BY JACKI BRADBURY-GUERRERO
As business owners, we're always told to look at our balance sheets and profit and loss statements, because that's where we can determine the success of our business and discover our problems. Yet nowhere on either of those sheets do we list employees. Where would you put them? Under assets, or liabilities? Or both? The most challenging part of running a business is finding and keeping good employees. We can't do it without them, as we haven't found a way to clone ourselves — at least not yet.
I love the HVAC business, and I love helping my employees succeed in this business.
Yet it seems that finding and keeping good employees is one of the toughest things business owners face today. As hard as I work at it, I still find it challenging. However, it's also one of the things I first notice about highly successful owners: no matter what their company's size, they spend the time and energy necessary to build a good team.
How do we go about building a good team? First, we need to find people who want to succeed. Then, we need to figure out ways to help them succeed. It's an ongoing process that I strongly believe is all about motivation. Even highly skilled and capable people can lose their motivation and become unproductive. What we, as owners and managers, need to do is figure out how to keep them motivated. We need to take some of the responsibility and not always put the blame on the employees. It's an equal partnership between employee and employer
What Motivates Us?
I took a psychology class a few years ago. It was a study of the major theories of human motivation. While that may sound boring and complicated, it's actually very simple and it makes sense.
Probably the most well known approach to motivation is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory. Maslow felt you needed to satisfy human needs in different levels in order to motivate people to higher levels. According to Maslow, people have five levels of needs. They start with the basic needs that are biological and physiological. The second level is the safety and security needs. The third is the need to belong or social needs. Finally, the last two levels consist of the highest motivational needs: self esteem and self fulfillment.
To put it in simple business terms, the first thing you have to do is make sure your employees are getting paid well so they can buy food and pay for a home. Then, you need to make sure they feel safe on the job, and they have a sense of job security. Next, you need to surround them with a pleasant place to work, good co-workers, and be a fair boss. You must let them know their personal lives matter. Then if you've satisfied those basic needs and want to more highly motivate them, you'll do it by giving them recognition, training, and opportunities for advancement. At this point they need to feel good about themselves.
Ask Your Employees What's Important to Them
One of the ways I tested Maslow's theory in the real world of HVAC contracting was to conduct an employee survey. I wanted my employees to give me their honest, personal opinion of what really mattered most to them. Before I could do anything to help them reach their goals, I had to know what they really wanted.
This survey accomplished two things. First, it let my employees know I really did care. It told them they were important and their opinion mattered to me. Second, it gave me an idea of what was important to them.
I was really surprised at what I found, and I think you would be, too. I thought all that really mattered to them was getting paid the highest wages and having the best benefit package. Those things did matter, but they weren't always the most important. If they were underpaid, then they picked good wages and benefits. But if they were being paid fairly and felt safe and secure in their jobs, they were much more interested in employee and coworker recognition, liking their job, and training. This survey really did make a difference in how I looked at my employees. I now try to conduct one every couple of years. Even though the employees don't sign them, I usually can tell whose are whose. Therefore, I not only compile all the information to get a picture of my whole staff, but I try to look at them individually when possible.
The employees who are only interested in pay and benefits will probably reach a certain level but never progress, and I never feel sure about them staying with me. I've found that the best employees end up being the ones who look at their future, promotion opportunities, and are interested in their relationships and their self esteem. The survey has been extremely valuable in determining where to put my focus.
Ten Simple Tips
Over the years I've tried many things based on what I learned from my company surveys. Whenever I start having a problem with employee turnover, I go right back to the basics of human motivation, and it never fails me. Over the past 15 years, I've found quite a few things that really work.
Here are 10 tips to keep good employees, and keep them motivated. I've personally tried and tested each one of them; in fact, I'm doing each of these in my business today. I'm sure you'll be able to apply them to your particular business, and maybe even improve on them.
1. Ask your employees what they want.
- Conduct a company survey.
- Listen to them. Hold weekly meetings for each department and monthly meetings for the whole company. Find out what's on their minds.
- Set up a suggestion box and, where appropriate, use their suggestions.
2. Pay them well.
- To keep the best people, you're going to have to pay the highest possible wages and commissions. Check out your competition to find out what they're offering.
- Give them opportunities for spiffs/perks. Put these in writing, and keep the plan simple.
3. Provide for them.
- Give your employees the best health insurance possible. Shop the insurance market and offer them options.
- Take care of their families. Offer health insurance options that include family coverage, and provide disability and life insurance protection.
- Let them enjoy vacations and holidays. Although you may want to limit vacations during peak seasons, make sure they get time away from work to unwind and recharge.
4. Show them a future.
- Outline employees' career paths with your company. Provide for internal growth as well as future change. Promote from within and, if possible, offer alternate opportunities to help employees find the right fit.
- Help them secure their retirement by offering a 401(k) or profit-sharing plan.
5. Make them part of a team.
- Be selective when hiring new employees. Have a written hiring plan and always be aware of the image of your company that you want employees to convey.
- Create opportunities for department goals that support team building. Make it fun, come up with team names, t-shirts, etc.
6. Reward them.
- Give your employees gifts for excellence. The gifts don't have to be extravagant. For example, give a new tool or movie tickets to the technician who has the cleanest vehicle, or who consistently turns in the neatest paperwork.
- Let them know their value. Take employees out for breakfast, or visit them in the field and treat them to lunch.
- Go above and beyond. Think up contests that can make work more interesting and fun. Sponsor company get-away trips, cookouts, etc.
7. Commend them.
- Create a "Wall of Fame" for employees' certificates, awards, and letters of thanks.
- Write about your employees in your company newsletters or on your website.
- Have an employee of the month and an employee of the year. This works particularly well if the winner is chosen by the other employees.
8. Thank them.
- Always acknowledge employees' anniversaries with an anniversary card and an announcement at a company meeting.
- Make a note of employees' birthdays and give them a card or gift.
- Give employees thank-you cards for suggestions they share at company meetings.
- Visit with employees in their offices or on jobsites to find out how things are going.
9. Challenge them.
- Use report boards to show employees "the numbers." Let them see how they stack up against others in key performance indicators (you can determine which indicators are most important at your company).
- Teach employees how to set goals. This can apply to company, department and individual goals. Make sure the goals are S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
10. Empower them.
- Set up committees for benefits, safety, and training. This allows employees to write their own procedures manuals, and cross-train each other.
- Don't make them be perfect. If you want employees to try new things, there are going to be failures as well as successes. Don't forget that both bring growth.
None of these tips are very complicated; in fact, most of them are very simple. The hardest part, ironically, may be convincing yourself that these steps will make a difference.
Just try a few things to start. Find out about your employees. What will motivate them? Try the things with the most impact first. Don't get discouraged if it doesn't work all the time, with every employee. Over time, people in your company (and outside your company) will begin to notice a positive difference. You'll notice a difference. So just go out there and do it!
Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero is owner and president of Coastal Comfort Heating and Air Conditioning, Ventura, CA. She has been in the HVAC business since 1987. She can be reached at 888/845-4247, e-mail email@example.com
This article is based on the presentation, 10 Tips on How to Motivate Employees, which Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero gave at HVAC Comfortech 2005, held in Nashville, TN, Sept. 14-17, 2005. For more information about HVAC Comfortech 2006, which will be held September 13-16 in Baltimore, MD, call 216/931-9550, or visit www.hvaccomfortech.com