Polls show that something like 80 percent of American drivers consider themselves to be above average drivers. That alone shows a problem with accurate self-assessment. But let’s change the variable from “average” to “skilled.” Anyone who has completed defensive driver training can observe that relatively few drivers are actually competent (much less skilled). Yet, ask 10 randomly selected people if they are skilled drivers, and you’re likely to hear all 10 say yes.

A young person who drives aggressively might consider himself skilled because he has (so far) gotten away with that behavior. The same goes for the person who is doing 50 miles an hour when merging into the interstate traffic that’s moving along at 65 miles an hour. These people don’t know the difference between driving that is skilled and driving that is not. And that makes them not only annoying but also dangerous.

Defensive driving programs typically emphasize that the goal of driving a car is to safely get from Point A to Point B. These programs then teach the skills, tactics and metrics the driver needs to accomplish this goal.

If you’re an officer in, or owner of, an electrical services firm, make sure anyone who drives a vehicle bearing your company logo has successfully completed defensive driver training. You want your drivers to be confident that they are skilled drivers, not just merely engaging in hubris and wrongly assuming they are skilled because thus far they’ve gotten away with bad driving.

Remember, if they aren’t skilled, they are annoying and dangerous to other drivers. With your company logo proudly displayed on the vehicle they are driving, this is an important business issue.

This “skilled driver” example is one you can see and understand just by being on our public streets and highways. Now apply the concept to electrical work. Are your people truly skilled in the tasks they perform and the work they do? Or is hubris involved here? How can you know?

Look again at the defensive driving example. That leads you to the answer, which is structured training. But skill alone isn’t enough for your company to truly stand out or to explore emerging markets. Nor will skill training alone equip your company officers or your employees for some of the tough situations they may encounter.

This raises another question. Are your people really up to speed on best practices, new methods, and problem solving? Why would you think so, if you think so?

Does your answer involve statements like these?

• We send a contingent to at least one conference every year (NETA, 7x24 Exchange, NECA, etc.) and encourage them to attend sessions and talk with their peers.

• Are you kidding? We’ve got a guy on a Code Making Panel! So there!

• Well, how many more people do we need serving on IEEE committees? We have six now.

• We never miss the local Electric Show. One thing we do for sure is walk the booths to see the latest stuff. Everyone’s required to attend at least two sessions.

• We’ve got a local council going. Every summer, some area electrical firms put on a barbecue. We talk about problems we’ve faced and how we’ve solved them, and about challenges ahead. A lot gets shared that helps our customers.

• Every technician, electrician, and project manager is required to hold membership in at least two industry associations. We support active involvement in one of the two.

• We have a budget for sending a couple of people a year to vendor training. We want the skills training from that, but also want them to understand what people are doing with those skills. They are required to bring back that information.

These are just some of the ways that top-performing firms know they are top-performing firms. Their knowledge comes from the fact they are actively investing the resources needed to be top-performing. In their case, the idea they are top performers comes not from hubris but from simple observation.

When a firm’s people come back from conferences with new ideas that the firm can carry out or with a much greater understanding of how a certain electrical test is properly performed, the firm’s managers can see its competitive edge getting a whole lot sharper.

For many firms, this kind of edge sharpening just does not seem possible. There are no billable hours involved. They ask questions like, “Where is the money going to come from?”

What you need to be asking, if yours is one of those firms, are questions such as the following. If you get the right answers, you reduce costs and/or improve revenue.

• How can we reduce costly employee turnover?

• Why are some other firms able to do this kind of thing? (For names of firms with employees on the Code Making Panels, just look inside a copy of the NEC)?

• Why are we getting caught in pricing fights instead of being able to show that we really are highly skilled and worth the price that commands?

• So we spend X on advertising, Y on hiring, and Z on rework. If our people were really up to speed on the current best practices, new methods, and problem solving, wouldn’t we get more bang for our advertising buck, reduce the need to hire replacement employees, and reduce rework?

• How can we enable our employees to work more efficiently, more safely, and more accurately, if we never get them involved in industry associations, industry events, training opportunities, and the like?

• Where are the new ideas going to come from?

• How do we stay on top of industry practices and industry standards?