NASHVILLE, TENN. — At Nexstar’s Super Meeting 31, in Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 13-15, company culture, vision and goals were emphasized throughout the three-day event. In a variety of sessions, from Driving an Accountable Business to Communicating as the Leader, Nexstar attendees were able to learn how to create a vision, attach goals to it, communicate the vision and goals to their employees, and follow through in order to reach those goals, making their vision a reality.

In the general session, Friday morning, Nexstar Business Coach Denise Swafford reviewed the five key impact management activities: culture, branding and marketing, people development, sales and operations and financial management.

These activities are from a survey Nexstar did amongst its members to find out how the organization thrives during tough economic times. These documented common traits are amongst the most successful members.

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According to Swafford, when it comes to creating a company culture, contractors need to have a clear vision and then communicate the vision well to everyone at the company; the contractor also needs to have goals anchored to the vision.

“For company goals, you need to set them and translate them to employees effectively,” said Swafford. “You need to have clear expectations too, and make sure everyone knows the company goals.”

That afternoon, Swafford continued discussing culture, vision and goals in the breakout session Driving an Accountable Business.

“It all starts with desire,” said Swafford. “What do you want out of your business and what drives you?”

“You also need to write out your goal,” said Swafford. “A goal that isn’t written is just a dream. And you also need to identify your obstacles. What challenges will you have to overcome? What resources do you have that can help? It is also necessary to put a due date on goals, and be persistent. Never give up!”

Swafford pointed out that the output of a contractor’s vision and goal setting should be a strategic business plan, which is a road map.

“You need to revisit it and measure against it often,” said Swafford. “It should be based on historical information. The components of a strategic business plan are: budget, manpower, training plan, marketing plan and SWOT Analysis.

“You need to communicate your expectations to every person in your company,” added Swafford. “Each role in the company must have a goal. Each person needs to know the purpose of their role and how they contribute to the overall success of the organization.”

“This [having visions and goals] is where everyone must start,” said Michael Enright, AAA Service Plumbing, Heating and Electric Inc., Arvada, Colo. “One thing we will implement is helping our tech’s set sales goals. We will use their previous six or 12 months to help them set that goal.”

The following day, in the session Communicating as the Leader, Mike Braun, founder, owner and executive coach of Pivotal Advisors, Prior Lake, Minn., reviewed how to communicate your vision, what effective communication is, how coaching and feedback is key to communicating with employees, the different type of feedback and how it can be used as a consequence, and how to align and link the work and desired behaviors to a company’s purpose.

Braun defined effective communication as when both sender and receiver understand the purpose; the information is understood and clarified; actions and expectations are defined and agreed to; follow-up is completed and feedback is provided as necessary.

Regarding coaching and feedback, there are three steps to effective feedback: make it useful; make it matter and make it actionable.

According to Braun, it is necessary to describe the behavior so it is objective, specific, timely and in the right dose, and then describe the impact of the behavior on others, the company and the desired result, in order for feedback to be effective. Then agree on a different behavior or the same behavior to be repeated.

“You need to have the employee explain to you how they are going to improve and usually they will follow through and try to improve,” said Braun. “People are often more engaged this way.”

“In this session, the vision and goals of a company again was apparent, as a driving force for success, then the use of consequences for behavior modification using feedback by making it useful, making it matter and making it actionable,” said Enright.

Anthony Vigilante, president of Vigilante Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, Brooklyn, New York, said based on the effective use of consequences to create an environment where people “want to” rather than “have to” perform at a higher level, he will attach real consequences to employee lack of performance, and he will also use positive feedback via the 4:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback to increase employee motivation.

“Instead of getting angry and criticizing which has no value in communication I will be using constructive and positive consequences,” said Vigilante.

Hiring, marketing sessions

The Nexstar Super Meeting also offered sessions about hiring processes, marketing and effective budgeting, among others.

In the Implementing a Winning Hiring Process, Tammy Ferris, Nexstar member trainer and owner of Gene Love Plumbing, Air, Electrical, West Columbia, S.C. had session attendees do a group activity. Groups of five people created a job description in only five minutes. This activity showed attendees that before beginning the hiring process, it is important to step back and create a job description, which includes the title, who the person reports to, tasks/responsibilities, success measures and qualifications.

“Once you do this you have an idea of what type of person you are looking for when you start the interview process,” said Ferris. “You can create the right questions for the interview process, so you can find the people that best fit the position.”

Ferris told attendees to think about what was going on at the times they made a bad hiring decision. “You probably needed help, were super busy, and hired out of urgency,” said Ferris. “We often get into a cycle where we hire out of urgency and then have a crisis. There is a three step process you can take to make better hiring decisions. We want to plan and create strategies that build relationships. Before you even place an ad you need to decide or review the job description.”

In Master Your Marketing by Producing a Plan, the session began with Nexstar Marketing Coaches Ed Cerier and Susan Kimball asking attendees what kind of marketing challenges they face.

Social media, making the phone ring, first quarter marketing, good creative content, tracking marketing efforts and creating a consistent marketing plan were just some of the challenges mentioned.

Cerier said that we don’t want to wait until a problem is upon us, and the ideal thing to do is to plan ahead of time.

“Think about where you’ve been and what has been successful to figure out what to do more of now,” said Cerier. “Know who the market is, who are you speaking to. You need the right message, people and medium. Take the marketing plan one step at a time. Focus on baby steps that lead to the big picture.”

Greg Niemi retires

During Friday morning’s general session Greg Niemi, president and CEO of Nexstar, gave his last Nexstar address, thanking all Nexstar members and the staff. He also spoke to press members in a media conference on Oct. 13 about what he believes are the biggest challenges ahead for Nexstar contractors: marketing and lead generation.

“Contractors need to figure out what works and stay ahead in this area,” said Niemi. “Marketing is changing and will be different in five years from now, so the biggest thing before us is how Nexstar will stay on the front edge of this.”

Niemi also mentioned his passion of labor and attracting talented individuals into the trades.

In a follow up to the press conference, Niemi told CONTRACTOR that the purpose is to attract and develop talent and make people aware of the trades by being the leading authority on opportunity within the trades.

“Apprentice, journeyman and master programs within technical professions provide an excellent opportunity for getting the on-the-job training needed to advance careers and salaries,” said Niemi.

“One way to increase the supply of service technicians is to recruit at the ground level and give parents, teachers and guidance counselors the information they need to encourage students to enter the trades," added Niemi. "Many tell our members they simply don’t have the information. So, Nexstar turned to members to lead the charge on this and they have been the emissaries.

“We encouraged our member contractors to volunteer to talk to students about the trades, the rewards of restoring water, air and light and the good income this career can bring and we provided step-by-step instructions for doing so. As we move into 2012, the Nexstar Legacy Foundation will continue with this effort, stronger than ever. We can change perceptions and make the labor shortage a career opportunity for many. Americans need jobs, service businesses need skilled workers and homeowners need assurance that they can keep the water, lights, furnace and air-conditioning on.”

In closing, Niemi talked about the economic climate.

“Right now business is up, and people are investing more in their professional businesses,” said Niemi. “Nexstar members as a whole are market leaders. I am very proud of these people. In the employee satisfaction survey, employee engagement is up, better than the U.S. workforce as a whole. I’ve been in the industry for 34 years and plumbing/HVAC has been very good for me and I’m proud to be affiliated with it.”

Niemi told CONTRACTOR that even though business is on the upswing, there is still negativity out there, given the economy, and the biggest threat can be what people are thinking.

“The positive indicators, in my opinion, do outweigh the negative,” explained Niemi. “It just depends on what you listen to. Our mind is a magnet and we need to be careful with what we attract. Successful businesses make it happen versus let it happen. Businesses always have to deal with uncertainty that is why it is called business. Admittedly, the past recession was hard on so many. Battered many spirits down. However, the cycles have been generally positive for 2010 and 2011 and we expect business will still be on the plus side (e.g., growth) albeit perhaps a lesser rate of growth (it is growth nonetheless). Expect good things.”

Taking over the reins of president and CEO of Nexstar, effective November 2011, is Jack Tester. He has served as coaching manager for five years, supervising a team of coaches and providing guidance, training and proven systems to 400+ members. In 1992 he was the first employee of Nexstar (then named Contractors 2000), recruited by Nexstar founder Frank Blau. Tester was the executive director of the organization until 1998.

“There is no organization that provides its members with more or better tools to win in the marketplace,” said Tester. “I look forward to helping our members increase sales and profits in my new role as we continue to reach our full potential together.”