SecurityInfoWatch.com contributing author Bob Harris is managing director for The Attrition Busters and brings over 30 years of alarm industry experience to his dealer business management columns.
Things change! Very little in life or business remains the same forever. How often do you anticipate the need to adjust your strategy? How leaders define company culture and customer perceived value should change with increasing frequency over time if they intend to steadily grow and thrive in as competitive an industry as the alarm industry.
Successful organizations realize that invigorating changes in how things are done inside a company effectively take place only when its culture is modified for the better first. But culture is usually a difficult thing to pin down and even harder to change because it reflects the inherent values, standards, habits, and behaviors of any alarm company.
Employee problems, recurring customer complaints, and both employee and customer attrition exist everywhere. Many of the same debilitating characteristics of your company culture and working environment can be found throughout almost every one of your competitors today. This is particularly inherent in the upper echelons of the company. With very few exceptions, doing the same things over and over everyday without change or innovation promotes little enthusiasm and energy when working with customers and with each other.
Are you doing anything to continuously stimulate and revitalize your company culture? If you're not, I promise you that the lack of revitalization is being felt throughout the company, and by your customers. My guess is that no one will say anything about the need for cultural change inside your company - largely because it is difficult to identify -- but there is no doubt that employees and customers can recognize feelings of stagnation. Human nature dictates that unless regular stimulation is induced, little energy, creativity, and effort is applied.
Test It at Your Company
Just as a test, try calling in to your own company sometime and see how your people sound when they answer the phone or when they transfer a call. Do they sound enthusiastic and eager to help or are they speaking in a dull monotone manner with little personality or interest in the call. If they transfer the call do they simply press the "hold" button or do they politely ask if you would be willing to hold for a moment? Which of the two do you prefer speaking with when you call a company you do business with? What is the customer's perception of a company which greets them with energy and enthusiasm as opposed to feeling as though their call is an interruption to the person answering?
Yes, good employees are hard to find, but how many companies lower their standards today simply to fill a position? How do "bad hires" affect the rest of your team? Re-evaluating the company culture is one aspect many companies are beginning to look at when it comes to positive revitalization to bring fresh ideas and motivation to a team. When a company begins the work of identifying specifics in their culture that create energy and enthusiasm it provides a distinct advantage on the competition.
Taking Company Culture Seriously
There are only a handful of companies I have worked with who take the culture factor seriously. In return for their efforts, they have grown to be market leaders in the industry. Positive values and productive behaviors continuously drive and reinforce how employees act. But when the culture supports significant negative aspects, it can create a reverse destructive cycle driven by conflicted values and dysfunctional behaviors. Which of those two aspects are you seeing at your company? You're seeing both aren't you?
There are many alarm companies who pay great lip service to how successful they are at customer relations and employee motivation. In reality, many of them do a fair job of it, but rarely impart any tangible improvements or mentoring. What are they doing to continuously raise the bar? An old man with a fair share of wisdom once told me, "If you're not growing, you're going." Various people tell me they have almost no avoidable customer attrition (something we looked at in the previous article). Yet, when I look at their cancellations, it's immediately clear that they are taking out nearly as many accounts as they're putting in. Their employees complain regularly, display little motivation, and often bash other departments. Interdepartmental drama is usually quite prevalent, and gossip is big! Negative feelings are especially high between the sales department and the installation department, and between the back office and the front office. There is more of a C.Y.A. attitude than there is a teamwork approach.
Does any of this sound familiar? If you're honest enough to admit it to yourself, some of you may be scratching your head to figure out why. You would do yourself a huge service to look at the culture of your company from the top down and ask yourself, "What things can we regularly employ or adjust to revitalize and energize our entire operation?"
In every service business, revenue growth is the key essential. Attracting top talent to drive growth is a priority and salaries and bonuses go up every year in the competition for the best and brightest. Higher starting salaries necessitate revising the rest of the salary structure upward. As salaries rise, growth targets are increased. There is greater pressure to sell more and thus work longer hours. Stress levels increase, morale plunges, people leave. The greater the attrition, the greater the number of new sales and new employees needed each year to replace those that leave. And so, a vicious cycle spins on and on with little deliberate effort to invigorate the company culture. Is this happening to you?
Many security companies boldly promote the idea that they provide environments in which "We are committed to excellence!" I'd bet you've said the same of your own company. Unfortunately, the reality is frequently quite different. Not surprisingly, many well qualified technicians have left our industry. Many good paying customers have dumped us for competitors. Based on my own research, I have found that 43 percent of alarm industry employees leave their company within 3 years. Call me crazy, but I find this to be totally unacceptable!
So what things can we do to help turn this around? There are a hundred different ways to revitalize your company and its culture. Here are just a few things which I have seen repeatedly that you may consider toward giving everyone a big shot in the arm and getting them fired up. Keep in mind though, that almost all of these ideas start from the top down.
After working with over 200 companies, one common debilitating element I have routinely observed when it comes to culture is a company's emphasis on "Just handle it". How does this mentality influence attraction and retention of talent within the industry, let alone motivation and customer retention in an individual company? I have found that more often than not, the concept of "just handle it" translates to "That's what I'm paying you for." Or even worse, "Look, no one has your back and we are not a team here." There is no question that this triggers a series of "vicious cycles" in any company, where solving one difficulty leads to another problem which in turn creates new issues. Just handle it, but we're not going to give you any back up, additional training, or mentoring -- this regrettably is a prominent culture deficit in many alarm companies today.
Communication is another! One of the biggest pitfalls I have observed is when senior management "forgets" to communicate strategy to all employees. By informing your team about the strategy, and possibly even by soliciting their input, you create the culture of everyone "being in the loop". By offering your employees the opportunity to play an active part in "the big picture", you not only open their eyes to the real issues, but you also involve them, which alone creates enthusiasm and creativity. This feeling of being respected enough to be included in the "inner circle" has clearly helped many companies raise the bar in many progressive ways. This is a positive change which will not only benefit the company's growth potential, but will also support weaving the fabric of a closer knit team.
Another great way to get people fired up and improve company culture is to provide some form of on-going training. Solicit a list of recurring problems or issues that many find difficult to deal with or to resolve, and seek out a professional from outside of your company to come in and work with your team. By bringing in fresh creative ideas, motivation, and tested tools they can use to overcome these problems, employees will liven up and become immediately more enthusiastic. Seminars and workshops dealing with the problems which many employees feel are happening only to them can shed light on the fact that the very same problems are happening all over and that they are not alone. A good seminar and workshop program will also promote an inherent conscientious effort to mentor one and other to continue to improve long after the program is over. Many things you may have told them in the past will be cemented in their minds when they hear it from an outsider who knows this industry, and provides solid no-nonsense answers and techniques they can apply in their daily jobs. This will also generate a higher degree of respect for owners and managers, as well as a higher degree of ownership when it comes to problem solving and team work.
Lastly, how does your current company culture relate to rewards and recognition? When was the last time the "big boss" gave someone a pat on the back? I remember being told, "That's what I pay you for!" Yes, that was what I got paid for, but how much more motivated might I have become if the big boss said something like, "Hey Bob, I like the way you think!" Some people still tell me that they hesitate to give "pats" because come review time, that individual will expect a large raise. Nonsense! Experience shows that people thrive when they receive personal recognition for the work they do. Besides, everyone wants a large raise regardless! Nothing helps improve a company's culture more than meaningful recognition and appreciation for a job particularly well done. The same is true when it comes to recognizing an employee who shows up every day, works hard all the time, and handles various tasks with little or no supervision. A simple pat on the back coming from the big boss is worth its weight in gold when it comes to morale and individual motivation. Here are just a couple of things the big boss can say which will cost him nothing, but will garner a tremendous feeling of appreciation and respect from any employee. Make the language your own, but convey these messages when appropriate:
- "I like the way you think."
- "You did a terrific job with that account."
- "Thank you for solving that problem."
- "I sure appreciate how hard you work."
- "It's a real pleasure to have you on our team."
What other things can you think of to show employees how much you appreciate them?
In the end, thriving companies realize that the decision to be a loyal customer arises not from a single isolated experience with your company but from a number of smaller "moments of truth". The way you operate and how your employees act may be the one big advantage you have in differentiating yourself from all of your competitors, and promoting long term growth. Remember that the experience a customer has with your company positive or negative is determined by the contacts they have with your employees, as well as the service you provide. Exemplary service is a performance issue and your employees are the performers. How well does the culture at your company invigorate and renew enthusiasm and creative effort to continuously improve? All your employees are customer relations people. Hire well, train them, and measure their performance. Give them the motivation to constantly improve and empower them to respond. Never forget, things change!