Not long ago, the hot water heater in our home went on the fritz. I knew enough to try to light the pilot light on my own, but in the end, I ended up having to call a repairman.

When the repairman arrived, he took the time to explain each part of the hot water heater to me before he even started and told me what his diagnostic plan would be. As he tried different things, he eventually came to the conclusion – in a very clear and articulate way – that there were two separate concerns with the heater that would require the replacement of enough parts that I should consider a new heater. He then walked me through some of the considerations I should think about before deciding which way to go and gave me some resources to look at.

The worker was so competent and impressive that we eventually had his company replace our water heater for us – and he did the work. Afterwards, I shook his hand and thanked him for his efforts.

He said, “Thank my boss. I’ve been doing hot water heaters for fifteen years and everything I know came from him.”

This employee was well-mannered, courteous, knowledgeable, and thoroughly impressive – so much so that I brought repeat business to that company. What kind of relationship brings about that kind of employee – and that kind of loyalty?

Later that day, I called the owner of the company and told him that his worker was quite impressive. The owner let me in on five little tactics that he attributed this successful relationship to – that, in other words, turned a good employee into a great one.

And, no, they don’t involve throwing money at the problem.

First, show the employee exactly how you want the job done. If you want the employee to just replace water heaters, just show them how to turn a wrench. If you want the employee to be courteous to the customer and explain things in detail, show them how to do that, too. You can’t expect greatness if you don’t provide an indication of what greatness is.

Second, encourage them to work on their people skills. The classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People is a real home run here. The book effectively breaks down the mechanics of interacting well with others into little bite-sized pieces. Every once in a while, drop one of these pieces on an employee and show them how to use it on a customer – or another person – to positive effect. Quite humorously, the business owner was a single guy and he said that he often illustrated Carnegie’s points by using those exact mechanisms to pick up women at a bar when going out with employees. He’d then encourage the employees to copy that success – and when they did, they’d also be practicing a “people skill” that could be utilized in the workplace.

Third, don’t be afraid to compliment good work. Many employers are afraid to compliment too often, as it may give an employee an inflated sense of worth. Instead, a better approach is simply to compliment improvement. This means that when an employee is first getting started – and has low confidence in their work – you’ll dole out lots of compliments, as their work is improving rapidly. Later, though, when they’ve built self-confidence, you don’t need to dole out compliments nearly as often. A self-confident employee is a reliable one, one that will make you money.

Fourth, don’t completely knock down bad work. Every employee – especially a new one – is going to do it wrong to begin with. Instead of starting off by informing them where they went wrong, tell them first where they went right. Then identify just a small number of the biggest flaws in what remains and tell them – don’t make a long laundry list of mistakes for them to process. End with an encouragement.

Finally, show trust. If an employee repeatedly shows that they’re capable, show them you know it by extending your trust. Allow your employees to handle some of the billing themselves. Allow your top employees to supervise new ones. Allow your trusted employees to make minor situational decisions on your behalf. Showing someone worthy of trust that you trust them results in a positive for both of you – you have less of a burden to carry and their self-worth gets a large boost.

These five tactics helped turn a down-on-his-luck kid freshly out of high school into a lifelong self-confident employee who brings new customers into the business. And it doesn’t involve raises or bonuses.

Sounds like a real bargain to me!

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