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Keeping Your Top Talent

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Sure, competitive compensation is important—but so are other job satisfaction factors.

Two years ago, One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning in Virginia Beach, VA, experienced a severe blow to its staffing structure.  Just as the summer crunch was beginning, seven of the company’s service technicians defected to a competitor offering a slightly higher hourly wage.

“That was all it took for somebody to see another company as a better opportunity—and it really opened our eyes,” reflects Ryan Kletz, vice president of One Hour. “Now we really focus on creating an environment where people want to be, where we hope work is more than just a paycheck to them.”

Of course, salary and benefits contribute significantly to job satisfaction. In 2017, according to the annual survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (, 61 percent of respondents described their overall compensation as “very important” for staying at a company. Yet even more—65 percent—said the most important contributor to their job satisfaction was an employer that demonstrates respectful treatment of all employees at all levels.

For Kletz, respectful treatment includes showing 80 employees that One Hour truly cares about them and views each as an individual, not a number. That’s why the company instituted a daily morning huddle, between a manager and one employee, in all its six departments. Every three months, each employee meets with his or her manager for about 20 minutes to talk about everything except the HVAC business—such as family activities, upcoming trips, or hobbies.

“They talk about anything that will shed light on who that employee is or what makes that person tick,” Kletz explains. “Those one-on-one conversations help us have a better understanding of each person’s passion and the hot-button topics in their life. Every huddle is another touchpoint that helps build personal connections.” Strong personal connections help build a team spirit, contribute to on-the-job satisfaction, and prompt top employees to think twice about taking their talents elsewhere.

Fostering Employee Engagement

Boelcke Heating in Stevensville, MI, has also instituted some changes aimed at bolstering retention. Last year, for example, the firm began celebrating the work anniversaries of its 21 employees with an annual check equal to $100 times the years of employment; one employee took home $2,900 in honor of his 29 years of service. Dave Boelcke, the company’s president, hands out each anniversary check at a light breakfast held in honor of the employee being recognized.

Boelcke started the program in response to the increasingly competitive HVAC marketplace. “You always have to have a leg up on the competition,” he says, “and our biggest competitor is the local union. That means my benefit package has to be at least as good as—or better than—the union’s package.”

In addition to maintaining market awareness, here are several strategies to keep your best employees on board.

Hire wisely. People with the traits valued by your company’s culture are more likely to understand and meet your expectations for the long term. With that in mind, Kletz’s company evaluates potential hires using the acronym PIPE. “We’re looking for people with four characteristics, the first of which is Passion—ideally, for our industry and our business,” Kletz explains. “The I is for Integrity—doing the right thing even when no one is looking—and the P is for Professionalism.” Lastly, the E stands for Empathy, particularly for customers and fellow employees.

Typically, the “rule of four” holds true for One Hour: One of every four hires quickly becomes a superstar employee, while another one proves disappointing; the remaining two can go in either direction. “As leaders,” says Kletz, “we spend most of our time with the other two people, making sure they are coached and developed into long-term team members.” He has found that employees who make it to the 18-month or two-year mark are more likely to stay with the company for a longer time.

Promote professional development. For its field staff, Boelcke Heating recently formalized several career paths; each path includes five steps that reflect increasing responsibility, the need for additional training, and higher compensation for those who fulfill the specified criteria. “Everything is all spelled out in black and white, so people know about the career paths before they even hire on,” says Boelcke.

Exercise flexibility. Be willing to rethink a desirable employee’s role. “There’s a place for most people in our organization, especially if they have the PIPE characteristics,” believes Kletz. He recalls one person, hired as a service technician, who had all the right personal qualities but simply couldn’t fix anything. Rather than being terminated, the person became an effective member of the company’s maintenance team.

Boelcke Heating gives current employees the first opportunity to apply for any opening within the company—and moving to a new position carries a risk-free guarantee. Within 90 days, notes Boelcke, “If you accept a different position in the company and don’t like it, you can go back to your previous position without any penalty.” So far, he reports, only one person—a service technician who tried being the dispatcher—has invoked the guarantee.

The company also fosters long-term goodwill by offering a similar guarantee to select employees who leave the company: If things don’t work out at the new employer, Boelcke says, “Within 30 days they can come back like they never left.”

Shake up the routine. Most companies tie a salary increase to an employee’s annual review. Not Kletz’s company, which focuses the annual review solely on performance and conducts a wage review, for every employee, every month. “Maybe four times a year you give somebody a 25-cent raise, versus waiting a full year to give a $1 raise,” he explains. “It’s the same amount of increase in the end, but we’ve had four opportunities to have good conversations with the employee along the way.” Managers also meet with people who were considered for a raise but didn’t receive one that month, to discuss performance shortfalls and possible improvements.

Stay true to your culture. Dave Boelcke aims for a corporate culture that emphasizes sharing information and ideas and helping fellow employees. As a result, he discontinued individual contests that pitted employees against one another. Boelcke Heating’s incentive contests now have a group focus and include both field and office staff.

“For example, if we don’t have any workers’ compensation claims for three months, then I’ll take the $1,000 that would have been the deductible and share it with the whole group,” Boelcke says. “Or, maybe the contest will be tied to the number of days without anyone having an accident or taking a sick day.” Boelcke’s incentive contests typically run from one week to three months; they are supplemented by impromptu pop quizzes, which reward the winners with gift cards or small amounts of cash.

For Ryan Kletz, the departure of seven technicians in one month was a stark reminder of how One Hour had departed from its traditional approach of hiring people without technical experience and then providing extensive training. “That year, because we were getting close to summer, we hired some people who already had experience. We deviated from our plan and took the easy way out,” he says. “Doing that compromised our standards, which led to bad habits, which affected morale. We didn’t stay true to ourselves, which cost us.”

One Hour returned to providing a robust training program for inexperienced personnel and counts among its top service technicians a former landscaper and a former furniture mover. More than a third (35%) of employees have now been with the company for five years or longer.

Two summers ago, a total of 10 employees left One Hour during the May‒September period. “This last summer, during the same period, we lost a grand total of two people—one of whom moved out of the area,” says Kletz. “I can live with that.”

Sandra Sabo
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Management

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