#HVACToday guest author Kevin Walsh of Schaafsma Heating and Cooling, Gran Rapids, MI

Kevin Walsh, president, Schaafsma Heating and Cooling, Grand Rapids, MI

After more than 100 years in business, our management team made the decision to evolve into a performance-based service company. Very early in that process we began to understand we needed a new level of leadership for us to succeed.

As leaders of our business, we had to get out front and lead, before we could expect the rest to follow. We regularly compared this process to pulling ropes versus pushing them. In life, a real leader must be out front pulling, not pushing from behind.

Our management learned this the hard way. We erroneously thought we could stand behind our troops and bark orders to measure and test and diagnose and fix! Obviously, the results of doing that were less than stellar. Once we figured out we needed to be out front leading by example, we began to succeed.

The more we focused on how to better lead towards performance-based disciplines, the more our teams responded, and they began evolving from tradesmen to craftsmen.

Obstacles We Face in Our Move to Becoming a Performance-Based Company

Notice I used the word face, as opposed to faced. This is because we’re still facing obstacles. As we continue advancing our abilities to test, diagnose, and sell renovation jobs, we keep encountering new obstacles to overcome. New problems are the cost of progress. Before long, we were overcoming new difficulties as a regular course of business. Each time we eliminate new obstacles, we move forward.

Get Leadership Training

The first step we took after deciding to fully embrace the performance-based philosophy, was to get our company leadership trained by National Comfort Institute, Inc. (NCI). During training, we ‘saw the light’ and clearly understood what we wanted to happen. We imagined that if we sent our salespeople, installers, and service techs to this training, they would also see the light and the transition to performance-based would be simple and automatic.

Schaafsma #HVAC on Performance-Based Contracting

Then Train the Guys

We learned from our initial experience that when just the Schaafsma leadership preached performance, the guys didn’t believe the sermon. What we needed was an outside expert confirming and teaching the same principles. After the guys heard and understood it from someone else, our job was to simply reinforce it.

Our excitement skyrocketed as’ guys returned from training and the renovation jobs started rolling in. As we installed the new type of work, we realized our lack of process systems made things not work smoothly. Without such processes to guide sales, scope of work, communications, and pulling materials for this new style of work, we began to slip back into old beliefs and habits. Old was easy, new was not comfortable, and we drifted off our target.

Lesson learned: performance-based contracting requires more work than just getting trained. So, we took a deep breath and began to figure out the next step toward success.

Build A Performance-Based Culture

It became clear our expectations were still too high. We expected everyone to automatically jump on board and figure it out. To be successful, we need a long-term plan to nurture and build the Performance-Based Contracting’ culture throughout our company.

The light bulb really went off for us when we began to understand it’s too hard to get 30 people rowing in the same direction when they all don’t want to go to the same place. They didn’t want to go to the same place, because they couldn’t see the benefits we would receive once we arrived.

So we still needed buy-in from everyone. To accomplish this, we needed to share the vision with front-line evangelists throughout the company. We identified those managers and key people already committed to quality and integrity, already open to improving even more.


Duct renovations are an important part of the Schaafsma Performance-Based Contracting’ approach to #HVAC service. For more on this company, click here.

These were the team members who would willingly participate in daily interaction with the rest of our co-workers. It made sense that they share their knowledge and example on the front line.

Support Your Managers

Through this approach, we believed everyone would not only be on the same boat, but would be rowing in the same direction. As more joined in, the momentum began to increase and took on a life of its own. The leadership team realized by supporting the managers and key people to build our performance-based culture slowly into the company, the change would stick.

The new culture began to stick even more as we addressed and overcame other obstacles that continued to appear. Team members saw us consistently overcome each obstacle and began to realize how committed we are to building and maintaining the performance-based culture. This constant action proved to everyone that this new way of doing business was here to stay.

Sustaining the Culture

Culture is the hardest thing to change in a company, especially a 110-year-old company like Schaafsma. Now, we are far enough down the road to know we must maintain this culture, or we’ll slip back into the old, bad habits.

Our work is never done, because we intend to move forward in our mission. Sustaining this culture requires accomplishing the tasks needed to keep the performance-based fires burning in our business.

This means continuous training. It means measuring and reinforcing success daily. We motivate team members with positive feedback and sharing success stories. This assures everyone in the company sells themselves on the benefits of performance-based craftsmanship. The information we share also confirms to everyone how well this new culture is working and paying off for all of us.

It’s a Continuous Process

We measure daily and monitor daily. This is especially important in the beginning, at a time when it’s too easy to fall back into old habits. Measuring and monitoring creates a new reality as co-workers can see both the good and bad. The good pulls us forward and the bad helps us see what we need to improve.

We have witnessed how becoming and remaining a performance-based business has pumped new life into an old company. How else do old companies continue to thrive?

Kevin Walsh is the President of Schaafsma Heating and Cooling Company, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Kevin is’ featured as a speaker for NCI’s Summit 2018 in Austin, Texas. His presentation will expand on the topic of this article.