Management Style Empowers Employees

If the employee break room at Post Alarms is a microcosm of the company, then this traditional alarm company is in good shape. First, Post has recently adopted a cat, or I should say, the cat has adopted Post employees.

When I first saw “Postie,” he was resting in the employee break room, which consists of a snack machine, a TV that doesn’t work, a couple tables and some chairs. He looked quite content as one-by-one employees walked by and affectionately patted him on the head.

Then, my attention was drawn to the TV in the upper corner of the room. Someone (who shall remain anonymous) was standing on a chair taping a picture to the TV screen; it was Kirk MacDowell, executive vice president of Post, touting a package of hair-growing cream.

I knew then that this was a different kind of company. I also knew my goal was to find out what made Post Alarms different. This jovial atmosphere in the break room among technicians, central station personnel and all levels of management is just one important way Post is trying to stay ahead of the competition. Like a gourmet recipe, the pinch of camaraderie is melded with a strong dose of hard-nosed business.

To compete with today’s growing consortiums of dealers, utilities and mass marketers, Post focuses on long-term growth and customer retention.

Because Post’s employees are in the field and on the phone with clients, and they’re the ones inching through crawl spaces, the philosophy is: Happy Employees = Happy Customers.

Thus, Post associates are, to use a management buzzword, empowered. They’re compensated well; given the freedom to have some fun at work; and, perhaps most importantly, they’re not asked, but expected, to make decisions.

Like many traditional alarm companies, the 1990s is a time of transition. To find out how dealers are coping, I spent two days at Post Alarms in Arcadia, Calif. The company has been in business since 1956 and has its own central station in a northern suburb of Los Angeles.

Company Offers Incentives to Workers

One peculiarity of the technician’s job is the lack of break time. Neither Palos nor Ferman took a break for anything … and I mean anything. The only reason we even stopped for lunch was because I was hungry. Both basically said, on a regular day, lunch is a perk.

MacDowell says, “It’s work ethic. It’s not something we can take credit for and we certainly don’t demand that of people.”

It’s also that Post does what it can to offer the employee’s added perks. For example, one story I heard several times from several employees could aptly be named, “Hell Week.” During January 1997, there were some heavy winds. Power was fluctuating and signals were going berserk. The employees weren’t asked to work over time but they did. Some people worked 12- or 18-hour shifts. The time was deemed, “Hell Week.” Post had water mugs made for everyone that say “I survived Hell Week.”

At the end of Hell Week, the managers got up at 4 a.m. and drove into the office one morning to cook a pancake breakfast for the staff. It included sausage and o.j.

“Stayin’ alive” in today’s competitive industry is not the only incentive Post offers its employees. Annually, the company sponsors a contest in conjunction with the junket ITI holds for its dealers. In previous years, the event has been held in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Post keeps a flier on the trip pinned to its hallway bulletin board. The contest to see who will get the trip creates a friendly rivalry among salespeople and technicians. Every employee gets his or her name placed in a hat based on performance during the year. Some workers can have their name in the hat numerous times; everyone is in at least once. Then, at a company-sponsored pool party in the summer, several lucky names are drawn. “Last year, we sent seven people to Hawaii. We were one of the only companies that sent operations people, installers, and central station people,” says MacDowell.

Post’s management team strongly believes in its management approach and employees treat the company as if it’s their own. However, there are no illusions about perfection having been achieved.

“We’re not perfect. We have a suggestion box, and we take that very seriously. We do an exit interview and we take that very seriously too,” says MacDowell.

Perhaps the picture taped to the non-working television was a less than subtle hint to get it fixed. I would guarantee, though, after spending time with Post’s team and learning about how they work, that TV was working pretty soon after that maneuver.

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