Scaling and Streamlining Solar Business Growth: Page 5 of 6
Inside this Article
Labor. Attracting and retaining the right staff is critical to our success, and we put a lot of effort into this area. When the construction market rebounded in 2013–14, it put a strain on the workforce, and we found it more difficult to hire qualified labor. Competition for good workers drove up wages, especially for licensed electricians, which in turn necessitated an overall recalibration of pay rates throughout the company. In addition, as we have branched out into new states, we have encountered state-specific labor laws that require different compliance. We have developed comprehensive internal training programs, holding in-house NABCEP classes and on-the-job training, to build up our farm team, so to speak. Developing our workforce in-house helps with succession planning for crew leads, project management and other roles.
Procurement. We have found certain benefits in operating at scale: redundancy, resilience, more internal growth opportunities and greater purchasing power. We have sought to further scale our purchasing power via the Amicus Solar Cooperative. Through it, we aggregate our buying power with 40 other member companies in North America and leverage that volume to achieve lower prices on major equipment. Amicus has also evolved into a helpful peer group, where we share best practices, partner on new business endeavors and find support in addressing business challenges.
Operational processes. To scale efficiently, we have focused on refining our internal processes and making them replicable. For example, when we want to add another residential crew, we know exactly what to do, including what vehicle we need, how we will build it out and how to stock it. We know which people are ready to assume leadership of that crew and how long it will take the crew to reach full productivity. The process of adding a crew now follows a well-known formula, which makes planning for expansion a less daunting task.
We look to better processes, improved technology and new providers to make our work flow more easily. On the commercial side of our business, we continue to refine our remote site management and build strong relationships with subcontractors while leveraging relationships with other members of the Amicus Solar Cooperative. On the residential side, we employ a kaizen mentality of constant improvement, making small adjustments to our processes so they are ever easier to accomplish. For example, in Colorado alone, we work in more than 50 different jurisdictions, each with its own requirements and code interpretations. Given that complexity, we want to build more automation into our IT tools to streamline our compliance.
Safety. Safety has become a companywide focal point, both as a function of training so many new employees and as a result of increased scrutiny from OSHA and inspectors. We now have a dedicated safety team that maintains vigilance over our practices, provides more-professional documentation, procures all safety-related equipment and generally deepens the company’s commitment to an abiding culture of safety. Over the coming years, we will continue to seek the right balance between pushing for efficiency and ensuring that our crews can perform work safely.
It bears mentioning that Namasté Solar is an employee-owned cooperative. We believe strongly in the employee ownership model, as it creates a deep sense of caring and investment in the work that we do. It also raises the confidence of our customers that the people responsible for their projects have a true stake in the outcome. We have seen many advantages to this model—and some disadvantages—as we’ve scaled and streamlined through the years.
With regard to decision making, for smaller-scale decisions that fall within a person’s job scope, we generally empower co-owners to make decisions on their own. We expect them to take initiative where needed, think long-term and require minimal management. For instance, commercial project managers have visibility into the big picture of a project (financial, relationships and so on), and can execute change orders with minimal bureaucracy. We have seen throughout the organization that this creates a sense of empowerment and trust that raises morale and increases loyalty, ultimately leading to lower attrition. That said, it sometimes takes us longer to make companywide decisions, because we strive to include as many voices as possible along the way.
We also accept certain trade-offs based on our corporate model. After all, the time we spend in meetings is time we’re not on the roof installing panels. However, we believe that the holistic benefits outweigh the costs. As a result of our discussions, co-owners are more educated about the state of the industry, more engaged in the outcomes of our decisions and generally feel more connected to each other. This leads to deeper job knowledge and general empathy for fellow co-workers. It’s all about balance, and we strive to find the right level of engagement and involvement without sacrificing efficiency and productivity along the way.
At Namasté Solar, we pay as much attention to how we do it as to what we do. We’re here not only to transform energy, but also to transform business. And the more effective we are in one arena, through achieving greater scale and having an impact on more people, the more effective we will be in the other.