By Collin Corso
For the first time as an owner I faced an in-season snow & ice management crisis when a medical issue sidelined me from active involvement in the field. Long story short, I have a rather large kidney stone that will require surgery in the middle of our already busy snow season. In regard to my long-term health, it is an easier problem to manage, but the surgery will require me to step aside from my full-time involvement in the business for a complete recovery.
As I faced the situation, I had to think about the impact my illness would have on the business. As a small business owner, I wear many hats, and suddenly I was unable to wear them all and make the business run as I expect.
I know several owners who are fortunate enough that they can wake up the morning after a snow event and call the team to find out how everything went. For the vast majority of us, that is not the case. Whether it’s due to the deep-seated passion for the battle against Mother Nature, or simply being at a certain stage within the company’s growth, many of us still spend every snow event in the trenches with the rest of the team. Usually the difference between the owner and the rest of the team is that the owner not only operates a truck or equipment for long durations, but is also responsible for overseeing all aspects of the operation simultaneously. This is what makes it so difficult when an owner is forced into a sudden role change or is unable to be active during a winter event.
Plan for the worst
When possible, taking steps to plan for this ahead of time can save a lot of headaches if a business owner becomes incapacitated or is unable to perform work duties:
1. Build bench strength. Identify your second and third person in charge and work with them to build “bench strength” for each position. This means that over the course of time the person who is second in command (an operations or field manager for instance) should be trained and familiarized with many of the managing owner’s responsibilities and how to properly carry them out. Another person should be trained and familiarized with the operations or field manager’s responsibilities. This way each employee will not only be ready to take over certain roles in case of emergency, but also be ready for the next step in their growth and succession through the company ranks. It’s important that each person understands who is responsible for each task so a clear leader can be identified.
2. Put it in writing. Create formalized written procedures for each delegated task. An owner should never assume someone will carry out a task exactly as expected.
3. Have faith in your team. At first it was very hard to sit in the office and trust that everything was going according to plan and that my rigorous expectations of quality were being met. But I’ve realized there is a point when an owner needs to let go a bit and allow team members to take what they have learned and run with it. While it is not an easy task, the rewards for the company’s growth (and owner’s stress) can be great.
Enjoy the lightened load
I feel fortunate to have a team of very qualified and capable individuals this year, more so than any other season. Travis has been second in charge for many years and has a very good understanding of what I do during an event. During my illness he has taken over many of my roles and responsibilities.
Interestingly, the unfortunate circumstance of having a health issue during the snow season has almost been a blessing in disguise for me. It has allowed me to more clearly focus on customer management and dispatch tasks. My newly found ability to have routine contact with my customers has dramatically increased customer satisfaction. I have been able to focus on communicating with my customers and coordinating field operations from my office via phone, radio and GPS. Doing so has reduced complaints to almost zero for the last several storms. And to my own surprise, I have never felt so clearheaded, relaxed and in control during a snow event in my entire career.
Collin Corso is CEO of of Driveway Snow Blowing, Inc.