It starts with giving people dignity.

I spent some time today answering forum posts from one of my industry’s leading trade associations. A question was posed about how other retail chains hold their under-performing vendors accountable. I wanted to post my reply to this question here because I think the ideas transfer to other industries and other situations.

Hi [redacted],

About 7 years ago at PRSM, I was attending an education session led by a national HVAC company. Near the end of the session, the speaker asked:

“How many of you in this room have children?”

Most of the people in the room raised their hand.

“How many of you with your hands raised dream of your children growing up to be HVAC technicians?”

Only a few hands were still raised, and I recognized a couple of them who ran HVAC companies.

Our culture and our industry have looked down on skilled trades for a very long time. This is difficult to see in the mirror and painful to admit to ourselves. It is, however, very true.

We do it in the way we value a college education over a technical trade education. We do it in the way we pay vendors and technicians, always looking for the lowest rate. We treat people like a commodity, a throwaway thing, and then get frustrated when these same people whose jobs we do not value and whose careers we do not want our children to pursue, don’t meet our expectations.

So to me, it starts with being more human. It begins with giving people the dignity, trust, and value they deserve. It starts with relationships.

Contracts, agreements, and expectations are all great and necessary parts of the process. But they are meaningless outside of a foundation built on relationships.

This is what I believe.

Treating people well and listening will fix most problems. It starts with giving people dignity.