I have talked with numerous business owners who are disappointed in their software and are looking for a better solution. When I question them on what they hope to get out of new software, they most often talk about problems related to people or business operations, not software. I hear them mostly talking about getting people to follow known policies and procedures. I tell these owners this "You don't need new software; you need to find a way to get people to do what they are told to do."
Software doesn't fix people. Your software can't force people to fill out forms. If it could, what makes you think they would fill out the form accurately? The same person that refused to do their job, and forced you to spend big money on new software, is very likely not very concerned with filling out forms accurately.
People tell me, "we just need software that is really easy for everyone to use." When it comes to software, there is no such thing. The only way to make software simple to use is to take away features, preferences, and choices. Simple software is inflexible and weak. That's the secret to making software easy to use.
Owners often say, "Why can't our software just work the way we want it to? I can't believe that our company is that much different from all of the others that use this software." Trust me, you are! As a consultant to the HVAC industry, I have personally been inside over three hundred companies. I have taught classes to thousands more. I have never seen two companies that were alike. Our industry couldn't agree on a standardized chart of accounts, much less a set of forms, or a complete payroll compensation plan.
Most companies don't follow any kind of established business model. The way they do things is a hybrid of the company they once worked for, their own ideas, and the ideas of the various employees that have worked there over the years. That means you need flexible software that offers a wide array of options, methods, and possibilities. Flexible software is going to take more time to learn than it would "simple" software that forces you to do things their way.
It is vital that you completely understand what your present software is capable of doing and its intended workflow. Do not take your employees' word for it because many are not going to admit that they don't know. Call your software company. Tell them you are thinking of switching software programs and ask to speak with a person who understands the software and your industry. If needed, schedule some training so that you can explain your business system. Find out if the software can match your methodology or If, perhaps, they have a better solution for what you are trying to accomplish.
Armed with a thorough knowledge of what your software can do, carefully examine each and every employee process. Eliminate unnecessary steps and streamline the remaining steps as much as possible. You should determine what is necessary and eliminate any steps that are not absolutely needed. When a step or process is important to your company, you must insist that the step be part of your system and that your software and employees comply.
The key is to decide exactly what you want from your employees. Make sure they understand what you want from them, why you want it, and how you will measure compliance. Create a handful of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will tell you how well your employees are performing. Make sure all of your employees can see these numbers and that they know what they mean. Your software should quickly provide you with this information. It should be able to generate highly customizable dashboard style reports. Ideally, these dashboard reports need to be in Microsoft Excel format so that you can modify them to meet your own unique situations.
Next, work hard to tie compensation and bonuses to your KPIs. Your software will need to have a specialized and powerful payroll system that fully integrates your field operations, accounting, and payroll in order to provide complete and accurate KPIs. Talk to your software provider and have a conversation about how the software you currently have can meet those needs.
Switching software can be very expensive and disruptive. Each time you switch, you lose important service and financial history, not to mention valuable time and money. I have known people that have gone through multiple software programs, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they're still not happy. They keep switching software, looking for the next great program that will somehow solve their people problems. They resemble a person who has been divorced four times and keeps telling everyone, "It was my spouse's fault. I didn't do anything wrong." At some point, the person needs to look in the mirror and say, "maybe it's me?" Or, in this case, it may be your HR problem.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James R. Leichter
James is a successful entrepreneur and master mechanic whose accomplishments include being the founder of MrHVAC.com, the CEO and founder of Aptora, the President of RA Tax and Accounting and a partner with ProAmerican Investments.
James' company MrHVAC.com is a website dedicated to improving the lives of contractors. It includes industry articles, specialized HVAC calculators, forms, templates and one of the most extensive operations manuals in the country. As the founder of Aptora corporation, he has created some of the most popular software programs in the service industry including Flat Rate Plus and Total Office Manager.
James is well known for his burning passion to help contractors and it shows in his unique speaking style. He has hosted management workshops all around the United States and has conducted onsite consulting since 1996 with hundreds of contractors.