As seen in the December 2006 edition of HVACR Business magazine.

To successfully motivate co-workers (which is the term I used for anyone who worked at my companies)—to get them to take actions that you want and need them to take in order to improve customer service, increase productivity, and attract new customers—you must reward them. In my experience, the most effective rewards are:

1) recognition

2) self-esteem boosts

3) spiffs (commissions)

4) career growth

5) working for a great company

1) Recognition: I discussed the first reward, recognition, in my November column, Inspire with Recognition.

2) Self-esteem: It is our responsibility as leaders to help our co-workers feel good about themselves. People who feel good about themselves project an attitude of confidence and are more productive. Customers sense, enjoy, and appreciate being served by confident people who take pride in their work.

One good, easy method of boosting co-workers’ self-esteem is to provide them with business cards. All of my co-workers always had business cards and were trained on how to use them. Why? Because professionals carry business cards, and I considered my co-workers to be professionals and told them so. In my contracting companies, we eliminated all titles, including mine, on the business cards. Every person in the company had the exact same business card, other than the name.

An added benefit of giving co-workers their own business card is that you are practicing guerrilla marketing by having them distribute their business cards throughout your market area every day.

Remember two tips when using this strategy. First, train your co-workers to hand out two business cards, not just one, so that recipients can make two referrals if they choose. Second—and this is very important—when there are two adults in the home, give both of them cards. You do not want to risk offending one of them.

Another way to improve your co-workers’ self-esteem is to implement and maintain standards in personal appearance by providing attractive uniforms and by encouraging good personal grooming. Providing a clean, attractive, well-identified vehicle also helps. Finally, one of the very best methods of building self-esteem is to help co-workers learn how to speak in front of others by having them present at a session of your in-house training program.

3) Spiffs (commissions):

I’ve always liked my co-workers to earn lots of money through spiffs. Giving monetary rewards not only builds self-esteem, but also drives additional business—which means more profit for the company. I pay spiffs for the sale of service agreements (getting customers), the renewal of service agreements (keeping customers), the sale of various accessory products, replacement equipment sales leads that result in presentations (whether or not the customer invests), replacement equipment sales, duct cleaning sales, and for introducing us to co-worker candidates whom we hire. When co-workers know they’ll share the rewards that come with successful completion of these activities, they are motivated to continue doing them.

In most hvac companies, only service technicians can earn spiffs. I believe it is important that you broaden the program beyond just service technicians, although they certainly have the greatest opportunity and usually will earn the most from spiffs. I consider customer-service representatives, dispatchers, and other inside co-workers as the “support team” for outside co-workers, so I always created ways for them to earn spiffs. You could offer spiffs to installers based on the quality of their completed installations as determined by brief customer evaluations, the company’s quality assurance audit, or both.

Finally, celebrate the spiffs. We always held big, fun celebrations at our monthly meetings to recognize the co-workers who had earned spiffs the previous month. It is a huge mistake to include spiffs in the regularly issued paychecks. Though it requires an additional payroll run each month, handing a separate check to co-workers has a greater impact on their motivation.

4) Career growth: Before describing how you can provide career growth for your co-workers, I must relate three lessons I learned long ago. First, not all of your co-workers want to be president of the company. Some just want to come to work, do the job they were hired to do, and go home at the end of the shift. I and many of the people I had hired, who were what I call “high-achievers,” worked constantly, always striving to improve and continue growing the company as fast as we could. The pressure for those who just wanted to do their jobs well was too intense and, as a result, I experienced far too much turnover. I finally had to accept and recognize the value those co-workers brought to the company.

Second, I learned to be more creative and enterprising in creating career-growth opportunities for the high-achievers. I created new operating divisions within the company and opened up branches, then let the high-achievers manage them. I even partnered with and provided financial support to co-workers when they were ready to leave and form their own company.

You can easily identify which co-workers are ready and eager to advance in their careers and which are comfortable with their present position by listening closely during individual performance feedback sessions (sometimes called evaluations). It is your responsibility to identify those co-workers who wish to advance, find out what they aspire to do, and then clearly state how they can advance. High-achievers need to know that you are trying to help them reach their career goals.

Finally, I learned that, contrary to what some leaders believe, most co-workers want candid feedback during their performance evaluations. It’s critical that you be properly prepared and fully aware of the co-worker’s performance.

Providing career growth plans for your service co-workers is even easier. The chart “Service and Maintenance Technician Wage Plan,” below clearly presents how service technicians can advance within an example company. The chart, which is similar to the ones I have used at my companies, removes the subjectivity from the technical portion of performance feedback. (We implemented a similar plan for installers.)

Make the wage plan public and readily accessible to all technicians within the company. This example is the 2006 plan; wages for the classes can be adjusted for inflation, if appropriate, annually. Technical tests are available from various sources, but the best test is one developed within your own company. The technical test for the maintenance technicians is different than the one for the service technicians. Tests scores are progressively more difficult, which means that a Service Technician Class 1 can actually do everything many technicians tell you they can do when being interviewed.

The wage plan is based purely upon co-workers’ technical skills. It has absolutely nothing to do with their customer-relations skills, which can and should be rewarded within your spiff program. It also has nothing to do with their tenure with the company, which you can handle with your benefit program by offering longer vacations to long-term co-workers.

Technicians can make more money in three ways: improve their technical skills and advance to the next class to earn a higher hourly wage; get more customers to invest in your products and services to earn more spiffs; or do both. Using this example wage plan as a start, you can customize your company’s plan for both service/maintenance technicians and installers.

5) Working for a good company: Of the five ways to reward coworkers, providing a good company to work for is the one most leaders fail to think about. However, the opportunity to work for a good company really is a significant reward because, frankly, many hvacr companies are not great places to work. Early in my career, I worked for companies where I did not enjoy going to work, and that is what motivated me to start my own company. If you already have or are building a company where co-workers can be heard, are provided quality training, are kept informed, have fun, and have good processes and systems, you are providing a great place to work. You will attract high-performers and keep them. Also, as a leader, it feels fantastic when co-workers look forward to coming to work, are proud of the company where they work, and tell others how much they enjoy working for the company.