As I sat down with Charlie, master plumber and owner of St Paul Pipeworks, on an evening not long ago he told me a story about an experience that he and the plumbing crew once went through. It really showed me the values and characteristics that he and all of his plumbers share. As I have had the chance to visit the plumbing shop a handful of times it has been a pleasure to meet most of the crew and get to know their personalities better. It made me want to share their story with all of you. In this blog about the workplace culture at St Paul Pipeworks.
The story starts with a little bit of background information about Phil, one of the main plumbers in the shop. He is a native of Australia and both of his parents and some of his extended family still live there. Every few years he gets the chance to go back and visit them and really relishes being involved in the Australian lifestyle. When he goes, it is such a big trip that he normally stays for four to five weeks, which makes hard on the company because it takes one of their best producing people out of the equation.
Coincidentally, before Phil’s last vacation, one of Charlie’s general contractors suggested a licensed plumber to temporarily fill the void. Charlie agreed to meet with him for a round of golf and decided to bring him on board. He would ride along with Phil in his plumbing truck for a couple weeks and then they would see if they could make this work during Phil’s absence. He did, and it went well for a time.
A couple of weeks in, Charlie started to feel a sort of cranky vibe from a lot of the crew. Charlie explained that the St Paul Pipeworks team has many unwritten mechanical details that they do on every job to ensure the quality of the work. This guarantees they get the job done right the first time and it will hold up. The new guy had his mind set on doing some things his way. When an apprentice told him that they do not do things that way, it sent this plumber through the roof. He went to Charlie saying, “What do you mean these apprentices are trying to tell ME what to do?”. Finally, Charlie had to put his foot down and explain that these are not nineteen-year-old apprentices, they are grown men and they understand what our culture is so if they tell you something, then you better listen because that is the way things are done. In the end result, that plumber could not change who he was, so they parted ways. Even though he was a licensed plumber, he was not a proper fit because he didn’t understand the culture of the company.
While Charlie was in the middle of his unhappy plumbers squabbling, he stepped back and thought, wait a minute, the crew is actually demonstrating their commitment to the culture of the company. In the plumbing industry, many other companies and their plumbers are very competitive with each other and unfortunately, it can be bad in terms of not helping each other learn to get better. Most people assume throwing a wrench in the equation has a negative connotation, not at St Paul Pipeworks. The St Paul Pipeworks team is encouraged to check in with each other especially if they encounter an unusual problem and to help one another overcome it. Their focus is on the work, not trying to debase some workers and exalt others as is a human tendency. They work together as a family and are excited to come back at the end of a workday and share the tales of their experiences of the day. They walk in saying, “Oh, look at this crazy nightmare I walked into and look how great it turned out in the end!”.
Charlie, who is a second-generation master plumber himself, instills his values and ethics into all of his employees. They really do get it. All in all, if you are looking for quality plumbing by quality plumbers in the Minneapolis or St. Paul metro area, I would not hesitate to call St Paul Pipeworks today.
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