Recruiting, hiring, retaining and developing employees is one of the biggest challenges for home-technology integrators today. Human resources played a big role at the recent Azione Unlimited fall conference in Austin, Texas, where a panel of dealers shared their successes and shortcomings in the realm of hiring, motivating and nurturing talent.
I had the privilege of moderating the panel, which included:
- Mike Barry, Millennium Systems, Orlando, FL
- Ryan Anderson, Elevated Electronics, Overland Park, KS
- Jason Voorhees, Cantara, Costa Mesa, CA
- Eric Thies, DSI, Los Angeles
Below are some of the key takeaways from the discussion.
A couple panelists say they have been successful with Indeed.com and linkedin, punching in the right keywords, such as Crestron or “AVI-SPL,” a big national commercial integration firm.
Unfortunately, the home-tech industry doesn’t have much in the way of dedicated schools and programs, but Thies praised the Maverick Institute as a great place to find newly trained techs. Of course, the newish organization can only crank out so many graduates per year.
Some dealers have turned to other trade schools and training programs for prospects who like to work with their hands and may be skilled in allied trades such as IT, construction, electrical contracting, car audio, security or HVAC.
Barry says he’s had some success hiring from the nearby campus of Full Sail University (which also has an online program) for students trained in media and technology.
In addition, he’s always “shopping” for employees. You never know where you might find a good one, like a cable guy at a client’s house, he says: “You can get a feel for their work ethic.”
The Apple Genius Bar is a good place to find young techs, as well as shops like Home Depot and cellphone stores.
Don’t be afraid of re-hiring good employees who jumped ship. Anderson has done it twice. Not only can they get right to work, they can also let their peers know: “I thought the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, and it wasn’t.”
Hiring the Right People
Each of the panelists expressed mistakes in hiring industry-experienced employees because it’s just so easy. Barry recalls hiring the wrong person who had the “perfect resume” for the job because, in retrospect, “I think I just wanted to believe it was a perfect fit.”
Thies admits, “I get lazy” in hiring seemingly perfect candidates with industry experience. To keep himself disciplined, he says, the company now has candidates submit personality tests.
For his part, Voorhees says Cantara changed its hiring practices after he read the book, “The Ideal Team Player” by Patrick Lencioni. Now the company looks primarily for candidates who are 1) humble, 2) smart and 3) hungry.
Anderson urges integrators to examine cause-and-effect when it comes to hiring. He tells of a couple bad hires from a big A/V retailer whom he believed would bring some big-box structure to his company.
“I failed,” he says. “It turns out, they needed that structure” to begin with.
On the other hand, Anderson says he learned some good lessons in hiring when the economy was booming and skilled home technologists couldn’t be bought.
“We hired what was available,” he says. “We would bring them on board, get them into the industry and find a place for them.”
Hiring newbies can do wonders for company culture, he explains: “They’re walking around going, ‘This is so freaking cool.’”
Interns and Mentors
The topic of internships generated some lively conversation. One dealer said he builds relationships with guidance counselors at local high schools, who can steer interns his way for short-term stints. Interns generally are paid minimum wage, although some government organizations subsidize employment for younger workers.
Seek out local agencies that might coordinate internship programs. In New York City, for example, there’s Ladder for Leaders, which offers a summer internship program that costs nothing for some employers.
It’s important that interns aren’t just given scutwork, but are taught skills that might make them good full-time employees after graduation.
The bonus benefit of hiring interns is that it helps companies develop new leaders who are assigned as mentors.
Cantara has a Slack channel where employees can nominate each other for exceptional deeds. Every quarter, a secret panel selects the most deserving person or people to share in a $1,500 pot. But rather than giving cash to the recipients – because they’d probably use it for something practical – Cantara reimburses the employees for something they wouldn’t ordinarily splurge on, like a fancy dinner or weekend at a spa.
“We wanted to develop a culture where people are so excited to be part of the team,” Voorhees says.
He offers this simple tip: If there’s a company you admire for their culture, just ask them how they do it. That’s what Voorhees did with Sonance.
Barry concedes his company can’t pay what some competitors pay, but he recruits and retains employees by maintaining a “family-first” approach to business. If your kid has a baseball game, he says, go to the game and make up the time later.
He says candidates also are attracted to the company because of the stability of the team. Barry typically points to the low staff turnover as proof that newcomers can thrive at the company over the long term.