There are similarities when it comes to achieving success in the worlds of business and sports. Both require hard work, good planning, teamwork, and innovative thinking. Unfortunately, for owners and managers of HVACR businesses, the world of sports offers something that is often lacking in the business world: The ultimate goal of a championship.

Having a yearly goal of winning a championship is a great motivator. In the spring, for example, every baseball team is full of hope and promise. Although the players face a grind of playing almost every day, their tedious efforts are eased by the promise of an opportunity to make the playoffs and, ultimately, play in the World Series. Meanwhile, with no goal comparable to a World Series, on those same spring days, technicians and support staff at HVAC companies may simply see each summer day as drudgery, filled with long hours and hot work.

So, how can you keep your people happy and motivated through the dog days of summer? Some of the best owners in the industry — The NEWS’ 2015 Best Contractors to Work For — have successfully navigated dozens of busy seasons and offered the following tips.


At Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning in Cedar Lake, Indiana, owner Tom Krygsheld said maintaining a high level of enthusiasm and motivation can be as simple as remembering to treat people as humans, not machines.

“Get to know them — their families, interests, and challenges — and celebrate their successes,” he said.

“Encouragement is very important,” Krygsheld said. “We have all-company meetings where we celebrate each and every employee’s progress. If someone has advanced in some way — for example, by passing a NATE [North American Technician Excellence] exam or graduating from a business course — we’ll acknowledge and celebrate that in front of the entire company. We also help people obtain any education they’d like that helps the business.”

Krygsheld added it’s important to work hard to build a company employees are proud of. In addition to being one of The NEWS’ Best Contractor to Work For, Illiana has also won Best in the Region: HVAC for five consecutive years from the area’s local newspaper, Northwest Indiana Times; works closely with food pantries and other local organizations that help the less fortunate; and fields a modern, clean, and safe truck fleet.

“All of that goes into making people feel good about where they work and who they are, which is the key to long-term motivation and enthusiasm,” Krygsheld said.


Mike Agugliaro, cofounder and co-owner of Gold Medal Service in East Brunswick, New Jersey, said he applies what he calls the nine pillars of success to motivating his company’s 180 employees.

According to Agugliaro, some of the pillars are:

• Clarity — In order to motivate his or her people, a leader must have clarity about what the future looks like, where the company is going, and what the next step is to get there.

• Alignment — This stems from clarity. “In baseball, you have a clear view of the situation and then properly align your infield and outfield to produce the best results,” Agugliaro said. “Similarly, in business, you must have your people properly aligned to achieve the clear vision of the future that you have for your company.”

• Accountability — Accountability is necessary for a winning mindset and a winning team. “Leadership requires creating accountability for how we will behave, act, and move forward into the future,” Agugliaro said.

Other pillars include mindset, skill set, and action. As Agugliaro pointed out, everything stems from mindset.

“No matter what, you must have a pulse on your mindset, because it’s the mindset that will take you where you want to go,” he said.

The toughest pillar for many is action.

“You have to take a step forward,” Agugliaro said. “The fact you’re standing in the gym doesn’t mean you’re building muscles.”

The final three pillars are training, coaching, and managing.

Agugliaro noted that, although managing is necessary, it’s difficult to manage people to greater motivation, greater performance, more wins, and better results.

“The way you get those things is by training your people and then coaching and course correcting, when necessary, based on that training,” he said.

Agugliaro added he is well aware that, ultimately, he can’t motivate anyone — people must motivate themselves. That’s why he shares his nine pillars with his people.

“I apply these pillars personally and professionally, and I believe they’ve put me on the path to success in my life,” Agugliaro said. “How can I improve? That is a good question to examine, regardless if you’re a one-man company or have 180 employees. And the quest for continuous improvement is a great motivator.”


A good company culture goes a long way toward having motivated employees, according to Travis Smith, president of Sky Heating & Air Conditioning in Portland, Oregon.

“The first thing is defining the company culture,” he advised. “If you don’t have people in place that know how to react to situation A or situation B, it can all kind of fall apart from there.”

The culture needs to start at the top, Smith said, with the owner setting the tone.

“The message should be, ‘We’re happy to be here, we’re happy to do good work, and we’re happy to do people a service,’” Smith said. “It’s important to remember we’re not just installers, service technicians, or dispatchers — we’re all working together to better peoples’ lives.”

When a new employee joins the team at Sky, he or she watches a presentation about the company and its culture to understand where the company came from, how it got to where it is, and the important moments in the company’s history. Smith said it helps keep people motivated when they understand what’s behind the business and why it has been a great place to work since it was founded in 1979.

Smith also advised not to focus on pay as a motivator.

“I’ve seen study after study that says pay is not the most important motivating factor for the vast number of employees,” Smith said. “So, if all you’re focusing on is pay, you’re missing the point. If somebody left you for a dollar more an hour, it’s probably not that dollar that did it; it’s that you didn’t take care of them. You provided a job and a wage, but you didn’t provide a career.”


Steve Hallock, chief information officer at Reliable Heating & Air in Kennesaw, Georgia, noted many customers today use online review sites, such as Yelp, to help shape their buying decisions. This led the company to create a performance-based incentive program built on social media reviews that he said creates a win-win-win for customers, technicians, and the company as a whole.

Technicians receive incentives for every five-star review they achieve. The top performers have earned up to an additional $500 per month, which is presented with fanfare during the company’s monthly technician meetings.

“Not only does this incentive program benefit the technicians because of the financial reward, it benefits our customers because our technicians are trying to provide a five-star experience, every time,” Hallock said. “And, it ultimately benefits the business overall because there’s nothing more powerful in terms of marketing than one-on-one engagement. If we can get our customers to share their positive experiences with their friends, families, and neighbors, it’s very powerful marketing for us.”

Mark Wall, Reliable’s director of customer service, said he conducts monthly wellness visits with the company’s customer service reps. These 15- to 30-minute meetings allow for some coaching and counseling, and, more importantly, they allow people to talk about themselves and provide feedback on how the business is doing.

“This CSR [customer service rep] feedback gives us a good idea of what motivates our people and what they want,” Wall said.

Kim Jape, wife of Reliable CEO Dan Jape, recently placed a number of inspirational and motivational banners around the office, which helps keep the team grounded.

“The banners are simple, yet they guide us and keep our hearts in check as far as how we work with our customers,” Wall said. “It helps us maintain the family atmosphere and extend that to our customers so they become part of our family.”

Daniel Jape, president, Reliable, said simply showing appreciation to employees for a job well done can be a tremendous motivator. When he receives a particularly positive notification from a customer service rep regarding one of Reliable’s staff members, he makes it a point to call that person at home and thank them.

“It’s a very personal touch to have the boss call you and let you know he appreciates your hard work,” Daniel Jape said.

Finally, Dan Jape recommended not to be afraid to have some old-fashioned fun with your team every so often. He’s had a crew from the local Waffle House come out and cook breakfast at the company, and Reliable has several company-wide events each year to give the employees a chance to get together outside of work. These events have included picnics, a casino night, and an intense go-cart race.

“Last summer, we went out and bought a dozen go-carts, set up a track with bales of hay, and provided food and beverages for everyone,” Dan Jape said. “It was just a way to say thanks, and people loved it.”

Dan Jape added that he’s not above having a little spontaneous, goofy fun just to keep the mood light in what can sometimes be a stressful business.

“I’ve been known to get up on a scissors lift and ‘make it rain’ dollars down on the employees,” he said. “It’s these little fun things that help show our appreciation.”

Contractors agree, the effort is worth it. Your people might not have a World Series to strive for, but they still want to be the best. Helping them achieve a championship level of performance is beneficial for your people, customers, and business.

Publication date: 5/30/2016

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