Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Painting the Ship

Care of the company is not all on the owner — look to your team to help carry the burden.

A few months ago, Livewire came down with a bad case of low morale. It’s a funny thing, morale. When it’s great, you feel unstoppable, like you could stomp through the floor. When it’s bad, finding the reason why can be like nailing Jell-O to the wall. To some degree, low morale and depression feel like distant cousins — they both come out of nowhere and feel like a weight pressing down on your chest.

This particular slump began around the time I got wind that one of our employees was threatening to leave Livewire. That’s nothing new. People have come and gone from our company over the last 20 years. Most of the time it’s a mutually agreeable decision. Occasionally, it’s someone who passes the “keeper” test (would you fight to keep someone threatening to leave?). I really wanted to keep this employee and, more importantly, figure out what caused things to get so bad for them that they would consider moving on. That way we could put out the fire and leave a fire extinguisher behind for next time.

Also by Henry Clifford: Normalizing Turnover

As I began my investigative journey into our low morale, I kept stumbling on causes which I’d sworn we’d already addressed. In fact, we had addressed many of them…five years ago. Just like a large aircraft carrier, it takes a lot of time to “paint the ship” in a business. By the time you finish, it’s time to start again. Many businesses fall prey to the “one and done” approach when it comes to implementing lasting initiatives. In this case, I’d fallen flat on my face, trying like hell to implement change, only to be thwarted by my own inaction on the initiatives we already had on the books.

Painting a Ship – Business
Getty Images

What to do? I considered curling up in the fetal position and crying for my mom. I considered sticking my head in the sand. I also considered yelling, stomping, and screaming. None of these genius ideas really made it past the spit-balling stage. As I drove home yesterday, it hit me like a ton of bricks. We needed to spread out the give-a-damn organizationally in a way that we’d perhaps begun a few times but never sustained. That give-a-damn is personified and summed up with a single word: champion.

What on earth is a champion? Imagine someone in your company doing their day job but also excited about keeping an eye on your showroom — making sure you always have the latest technology installed, managing budgets for upgrades, getting comps from vendors, and keeping abreast of the latest and greatest methods for perfecting the “art of the demo.” It’s not the business owner. It’s not necessarily someone on your leadership team. It’s someone in the company who decides to step up and make that part of the business their area of pride (thanks to OneVision’s Brad Camp for giving me that phrase).

Also by Henry Clifford: Managing Stress

Here are a few parts of our business where we solicit champions to step up and make it their own:

Services: This one caught me off guard. Here I was, a co-founder of Parasol, struggling to understand why some of our own employees weren’t brought into 24/7/365 remote support. We’d spent so much time building, training, and implementing that we’d gotten complacent since COVID truly demonstrating the value to our employees on an ongoing basis. I had a hard time coming to grips with this one. Thankfully we’ve now dedicated serious time to resetting the table and appointing a true champion to keep the fire burning.

Design Center: If you’ve ever found yourself looking at your demo room or customer show homes and realizing you’ve gotten behind the 8 ball keeping things up to date, look no further than an enthusiastic junior salesperson to help keep things fresh. If you challenge them to plan and budget for upgrades, you’ll be amazed at what they’ll do on their own. We’ve had great success doing this with lighting, 2-channel audio, and videoconferencing.

Training Center: Thanks in large part to IntegrateU’s relationship with ProSource Academy, we were able to build out a beautiful training center in 2021. It took a ton of hard work and commitment (thanks to my partner, Dante Walston, for his tireless efforts), but we were able to cut the ribbon on a stunning training showcase where Livewire and ProSource Academy could co-exist, like living and training on a working farm. After six months or so we started to notice small nicks in the paint, the bathrooms weren’t being cleaned properly, etc. This drove us nuts. We appointed a champion for the facility and almost instantly we saw improvement.

Equipment Demo: If you’ve found yourself pulled in many directions as an owner, you might feel a slight twinge of guilt around staying fresh with technology. It’s hard work to stay up to date on all the latest gear. We implemented a program where vendors donate gear to us and we assign an employee to review products and present findings to the entire team. We began this a couple of years ago, and it’s had its stops and starts. We’ll be refreshing this program later this year in an effort to keep us all from calcification.

Culture Club: Last, but certainly not least, comes the beating heart of the company. Thanks to amazing leadership by our own Ashton Hassan and Will Harper, we have a ton of team togetherness opportunities. There’s a group that plays disc golf every weekend, we just had an axe throwing team building evening, and last month marked our second annual Cinco de Mayo party. The Culture Club has a tough job, especially during times of low morale. We try to rotate leadership every six months to keep team members from burning out.

The next time you’re feeling like the weight of the world rests on your shoulders, consider there might be some great people on your team who would love the chance to carry some of that weight. It’s a great opportunity to groom future leaders and can really give you an early insight into a new employees’ work ethic and initiative. Let the champions lead, nurture and praise their successes, and the next time you find yourself painting the ship, don’t be surprised to find whole sections of the boat with a few fresh coats applied long before you get around to circling back.

What are you doing to paint the ship a little each day?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.