Look back at 2004 to decide what you will do, and what you will change, for 2005.

One of my favorite quotes is from Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. He once said: "Reality is seeing things the way they are rather than the way that you want them to be."

That quote can easily be applied to an HVAC business or in fact, any business. Many times, I hear that business owners are the last to know when something is happening. Maybe a key employee is unhappy and looking for a job, or a project is not meeting budget, or another issue is being kept from the boss.

So when you started looking at what you want to accomplish in 2005, get out of your office, into service trucks and on jobsites. That should be the cornerstone of your plan. Talk to customers and employees. Find out what is really happening from their perspective.

Here are some questions to ask when beginning 2005:

What did I do well in 2004 that I'm going to continue doing?

What went wrong and what did I learn from it so that I don't do it again?

Am I really going to plan and work my plan? And, I don't mean for a month. I mean for a year. Who is going to be helping me make sure that I stay on track?

Where am I going to put my business plan so that I can make sure that I am tracking budget versus actual costs? Am I going to be proactive rather than reactive this year?

Once you have determined the answers to these questions, get someone to help you make sure that you monitor progress.

It's a lot easier with someone who has your best interest at heart - even if you don't want to hear some of the things that person has to say.

I wish all of you a successful 2005.

Acceptance and success

Speaking of success, whether or not we openly show it, acceptance, recognition and praise is craved by everyone. We all like compliments. We all like to be told good things about ourselves. Praise affects our self-esteem.

People will act and behave in a certain way to validate compliments. They have the power to change behavior because compliments make the recipient feel needed and valued. However, the compliments have to be real. We can all tell when someone is just saying something and really doesn't mean it. Our intuition kicks in and tells us, "This person wants something." It puts us on guard.

I've often said, "Catch them doing something right" and "Praise in public and punish in private." When someone else gets a public compliment, it makes many of us want to get a compliment in front of others too. We may subtly alter our behavior to solicit the same comment - and, of course, that is exactly what we want our employees to do.

Go to jobsites. Now that it is hot, bring them a Coke (I'm from Atlanta, for all of you Pepsi fans) or bring them ice cream. It will be a welcome surprise and break. Thank them for their hard work. You'll be surprised at the results if you've never done it before. And it will make you feel good.

For people who have sold their first service agreement, compliment them in public. It may initially embarrass them, but deep down they'll will appreciate it and continue the behavior. Catch your employees doing something right. Praise them for it in public and you'll get them doing it right all the time.

(Copyright 2004, Ruth King. All rights reserved. Write to Ruth King's American Contractor Exchange, 1650 Oakbrook Drive, Suite 405, Norcross, GA 30093. Call (800) 511-6844; fax: (770) 729-8028. See www.acecontractor.com on the Internet.)