Taking Time For Its Technicians

January 23, 2006
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Lyons Service techs and management pose for a photo. At right in black jacket is Tommy Lyons, President.
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - "Treat people as you want to be treated." That is a simple and familiar adage, and for 15 years it is what has guided Lyons Service of Bowling Green, Ky., in its treatment of employees. Now it has helped the company become winners of The NEWS' 2005 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest for the South region.

Richard Brown, vice president, Lyons Service, described dealing with employees as personalized. According to Brown, it's a process of emphasizing strengths and accomplishments, even when pointing out areas where improvements are needed.

"An annual review is more than just an employee review; it is also an employer review. The time is scheduled with the employee well in advance and the review is not rushed," said Brown. "We will take as much time as needed. At this review we talk about everything from an employee's newborn baby to the chiller teardown the tech may have performed earlier that year.

"The majority of time a pay increase is merited at this review. However, there have been times when an improvement is needed before a pay increase can be allowed. In these cases we openly discuss the improvements needed with the employee, but at the same time we attempt to build and commend the employee on his strengths."

FROM THE START

Lyons Service started in 1991 as a spin off of Lyons Co., a design-build mechanical contractor that was formed in 1954 as a plumbing and heating company.

Lyons Service provides mechanical services for commercial, industrial, and institutional markets with about 70 percent of its business at manufacturing facilities. It is headquartered in Bowling Green, but the majority of its 12 service technicians operate out of a facility in Glasgow, Ky., about 30 miles from Bowling Green. In effect, the service company has a double radius service area extending some 80 miles, although the company really has no geographical limits having completed projects throughout the South.

Tommy Lyons heads Lyons Co. Keith Harlow, vice president of operations; Randy Edwards, vice president of technical services; and Brown lead Lyons Service. The service company also contracts with Lyons Co. for various support aspects such as human resources and accounting. Overall, there are close to 100 total employees in Lyons Co. and Lyons Service.

Brad Wilson, a service technician with Lyons Service of Bowling Green, Ky., makes some notes before heading out to a jobsite.

HOW TO HIRE

The personal touch extends to hiring practices. Lyons Service managers, Harlow and Brown, serve on the advisory boards of the two area vocational schools in Bowling Green and Glasgow. "We visit the schools and talk to the students during pizza lunch breaks," said Brown. "We make the students aware of the various types of work we perform and answer any questions that they may have about the heating and cooling industry.

"Our greatest success in building our service fleet has been hiring students that have acquired basic training and skills and developing them into first class service techs."

The company also works with area supply houses, accepts cold call applicants, and pays a $750 finders fee if an employee provides a lead resulting in a new hire.

The hiring of service techs involves what Brown called a "stringent screening process" including a background check, an interview with a human resources person, an aptitude test, and a 100-question technical-related test. "But what we look for most in the person," said Brown, "is the way he handles himself with others and his demeanor. In our interviewing process we try to bring out what type of person they are, how they treat others, and what's important in their life."

Michael Rankin, left, service apprentice, and Doug Depp, service technician, review a checklist of tools and equipment.

TRAINING

With full-time training and safety manager Jerry Lyons (no relation) on staff, ongoing education is emphasized at the Skills Development Center classroom in Glasgow. Training criteria is determined by each technician's or apprentice's needs. More experienced technicians can receive specialized training in areas such as controls, chillers, and boilers. New, less experienced technicians and apprentices receive basic training in fundamentals, electrical troubleshooting, etc. Less experienced techs often get on-the-job training with the help of co-owners Harlow and Edwards.

All training combined, some employees average roughly 145 hours a year. Customer relations training is also periodically provided to all employees, including office and management staff.

Thursday afternoons are often set aside for trainings that can range from Department of Transportation regulations regarding service vans to the latest technologies. Vendors are often brought in to explain new products. "As part of our training program, employees commit to continuously upgrading their professional skills both technically and personally," said Jerry Lyons. "Each employee receives an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) which serves as a map of training paths."

Service technicians Chad Childress, left, and Jon Wilson check on a control panel at a customer’s place of business.

SPECIAL TOUCHES

Each technician is on call for one week once every 12 weeks. Lyons Service's emphasis on preventive maintenance agreements and its focus on manufacturing facilities, however, have kept emergency calls fairly low, said Brown. That in itself is an attractive incentive for working at the company, he said.

Technicians are allowed to take service vans home and are provided logo shirts at no cost to them. They are also given a yearly allowance for trouser replacement. State of Kentucky requirements for eight hours of continuing education annually to renew their journeymen licenses are arranged and paid for by Lyons Service.

Employees kick in a $1 a week to build a college scholarship fund that can be used by children of employees for partial tuition. A profit sharing plan is in place. A newsletter keeps employees posted about honors, birthdays, upcoming training, and projects underway.

Social activities are also part of the equation. This past year Lyons sponsored a family outing involving a pontoon boat, ski boat, and wave runner. Skeet shooting took place at the annual company meeting, and when customers invite the bosses out for golf outings, they often take a pass and send along the lead technician that has been assigned to that customer. "They usually are better golfers anyhow," admitted Brown.

Mid-year, a meeting with lunch provided is held where Brown gives a state-of-the-company address. A PowerPoint presentation is given to share with employees a comparison of mid-year goals versus actual numbers. Harlow and Edwards also provide information on projects. A question and answer session is included.

"This meeting is held during our busiest time of the year," said Brown. "But we feel it is important to take the time needed to keep our employees informed."

A similar year-end meeting is held in December.

Becky Laird, service coordinator, and Randy Edwards, VP technical service manager, track projects via computer from the company’s Bowling Green office.

TWO-WAY STREET

In much of what Lyons Service does, the ‘treat others as you want to be treated' results in a two-way street of interaction for the benefit of employees, the company, and ultimately the customers.

"Our employees know that we are approachable and that we will do everything possible to work with them on meeting their needs; such as when they need time off when something may rise unexpectedly," said Brown. "In return, our employees meet our needs when we require them to work overtime or on the weekend."

"Just as often as we help them, they do the same in return."

Sidebar: Just The Facts

CONTRACTOR: Lyons Service

OWNERS: Tommy Lyons, president; Richard Brown, vice president; Keith Harlow, vice president, operations; Randy Edwards, vice president, technical services

LOCATION: Bowling Green, Ky.

YEARS IN BUSINESS: 16

BULK OF MARKET: 54 percent manufacturing; 21 percent education, banking, churches; 12 percent commercial; 7 percent health care; 6 percent government.

TOTAL SALES 2005: $2.6 million

TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 21

TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 16

AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: Up to 145 hours

BENEFITS OFFERED BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: Shirts with logos provided, college scholarship fund, hand and power tools provided, service vans can be taken home each evening, paid vacations and holidays, profit sharing plan.

THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: Lyons Services management takes time with each employee. Reviews are not rushed and are scheduled way in advance. Positives are stressed even when there are areas that need improvement.

Publication date: 01/23/2006

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