As SIMA’s annual Snow & Ice Symposium again brings together snow professionals from across North America, business owners seek to learn from each other and improve their companies. Through networking and open dialogue about individual successes and challenges, each attendee will leave Columbus with new resolve to improve specific processes. Every year, after becoming enamored with the expertise of an all-star employee from a colleague’s company, I hear owners say, “I need to hire someone like that!” These owners probably have the wrong focus when it comes to hiring.
Anyone involved in the hiring process knows that finding the right candidate is difficult. Matching someone’s skills, knowledge and abilities with the company’s exact needs is almost impossible. This is further complicated by working in the snow industry, where requirements include being on call for months on end, working extreme hours, and a general lack of glamour. Considering these challenges, open positions often go unfilled for months. This traditional view of hiring is extremely inefficient, but there is a better way. Hiring the right people requires focusing on character and culture, not expertise and experience.
Two months ago, Amazon.com made headlines after revealing in its annual report a “pay-to-quit” program in which distribution center employees are offered $2,000 to $5,000, depending on tenure, to quit. This program has actually been known about for years through Zappos, the online shoe company renowned for excellent customer service. Amazon acquired Zappos in 2009 and adopted the program, with an estimated 2% to 3% of employees accepting the offer annually. But why would a company pay its employees to quit?
Engagement is critical
The leaders of these companies realized that the key to building a successful business is employee engagement. An engaged employee feels connected to the company and to co-workers, and supports the company’s mission. These employees feel like they are a valued part of the company and its success. As a result, they work harder, perform better and tend not to leave, according to Gallup studies. Amazon and Zappos have learned they can weed out employees who aren’t engaged by offering to pay them to leave, and continue to do so because it is a valuable investment in company culture.
Engaged employees are critical to successful snow & ice management companies. Without employees who deeply care about the company, completing operations through the long hours, miserable work conditions, and time away from family would never happen. The additional pay that an employee will earn isn’t enough on its own to motivate them to work beyond their mental limits; but their loyalty to the company, its goals and their team is.
Focus on culture
Finding the right employees should be less about skills and more about how they fit with the company’s culture. Employees should share the company’s values and goals so they will collaborate and connect with each other, leading to a more productive and innovative environment. They should have a passion for the work the company does and for meeting customers’ needs. When employees are engaged and connected, they will learn the skills they lack so they can better advance the company’s purpose.
If employees don’t fit the culture, they will never truly engage with the company. The motivation for working will only be a paycheck, and when they eventually feel the work isn’t worth the pay, they will leave. Business owners simply can’t afford to invest their time and energy into constantly hiring and training employees who don’t care enough to stick through the tough times.
Seek trainable people
Of course, employee engagement isn’t enough to have a successful workforce. A major hiring focus should be on finding candidates who are teachable. These people are excited to learn new ideas, actively seek to improve their skills, and are curious about how things work. Employees who are excited to learn will quickly learn the skills necessary to do their job at the highest level. A company with a workforce that has no interest in learning will eventually fail.
Training employees requires a significant investment of time and money in order to be successful. Engaged employees who are not challenged by opportunities to improve will become disengaged and eventually move on. It is essential that companies allocate the resources to train employees and outline a plan to do so from the start. This often involves in-house training, job shadowing, consulting trainers, and industry-specific education like the Symposium.
Create the program
Snow contractors have a huge opportunity to leverage SIMA programs to help engage and train employees. Through regional training, webinars, the SIMA Advisor program, GoPlow.com and the Advanced Snow Management (ASM) certificate program, providing employees with the best snow & ice education possible has never been easier.
Creating a program of engagement should be a top priority for every business, and now is the perfect time for snow & ice management firms to decide how to improve engagement for the upcoming season. Instead of hiring “someone like that,” hire someone who is perfect for the company and mold them into a great employee that meets the company’s specific needs. The dividends of that investment will be obvious for years to come.
- Make employees feel like they are a valued part of the company and its success.
- Hire people who share the company’s values and goals, not just those who have the technical skills to get the job done.
- Identify training and resources that will engage employees and make them excited to learn and take their job to the highest level.
Neal Glatt, CSP, is an account executive with Case Snow Management in North Attleboro, MA.