Build a winning team

As owners and managers we seem to suffer from memory loss. We have a hard time remembering what it was like to be the tech or an hourly employee. What would you have liked the boss to do for you that would have made you feel like staying for the next five years? What did management do that made you leave? Keeping good employees is almost that simple. We as owners have to realize that we have to have a winning team or our employees won’t stay. We are like a pro sports team. A winning team doesn’t have the owner getting all the perks and credit while the players get the leftovers. A winning team pays well, encourages, trains, is flexible, cares for its players, and shares the glory and benefits fairly. In sports there are lots of teams, but only a few win consistently. You as the owner have to make that decision. What are you willing to do to be a winner? What team or who is your role model? There are lots of great companies to get ideas from, lots of trainers to help you, and lots of good employees out there. But, you have to get your head out of the sand, forget the pity party, clean up your act and attitude, and compensate your employees fairly. You can do it.

Joe Ranck Robert H. Ranck Inc. Lancaster, PA

The key is PM

I really enjoyed Joanna Turpin’s summation of the problems and possible solutions behind why techs leave inThe News. I am a CT-licensed hvac tech-contractor who has put his time in working under crazy conditions and dealing with inconsiderate employers. The obscenely long hours, lack of preventive maintenance, collections handling, and the thanklessness of the job were ridiculous — not to even mention the pay being a joke.

Being absolutely displeased with hvac service/install companies in the area, I opted to find an in-house job about 10 years ago. In those 10 years (and through a couple of company buyouts), I’ve had the opportunity to work up to a management position. Currently I have seven hvac techs that work for me, but I think because I had such a bad experience in the field with employers, I have a better handle on working with employees. I wouldn’t want anyone I know to have to deal with those conditions! Now conversely, emergencies happen, and equipment needs to be repaired, but having to work under a constant emergency condition is subhuman!

I think you hit the nail on the head with “preventive maintenance” being the key! If it’s not maintained, you can’t expect emergency service every time it breaks. A customer needs to realize that if a piece of equipment is that important to them, it’s worth every penny to have it maintained quarterly (or what have you).

My obstacles have changed from trying to get an hvac company owner to realize this, to getting a general manager of a property owner/manager firm to understand. It’s a slow and steady process, but we’re making progress. The problem is most people don’t realize the amount of time a “proper PM” takes. Typically, the lay person doesn’t care about PM until it breaks down the first time, and others never care about it!

All that said, one thing rings true, no matter how much you give some people, they will never be happy, whether they are an employee or an employer.

Doug Stamford, CT

Where's my motivation?

I truly enjoyed Joanna Turpin’s article. I found it most informative. I do think however, you should consider talking to an older and wiser technician who’s been in the field for a long time.

I myself have been in this field since 1978, and know about burnout. I’ve watched as younger and less qualified technicians get promoted and receive larger raises. The whole problem in a nutshell is that when you’ve been at any company for a long time, and you make the owner a substantial profit, he can’t afford to take any of his best technicians out of the field. You’re also at a disadvantage because of length of service. There comes a time when you reach the top of the pay scale. Older technicians will continue to do their jobs, however, it won’t be with the same enthusiasm. All we’re working for is to pay our bills, not to get ahead in the company because that’s not going to happen. There comes a time when it’s not profitable to give a $22.00/hr man a raise due to service rates and profit margins. So where’s the loyalty from the owner? The older technicians paved the way for the younger technicians to follow and we get passed over because of profit margins. I ask you, how long would you stay if you and your experience weren’t appreciated? I personally know of first-year service technicians fresh out of trade school making within three dollars an hour of what I make. I worked 22 years to get the pay grade I have now. Would you stay or look for a larger paycheck?

Lay persons have no clue what it’s like to be a service technician, most of the office personnel don’t either. It’s over 95°F and the calls just keep flowing in. How much is expected of one man in a day? There has been a recent event that made me pick up my tools and walk off the job — finished or not.

The bosses don’t care about us so why would we care about their profits and their service calls? Companies now are buying technicians at any cost due to the volume of work.

I don’t want to seem like I’m venting, but I know what it’s like. Anyone who thinks they know needs to climb in my truck one day and just follow me around. You’ll see the attitudes, you’ll see the office pushing for that one more call while they go home at 5:00. Who wouldn’t want to leave?

Name withheld on request Zebulon, NC

Invest in employees

I have read Joanna Turpin’s series “Why Techs Leave” and her opinions on the editorial page. Your advice is good, and should be especially heeded by any company that is just starting up or is struggling with their service operation. Those of us that have well established operations are aware of these pitfalls, but still struggle each day in order to avoid them.

Companies that survive in this business know that attempts to keep motivated and informed employees are never enough, and methods are continually changing. Rarely will you find a company where management just doesn’t care about the employees. Many managers have come up through the ranks and have first-hand experience of the pressures felt by service technicians. They know all about long hours and horrible working conditions. They have felt the frustrations resulting from not being recognized for a job well done. Management really wants to show appreciation, but it’s not as simple as saying thank you.

Often management is consumed in the day-to-day task of running the business and they don’t see the great things their techs are doing. If you’re unaware that someone has done an outstanding job, it’s impossible to express appreciation. It is, of course, management’s responsibility to express gratitude in a timely fashion and to see that employees are well informed. How can they do this and still do everything else that is required of them? How well this dilemma is handled ultimately determines how successful the businesses will be.

At Entech, we are well aware of these problems and spend a considerable amount of time and money trying to keep employees well informed, well paid, and appreciated. Yet we still fall short. Here are some of the things we do:

  • On-the-spot bonuses are issued by supervisors in amounts ranging from $50 to $100. Bonuses are issued immediately, “while the sweat is still on the brow” of the recipient. Bonuses are also issued to office personnel.

  • Company trips to such places as Disney World, Las Vegas, Jamaica, Mexico, and Canada for fishing and skiing. These trips are made up of people from different divisions of the company. We want the people to get to know each other and to share experiences.

  • Employee newsletter serves to keep people informed and to give recognition.

There are many other things we do and many others we’ve tried in the past. We find that we must keep changing things or people get used to them and expect them as part of the package. It may sound strange, but the more we spend on employees, the more successful we become.

Thanks for your efforts in writing the article. We need the reminders such as this to keep us focused on the most valuable company asset, our people.

Pat Rucker Entech

Publication date: 08/21/2000