Getting Buy-In From Your Plumbing Team Even When They Push Back

Some crewmembers may question your established policies, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get them to fully believe in the company culture

Getting Buy-In From Your Plumbing Team Even When They Push Back

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Your most talented and highest-earning plumbers are probably a pain to manage. They frustrate you because they challenge you. Their very competence, confidence, and that terrible habit of knowing their mind are a blessing and a curse.

These employees want to know “but why?” often enough to make you grit your teeth. Bite back the desire to respond with “because I said so” and consider one of two possibilities:

1. I should promote this employee.

2. I should fire this employee.

The “but why?” guy is either on the way up or on the way out. The in-between time will be frustrating for you both.

Chances are this employee is a natural leader. The remaining question is whether or not they have a place in your organization. 

Embracing the Leader

Bless the employees who follow marching orders without challenge. The “but why?” guy is not that employee. 

A natural leader's instinct is to do it their way and take as many people with them as possible. So you better be sure their way is your way. Otherwise you risk losing control of your culture.

This employee will only comply with your rules once they understand them and agree with your answer to the question of “why?”

The Right Leader

There are likely a few fundamental values that drove you to start your own business. These are the things that make you different:

  • You want to treat customers differently.
  • You want to treat employees differently.
  • You want to offer better quality.

If your “but why?” guy isn't in lockstep with you on these critical values, he is delivering a competing product to your customers. He certainly isn’t delivering your product.

This employee quickly becomes a snake in the grass. It doesn’t mean they are a terrible person, but their continued employment threatens your business. It isn’t a good fit.

Understanding how your values relate to the culture of your organization is critical. Your employees don’t get to define your business. You do. 

Break It Down

An employee who doesn’t see things your way isn’t a lost cause. You can’t change someone’s heart, but you can open their eyes. This means getting better at training. It means including not just what to do but why you do it.

Here’s an example:

You have asked that your employees provide the customer with multiple quotes on a job. Your “but why?” guy is consistently only giving customers one option. Frustrated, you ask him what his problem is. 

“Because I know what needs doing,” he responds. “I’m the expert, right?"

You can’t even argue with that. It’s a true statement. How do you get this employee to look at things your way? Demanding they get over themselves and do it your way probably won’t work. Nor will merely explaining what you want them to do — again. 

If you are asking them to do something that flies in the face of what seems logical to them, the exercise is particularly pointless. It’s crucial at this moment to recognize that there is no true right or wrong. There are only the company values you have established. That is your choice as the leader, but you do have to inspire employees to follow that decision.

Digging Down

Beliefs drive actions. To get your “but why?” guy to change his behavior, you have to convince him to believe what you believe. The trouble is, beliefs are deeply rooted and hard to articulate. You may never have put these things into words before. 

Because they come naturally to you, it can be frustrating and off-putting when employees don’t think your way. Assigning moral judgment to these beliefs is tempting. But we don’t always know why we believe certain things are right or wrong. We have to dig down a little. If you want to get fancy, it’s called a root cause analysis.

Try Using the Five Whys

The Five Whys technique gets credited to the Toyota Production System inventor, Sakichi Toyoda. It’s powerful yet simple.

When looking for a root cause, start by asking yourself why you believe that or why did that happen. The trick is that you don’t stop there. Ask four more times. Each answer will be more fulfilling — and closer to the essential truth. Here’s an example.

Core Value: We offer customers choices in their repairs.

  • Why? (1 — the knee jerk reaction) Because it's the right thing to do. 
  • Why? (2) Because there is usually more than one way to do things and the customer should have a say.
  • Why? (3) Sometimes you can repair, replace, or patch. The customer might have reasons for wanting a different level of service. 
  • Why? (4) Because it’s their home. We don't know their financial situation or the history of the property. 
  • Why? (5 — the core truth) It’s their asset and their money. They have a right to say what happens to it. 

Most people would say “yes” if you started your training by asking, “Do you believe that people have the right to decide what happens to their property and how their money is spent?"

Congratulations, you found common ground.

Now that you’ve all agreed on that starting point, translating that to customer options is a simple leap.  

Acknowledging the Leader

In our example, the “but why?” guy isn’t wrong. He just has a different perspective. Embrace it. 

Include in your training, “‘But why?’ guy has pointed out that, as the expert, you should give a recommendation. That’s correct. But take the time to explain the pros and cons of the options, so that the customer is making an informed decision.” 

Give your “but why?” guy credit for acknowledging this mental obstacle. Then frame it in the context of the bigger picture — your why.

Getting this buy-in during training will help your entire team feel more confident about the requests you make of them. Hopefully your “but why?” guy gets it too. If he doesn’t, you have a hard choice to make. 

Breaking ideas down to simple value-based terms makes it easy to find common ground. Without common ground the employee will battle you every step of the way, contradicting you at every opportunity. Protect the culture and identity of your small business.

About the Author

Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at


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