Valuing and investing in technicians is critical for HVAC contractors, especially with the labor shortage in the skilled trades. Contractors should invest in recruiting, hiring, and training the top talent in this area. However, contractors should also be sure not to lose focus on valuing employees who might otherwise be overlooked. Roles such as those in administrative support, the call center, or dispatch might be deprived of regular recognition and praise. Or warehouse workers, apprentices, and delivery drivers, for example.
Creating a Culture of Respect
“Contractors can recognize and encourage employees by forging a strong culture of dignity and respect,” said Jennifer Frith, customer experience coach at Nexstar Network. “A healthy culture that edifies your entire team will far outweigh occasional gift cards and incentives, although these can and certainly do help in making team members feel important.”
Dignity and respect, Frith explained, is first shown by active listening: welcoming feedback from all positions, implementing the best ideas, and then recognizing the employees that came up with them. And simple conversations — greeting everyone each morning, asking about family vacations — can do wonders to helping all employees feel noticed.
Steve Simmons, president and CEO of Air Comfort Heating & Cooling, makes it a practice to include everyone in regular meetings, rather than just pulling in technicians for technical training. Even when the meeting will deal with more technical issues, everyone is included so that they are aware of the important adjustments happening in the company.
The practice also helps with problem-solving in the company. If, for example, technicians are routinely forgetting something on their service ticket, hearing how that mistake affects an accountant may make the technicians more likely to fix the issue. They get to see who the mistake impacts rather than just get an email from the top requesting they be more precise on the service ticket item.
“They all see that we’re not independent, but that we’re a team and have to function as a team,” Simmons said.
Another way to demonstrate respect is by providing autonomy.
“We show them that we trust them by giving them guidelines, asking for their input, helping them develop goals, setting expectations, and then trusting them to do their work,” said Frith. “We hold them to standards, and we correct in private — never in public.”
Taking the time to offer support to employees can go a long way in making sure everyone feels valued. Owners and managers might help out a warehouse assistant who is dismantling scrap alone in the cold, drive Gatorade out to those working hard on a hot day, or help with the phones after a customer service representative had a particularly taxing phone call. Incentives and rewards are also a great option, whether that is staff-wide benefits for hitting a company goal, or giving a $25 gift card to a delivery driver who handled a challenging situation with a vendor especially well. Public praise and recognition is also a great option.
Hiring for the HVAC Company
Hiring quality talent is critical, whether it be a service technician, customer service representative, or manager. Simmons has found that cultivating a culture where everyone is valued has helped secure quality talent. He remembered a time one candidate was interviewed for an office position following a referral. The woman explained what she found attractive about the position and company.
“She really liked what she had heard about the culture of our company,” Simmons said. “She liked the fact that it sounded like a place where the position she might be offered was important and had value. That she wasn’t just going to be someone stuck behind a desk waiting to come home.”
And with a negative culture, even if someone can be hired, that employee will leave quickly after finding they are not valued in their new company.
“No matter what the position, we never settle for hiring ‘bodies’ to fill positions,” said Frith. “We begin with a thorough and thoughtful interview and background check process. We hire for attitude and character first, then aptitude.”
Attracting top talent requires knowing what those potential candidates are looking for in a new position. Frith said that millennials especially enjoy working with friends and bonding with their coworkers. Other perks for top talent could be flexible working hours or the ability to work from home at certain times. Training programs or education reimbursement pays off in the long run as well, and training tracks for apprentices can prove especially beneficial as contractors navigate the labor shortage.