Oct 04, 2019

How Water Treatment Dealers Can Attract & Retain Employees

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Water Quality Products magazine as "Secret Sauce"

How Water Treatment Dealers Can Attract & Retain Employees

The secret to developing a successful business is mastering process and assembling the right team. One of the largest obstacles for today’s specialty contractors is finding and retaining quality talent. Why is it so difficult and what is the solution to successfully hire and keep the right people? The answers are more simple than it might seem. Let us tackle the single issue that can make or break your company and prevent it from achieving its full potential: recruiting and retaining talented people. 

Today’s Market

Recently, a contractor explained that if someone applies to his company and does not have a job, he will not even bother interviewing them.  

“If they don’t have a job in this booming economy, there’s got to be something wrong with them right?” he said. 

The irony of his statement rings true for many water treatment dealers. While this may be partially accurate, there are many reasons why someone might be unemployed. An often overlooked resource for fresh new faces to interview is your local high school and community college. Typically, there are resources for employers to get their names out in front of potential graduates that will soon be looking for work. 

Still, nothing beats finding good potential employees through networking. Talk to your friends and family about the opportunities opening up at your business. Post on social media. Use the power of both digital and analog social networks to get the word out that your company is seeking qualified candidates searching for the opportunity to learn an invaluable new trade and enter a promising future career in an exciting trend-setting industry. 

Utilize all resources available on the internet, like Craig’s List, social media, recruiting service websites and local job posting boards. The only way to fight the ongoing shortage of quality candidates is to engage in all of the above recruitment resources, as well as traditional channels. Initiative and persistence most likely will be required to make a connection with that perfect job candidate. Be patient and tenacious. Pound the pavement. Talented and good people are out there, it is just harder to find them right now.

It is all too common for companies to lose long-term valuable employees to other contractors, even when the employee has to learn a new trade. In some cases, it might be impossible to retain a valuable worker when a local union recruits them for double what you can pay. This goes both ways. There are plenty of other trades with quality employees potentially attracted to the water treatment industry and its related fields. One example is local water treatment dealers recruiting installers and service technicians from pest control companies. Offering someone a chance to work in the daylight helping people and businesses to improve their water quality is an enticing change from spending all day in dirty pest-ridden crawl spaces. Attracting those workers to a respectful, forward thinking and ambitious working culture is an easy sell. The more people you engage and interact with, the more you will discover exceptional talent working unhappily for corporations.

Slow to Hire, Quick to Fire.

Toxic employees must go quickly. A negative employee can severely impact the bottom line of a company. Personality conflicts and bad attitudes can sour entire work groups. Keep an ear to the ground to know what is going on in the ranks. Confronting discord among employees and mediating resolution may mean the difference between success and disaster. One bad apple truly will spoil the box. 

Turnover is normal in business, so do not delay letting someone go when it is clear they are not a good fit or they negatively influence customers or their fellow employees. Some of the most costly errors can be excusing an employee’s bad behavior and prolonging the inevitable. The hidden costs of keeping employees that should not be there can be catastrophic. It generally is true that everyone is expendable, even when it feels like you will never be able to find another sales person that is “a real closer” or “technical wizard or master installer.” In a full employment market, it is tempting for owners to overlook bad employee behavior when it is so difficult to find a replacement at sometimes great cost to the bottom line. 

Employee Engagement

This is a hot topic among current trending companies. 

“As soon as we started focusing on our employees rather than the bottom line, we found that we could actually attract new talent and generate more revenue,” said Jesse Lierman, director of Technologies, for Cochran Inc., a low-voltage electrical contractor on the West Coast in a recent interview. 

Cochran’s upper management convinced the leadership to turn focus away from profits and toward supporting and building a cohesive and efficient team, leading to a radical shift in the company culture. Team leaders were equipped with the tools needed to take care of their people, and in return, the employees performed for the company and spoke highly of the company to their friends. However, what is employee engagement exactly, and what does it look like?

A significant oversite of managers and owners is not knowing and actively tracking the motivations of each individual employee. To really leverage the value of each individual, not only do employers need to know what motivates their people, but also track motivation. 

With the introduction of millennials and Generation Z to the workplace, companies are discovering that the newer generations of workers often are looking to be part of something greater than themselves, yearning to be part of an organization that is not just all about the dollar, but helping people and improving their community. For many employees with families, benefits such as retirement and vacation time are invaluable. For senior and experienced workers, acknowledgement and recognition of accomplishment can be significant motivating factors. Regardless of what a worker values, knowing and understanding what makes them tick will determine how well they fit into the organization and how to keep them loyal and working efficiently for the goals of your organization.

Benefits & Compensation.

To compete in today’s employment marketplace a company must offer competitive compensation packages and benefits. 

Shiloh Water Systems in the Pacific Northwest realized several years ago that health insurance was one benefit it did not offer that might help it retain employees. The question was how to pay for it on already slim margins? Eventually, it decided to raise prices to absorb the cost. Customers did not even flinch at the price increase and it continues to see double digit revenue growth. This same tactic may be necessary if your compensation packages are not competitive enough. The cost of losing employees because of low pay is far greater than bumping pay to or above industry standards. 

A forward thinking company should always be looking for new benefits to offer employees. Profit sharing, sick time, personal days, vacation time and retirement benefits are all expected by prospective job candidates. More and more businesses are getting creative in expanding their benefits packages. Just remember that you can offer tons of benefits, but if the majority of your employees value better pay then you may want to consider a logical balance between pay and benefits.

Internal Culture & Continuity

Have you defined your company culture? What is it about your business and your people that is the soul of your organization? This can be different from company to company but there are some common threads among successful organizations. Defining the role of each employee is integral. Setting a course for each role and a training schedule will generate the continuity in your work force that the company needs for driving efficiency and achieving goals, while also providing the employee the confidence they are going somewhere and have a purpose. Be active in your local trade organizations and include employees. More than ever, our national and local trade organizations need support and at the same time often offer resources, training and continuing education that will keep employees relevant, educated and on the cutting edge. Do not let politics creep into your organization. Maintaining a working culture of dignity and respect and practicing equity go miles in keeping divisive politics out of the work place. 

Companies that truly take a personal interest in their employees will inevitably be successful. Treating workers with dignity and respect is not enough though. A defined company culture and values, competitive wages, salaries, incentives and benefits are necessary. Knowing your people and being actively involved in daily interactions is key. Established review processes, training, defined roles and knowing what motivates an employee are critical parts of a successful retention strategy. While finding good people may require creativity and hard work, keeping them should not be difficult if they know they are taken care of and are a part of a team not just focused on the bottom dollar, but led by management who understand the worth of the human side of business. 

About the author

Nathan Lowrie is director of sales & marketing for Shiloh Water Systems Inc. Lowrie can be reached at [email protected]