- Tech Tips
There is almost nothing worse than creating something… or doing something you are proud of and getting no feedback… Wait, I take that back; putting your heart and soul into something and then getting negative or dismissive feedback can be worse.
How many times have you emailed a quote, a design, or photos of something asking for feedback, and then sit staring at your email screen, hitting refresh, waiting to see what they are going to respond with? Hoping against hope that they will give you some feedback, and by feedback you mean validation.
For techs, it comes in the form of doing your best work and receiving no recognition or asking your supervisor what they think of your work and they nitpick at a detail.
I had one of my team members walk into my office the other day and ask me if I had a second to look at something on my computer, something he had a part in creating. He said he wanted some feedback on it, but here’s the thing, I know he had everything he needed to make the right decision and my opinion about it actually mattered very little for the success of the project, so I asked him, “Are you looking for feedback or validation?” Jerk move on my part? Maybe.. but he knows me enough to know that I trust him to make the choices that need to be made. I also understand that none of us ever get over that desire for affirmation, but we must learn to hit ‘send’ and close out a task without waiting for others’ approval.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a HUGE role for feedback in business.
A Time for Feedback
Feedback is an important part of any project or job, but especially highly creative ones. I’ve had the chance to work briefly with the blockbuster radio show/podcast This American Life. They, like most high produced radio shows, have a rigorous editorial process in which all of the producers sit in a room and give one another feedback on their stories as they are being produced. They call this process an “Edit”, and most of the producers as well as the host of the show, Ira Glass, credit the depth of the storytelling and production to these intense, well structured editorial sessions.
These are all about real feedback and they can be BRUTAL… but the goal is quality radio and everyone puts their ego aside for that result.
It’s Not What You Think
Useful feedback is not the haphazard impression of the partially engaged. Truly useful feedback has its roots in structure and process much more than it does in “opinions” or “first impressions”. When we ask someone to give us their feedback we can pretend like it’s just a passing question where we want a simple observation… We don’t. We want a thoughtful answer, we want the attention of the person we are asking, and attention is a hard currency to trade-in.
Feedback requires structure. If you truly want feedback, then create a structure where feedback can actually occur. For creative businesses, have internal feedback sessions where you analyze one another’s work and give thoughtful critiques. If you are seeking feedback from a customer, ask them specific questions, don’t just ask open-endedly for feedback unless you want a vague and open-ended answer. Ask “How do you feel about the texture?” not “Are you happy with the work?”. The more clear you can be about what feedback you are looking to get, the more useful the feedback will be. But there is an issue…
The Hard Pill to Swallow
Many times I ask for feedback and when I get it, I feel mad, sad, or it makes me want to quit. When that happens you can be pretty sure I didn’t really want feedback, no, I wanted validation. So now when I’m tempted to ask for feedback I stop for a second and ask myself, “Do I really want feedback?”
If you truly want feedback, GREAT! Now go create a structure so that you actually get it.
If you want validation, someone to tell you that everything is OK and you’re doing great, that’s OK, too; just take that request to someone who will give you the validation you are looking for.
Feedback requires structure, validation is best saved for calls to Mom.
This is the tale of how I found myself stuck on a service call for over 12 hours on a weekend, due to my failure to re-diagnose an issue. I was working for a service company that had many accounts with local gas stations. These were large customers, and we did everything we could to keep them happy.
One Friday as I was gearing up for my on-call weekend, I was informed I must travel an hour and a half away early the next morning to a gas station where another technician had diagnosed a faulty X-13 blower motor. The technician didn’t have the right blower motor for the repair, so the system was still down. The catch was: no one knew what size blower motor was supposed to go in. No model numbers, no detailed notes, nothing. So I grab every size aftermarket X-13 motor I could find in the shop. I had up to ¾ HP.
I arrived to find this location had two 5-ton package units mounted atop stands lifted 8 feet off the ground. After I setup the ladder and double-check the motor size, I realized it was 1 HP. I began calling all the parts houses in the area, hoping someone answered on a Saturday morning at 8am. No luck. I called parts houses in my local area and my co-workers to try and find a 1 HP X-13 motor that would work. Finally, I got in touch with one of my local suppliers. He had a motor that would fit the system I was working on, but he was an hour away from the supply house, and I was an additional hour and half away. Luckily, my employer at the time picked it up for me, and I had the part within a couple hours. I still had not re-diagnosed the system at that time.
Once I had the motor in hand, I quickly replaced it and had everything back together in a snap. I re-energize the system and….I curse loudly. The motor wouldn’t run. NOW I start re-diagnosing, a step I should have taken when I first arrived. Turns out, the original motor was just fine. The motor was not receiving 24v to the motor module, due to a faulty fan relay. I swapped out the 90-340 relay in the electrical compartment, restarted the system, and the blower ran beautifully. I hated myself.
I entertained the idea of packing up, walking away, and calling it complete, but I knew too well how that plays out. I began running complete system diagnostics, and found the system charge to be very low. I started leak searching the system with Big BlueⓇ from Refrigeration Technologies, and discovered a micro leak on the mechanical connection between the distributor tube and the TXV. No rubs outs were apparent, and it wasn’t a super loose connection, but it was clearly leaking. This was a package unit, remember, so I had to recover the entire system charge before I could make any repairs.
Once recovered, I found the connection was just coming loose. A healthy dab of NylogⓇ on the fitting connection and a torque wrench was all I needed to pass a nitrogen pressure test. Of course, the repair process was time-consuming, but eventually, I had the system evacuated, cleaned, recharged, and operating in peak condition under the current load.
I still would have needed to make the leak repair no matter what, but I could have easily saved 3.5 hours of time if i had re-diagnosed the system first when I arrived to the job. One could argue I was simply distracted by the chaos of the call, which would be true. However, a good technician should be able to follow the proper processes in spite of disorganization and frustration. I learned the importance of always checking behind yourself and others when you arrive to make a repair. Since, I have found the real causes for issues that were previously (either by me, or another technician) diagnosed as bad TXVs, reversing valves, motors, etc.
ALWAYS double-check your work and other people’s work. You never know how valuable it is until you fail to do it, and it costs you time and money.
As a leader it’s healthy to take a step back and see if you’ve become “That Boss,” you know, the one that nobody wants to work for who doesn’t have a shred of self-awareness.
I worked at a large corporation for 5+ years and it was easy to tell which managers valued employees. It was also easy to tell which ones had their ego all wrapped up in their jobs and allowed it to ooze forth every time you were in their presence.
When I started out as an owner, I made a personal resolve to not be “That Boss.”
Lo and behold, that is easier said than done. After the first few years of doing whatever it took to get our business rocking, we came into a season where I was out in the field less. We had hired more people, and I was able to focus more on specific aspects of the business, without being constantly connected to every petty detail. Naturally, I was able to distance myself and tune into the more “macro” vision of the company.
This was a good thing, but it was startling to see how quickly I saw glimpses of my old bosses playing out in how I treated my employees. Here are 4 areas that can easily go sour when you are disconnected from your employees.
#1 – The Nasty, Knee-Jerk Emailer
Hate mail, threatening emails, and complaints are never a fun reality of doing business.
A tendency we may have as a leader is to immediately react towards which team member was involved in this negative experience for a customer. Upon receiving it I may want to forward the email to all employees so that they can see that somebody isn’t doing their job right. Who is to blame?
Instead, take some time to figure out the specific complaint/situation. After doing some tracking, you may be able to be more specific in which team member was involved. Then pull them aside and point out what you appreciate about the action they took with a (sometimes very unstable or irrational) customer, and point out your thoughts on another viable option of handling it.
It now becomes a learning experience instead of a bash fest.
#2 – Blame Passer
Often because we’re the name behind the company, when others make real mistakes and cause our company to look bad, we are the ones who get blamed. I may want to immediately pass the blame to somebody else: A co-owner, a team member, the government, etc. Here’s the thing. You have to take responsibility for error or perceived error in your business. Value others and realize that being a leader means owning responsibility and allowing room for human error. Swallow your pride and move on, striving to be better.
#3- The Prima Donna
Don’t become too fancy for menial tasks. If you’ve come to a point that you’ve hired help to take on jobs that have given you freedom to focus in other areas, great. But don’t be too high and mighty to do the Yeoman’s work. Be willing to dive in now and then with the others and show that you are not above their work. You appreciate what they do. Sometimes there may be a temporary need to answer phones, run a service call, etc. Fill the need.
It’s amazing how much more respect I’ll get when I get back out into the field and work alongside a tech. I also like seeing that I can still relate to the tasks that really are what make up much of the business.
#4 – The “Back in My Day” Reminiscer
If I am in a meeting with the team on Fridays and they start to throw in a complaint or hardship, I immediately want to bring up the past and all the sacrifices I made, and how if they think it’s hard now, they should’ve been around in the day when I was in their shoes.
Here’s the thing. They don’t really care about what you went through. You don’t need to compare. You can listen if you want, but again, if it’s just an emotional response to something not ideal, it’s really not an issue and you can let it go. Eventually they, too, will have to let it go. Don’t always be on the defense.
remember how powerful an encouraging word is. When you get a positive review, share the report with your team! I remember how great it was when a boss gave me genuine praise for a job well done. It inspired me to strive even more to be that guy. By valuing others, you will naturally gain respect and will be less likely to be “That Boss.”
As should be our goal in leadership: “Create other leaders by having a heart for others”
Everyone in the HVAC/R trade uses some form of torch to braze or solder alloys together. So what is the proper way to handle an oxyacetylene torch? Turns out, there’s more than one right answer. Depending on which torch rig you use, the manufacturer’s manuals for operation may vary.
Everyone (hopefully) knows a neutral flame on a torch tip is suitable for most applications. Sometimes a carburizing flame is useful for reducing oxidation. The only flame we all should avoid is the oxidizing flame. However, in order to achieve the correct flame, a technician must fully understand the type of torch tip they are using, and the application for which the torch is being used.
For example, a “rosebud” tip is a (often) a large high BTU tip, and may be too large for most residential applications. A lot of technicians will attempt to lower the fuel and oxygen pressures feeding the tip to reduce the temperature. However, the tip begins to starve due to a lack of adequate fuel/oxygen mixing, and the flame will back into the torch tip and coat the inside with a carbon coating, which can damage the tip and torch over time. On the other hand, a torch that is too small will never get hot enough for an application outside its design parameters.
So what tips are best? At what pressures must tips be set? There are many answers to these questions, and they all depend on the brand of equipment you use, and the application in which you work.
I had the opportunity to speak to Tim Thibodeaux from the Service Dept. at Victor Technologies, and with Matt Foster from Uniweld Products, Inc. Both confirmed that pressures are tip specific, and operating procedures are brand-dependent. For example, many technicians have been taught to shut off the FUEL first when shutting down the torch, but this contradicts manufacturer instructions.
Uniweld states in their operation manual to shut off the OXYGEN first at the torch when following proper shutdown procedures. This is done to prevent flashback, or backfire.
Uniweld Shut-down Prodedure
Victor Shut-Down Procedure
Victor, too, requires the operator to shut off the OXYGEN first at the tip, then the operator may shut off the fuel valve. The reasoning remains the same: to prevent backfire/flashback. So where does this “Shut off the fuel first” myth come from? Turns out, it’s been taught that way for decades, but not without reason.
I had the opportunity to speak with HVAC/R Training Legend Bill Johnson, one of the original authors of the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technologies (RACT) Manual, and we spoke extensively on the topic. The RACT Manual offers an alternative method of shutting down the torch rig. The textbook teaches to shut the FUEL off at the torch first.
“Shut off the fuel gas (acetylene) valve at the torch first”
Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technologies (8th Edition)
I asked Bill Johnson why that was, and he explained it was a way of protecting the technician over the tool. Starve the flame of its fuel first, and eliminate the flame right away. Also, this was the way he had been taught many years ago, and the first edition of the RACT Manual was published in 1987. Perhaps there was once a manufacturer operation manual that specified the “fuel off first ” method, but the procedures have since changed. This method is not without merit, as its intentions are pure.
With the proper PPE and setup procedures, following the manufacturers’ approved operation instructions should be standard across the trade. Some would argue that shutting the oxygen off first can cause the little carbon “bunnies” that are created when the acetylene pressure is low enough. This is easily rectified by changing the way you setup the torch to begin with keeping acetylene pressure at the tip specified level.
Uniweld Tip 17-1
Matt Foster from Uniweld mentioned several operating tips for torch tips and setting a flame. The most common torch tip he finds most technicians use is the Type 17-1, and is good for pipes with an inside diameter of up to 1”. The manufacturer’s design operating pressures for this tip is 5 acetylene/5 oxygen. Another common tip is the Rosebud Type 28-2; its operating pressures are 5-7acetylene/5-8 oxygen, and it is good for pipes with an inside diameter of up to 1-5/8”. (Caveat: According to Matt, these published operating pressures may be even higher, as torch tip engineering changes over time, and the current catalog has not yet been updated. Therefore, when in doubt, take a look at the spec sheet that comes with the torch tip, or call the manufacturer to clear things up).
The Uniweld welding/brazing tip rated operating pressures can be found in their catalog here. The Victor welding/brazing tip rated operating pressure can be found here. As you can see, there is no one right answer when it comes to setting regulator pressure at the tanks. In schools, it is often taught to set fuel to 5psig at the regulator, and oxy at 10psig at the regulator. Some say the pressures should be the same at the regulator. The purpose for the pressure specifications is to ensure proper mixing of the gasses for the best quality flame, and to protect the torch rig from damage and compromised safety functions. So the answer to how to set your oxyacetylene regulator pressures is: it depends!
In other words…RTFM! (Read the FANTASTIC Manual) Hopefully, this clears up any confusion about torch rig operation and setup/shutdown procedures. Remember to ALWAYS wear proper PPE when dealing with any flame (eye protection, gloves, etc, and avoid polyester clothing), and follow industry best practices regarding safety.