Your Employees: Your Biggest Asset

Oct. 12, 2004
Supreme Security VP and COO David Bitton offers a glimpse into what's working at his company in terms of retention, training and finding tomorrow's workers

Employee retention and performance has always been one of the top concerns of dealer/alarm companies. How do you keep the best employees around and how do you encourage your other employees to perform at their best? Do incentives really work? Is training a motivational factor? Where are tomorrow's employees going to come from?

These are all questions that managers and administrators of dealer and alarm installer companies must think about on a regular basis, and questions administrators must answer to create efficiency in their business. recently spoke with David Bitton, vice president and chief operating officer of Supreme Security Systems Inc., a 75- year-old family-owned company in New Jersey with a history of keeping good staff around. Supreme Security Systems, which was founded in 1929, has been ranked as one of the largest dealer companies in the United States, and their primary business is still installing, servicing and monitoring burglar and fire alarm systems, CCTV systems, access control systems and process/environmental monitoring systems. We posed some of the above questions to Bitton in the hopes that his experiences operating Supreme Security might help shed some light onto techniques in a format that you will also find illuminating.

SIW: How has employee retention been viewed at Supreme Security?

Bitton: We see very little turn-over in our technical staff. Part of my job is to make sure they have what they need to do their job. We back them up with technical support inside the office. A lot of my long-term employees are in the technical support end [of the business]. My guys know that when they call the office, they will get the technical support they need.

SIW: How is training involved in retaining and creating good employees?

Bitton: I have a number of my guys who are looking to excel. We're currently doing computer networking training to keep up with changes in the industry. The key to keeping my guys happy is to keep them updated on the systems they'll be working with. Just last week, every staff member spent eight hours in technical training, and we average between 20 and 40 hours of dedicated training for staff members per year. Education is an enormous resource. It makes their jobs easier and empowers them, and by way of empowerment they feel stronger. Our guys aren't supervised out in the field, so training makes me and them more confident in their abilities. It's not something we have set up now, but training will eventually become its own staff at Supreme Security.

SIW: How do incentive programs work at your company?

Bitton: Our installers have productivity requirements, and there is a very nice incentive if they pass that goal. In the interest of incentives, we keep it simple. All of my guys have a certain number of units they need to complete per week, and there are incentives if the group as a whole passes expectations. Beating that goal gives you dollars, a year-end bonus. Our top performers get monthly recognition at our meetings in addition to monetary compensation. If one guy does well one month, we see others who want to try to earn that recognition the next month. For incentives, we recently revised our system to make it simple. Our old plans were very complicated. I sat down and talked with other security companies before revising our system.

SIW: Especially with installers, who are out in the field constantly, creating a team effort can be a challenge. How do you use the concept of "community" in retaining good employees?

Bitton: Besides our monthly meetings, we also hold a quarterly meeting of the department, but we also have an annual holiday party held outside the office and a summertime barbeque party where staff can enjoy themselves.

SIW: Even with these kinds of programs in place, you sometime must lose good employees, whether it's to the competition, retirement or personal reasons. What do you do to ensure that the continuity in your operations is not lost?

Bitton: If I have a certain individual who is coming to retirement, then before he leaves, what we try to do is to break apart his core knowledge and spread that knowledge to other staff members who can fulfill his duties. Before someone leaves, for whatever reason, we download as much information from them as possible. We know what someone's strengths are before they leave; it's usually obvious. But we ask them to "Give me two reasons for leaving that you see that you may not otherwise have mentioned." But with our program, we find that when folks leave us, it usually has to do with an idiosyncrasy with that individual.

SIW: Nonetheless, you still must find that you lose some employees to competing companies. What happens in those situations?

Bitton: What happens is that you get an individual in a start-up scenario and people throw a lot of promises around that may or may not be true. To keep good employees, we negotiate to some level. Let's face it: employee compensation is as secret as people decide to keep it. [For compensation] we keep ourselves in line in terms of pay scale, or a bit above that. But sometimes you have to know when to say when in terms of negotiation.

I get feedback on our pay scale from talking to my friends in the industry, and you hear it from people grumbling, but [I also learn about what the current pay rate is] from making offers to potential employees. If I get too many "No's" then I have to up my scale.

SIW: What are you doing to continue to create a pool of talent?

Bitton: We have focused on the apprenticeship end and are working with the trade schools. Because of that, we often get our pick of the guys coming out of the trade schools. Apprentices also get an intensive one-year program with orientation and classes.

SIW: What does the future hold for quality employees at security dealer companies?

Bitton: We have seen recently with the introduction of IT into security that there is some sexiness to our industry. Now, low voltage looks appealing to the students. Right now I have IT staff, and I also have guys who pull the wires. I'm starting to talk about computer and IT certification to all my staff, and they like to hear that.