By Christine P. Fletcher

Just because you’re from New Hampshire—as I am—doesn’t mean you have to be hard as granite, even though our dealership is located in the Granite State.

Without a doubt, many people nationwide at water treatment dealerships could leave their company and make more money in another line of work. But even in the exciting, heady days of 2000 when the labor market in New Hampshire was hot, we only lost one employee over money. In an industry where it may take a year to create an effective technician and perhaps two to make a technically competent water specialist, longevity of employees has great value. There are a lot of reasons that promote excellent employee loyalty and longevity. One of those is trying to find the fun in jobs.

The work of water treatment is hard. Direct sales are invigorating, but challenging and sometimes very frustrating. Installing water treatment equipment is heavy, hard and—in New Hampshire—sometimes cold and wet work. Servicing water treatment systems involves lugging and loading heavy bags of calcite or carbon, and can be frustrating when the answer to a malfunctioning system isn’t immediately apparent due to water chemistry rather than mechanical problems. The work grabs you though, especially if you work with people who are high energy and high quality, and who know how to laugh.

Laughter in the rain
High-energy people need to blow off steam. It can be beneficial to allow and perhaps encourage a culture that includes good, hard laughter and rapport-building among employees. These things cannot be legislated or otherwise mandated, but the managers of the company can set the stage and make the environment home for fun.
A few years ago, to avoid falling into the trap of just chasing the numbers, our company instituted some special recognition programs. Each month, a quick recognition meeting is held, and the banter among employees is worth as much as the awards themselves. A few of the awards we give out are described here.

Cowabunga, dude
For the water specialists, there are four awards. The Grand Monadnock, named for a mountain in New Hampshire, is awarded to a specialist who made their sales budget for the month. The award involves a plaque and a gift certificate to a local restaurant. The Boston Marathon is awarded to any specialist whose “average system value” is above a certain preset target, and the prize is a company-monogrammed garment, a shirt or jacket. This award encourages sales of multi-piece systems. The Cowabunga Award, which is usually a bottle of champagne or fine wine, is awarded to anyone selling $50,000 or more in one month. Our controller recently initiated a new award, called the Pea-Pod, which stands for the “Payment Part of the Deal.” He tracks how many of a specialist’s deals were paid according to the terms established (which are usually COD). Whoever has the best percentage of payments—according to these terms—receives this award, which is a beautifully carved statue of a pea-pod, which travels and sits in the office of the most recent winner.

Establishing this award encourages the specialists to be a little more careful explaining terms and getting financing forms filled out properly, and making sure the appropriate person will be home on the day of the job. It saves the controller valuable time in following up. Finally, a joke award exists for anyone who had a particularly bad month and might need a little cheering up. Amidst some good-natured ribbing, the person will be given a pack of bologna or hot dogs, along with the tease that the menus at home will be featuring those fine delicacies for the next month.

Three to get ready
Without any argument, the most fun and most coveted award among the water specialists is the Hattrick Award, named for the “hat trick” or three-goals-in-one-game performance in hockey. When a water specialist has three appointments on the same day and all say “yes”—on that same day—he or she receives the Hattrick. The award is a really funny hat, one that would probably never be worn but hangs in the office as a testament to the achievement.
For the technicians, we wanted to come up with a positive way to try and reduce warranty call-backs. We started tracking workmanship call-backs, as separate from manufacturing defect call-backs, and instituted the Maytag Award. Any technician who comes in with zero, or the lowest number of call-backs, receives a gift certificate to a local restaurant. The issues involved in the call-backs are discussed in a technician meeting in a positive way. The supervisor of the group receives a gift certificate himself anytime the group total is below a preset goal.

Putting it on paper
In the verbal bouquet department, a feedback process was initiated to acknowledge the company’s size, which doesn’t allow for daily contact. A small, simple pad of customer feedback sheets was designed to be filled out by anyone taking a phone call. The feedback can be a problem that needs to be addressed, but encouraged is use of sheets to formally acknowledge positive statements by customers. When a customer praises the work or attitude of a technician or water specialist, the person who took the call fills out a sheet and routes it to the employee and their supervisor. Even something as simple as, “Great job fitting all that equipment in such a tiny space,” written by a water specialist to the technician goes a long way in making the employee feel appreciated.

The final set of incentives established involve some bonuses paid to encourage teamwork in a few key areas of the business. For example, a special bonus is paid to those able to affect the volume of service work, whenever service exceeds budget. This work requires special cooperation between the three individuals who handle marketing, business management and scheduling. As the month proceeds, the three gather around charts and strategize over how to gain more volume. The company owner enjoys seeing them work together toward a common goal.

Conclusion
Properly motivated and managed employees will work hard whether or not they receive special awards and bonuses. You can add an element of human interest, however, by calling out the special behaviors or results that make your company a winner in the marketplace. The whole idea is to personalize this program to your particular company and have fun with how you do it in order to make your and your staff’s work experience more pleasant and profitable. After all, you spend 40 or more hours a week together—you might as well enjoy it. And when an employee is happy, generally, that feeling is contagious to the customers he or she comes in contact with, often resulting in better service and happier customers.

About the author
Christine P. Fletcher is president of Secondwind Water Systems Inc. (formerly Secondwind Environmental), of Manchester, N.H. Fletcher, one of the founders of the company, is a Certified Water Specialist, Level 6, and a New Hampshire-licensed Water Treatment Operator. Secondwind, a Kinetico dealer, handles system design, installation and service for residential, industrial and small public water systems. For more information, contact (800) 287-5767, (603) 641-5767 (fax) or website: www.secondwindnh.com

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