Finding, Accelerating and Retaining Field Service Talent | Future of Field Service
Featured

Finding, Accelerating and Retaining Field Service Talent

In a session from the Austin stop of the Future of Field Service Live Tour, Sarah talks with Katy Chandler, VP of Learning and Development at DuraServ and Roy Dockery, VP of Field Operations at Flock Safety, about the tactics they’ve implemented to not only find new talent, but also accelerate their time to value and maximize retention.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we are sharing a session from the Austin Live Tour, that features Roy Dockery, who is the Vice President if Field Operations at Flock Safety. And Katy Chandler who is the Vice President of Learning and Development at DuraServ. This is a conversation about different ideas to tackle the talent gap. We talk through both Roy and Katy’s experiences in a wide range of areas of this topic from recruiting and hiring, to retention, training and development. We take some interesting questions from the audience related to how to speed time to value for new employees. So it’s a great discussion, I hope you enjoy.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, I think this is one that likely can be very interactive, so no yawning and feel free to interject, shout out questions, etc. Before we dig in, why don’t you all say a little bit more about your role, your organization, and anything you want to share about yourself, Katy I will start with you. 

Katy Chandler: My name is Katy Chandler. I work at a company called DuraServ, a mid-sized company based in Dallas. We have about 30 locations through the Sun Belt, from Phoenix up to New Jersey, and one in Toronto, so technically, we’re international, but just barely. But we are in the commercial overhead door and dock equipment space, so just like a garage door in your house, but in a commercial application for receiving, distribution, warehousing, food service, all sorts of businesses that have doors in their receiving area. We sell, service, and install those. No manufacturing, but we have about 800 employees right now, and about half of them are field service technicians.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Roy?

Roy Dockery: I’m Roy Dockery, I’m the VP of Field Operations for Flock Safety, which is new now. I worked at Swisslog Healthcare for the last 12 years in healthcare automation and technology, but now I’m in public safety operating systems, and working with police departments to eliminate crime and mitigate bias. So, I’ve been in the field service space for the last 12 years, like I said, largely in healthcare. Sarah and I have been beating the talent gap drum. I think I’ve been talking at conferences now on it for five years?

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Roy Dockery: Roughly, before The Great Resignation started. So yeah, so that’s my background, field service, technical support, software support, kind of the whole span of service from a customer face perspective.

Sarah Nicastro: Perfect. All right. So, let’s kind of start off with just each of you talking a little bit about what you’re seeing within your own organizations related to this topic, so how it’s sort of impacting you, and if you need to speak historically at all with Swisslog, that’s fine. I know you just recently transitioned.

Roy Dockery: Yeah. So, for me, I think, and it’s been touched on a little bit and I think it’s an interesting continuation, I think one of the main things that I see, and it was mentioned earlier, is that there’s a lot more focus on purpose and the mission of an organization when it comes to recruiting, because you can recruit for behavior and for attitude, which I’ve also talked about for years, and then you can train for skills, which I think even Mr. James said earlier.

Roy Dockery: So, but I think one of the problems from a recruiting perspective is that we’re used to just advertising jobs, and then filling jobs, and now people want purpose, and we are in field service, and Sarah and I have talked about this, we really suck at marketing in field service, right? All of us who are field service managers and executives, you could be doing it for 10, 20, 30 years, once a week, you are still explaining to somebody what field service is, because no one understands what it is. And so, just marketing the job, I think isn’t hitting the bar anymore. You really got to talk about the mission of the company, the impact to the community, kind of like how does this impact affect your family? Because generationally, people don’t just want a job, right? They want something that they can feel motivated and connected to.

Roy Dockery: So, even when I was in healthcare, I saw where people would just sign up for a job, and then the interviews became more like speed dating, right? It was kind of like, “Well, what do you do for the community, and what’s the impact?” And so, even that transition started to happen, and we see it even more now. So, as leaders within the organization, we have to be able to train those, whether it’s in recruiting or hiring managing, to kind of navigate that space, especially when there’s technical jobs, of being able to connect it to the mission, social good, some benefit.

Roy Dockery: So, that’s one thing that I think is consistent, even for healthcare, and now being into public safety, is that when we’re recruiting, we’ve got to go a lot further beyond the job to really get people’s interest and attention, because I found the people, and we were just talking a minute ago, the people who come for the job don’t stay, right? Because somebody else will offer them another job that pays more money, and then they will be gone, and now you’re back into the recruiting and the training aspect again. So, that’s one thing.

Sarah Nicastro: Katy?

Katy Chandler: Absolutely, same, but what I would-

Sarah Nicastro: Ditto.

Katy Chandler: Yeah, ditto. There we go, done. What I would add to that is we are not seeing… We actually call them a unicorn, someone who has experience in our industry and has been working, they’re unicorns, they just don’t exist. We’ve had to shift to trying to hire people who don’t have experience, and train them up, just as you were saying, try to hire for that fit, and then train them on the skills. So, that’s been a very notable shift in our organization, because we’re not used to doing that. We’re used to saying, “This is someone who has some experience, and we’ll put them with someone who has a little more experience, and they’ll just kind of learn it over the years, and be better at it,” and we’ve had to really take a strategic step back to consciously come up with a way to structure that a little bit better than we’ve previously done.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So, when Roy mentioned, I think you were guest number two, maybe on the podcast, two or three. So, that was a while ago, and we did talk about this exact topic. I think you saw early on something that people are now just beginning to accept, which is that the practice of hiring based on experience is not sustainable. Okay? So, it’s a failing strategy, and I think people now are beginning to understand that and put measures in place to change what they’re doing, but there’s still this need to really become more creative, right?

Sarah Nicastro: So, talk a little bit about the why and the how. So, I want to focus right now on bringing people in. So, I want to be careful that today in this discussion, we don’t only talk about recruiting, because I think that’s one of the missteps. When we think of the talent problem, everyone just thinks about, “How do we hire, how do we hire, how do we hire?” The question Rudy asked in the last session is actually digging more into the issues of retaining, and keeping employee morale up, and keeping people, and that’s also an important part of the conversation. But to start, when we think about changing our strategy for hiring so that we’re not dependent upon experience, what do we need to be thinking about?

Katy Chandler: I think we’ve really tried to be thoughtful about who and how we publicize our jobs, and working with trade organizations, or trade schools, excuse me, to find some alignment in some skill set, or at least some mechanical aptitude. People who are interested in welding, we can take that skill set and build on it, and translate that into our industry and what they need to do in our workspace. So, that has been somewhat of a shift for us to really try to build that network, to get the right kind of people who have the right aptitude, even if not the exact skills we’re looking for.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm.

Roy Dockery: Yeah, and then that’s why, and I let katy go first because she’s over in training and development as well, I think one of the things that we miss is that we might shift our traditional recruitment model, right? We might update our job posting, and then we want to attract a different type of talent, but then we’re not changing the way that we train, right? So Sasha had said they were 10-20-70, but it was really like, “10%, I’ll do some onboarding, and then 90% go figure it out in the field.” But when you’re no longer hiring for experience, you also have to adjust your training, because that’s why you wind up having retention problems, because first of all, they can’t come up to speed the same way. It doesn’t mean they can’t come up to speed quickly, it’s just that they don’t come up to speed the same way, the same type of training, right?

Roy Dockery: You get into micro learning, people who are used to watching short YouTube videos to learn, versus people who stand over somebody’s shoulder and try to watch, right? Even back, my undergrad was in education as well, right? There’s different ways to instruct and teach people as well. So, I think there was a very traditional way that we taught people in field service that was very much vocational school, kind of apprentice, the novice journeyman kind of pathing, and we’ve got to switch that and allow it to be more dynamic, because you might bring somebody in that will actually attach to a more complicated idea than your traditional technicians, but then struggle with the basic things, just because they’re more digital, they’re more software oriented, they’re more IT oriented. Right? So, looking at that, I think helps as you can recruit them, you can get them an offer, but if you know you’re hiring a different type of people, and a different skill set, and a different behavior, then you also need to be different as a company and be dynamic, and shifting.

Roy Dockery: And I think the other thing important from training is that there is a lot of… I even, I was in Dallas yesterday and visited one of our former customers from my previous company while I was in town, because there’s overlap in our current technology. But the one thing that we started finding out, especially when we started kind of having to bring in that second generation of technicians, somebody, I think Sasha had mentioned, you have maybe some dedicated technicians. So, I have two technicians who worked full-time at Parkland Hospital for a decade, but then that technician leaves, and then the new technician comes in, but we’re only training them on the systems, right?

Roy Dockery: But your culture of how you interact with your customers, now we had to figure out how do we train on culture? How do we train on the way that we talk to the pharmacy directors? How do you train on the way that you interact with a police chief, right? Because, well, even now, I’ll get escalations like, “Who the heck is this new guy?” The new guy isn’t doing anything wrong, right? They’re doing the job to the books, but there was something that we were doing before that we didn’t document, that was kind of a part of the culture that somebody did based on experience, that we never codified, wrote down, and then formalize into that training. So, the fact that that experience isn’t there, especially if you’re in food service or whatever industry, we also have to understand from a training perspective that we’ve got to loop that stuff in as well.

Roy Dockery: So, I can’t just train you on the technology, I also need to train you on our customers, and what our customers expect, and how we interact with them, and like, “Here’s examples of some of the communication that we have,” and almost kind of letting them see the way that that navigates, because they can be traveling with somebody training, but they’re only looking at the equipment, right? So, they’re so busy staring at the machine that they’re terrified about how knowing how to fix, that they’re ignoring all of the interaction with the customer. I mean, we had to go down to how do you check in in security? Because they would just be following the person they’re training, and the person training has a badge, and you try to come back to a hospital and walk through the front door without a badge on, security’s going to hunt you down.

Roy Dockery: So, it’s just even simple things like that, to how do you walk into a facility? Who do you contact? Those are things as well that I think as we’re shifting this dynamic and hiring different people, different generations with different backgrounds, that you also have to focus on training the customer experience, and kind of onboard people to the culture and the way that you expect them to interact not just with your systems, but also with your customers and other people in the field.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, that makes sense, but I want to just take one step back, because I do think that people here probably also want to hear more about how do we get more people, and then we can talk a little bit about how do we train them, how do we keep them, right? So, you brought up the point, Roy, that in field service, we have a bit of a marketing problem. Okay? And so, I agree, and I think that when we were hiring on experience, it wasn’t as big of a problem, because you were trying to bring in people that were already familiar with what it meant. Now it becomes a bigger problem, because you’re trying to bring in people that have no clue and no awareness, right?

Sarah Nicastro: And so, I want to talk about one of the things I know you did when you were at Swisslog, which is you changed the way you were writing the job description, so that they didn’t mention field service. So, it was more , and I think you said you were targeting people from Chick-fil-A or something.

Roy Dockery: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: But you kind of focused it more on the customer service, the aspects of what were the fundamental requirements for the role, versus calling it field technician, etc. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Roy Dockery: Yeah. And so yeah, on that recruiting side, yeah, she mentioned, I always joke that like, find me somebody at Chick-fil-A with a screwdriver, and I’ll hire them in a heartbeat. They’ve got the service stuff, if you can fix anything, I will train you. We literally have done that. I actually have a manager that’s in Dallas that got banned from local Best Buys, because he kept recruiting their Geek Squad members. But so, he was going a little rogue.

Sarah Nicastro: Hopefully there’s no one here from Best Buy.

Roy Dockery: Yeah, I think his photo might be up at a local Best Buy. And so, the main thing is when you talk about a job description, people are looking for jobs. We know we’ve got a branding problem, people don’t know field service exists, but then we put very field service-specific stuff in our job descriptions, right? The way that we describe them, we talk about sometimes proprietary equipment that there’s no way anybody would’ve ever worked for it. I call them “Dear John” letters, like you read a job posting that’s like, you must be trying to hire your former technician, because no one else would meet these requirements. I spoke at an event, and I put up companies that was at the event, I put their job description up on a PowerPoint presentation, it was like, “Literally, no one who’s never worked at your company could meet 80% of these requirements.”

Roy Dockery: So, knowing that people are using search engines almost like Google, if somebody has a customer service background or maybe they worked in hardware, what we started doing and even, I mean, a lot of people in field service hire ex-military, there was a giant military friendly, all caps block at the top of our resumes… So, if you typed in that you were in the military, it would literally, it would pull our job posting to you because of the words that we put in it.

Roy Dockery: So, it’s not focusing on experience, focusing on customer service, the ability to use hand tools, right? It sounds really rudimentary, but can you read a schematic, right? Do you use a multi-meter? Do you understand basic software? And then when people look at what the company does, the expansion of, I called it we didn’t necessarily change where we were fishing, but we changed the net. So, when your job description is very specific, it’s like you’re using one lure that only your trout will bite, but when I need to fill a hundred positions or double the size of my service organization, I need a net that’ll catch anything that’s relatively around, that I can then bring in and train.

Roy Dockery: So, it’s getting specific in those job descriptions, removing your specific equipment. A lot of people vote themselves out, even though you’re willing to hire people with less experience because you see it work in your organization, but we don’t go back and change our job description, right? We started comparing our best performing new employees to our job descriptions, and they didn’t match. So, we used to have an associate’s degree as preferred or desired, and then I went and looked, I had managers in field service who didn’t have associate’s degrees. So, I’m like, “Why is this in our job description?” Right? Like two to five years of experience, or three to five years in the military, I have people who are our top performers right now that don’t meet any of those requirements.

Roy Dockery: So, it’s even taking some of your top performers, and even your new top performers, and saying, “Okay, our hiring managers hired them, but normally it’s because they were referred or they knew somebody. Interestingly enough, they got in around your recruitment process because your normal recruitment process would’ve screened them out, and they would’ve never gotten interviewed.” So, I think the job description and the job posting both, right? Your recruitment team kind of memorizes your job description, and that’s what they’re going to. So, review the job description, change the job description first, then update your job postings, and stop being so specific with your job titles. It doesn’t matter what you call it within the company, right? You can call the job whatever you want in the company, like post it as a couple of different things, post it as field service, post it as a field technician, post as an install technician, because again, this is keywords, people are looking for different roles.

Roy Dockery: And the last thing I’ll say, in my current company, I got there, we’re tripling the size of the field service organization, but they were struggling hiring people, and I was like, “Well, what are you recruiting for?” And they were like, “We’re recruiting for install technicians,” and I said, “Recruit for field technicians.” Five times the number of applicants applying, just because we changed one word, the description exactly the same, one posted as an install technician, one posted as a field technician, and we’ve got mirrored postings in the same areas, all the field technician roles are getting filled, just for changing that title.

Roy Dockery: But when you put engineers, some people exclude themselves, “Well, I’m not an engineer, so I can’t be a field service engineer.” So, even being specific about the words that we’re using in those posts. So, you can hire them and call them whatever you want, but when you’re recruiting, use terms that people will come across and not feel intimidated to apply, right? I think that’s one of the things, people feel intimidated to apply, and you’re hiring managers would hire them and be willing to train them in a heartbeat, but they’re not getting through the screening process, they’re not getting the recruiting process, so you’re not landing the talent.

Sarah Nicastro: Makes sense. All right. Now, Katy, you said you’ve had some success working with trade schools, and Roy, I know not only are you former military, but I know at Swisslog you had success recruiting military. Are there other sources either of you would point to as good potential?

Katy Chandler: Well, we also have used military. We’re partnering with several different military organizations. We also have really ramped up our referral, internal referral program, which has helped us to some degree, but those are always pretty good hires. So, even if the stats don’t necessarily reflect huge levels of hiring, they’re usually more committed. We have, I think a 50% success rate from just a recommendation, “Here’s someone that I know,” to a hire, which is better than any other applicant stat there. So, that’s been helpful for us to help supplement some of that, so we’re really trying to push that, and we’ll pay referral bonuses to our own employees for submitting people.

Roy Dockery: Yeah, and the same thing, referral bonuses, pushing incentives, trade schools, and also, and depending on the role, I’ve always really wanted to deal with technical high schools. There’s a lot of high schools now that basically want people to graduate with an associate’s degree, if you have jobs that don’t require travel, right? That’s the other thing about field service, we kind of unintentionally age discriminate, because you can’t rent a car in most places until you’re 21, and in some areas, 25, depending on what rental car company you use. So, and then they require credit cards, and all of this other stuff for travel.

Roy Dockery: And so, the one thing I do like about our current company is that we went… Because we had personal credit cards at my last company, now we have purchase cards that are given to all field service technicians, through a platform called Liquid, so that’s allowing us to hire some younger people as well. So, I think that’s the other thing is that there are a lot of different avenues, but you also have to remove internal obstacles, whether that’s a credit requirement, and things like that as well, because if you want to hire younger people with less experience, they’re more than willing to come in, they’ll cost you less money, they’ll work harder, but they’re not going to have a credit card.

Roy Dockery: So, do you take the risk and then do something with the finance department to offer that? Because that’s the one limitation we had at my previous company with trade schools or technical schools, it was, “Are you old enough to rent a car, and do you have a credit card?” And that would eliminate a lot of my younger candidates, and now that’s not a problem at my current company, with the exception of a rental car. But yeah, so with our standard positions, we can hire, and then they have access to credit through the company, which can be a limitation as well when you’re trying to grow your organization.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that’s a good tip. Okay, so I don’t want to focus too much on this part, because it came up in the conversation with Sasha, and we won’t have a lot of time to get into it, but just to kind of go linearly, so we’re talking about how to bring people in. The other part of this is what do people today want, right? So, this is the part we’ve kind of touched on, which is it’s important to note it’s different than it was five years ago, 10 years ago, right? So, people want a good company culture, people want purpose, people want career development opportunities, people want flexibility, right?

Sarah Nicastro: So again, the same way we’re talking about becoming more creative and examining how you’re posting jobs and what internal barriers might exist, you need to do the same with what’s the value proposition for the employee, and is it what it should be? And if not, is it because you truly cannot accommodate some of the things that they want, or is it because you’re just refusing to evolve what you’re doing? I had a gentleman on the podcast not too long ago, that is the creator of jos.com, and I thought this was a really good piece of advice, is the best source of feedback for what you need to do differently for recruiting, is to ask people that don’t accept positions, offers, why, and then really take that seriously, and see if you can incorporate that into your value proposition.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, so let’s talk a little bit more about training. So Katy, I know this is your key focus.

Katy Chandler: Wheelhouse.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. And so, as DuraServ has kind of accepted the fact that it’s becoming unicorn-like to find people with experience, how are you changing what you’re doing from a training and development perspective, to bring in people and train them up?

Katy Chandler: Sure. So, just as a historical sort of example, a lot of the growth that we’ve had over the last 20 years has been by way of acquisition, a lot organic as well, but you really see the contrast when you acquire a business. And one example that we had of this when we acquired a particular business maybe eight, 10 years ago or so, we were having a conversation with the former owner, talking through a little bit of due diligence on their people, and he referenced a particular technician and said, “Well, he’s been with me for six years. He’s almost ready to go on to his own vehicle and be on his own.”

Katy Chandler: And even 10 years ago, my jaw dropped and I’m thinking, “This is not sustainable. There is no way that this can be our process,” and I wasn’t even in learning and development at the time, but recognizing that that’s where a lot of our competitors are at, and that’s where a lot of our particular industry is at, is really sobering. And so, even if we take a slight step in the direction of building some structure around some training process, we’re doing good. So, I think for us, just recognizing that we needed to make a move, even if we don’t have the program perfect, we’re stepping in the right direction.

Katy Chandler: So, we have started to build out really a career progression, starting with our field technicians. Ideally, we want to do this in all the departments, but starting with the largest group of people, and the ones that have the highest turnover, and the hardest to recruit, and do the actual work for our customers. We built out apprentice up to master technicians, so tech one, two, three, four, and so on, develop the competencies of what that means behind the scenes, assign pay scales behind the scenes, and then give them a plan where they can do that 70-20-10. We have a learning management system where they can watch video courses, learn, kind of take the edge off, because that is still just 10%, but understand the basics of the product that we work on, and then give them a tool.

Katy Chandler: We actually give them what we call a demo book, where they take that around and they ride with another technician, they’re seeing this in the field, they’re participating in it, and when they are competent, they actually get signed off in their demo book in the field, to advance further along, so they have control. And to your point about what people are looking for, I think in current times, people are looking for a little more involvement, not waiting for a year for an annual review to be able to say, “Here’s what I did,” or “I get a dollar raise,” or whatever that looks like, but to be able to have some ability to move that needle faster, if they want to.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, if they want to.

Katy Chandler: If they want to.

Sarah Nicastro: And that’s the thing, I like the word you said is “control,” so they have control over how fast they want to progress, or if they just want to hang out a bit at the initial level.

Katy Chandler: Then that’s kind of up to them, and we’ve sort of framed it that way, and you can take your own initiative here, and for some of those people who don’t want to, then they know where they’re at. They know where they can go, and the next step, and if they’re kind of happy where they are, they’re going at a slower pace, and that’s okay. They don’t all have to become master technicians within five years. We’re not expecting that we’re going to just completely turn everybody into master techs that quickly, but it gives them a path, and it also gives the leadership a little bit more tools in their tool bag to be able to have those conversations on performance on, “How are you moving forward?” or “How are you choosing to not develop?” They have some stake in the game.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think I was just thinking about something Roy and I have talked about before. So, I think another change to all of this is thinking about the fact that this is really ongoing farming of talent, right? Because people aren’t going to want to stay stagnant in roles for 5, 10, 15, 20 years like they have historically, right? So, the idea of a very transparent, intuitive sort of self-paced progression like, “What is the opportunity, and how do I achieve as much as I want, as fast as I want?”, is certainly smart.

Sarah Nicastro: I think the other thing, and Roy, we talked about this with your experience at Swisslog, is to maybe just accept the fact that the majority, or at least a certain percentage of field technicians just aren’t going to remain field technicians, okay? And so, I know at Swisslog, you almost used that role as a farm for talent, not in progression, but within different areas of the business. So, it was a way to bring people in, get them exposed to the Swisslog culture and technology, and then when they wanted, they could move to different areas of the business.

Roy Dockery: Yeah, and I think, and yeah, as she was talking, that’s exactly where my mind was going as well, because the one thing, even just from a generational difference, we talked about it before, people don’t really want a job, a lot of people are kind of pursuing a calling, right? They’re like, “There’s purpose, there’s mission, that’s what I want to do.” And so, we can’t just develop people in kind of these very binary things like, “You’re a technician, so let me train you in being a technician,” because you’ve got a technician who likes to sell things, or likes to train customers, and so, you have all of these different variables, or you have a mechanic who builds computers in his free time.

Roy Dockery: That was always the weird thing about being in the military, right? I had mechanic friends in the Navy who built computers, so I’m like, “Your job is to be a mechanic and to work on a turbine engine, but in your free time, but when you got out the military, nobody would know that. Everybody would think you were a mechanic.” And so, that’s why one of the reasons I started recruiting that way, because I knew electricians who were mechanics, I knew mechanics who were computer technicians, right? I knew throttle men that ran boats, who were computer programmers in their free time. So, that whole full skill set, people want to use them all at work, right? So, I think even from a training perspective, it’s how do we also give them exposure to things outside of just their own space?

Roy Dockery: So, even now, or even at my current company, when I coach and when I talk to our teams and our leaders, I’m like, “Everyone has two paths in a career, in my opinion. You can be a leader of people, or you can be an individual contributor,” right? So, a leader of people, you can go lead a group of people in any function, but as an individual contributor, what do you want to do? Do you want to do sales? Do you want to do support? Then it’s our job as leaders in the organization to make sure that we get you exposure to it, because it might be a skill you have, but it’s not something you want to do at work. There’s some skills you have, you just don’t want to get paid for. I have a podcast, she has a podcast. I don’t want to get paid to do a podcast, because I don’t want do it consistently, right? I don’t want to have 148 episodes, right?

Roy Dockery: So, it’s that drive of what’s there, and so, I think creating that space where even if it’s a learning module that they can take to just figure out what your customer success managers do, what does a day in the life of a project manager look like, right? So, I have people from my team that have gone into project management, customer success, sales. I used to say I like infecting the DNA of field service into the other departments, and at my last company, I did it in every department, except for finance. So, I had someone in my team literally in every organization in the company, and it’s just that farming of talent because they come in, they understand the customers, they understand the products. So, for them to work in sales, or inside sales, or account management, or in product management, solutions engineering, our sales consultants, our professional services people come from the field, it’s a great place, but it also gives that career path where a lot of times, we look at retention as a departmental goal, and not an organizational goal, right?

Roy Dockery: So, are we trying to retain talent at Smart Care, or at Flock, or at a company, or am I trying to keep them on my team, so I don’t have to bother to continue to hire people? So, one of the shifts for my hiring managers were, “No, we want to hire people and keep them in the company. I don’t care if they stay here.” Right? So, “Give me a year, do the job well, and then I want you to go be successful other places within the organization,” but that requires some exposure, some communication, allowing them to shadow a project engineer or a project manager, go have lunch with a salesperson or a customer success manager, because yeah, maybe it’s a one-on-one that they need to have, but it’s not a one-on-one with a field service manager, it’s a one-on-one occasionally with someone in project management, because that’s their interest.

Roy Dockery: So, it’s connecting that relationship, understanding what the interests are, but yeah, farming talent for the entire organization, because coming out of field service, I think in any company, there’s a lot of places where that level of exposure and understanding of the customer can drive success to the overall business long term.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think the point you brought up about people have different strengths they want to lean into, or different passions that they want to lean into, it takes me back to Sasha’s point about the importance of one-on-ones, and that direct manager engagement and commitment, right? Because that’s how you find out what those strengths and what those passions are, in a way that allows you to look for how they can use them either in their current role, or somewhere else in the business, instead of letting them get frustrated, or bored, or disengaged, and just go elsewhere, right? So, I think that’s important.

Sarah Nicastro: I think the other element here is thinking about what does the role or roles of field service look five years from now, 10 years from now, right? That is definitely changing. In my opinion, it’s going to be more segmented, right? I think as we move into a world where there is more remote service, and where the role of the technician is more of that trusted advisor role, I think you can see sort of almost different segmentation of roles, right? So, maybe you have someone at a certain level or title that stays responsible for the actual mechanics of whatever it is that you’re fixing, but then you have someone that’s more of a trusted advisor or customer success role that’s more customer-facing. Maybe you have remote field technicians that don’t go in the field, et cetera, right? So, starting to think now about what that future looks like, so that you’re at least aware of, or starting to think about what skills and capabilities you need to be thinking about bringing in.

Sarah Nicastro: So, what about retention? That’s kind of the other side of this, is how do we keep the people we have? And we talked about career paths, and sort of mapping people either in an advancement, or to other areas of the business. What are some of the other things related to retention that we should touch on?

Katy Chandler: I think one that we’ve just recently started talking about is what you were just saying, like remote technical assistance, that would be relatively new for us, but thinking about, especially in our aging tech force, when you’ve got someone who has all this knowledge and they want to share it, and just physically might be getting to the point where this isn’t what they’re able or wanting to do anymore in the field, trying to tap that knowledge in a way that it can still support the people who are younger in their career and excited about learning, to kind of create another layer of technical support for those younger, or earlier career, may be a better, more PC way of saying that, but trying to tap that knowledge and really create a career path for that person who’s been in the field for so long, to still use their expertise and share it with others.

Roy Dockery: Yeah, and to tie to that, I had a policy which took me a lot of fighting with our executive team, because I would retire technicians in tech support. So, if they’re aging out, like you said, someone had a back surgery, shoulder surgery, and now they’re limited, and they physically can’t do the job anymore, but the reason I had to fight it, because the average salary of a technician who’s been here for 30 years is significantly higher than the average salary of what you would be hiring somebody on. And so, we tried it out and then, but that’s almost our policy now.

Roy Dockery: So, our process, and even at our current company, I have somebody that goes out on medical leave or has restrictions. Our new company, we do a lot of outdoor installations, they’ve got to dig holes, because we put poles up, but my first reaction is always, “Can we use them in tech support? Can we be utilized in tech line?” And if they go there, if they want to stay there, then stay there. I already have somebody fully trained. So, I think that that’s a good transition. And yeah, so from a retention perspective, definitely trying to keep as much of that information within the organization as possible is helpful, and sometimes it’s a cost benefit, but it’s definitely beneficial to retain that, and people see that, right?

Roy Dockery: So, when we talk about the longevity, and I had mentioned it when I was talking to Jim over there, if you look at your attrition, your people who have been there for the long time aren’t the ones leaving. So, the other thing I would say with retention is yes, I think exit interviews are good, but when you start focusing on fixing all the things of the people who are exiting your organization, who have been there for a year, but you’re not actually asking questions on what’s making the people stay, who have been there for 15 years, you’ll wind up changing the company that was driving your retention. So, there’s something that they’re staying about, right? Because it might’ve just been a bad job fit, maybe we’re just not hiring the right people, but then you start adjusting business processes and culture, because the people who you hire resign within a year.

Roy Dockery: But so, that’s the one thing, just make sure you don’t just focus on the attrition, that you actually make plans from a culture perspective, based on your retention, right? Because we tend to focus on attrition a lot, and then we start doing stuff for the 10% that are leaving, and we ignore the 90% that have stayed through economic downturns, and recessions, and everything else, especially in field service. So, I think you’ve got to do both. Don’t ignore what people are saying, but also ask the question to the people who are still there.

Katy Chandler: I would want to add just one thing to that. I think there’s so much about leadership in the retention process, and stay interviews, or however you want to phrase that, on tapping into why the people are staying, is a leadership aspect. So, really investing in your leaders, the middle management you were talking about earlier, specifically those frontline managers who may have come up in the ranks from field service themselves, and may not feel fully confident in that, that’s really paid off for us. So, really making those people feel very comfortable, building cohorts where they can interact with one another, and really feel like they have support, has really helped us in that way.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that’s a good point, and I think I was just going to say, Rudy, the question you asked about pay equity, I mean, it’s something to really think about, because we’re talking about how hard it is to hire, right? And so, they always say it’s easier to keep the customer you have than to get new ones, and the same can be said of employees, if they’re doing quality work, right? So, that’s another area to focus on. Okay, so we are going to run out of time, but any other aspects of this puzzle that we have not touched on that we should?

Katy Chandler: I would say one thing, just kind of going back to culture and a little bit of what Sasha was saying, we talk about our organization a lot in terms of the technical service side of the business, the sales side of the business. The third tier there is the support staff, the everybody else, and historically, we’ve just kind of called that admin, and it’s just become the catchall. If you’re not in sales and you’re not in service, then you’re in this group, and we’ve recently, just through employee engagement surveys and other things, we’ve recently realized we need to put our hands around that group, because they support very much the service side of the business, and drive our internal culture a lot.

Katy Chandler: So, we have really made a concerted effort to remarket internally, brand that group, give them an identity. We call them shared team services now, we do a quarterly event for them. It may seem counterintuitive when we’re wanting to focus so much on field service, but we have found that that’s starting to pay off, because they support and interact so much with the field technicians, that building up that group and giving them some sense of purpose and identity can drive the retention there in other ways, that I think the hope is that that drives retention throughout the business as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. Okay. Questions for Roy and/or Katy? Yes.

Audience member: Okay. Well, two questions. So, you talk about we have the generations changing the problem outside that, we have the generation Y for a while, and now we have a new generation, Millennials and Zennials, but we have a commitment problem, right? That generation has a commitment problem. So, how are you tackling that commitment problem? That’s the first one. And second, many things were mentioned, as I think as a transformation in your organizations on pushing new things and how to recruit, how to retain, how to ensure we keep and attract new talent. How do you push those changes in organizations, making sure that the new ways of attracting talent are sustained in the organization?

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, first question talking about generational differences, and particularly, you’re saying the commitment from the young generations. So, any thoughts or advice on that?

Roy Dockery: Yeah. As the Millennial field service executive, one of three probably seemingly in the country, I actually disagree with that statement. I think one of the problems is we need to stop generalizing generations, right? So, the level of commitment and engagement that you can get from younger people, if they believe in what you do, will exceed anything that you’ve probably seen from people that’ll come to work and clock out. They’ll work 16 hours a day if they’re passionate about it, but the difference is what they’re committed to. They’re not committed to a job, they’re not committed to the income that’s required to take care of their families, and remember, these people are the children of your committed employees, who are telling their children, “Don’t be committed and underpaid,” right?

Roy Dockery: So, that’s the generational problem. You’ve got hard-working dads and moms that are like, “I don’t want you to work as hard as me, because I don’t feel like that commitment was reciprocated.” So, I think some of that is driving that generational thing, and so, you’ve got to give them something to commit to, right? And if they don’t really have it, then they’ll get the money and they’ll use it, and then they’ll just keep trying to find something that benefits them, or that they can resonate with. But it also differs from people, like you’ll hire people from different generations that are all military, ex-military, and they all behave the same.

Roy Dockery: So, some of it is behavioral, and I think you’ve got to understand the behavioral profile of your existing employees, which Sarah knows I talked about for years of doing behavioral assessments, of your technicians and understanding what their attitude and what their behavioral profile is, so that you can hire people across generations that have similar behavior. We don’t know why our older people are committed, but we’re assuming it’s because they’re older, and again, that’s a generalization, it’s not. They’re committed because they have a certain behavior and culture that they ascribe to, and you can find that same behavior in people across generations, you just have to know what that behavior is.

Roy Dockery: And on the second part, if the organization wants to do something, you really have to, and anyone here that’s in leadership, you have to teach the rest of your company what field service is, and what the impact is, right? So, you’ve got to be able to speak to finance, you got to be able to speak finance, but in field service terminology, right? When they talk about revenue recognition, I’ve got to talk about technician count and utilization, right? So, it’s being able to navigate… I see someone over here nod like, “Yep.” When you talk to engineering, I talk to engineering in a field service context, but based on the impact to the field, and the attrition rate, and all that other stuff, because everybody wants the work to get done.

Roy Dockery: So, it’s like you’ve got to learn how to navigate in those spaces but get them to understand it. The stuff that you’re pushing down, at the end of the day, there are physical people who need to do this, and that is a limitation. I can’t do more work than this amount of people can actually execute, so then you’ve got to roll that mentality up through the organization, so we’re not overcommitting, burning people out, and then not appreciating the sacrifices of the people in the field.

Katy Chandler: I think that was all very well said.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Any other questions? Yeah.

Audience member: Yeah. So, thanks a lot. Thanks a lot, Roy and Katy. Katy, question to you. So, you mentioned not being able to find unicorns, which I think we all have that problem. What’s your experience from accelerating the time that it takes to being able to send somebody up by themselves to the customer? What’s your experience of accelerating that time?

Katy Chandler: Yeah. So, the program that we’re putting in place is helping to accelerate that time, and what it’s also doing is giving us more consistency. So, what we found is maybe a local manager thinks this person’s ready to go independently on their own, and then they do, and then all of a sudden, we find out there was just one little piece that somehow they missed in their first six months somewhere, because we didn’t have it well-documented on these things have to, have to be done before this person can be independent.

Katy Chandler: So, not only has it accelerated that time and shortened that a bit, our goal used to be somewhere around six months, we would get someone to be able to do some of our work independently up to a certain level, and that was kind of what that would look like. What we’ve done is said, “Okay, within an eight week onboarding program, you should now at the end of this eight weeks with this accelerated plan and program,” somewhere around eight weeks, some people take longer, that’s fine, “You should be able to go independently and do some of our work with a set list.” So, that has compressed that quite a bit for us, and then as it goes up the train, shortening all those other advancements.

Roy Dockery: Yeah, and one thing I’ll add to that, and to your point, I think when you talk about trying to get a technician to revenue recognition, we used to try to peanut butter spread training. So, we got to the point to where the first step of your certification, because we used a qual card because almost everybody on my team was ex-Navy, but we’d get you to maintenance first. So, we’ll get you to be able to do maintenance on these products, and then okay, then I can start recognizing revenue, having you do maintenance, you understand the product, and then once you understand maintenance, then it’s installation, and then okay, if you can do maintenance, you can do an install, I can trust you to do a service call.

Roy Dockery: And so, we started kind of fragmenting it a little bit so that we could get somebody really good at something, and then put them in the field and let them do it where before, it was three, four months, we give you relative exposure to everything that we do, and then you’re really good at none of it, and then we kind of throw you out there and be like, “Figure it out.” So, I think even breaking that up to say, “Okay, start with this activity, and I can recognize revenue there and then build from there,” it also helps with their confidence. I found that and it’s self-paced, like if you do maintenance and you’re able to do that without breaking the machine, when it comes to doing install, you’re more comfortable and you learn installation faster, you learn troubleshooting faster. So, breaking some of that down and making that the onboarding process, I think it helps a lot as well, especially if you have complex technology, to segment it a bit.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Anything else?

Audience member: Yeah. It was mentioned about 96% of the workforce being male, and 4% being female. You mentioned changing one word changed your entire script with people that came in to hire. Have you had any success breaking the barrier with females at the technician level?

Roy Dockery: No, because one of the main things that I see in limitations for, because a lot of times, women are the primary caregiver, it’s to travel. One thing I did find, it was harder for us for fill, but when you talk about remote technical support, that’s the job. When we start hiring systems analysts, that’s the job. So, the same skill set, but the travel requirement wasn’t there. So, now we have probably half of the tech support team, and even now my tech line team, our operators, people who are doing similar functions that don’t require the travel demand and short notice to go fly somewhere, we can fill them in that regard, and then if we had any dedicated resident technician roles where this is your site and your responsibility, so it’s more of a kind of controlled environment that people can plan for, that’s what allowed us to hire more women in the field.

Roy Dockery: But in technical roles in general, we made sure that we were pivoting and honestly focusing on, okay, do we have female candidates applying for tech support roles, or these other roles where we know that the field service job, it’s like everyone’s been dealing with it for years, but I mean, because they really, they honestly don’t even apply. Right? You don’t even get a lot of applicants. So, we started getting a lot more on the tech support side when we reduced those experience requirements. They haven’t traditionally been in the roles, so you reduce those experience requirements, and put customer service, and things like that, you’ll get more female candidates. But if you have resident technicians or roles that don’t have to travel out, I would say you’ll start seeing more women apply for that, especially if they have families and things of that nature as well.

I hope you enjoyed that discussion with Roy, Katy, and some of the audience members from the Austin Live Tour. This was episode number 175 of the podcast which means there is 174 others that you are welcome to check out. You can find those and a lot more of our content by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. We’re also on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @thefutureofFF. The future of field service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.