it's fine too, but tell them ...

Ray Gessner: It's quality control, and if you listen to them and they're nice and happy and friendly, then it's great. But if you hear a person who's upset and saying, “I wanna speak to a manager, this person has been rude to me,” or something like that, then you pull up the conversation and boom, you got the information.

Chantel Ray: And any large company, if you think about it, you always see something that says, “This call will be monitored for quality control.”

Heather: May be recorded to ensure awesomeness.

Chantel Ray: So ours is a little bit different, ours says, “This call will be monitored to ensure awesomeness.” That's actually Heather's voice on there.

Heather: It's just ... It's a culture thing. We are a fun place to work, and so we wanted to convey that to the client the very first time they call in. It's not just a “this call will be recorded to ensure quality”, we're like, “This call will be recorded to ensure awesomeness.”

Ray Gessner: That's a great idea, I think I'll use that.

Heather: Yeah, it is. That just puts a smile on the person's face before they even talk to someone. It's really important to do that.

Ray Gessner: So also on this, I've used it even on giving bonuses. A client calls up our office and they will say, “Hey, I'm interested in having a chimney cleaned and inspected.” These people answering the phones, it's called a landing ratio, a good landing ratio is about 80%. If they call up and they land, and they say, “I wanna have a chimney cleaned or inspected,” and they land, that's one point. If they didn't land, it's zero. So add up all the ones and the zeros, and you get a percentage of landing. If it's 80% or higher, they're doing a great job. If it's under 70%, it's sometimes not so good.

Ray Gessner: But each person gets a landing ratio, and then they can increase it every month or they can get bonuses if they land it. All you gotta do is be friendly, and people wanna schedule with you.

Chantel Ray: I would say another one that we do. Obviously we record our calls as well, we monitor. With the number of calls we get we can't monitor every single one and check them, but we do check a good amount of the ones that we do. A couple of them would be where the agent ... We have an inside sales department, and then we have our agents. The inside sales department might say one thing, and then the agent says something else.

Heather: Yeah, let me give you an example. Here's what happens a lot. The client will call in and they'll say ... The inside sales agent will say, “Hey, we can set you up ... Do you wanna see the property on Saturday at 2?” And they're like, “Sure, that sounds fine. I'll see you Saturday at 2.” And then our agent calls to introduce themselves, “Hey, I'm just calling, my name's Heather, and I just wanted to tell you I'm really excited to meet you on Saturday at 2,” and the client says, “I never set an appointment with you guys, I told them I didn't want an appointment.”

Heather: So the agent's like, “Okay.” Then they go and they're like, “Inside sales said there's an appointment and this person didn't want it.” So then we can pull up that call, let them hear it, and then you can see what the real story was, which is kind of similar to what you're doing there with that.

Chantel Ray: And a lot of people say ... We say trust but verify, I like that better, they say ... Have you heard of people saying, “Inspect what you expect”? How do you think those two are different?

Heather: I think that they're different because, when you're trusting someone and you're just verifying did they do it properly, that's a little bit different than inspecting what you expect. Expectations of their job, that's kind of like our report cards, right? We're inspecting each month what we expect out of them. It's an easy way to look at it and say, “This is what we expect you to do, and let's measure up how you did it.” It's different to, “Did you do this task and I'm just gonna verify that you did it properly?”

Chantel Ray: Yeah, and if you haven't listened to our podcast, we talked about this in depth, go back and listen to ... We have one that's called What Does Winning Look Like? That is just so important. But you wanna make sure that your expectations are clearly defined, and then you're inspecting them. What would you say are some different things you do, Ray, that you're inspecting what you expect?

Ray Gessner: Here's the things that I enjoy doing. Let's say ... Every company has their great technicians or great sales agents or great employees, whoever they are. Every company has a great one, and every one of them has some that need improvement. So how we'll do it is we'll take the best ones you've got and then have everyone else go and figure out what they're doing.

Ray Gessner: An example is that call idea. If you've got somebody who's got a high landing ratio, let's say 80 or 90 percent, then take all their phone calls and let all the other people who are answering phone calls take a listen to it, and find out how this person is doing so well. I've got another example that-

Chantel Ray: And so that would be, if you looked at that, what you would say to the person is, “Listen, just so you know, we're gonna be monitoring X number of calls for you out of your calls, out of your ...” Our inside sales department knows we're gonna be monitoring at least eight out of 20 calls that they make, and they have to be graded, and this is some of the things they're graded on.

Heather: Right, we look at five things. We love acronyms here, so we use one called CLIQS, and we look at these five areas. What we expect them to do is to hit these five points on a call: get their contact information, get the lead source, find out-

Chantel Ray: How they heard about us.

Heather: Right, how they heard about us. I is their interest, what type of property are they looking for, what are they trying to sell. Q is qualify, are they qualified, get them with a lender. And then S is set that appointment. We expect them to hit all five of those, and we inspect it by random spot checking several calls that they do, and we see that they hit them.

Chantel Ray: And we grade those calls.

Heather: They get a one through five.

Chantel Ray: Yeah, perfect. What about some of our other things that we do that inspect, that we can give real practical ideas of things that we inspect?

Heather: One thing that we do ... A really well-run company runs off of checklists. Checklists are a great way to inspect what you expect. We have everything from an opening checklist to a closing checklist, and that means we expect when somebody walks into our office that the lights are on, that it has the Chantel Ray smell, that everything's put away orderly, that water's filled up, etc. So we have a quick, easy checklist to make sure that the [inaudible 00:11:04] when they come in in the morning, has filled out all of that stuff.

Heather: It's an easy way for us to check it. It's also trusting and verifying, we trust that they're gonna do that every morning, but we get that quick email that says they filled out this checklist to verify that they did it. Do you guys have different things like that?

Ray Gessner: Yeah, our chimney technicians have a series of photographs they take. They'll go out there and they'll inspect the firebox, the damper, the chimney cap, the flue liner, the chimney flashing, the brickwork, all these different little spots that they've got to inspect. And they'll take pictures and email them to our office, our office will quality control it. But they also email it to the client, and that way the client has records of everything we've inspected also. So it is expecting our technicians to give these series of photographs, and we inspect it from our office.

Chantel Ray: I'll give you a perfect example. We had this great checklist, and I will put those in the show notes of exactly the opening checklist and the closing checklist. When you see them, you're literally gonna be like, “Oh my gosh, I cannot believe that this is on the checklist,” but if you look at really high-level companies, they have the most basic things on that checklist.

Chantel Ray: We started going to different companies like Chick-fil-A, Geico, all these high, high, large companies, and going, “Let's examine.” They let us come in and see what they were doing, and that's what they did. You would think that they're stupid, but they're not.

Heather: Because people may be thinking, “Okay, you're a little controlling. You're literally making them check off a box that says they turned on the lights.” But we wanna make the jobs as easy ... If a 16-year-old were coming off the street-

Chantel Ray: We say a 17-year-old or a 70-year-old, we wanna make it as easy as a 17-year-old can do it or a 70-year-old can do it.

Heather: Right, and this just ensures that they're not missing anything.

Chantel Ray: That 17-year-old and the 70-year-old, that's gonna be a podcast all on its own. We're gonna go over that. But let's talk about ... What would you say is the line that you cross between controlling and verify? Here's verify, let's use my mom's example. What would be the line between verifying and controlling.

Heather: I would say ... Not that I know from experience, but you can set it up to where you get a copy of every single message-

Chantel Ray: Oh yeah. That's controlling.

Heather: That's controlling, you've crossed the line at that point. Verifying is, you know, it's okay to pick up the phone and do a weekly check-in on your significant other's messages, just to say, “I'm just verifying everything's legit here.” What do you think?

Ray Gessner: It's difficult. It is difficult to be controlling and also verifying. How I usually do it is I don't wanna be the bad guy, so I will have different levels of people in place. I'll have a manger, and it's the manager's job of being the bad guy, so forth. Then he'll go through and do his things, and then if there's a problem then it can escalate up to me.

Ray Gessner: But typically I'll let my own team write their own standard operating procedures. In other words, “Hey, what do I expect from you?” They'll go through and make up, “Here's the things that ought to be inspected.” If they make it up, it feels better to them, instead of me making it up and making them do it.

Heather: They have ownership, yeah. They have ownership in what their expectation was. And then it's easy for you to verify that.

Chantel Ray: That's a great way to get, if you don't have these checklists in place, you have them write down what is it that you're doing every day, and then start going through and saying what's missing from that list.

Heather: Right. Same with job descriptions. A lot of times, even when we have them, we'll have, periodically, people in those positions rewrite their job descriptions, just to make sure we're covering everything so that they have a clear expectation of what they expect, so that when we go through and say, “Hey, we're gonna look at how you did this past month at your job, at your expectations,” when we're inspecting it they also have a very clear picture of what they're expected to do.

Chantel Ray: So I will give you an example of some of the things that are on the checklist. One of them, ironically enough, is check the potpourri. Very important. And believe it or not ... We have bathrooms where it's a single bathroom, so when you poop in there and then you leave, it's funky if you don't have any kind of spray. Even the people want it. The agents want it, because if they poop [crosstalk 00:16:00]

Heather: Well one time we tried to make our own, and they revolted. They were like-

Chantel Ray: That potpourri is so expensive, we tried to create our own version of it and they were like, “Absolutely not. Please get the potpourri back ASAP.” One of the examples is to make sure you've got, not just one potpourri, you've got a backup of the potpourri.

Heather: Do not run out. And that's where ... Some people would say ... I don't consider it controlling because that is something that's a verification. You're just helping somebody verify that they've done what they're supposed to each day. When you say, “Let's look at something that's controlling,” we have a situation where we kind of were walking the controlling line.

Heather: We recently had an event that our agents were doing, one of our managing partners said, “I got it, I'll take care of it, I'll make sure it's fully staffed.” So we let him run with it, but as it got closer we started getting nervous, we were like, “Do they really have it? What's going on? We haven't heard much about it.”

Chantel Ray: Because it was a very expensive event.

Heather: Yeah, and an event that we previously have gotten a lot of good business from. So we were like, “Just make sure that they've got it taken care of.” We did, and he said, “I got it, it's all taken care of, all the shifts are covered.” But we went a little bit over the line, we were like, “We wanna know who's at the shifts,” instead of ... We trusted, we verified, but we were a little walking that controlling line there.

Chantel Ray: Yeah, we sure were. But here's the thing: every time something wasn't done, we went back and added it to the checklist. For example, we had a client one time ... We have some Biscoff cookies and gourmet teas at the front for people, and one time someone came in and they hit the dispenser for the hot water and it was out of hot water. We were like, “Oh, somebody better go put that on the checklist.” So that's on the checklist, is there enough water in the hot water dispenser. That's one of the things.

Chantel Ray: Anything else that you can think of that they would add to a checklist?

Heather: I think we even have on there “is the toilet paper rolls filled”, that's how-

Chantel Ray: And we have extra ones on there.

Heather: Because it's really important. When you come in in the day, you just get started and get going and you forget about certain things. The biggest thing for us is client experience, whether they're coming in our office or they're going somewhere else. So we create all of these to make sure that we're taking our client-

Chantel Ray: Yeah, we don't want them going in the bathroom and we're out of toilet paper. That's not a good client experience.

Heather: Yeah, that's why those are really important to us.

Chantel Ray: Or even the chairs, putting them back in the office and making sure everything's neat and tidy. You might have to say ... For us, we've made it so that they really only have to do one in the morning and one in the afternoon. But for example, Chick-fil-A and other places, it's monitored every two hours.

Heather: Oh my gosh.

Chantel Ray: Every two hours you check-

Heather: Can I talk about something that we used to do? The salad bar?

Chantel Ray: Oh my gosh.

Heather: So we used to have a salad bar here, a soup and a salad bar. It was mac daddy, you were in the salad bar club. If you wanted to come, people begged to come eat at our salad bar, we literally would have people come in.

Chantel Ray: It was really good.

Heather: We had a gourmet salad bar and we had soups. It got to the point where we had a checklist, every 30 minutes the admin was going and stirring the soup so it didn't get stuck to the bottom of the thing. We were like, “Wait, are we running a restaurant or a real estate company here?” We did have to have a checklist for every bit of that. Otherwise, the soup got burned, or someone got food poisoning. Those are really, really important. So in your businesses you have to think of those things.

Chantel Ray: That's on another podcast, we're gonna be talking about ... The question is, “Does it stop production?” That salad bar, 100%, it wasn't in our wheelhouse, and it absolutely stopped production.

Ray Gessner: That's a shame.

Chantel Ray: All right, well any last minute thoughts from either of you on trust but verify, or inspect what you expect?

Heather: I think it's just accountability. It helps people really ... At first people think that it's ... Why aren't you trusting me, why do you have to check on me? But in the end, that accountability is what helps them grow.

Chantel Ray: Oh man, I'm so glad you said that. Here's the thing, this is what really does happen: with places that don't have that in place, all that does is create frustration. It's creating expectations upfront of what you expect. For example, let's just say you had no checklist on the front and the back.

Chantel Ray: What would happen is, every day that you went and the tea wasn't filled, or every day you went and the toilet paper wasn't filled, or every day you went and there was no coffee and the coffee wasn't made, you just get pissed. Excuse my French, but that's exactly what happens. Then what happens is it builds up, and it builds up, and it's like, “I asked you to do that, didn't you ...” “Oh, I forgot.” “Well I asked you to do that.” “Oh, I forgot.” “Well I asked you to do that.” “I forgot.” With the checklist, this is an expectation, it's part of your job requirement to turn that in every day.

Chantel Ray: Oh, I know, I got something. I totally forgot about this. When we first created our checklist in our system, we didn't have it go anywhere. They were filling out the checklist, but nobody was inspecting whether they were doing the checklist. So now what it does is that checklist automatically gets emailed to the manger, and then the manager's responsible for making sure. Then we have a ... We called it a MMP, but it's the market managing partner, and they oversee to make sure the other managers are looking at the checklist.

Heather: Right.

Ray Gessner: So you've created accountability, essentially. You're making each individual accountable for their actions. There's a great book, it's called Art of War. This general, back in Chinese days, he would take his troops and put one officer in charge of 24 people. The owner, leader, king, he would tell the officers, and they would tell the troops, and if the troops did it right then that's great, the officer gets credit for it. But if he doesn't do it right, then he'll repeat the order, and if they don't do it right after that he'll cut their heads off.

Heather: Oh my gosh.

Ray Gessner: There you go.

Heather: [inaudible 00:23:06].

Ray Gessner: That's how it was back then. Think about it, you give an order, and if it's followed then that's great, but if it's not followed there's gotta be accountability to it.

Chantel Ray: And I think another piece to that is, and we're gonna have a whole episode just on this, but it's really about the carrot versus the stick.

Heather: Yeah, that's always a hard one.

Chantel Ray: There's always that balance, because you're like, “Do I reward for doing it?” Every time, if you do your checklist every single week, you could get $5 for doing it, extra as a bonus, or whatever you decide to do. You can make it such a small bonus, but they want to achieve it. That's one way.

Chantel Ray: Or you could make it as, “Hey, you gotta complete this checklist. If you don't complete the checklist, then you're getting written up. And if you get written up three times, unfortunately you won't be employed here anymore.”

Heather: That's always a hard one.

Chantel Ray: That's always looking to see which one.

Chantel Ray: All right, well thanks so much for joining us this week. Ray, thanks so much for being a guest.

Ray Gessner: Thank you, it was great to be here.

Chantel Ray: And Heather, thank you as always.

Heather: Thank you.

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