Managing your employees for business growth

How do you grow your security systems integration business? That was the topic yesterday of a panel discussion at PSA-TEC 2012 in Westminster, Colo. The panel discussion brought together some of those honored in SD&I magazine’s 2012 guide to the fastest growing systems integrators – the SD&I Fast50. Chaired by SD&I magazine editor Deborah O’Mara, the panel included Kurt Will of Will Electronics, Curtis Nikel of Contava and Ron Oetjen of Intelligent Access Systems of NC to discuss how these integrators had made their business grow. Over the next hour-and-a-half, the discussion ranged from employee promotions to sales incentives to product choices, working with your end users, and cash flow management. Most important of all this was personnel management and how that impacts your ability to grow. On that topic, I’ve tried to distill a few of the top tips in the following article so that you can gain some of their insights:

Contava’s Curtis Nikel put it best: Business growth ultimately starts with your people. In his firm, he has an intentional process that puts the right people with the right business and technical knowledge in place and lets them cultivate small teams to tackle new projects. Kurt Will (Will Electronics) seconded that thought and said that systems integrators need to encourage communication within their companies so that ideas are shared, rather than being stove-piped within one small team or only fed to the C-suite (which is sometimes stuck looking at numbers and not always the best place for information sharing).

Also on the topic of personnel management was the issue of personnel growth. Ron Oetjen of Intelligent Access Systems of NC says that a good strategy is to rewrite your job descriptions every few years because the requirements of your staff change. If the job description for technicians formerly required knowledge of analog cameras and now you need technicians who know how to configure Cisco networks, it’s time to rewrite that job description and then retrain your staff. Oetjen advises other integrators to do like he does: “Hire for culture and train for skills.” He says he has spent a lot of money over the last few years investing in training for staff members, but that it does pay off, because they are current on their technical training (which means they can do their jobs better, enabling him to land cutting-edge tech projects), and even more importantly, it shows the company’s commitment to the personal growth of each staff member. Nikel agrees with this approach and says it is a generational cultural change: “Generation Y expects to get much of their real training on the job.”

Nikel added that as you look at staffing, go after young IT people. “The security industry gives variety for young IT people, so they can do more than desktop support. Climbing the ladder to hang a camera may not be glamorous, but playing with the bits and bytes as you build the network for a video management system is more glamorous than being in a cubical providing desktop support when someone downloads a virus.”

Will said that he’s even found that it is easier to find IT staff for his integration firm than it is to find the traditional technical staff he sought before – the ones already versed in alarm panels, access control and video surveillance. Of course, you have to know what to pay them, and Oetjen says you should hire an HR consultant to provide you the information for the going rate on any position you wish to fill, but when you hire these young people, be realistic, because these Gen Y team members generally do not have the work ethic of your Baby Boomer employees who were used to pulling 12 hour days and who were OK with the reward for that effort being the paycheck itself.

Since your growth comes from your employees, keeping your customers happy ultimately means keeping your employees happy. Oetjen recommends surveying your employees for job satisfaction, and says that unhappiness often comes from them being looked over for internal promotions or not receiving the training they need to feel like they can advance in their careers. He says he also recommends a healthy balance of promoting inside talent and recruiting outside talent. It’s important to hire from within if possible, since it shows your commitment to your existing team members, but he also recommends that you look to the outside for fresh faces and ideas as well.

Nikel added on the topic of job satisfaction and internal recruitment that he invests in an annual coaching program to help keep people moving up within the organization. It’s more than just adding to their technical skill sets, he says. Instead, the coaching they may need is non-technical on management or sales skills.

While personnel management may be only one component of creating a great company poised for growth, it’s where you root your company. If you invest in your people, you’ll find that they bring you growth.

[To learn more about the SD&I Fast50 program, contact SD&I magazines’ Editor Deborah O’Mara at The program (which is entirely free) recognizes integrators and dealers who are growing their firms and winners are featured in SD&I magazine and the Executive’s Guide to Systems Integrators from Security Technology Executive magazine. See who won in 2012 here.]