We have a lot of contests at our company, and not just sales contests. From Jan. 24 to May 24 we held a Biggest Loser contest. The winner lost 27 pounds. Here's the catch: Employees had to pay $40 out of their own pockets to participate. That funded the pot. I, as company owner and president, matched it. The guy who lost 27 pounds pocketed more than a thousand dollars, and I gave a $200 bonus to any employee who lost more than 20 pounds.

Sell Your Vision

There are different ways to lead a company in the home improvement industry. You can endlessly chase your sales and marketing goals, but if the company owner is the only one winning, why should anyone else get excited?

On the other hand, you can help the people who work for you to succeed in all the important areas of life, what I call "The Five F's: faith, family, finances, friends, and fitness." If they succeed, you will too. For one thing, your employees will be more productive. They'll also better represent you and your company. And they'll stick around longer. How can your employee retention rate be anything other than dismal if you're losing people to drugs, alcohol, and divorce?

What We Can Control

At our company we set aside a half hour in the course of our twice-weekly meetings to discuss books on management, marketing, sales, or personal development. I ask employees to go through these books with a highlighter and come prepared to discuss a chapter or two.

I have always believed in personal development, but I really set it on fire in the spring of 2009. It was right after that fall when the stock market crashed and the banks failed that I thought: Enough is enough. We can either get bitter or get better.

We've focused on the Five F's because those are all parts of a balanced life. You can't be happy succeeding wildly in one area while ignoring some or all of the other areas.

To me, a window is just a gadget. You can only teach people so much about vinyl and reinforced glass. If they aren't succeeding, it isn't lack of product knowledge that's holding them back, it's successful life-management skills. And it's not all about the salespeople. If you only award incentives to one part of your company, you're creating your own dissension. United we stand, divided we fall.

Benchmarks and Incentives

Contests like the Biggest Loser are not just about money. They're about camaraderie and teamwork, too. They make work fun and let employees know that you're not just in this business to sell windows but to make the lives of your staff better. We have a saying: You're either ripening or rotting.

That doesn't mean we ignore sales at our company. In fact, when I hire a salesperson ? and we have five ? I require that person to subscribe to a personal development course within 90 days. I also benchmark job productivity and performance in all areas and tie performance to incentives. For instance, as we move into the fall show and event season, I let our marketing people and demonstrators know what goals we set last year and what goals they need to reach this year. I then create incentives.

I believe that leadership is influence, and to influence people in a way that's positive for them and for your company, you have to develop relationships. Build relationships with people and they always want to work with you.

?Bob Quillen is president of Quillen Bros. Windows, in Bryan, Ohio. Reach him at [email protected].