Big Idea of the Month: Ask Yourself How to Keep Employees Happy

United Alarm Services’ Jim Corbett explains how he ensures his employees are happy with the work that they do and satisfied in the recognition they receive.

Jim Corbett is, by all accounts, a nice guy. He is a partner along with Dana Klesh and Robert Rossman of United Alarm Services, headquartered in Brookfield, Conn. This is not a small company. They have more than 9000 accounts, 48 employees and monitor out of their own central station.

Jim is the “technical guy” on the senior management team, and is responsible for operations, installations and everything else that is not covered by marketing or accounting. He’s a busy guy. Here was my question to him: If you had just one really great idea you could share with people like you (operations) in other security and alarm businesses, what would you say?

His answer: “With a workforce of close to 50 people, the question that I always ask myself is how do we keep them happy? Now ‘happy’ has a number of connotations to people, and I don’t mean laughing and singing happy, but rather, happy with the work that they do, and satisfied in the recognition that they receive.”

If you think about it, what Jim is talking about is the one thing we get the most of in the way of questions from dealers … “My people are just not as productive as I would like to see them,” or “It seems as though we always have to make up rules for work as problems come up,” or, “It seems as though we don’t have a system covering all aspects of running a good business”.

And what I hear the most when I’m conducting a seminar that is usually titled “What Keeps You Up at Night?” — and as we talk through the answers to the question, all it comes down to is establishing rules and regulations that seem to apply to all employees. Not as easy as it sounds, but certainly doable. And usually, the information is found in a company handbook.

What? You say you don’t have a handbook? Well, join the club. As best as I can estimate, probably less than 20% of all companies that operate in the security space actually have an employee handbook, and many of them who do, admit that they have been lax in keeping the handbook up to date.

What Jim tells us about his company’s handbook is that it pretty much covers everything that an employee handbook should cover. If this is a mystery to you, you might want to search “employee handbooks” on the web and get a sense of the table of contents and what each section covers. Usually, the larger the company, the thicker the employee handbook.

Now I’m not talking about an employee handbook that is required by law for all businesses, but rather a common sense, plain English document that everybody understands that covers the majority of issues, systems and procedures, and good common sense thinking about all the rest.

So when Jim talks about his handbooks, what he is saying is that they have developed a set of rules and regulations to keep employees at least aware and knowledgeable about what is expected of them. And if you think about it, you will probably find that most of the issues that arise in a business without a handbook deal exactly with being aware and knowledgeable.

Jim tells me that in addition to the handbook, they rely on some other time-tested methods of keeping people happy. They pay really well. They provide timely feedback to employees about the work they’re doing. They provide a relaxing environment in which to work. They standardize on a lot of systems that they install, and provide feedback to the employees about how those installations have been made. They have a great benefits package.

In other words, they run the company well, and employee turnover seems to be minimal. Oh, and by the way, Jim and the company gives back to the industry. Jim conducts educational programs for members of his state’s industry association and their employees, and in fact, the way Jim and I got together for this column was in talking about an association meeting coming up in which he was doing a two-hour educational program before my talk.

I was thinking about that as I started to write this column, and with a sudden flash of introspection, I realized that essentially each column that I’ve written is a reminder of one way or another of running your business effectively. I think Jim’s idea is worthy to look at several times a year.

About the Author

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Ron Davis is Security Sales & Integration's "What's the Big Idea?" columnist and contributing market analyst. He is president of Davis Marketing Group (DMG), a full-service consulting firm serving the security industry, which also includes GraybeardsRus. He has 35 years of industry experience, including founding Security Associates Int’l in the 1980s.

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