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Employee retention

  • Mike Rorie
- Posted: November 3, 2016
Labor Day has come and gone. To the snow world, this means that it’s time to get ready. In my experience, you have to account for a lot of variables when operating a truly seasonal business compared to a business that performs annually - especially when it comes to hiring and retaining your seasonal employees.

As business owners and operators, I think we all agree that without key employees and returning staffers, operating any small business from scratch becomes a lot tougher. Veteran staff members are a main component to the overall success of any enterprise - seasonal or otherwise - and they provide your business with a significant advantage for growth.

For example, what if I said to you: “Your business will never lose a single good employee unless you asked them to leave the company.” Would your focus shift to getting more work? You’re darn right it would. You could grow from 10 to 20, 20 to 100, and 100 to hundreds of employees provided you can produce the sales and customers to put them to work.

The overwhelming reason for low to no growth is that ownership/management is not seeking to increase the workforce and management team. Why? Because it is daunting to get more people in the door and trained, all while replacing employees that didn’t return from the previous year.

Because snow removal businesses can’t necessarily support all of their staff year-round, it’s not a given that people will automatically come back every winter. This is a huge burden to overcome.

So how do you as an employer make your business more appealing so that you retain your key employees from year to year?

Invest in your team

Investing in your employees is, hands down, the best return on investment a small company can achieve. It’s been proven over and over that great companies not only have good training for their staff, but they absolutely want to retain them and they work hard to do so.

Great companies reward and recognize their employees, provide systems and a standard for accomplishing their work, and share the vision and culture of the company, which ultimately attracts the best people and improves retention across the board.

And you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company with a huge budget and a lot of people to accomplish these things. With a little organization and planning and a lot of hard work, you can get a lot of these items in place before the season begins.

Reward and recognize standout employees

Identifying staff members’ contributions in a snow operation (positive and negative) is much easier since the window to deliver services is tight. The customer is quick to point out any service shortfall; therefore, when an employee stands out by consistently performing each and every time they’re on the job, it’s very obvious to management.

Simple things like dependability, knowing the details and being someone the company can count on in any circumstance are also important traits in good employees.

If these characteristics describe someone on your team, be sure to take the time to recognize them. Whether it be in front of staff members, writing them a note or rewarding them with something else, it’s a natural thing to do that has little to no expense with a positive return.

Hold a kickoff meeting
People like to know what they are doing when they come to work. Returning employee or not, everyone should take part in training, ideally before their first day on the job. It doesn’t matter if they are shoveling walks or if they’re a branch manager, preseason training needs to take place.

An easy way you can jumpstart the training process is by holding a snow removal kickoff meeting. Your kickoff meeting should cover your job portfolio, where your people will report, how to service large, difficult or unusual properties, where you may have salt depots and anything new at the company.

Training should also include the introduction to your systems, no matter how sophisticated. If you have a software system you use for snow, everyone who will be using it needs to be trained on it before the season starts. If you operate from simple checklists on the wall in the warehouse, those need to be discussed with everyone.

This applies to equipment operators, administration, sales people and account managers, and anyone else involved in servicing your customers during an event. Everyone needs to understand their duties as clearly as they can before an actual event occurs.

Promote from within
It’s the responsibility of the employer to illustrate the path to success and advancement at the company and to make their employees feel appreciated and want to work there. There’s no better way to demonstrate this than by promoting from within.

This is as important or possibly more important than the other items mentioned when it comes to employee retention.

Opportunity at a snow company is usually pretty abundant considering staffing turnover is common in the industry. Choosing from your own team when an opportunity comes up sends the message to your employees that they have the ability to advance at your company. They can start as a sidewalk crew member and quickly move to running a crew, and then to managing all of the walk crews, etc.

At your snow kickoff meeting, mention and thank your returning staffers. It’s motivating for other employees (especially new ones) to see someone who is coming back year after year, and even more so to see someone who has moved up the ranks.

Stay in touch during the off-season
Most snow companies lack the foresight to keep in touch with their seasonal staffers in the off-season. When the weather warms, their interest in speaking to and staying in touch with the team cools off.

Sending out periodic touches can go a long way. Also, offering an incentive for existing staff to bring in additional recruits is a must.

Retain your employees, and you will grow

My time in the snow industry has taught me several things. One of the most important lessons is that your key people are as big a part of the system as any software or checklist. I’m a big believer in both, but vital employees add tremendous value to the business.

It’s important to hang on to and appreciate those who are helping you take your company to the next level. The items mentioned are the building blocks to employee retention. If you retain and grow the staff, you’ll retain and grow the customer base, since they go hand in hand.

State of the Industry insights
  • Snow sales: 38%. Respondents who reported gross snow and ice sales of $100,000 or less. Next was 22% who reported sales of $250,000-$1 million. Ten percent reported sales of more than $3 million.
Mike Rorie has been a participant in the snow and ice industry for over three decades. He is now CEO of GIS Dynamics, parent company to Go iLawn and Go iPave. Contact him at
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