The 85% Rule

Why do most companies exist? To make money. That said, when owners of companies are deciding to take the risks associated with starting a new venture, making a profit is most often at the top of the list of outcomes. So, wouldn’t it make perfect sense to then direct the majority of company training time for the team toward skills that make companies the most financially successful? Of course. Does it happen that way?

Almost never. 

In an often-cited study conducted by Harvard University, Stanford University, and the Carnegie Foundation, the researchers found 85% of financial success was attributed to strong soft skills (core skills) and only 15% of success was found to derive from technical know-how. How often does your cleaning and restoration company train soft skills to all levels of the team? If you apply the logic of the “85% Rule” for every 10 hours of team training, you would spend 8.5 hours training soft skills and only the remaining 1.5 hours training the team on how to do the actual work.

According to the National Soft Skills Association, the reality is nearly the opposite of the

85% Rule. In their study, 72% of all training dollars were spent on hard skills training and only 28% were spent on soft skills training across all industries.

I can relate on a personal level to not understanding the value soft skills training could provide to my cleaning and restoration company. It wasn’t until I had experienced enough pain that I began a search to find a different way of doing things. For the first several years of our business, my business partner Larry and I operated like most owners of small service businesses. We just wanted to hire people, train them to do the work, get work, and then they would go perform the work we hunted down. In turn, we would pay the them and all would be good. That was never what our company looked like in reality. We had a good company, but we were still wasting valuable time and energy everyday with clients calling and complaining about a myriad of issues. It generally started with a lack of general communication by our techs, such as: clients not knowing if the crew had left for lunch and if they were coming back, nobody told them when will the job was to be finished, the team was too loud in the home, they spent too much time on their cell phones and angered the client, and so on. These calls happened daily and put a huge stress on our CSR’s, managers, and us as owners. We wanted to be better than that. Larry and I wanted to be able to come to work everyday not having to waste valuable time with us or our managers putting out so many fires and just be able to focus that energy on growth. Can you relate?

So, I started on a journey of discovery trying to find out the answers to our problems. As operations manager, it was on me to fix this, as most of the issues were coming from our field teams. I sat down with the office team and started to listen back to complaint calls and looked through our CRM for the causes of call backs. After some research, what we learned was that almost none of our complaint calls and call backs were due to a technical issue. Nearly all calls revolved around a failure of soft skills by the office team on the phones or the technicians in the field. The clients were not upset that we didn’t know how to do the work correctly. They were upset that we didn’t communicate properly, our job site behavior left something to be desired, and they felt our team wasn’t listening to their needs and responding to those needs in an appropriate way.

Larry and I sat down one night over dinner to absorb this new info and discuss why it was happening and how we could go about fixing the problems. As we talked, Larry and I started to realize that although we had many technicians who were superior to us technically, neither Larry nor I ever really had any call backs or complaints about our work. It made sense once we started looking at it. Larry and I both had gone to college, where many social skills are honed, we had worked in corporate jobs further receiving more soft skills training, and then started our service business. We were not any smarter than our team, we just had more training and practice working on soft skills.

When we worked in the home, we would prevent issues before they happened by communicating with the client proactively, making sure they knew what the status of the job was, being careful in the home so as to not to damage their house or belongings, and showing great empathy for the clients un der duress. We stopped the problems before they ever occurred. Now we had to train our team to do the same.

Therefore, I set out to create an in-house training program to teach our team the same soft skills Larry and I had learned on our life journey. I broke the week into five daily lessons, hitting on the same subjects each week. We discussed our Mission Statement on Mondays, Personal Development on Tuesdays, Job Site Behavior on Wednesdays, DISC Model of Human Behavior on Thursdays, and Sales and Service on Fridays. We set the meeting for the same time every day and kept it brief so as to not burn the clock. At first we had a lot or resistance from our team. They didn’t like to talk about people’s thoughts and feelings, especially their own. However, we kept at it and kept telling them the “why’ of what we were doing and how it was going to benefit them in life and at work everyday once they started to apply the lessons. Over time, they softened, no pun intended, to learning these skills as they began to see how much easier their life was in the office and the field as they become more skilled and more confident dealing with clients.

Larry and I gained great benefit, too. We began to grow our business at an unprecedented rate because we now had time to actually grow the business instead of putting out fires. Our managers and team members were happier and thus less likely to seek employment elsewhere, so our employee retention rate improved dramatically.

Most of all our clients were winning. They truly felt our team understood them and their needs and considered us the pinnacle of home service in our area.

Eric Sprague

Eric Sprague is a long time cleaning and restoration business owner. Having sold his service business in 2018, Eric is now Director of Education at Super Tech University and Co-Host of the Blue Collar Nation Podcast. Eric’s passion is help­ing service business owners and their field technicians be the best they can be and grow as people and service business professionals.

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