This past Sunday a friend of mine invited me to attend his church. His son was playing the guitar in the early-morning “modern” service. 

After the service we were enjoying a cup of coffee when we ran into a woman who had worked with us for 12 years. After catching up on families, health, etc., she made the comment that the 12 years of working with us were the best of her 40-year career. I asked why she said that. “We were a family, everyone liked each other, enjoyed their jobs and we not only made it fun but we offered a rewarding compensation package,” was her reply.  She added a nice part of her retirement package comes from the pension program we provided.

All this caused me to reflect on how we had created the culture and environment that allowed us to attract and retain very good people. When we started the business we made a conscious effort to build a team environment. We tried very hard to incorporate the “five bests” of human-resource management. You’ve read them before in my columns.

Hire the best

We spent a lot of time and energy on recruitment: going through resumes, checking references, interviewing, etc. We often utilized a team interviewing process. Three people would interview the candidate — one at a time — then they would get their heads together and compare notes.

Train the best

Almost from the beginning we had a formal training program. It started on the first day and never ended. It included product knowledge, sales training, computers, policies and procedures, etc. In fact, we preferred to train our own folks rather than hiring people “trained” by someone else. The sales training included role playing on the important segments of meeting and greeting, qualifying the client, selling “value,” presenting the products and, of course, closing the sale. This also included quite a bit of role playing.

Communicate the best

We had detailed job descriptions, did twice-a-year job-performance evaluations and did a good job keeping everyone informed on how the business was doing and what our plans for the future were. A big part of this was accomplished through weekly, one-hour staff meetings. There was an agenda and a facilitator for every meeting, and they were two-way conversations.

Motivate the best

We believed in incentive programs – for everyone. Achievable and measurable goals were important. We also did monthly “report cards” on sales, margins, projects and programs which helped keep everyone “pumped up.” There almost always was some kind of a “spiff” taking place. We liked these because it allowed us to “push” the products we wanted to sell.

Compensate the best

We continually did market research to determine how our competitors compensated their employees. We always tried to compensate a little bit better than the other people in our industry. This seemed to attract new potential employees and it certainly helped in the all-important area of retaining employees. The comp package not only included a salary (and commission for salespeople), but had very generous pension and vacation packages, as well as other perks.

And then there were the little things that also made a big difference such as our annual Plumbery outing that focused on team building (we would go to the mountains, the ocean, rent house boats, etc.) and our annual Christmas party.

We also had a “Hero of the Week” award where each week at our three showrooms our staff would share stories of special, unique and different things it observed other staff members doing for their clients, fellow team members or vendors. The team at each store would vote and that person got to display a trophy on their desk for that week.

Our employees liked coming to work, enjoyed their jobs and their teammates. I know this feeling of camaraderie was evident to our customers and vendors.


The Blue Team blueprint

I’ve had a long-term wholesale distribution consulting client that in my opinion is the best-run business I have ever worked with. Western Nevada Supply, headquartered in Sparks, Nev., is called the “Blue Team.” Every time I visit this business I come away in awe of the culture and work environment the owners and management have developed. I asked owner and President Rick Reviglio if he would share how Western Nevada developed this great work culture and how it transfers to great morale, customer service, vendor relations and community involvement. I’d like to share some of his comments with you.

“Our culture is fast-paced, exciting and opportunistic,” he says. “People know there is opportunity. It has to be exciting and fun. We have no one in the ivory towers. Everyone, including me, is in the trenches, visible and accessible to their coworkers and customers. You can’t just talk about great customer service. You must live it every day, think it, act it and execute it. We also have a detailed training program that talks about and promotes our vision, mission and culture. In all we do we refer to ourselves as the ‘Blue Team’ and our training is referred to as the ‘Blue Team Playbook.’

“Culture is what people inherently do here every day without being told and when no one is watching. Culture has to start at the top. Without the owners and managers living and breathing your mission each and every day, you cannot bring a thriving culture to life.

“I always tell our team if you want to understand culture look at two sports teams. Same game, same rules, same equipment and two completely different approaches and ways they approach, act and play the game — that’s culture. Find a culture you want, whatever that may be, and live and breathe it every day from the owners on down.

“Your culture must be driven by your mission statement. Ours is: ‘We make a difference in people’s lives. It’s so much more than selling materials. It’s making the customers’ lives easier, saving them money and building lasting relationships that go so much deeper than work. The foundation of what we try to do is investing and giving back to your community and creating lasting impressions and memories with not only your customers and employees, but also with the communities where they live, work and play. Pretty simple — we don’t sell toilets and sewer pipe, we sell an experience.”

Reviglio also provided comments from some of the company’s leaders. “Our customers are our friends. We treat all customers the same, whether they are a $3 million or $10,000 customer,” Plumbing Division Manager Dennis Bush says. “The team has learned the ‘Reviglio Way.’ We are professionals — we take pride in all we do.  We are very competitive. All customers are not created equal — I must know what makes them happy. Why be second at anything when a little extra effort gets you No. 1?”

“Competitive spirit. Each one of us wants to grow our relationship with our customers and be the best at what Western is about,” Elko Branch Manager Bill Cassinelli says. “There are not many people in our company who will look at a task and say it is not possible — they look at tasks and say I can get that done even if the other guy could not.”

“Superior customer service starts at the top. I know it is a priority in this business because I see it every day in the actions and decisions made by the owners,” CFO Laurie Baxter says.

“We hire winners, retain winners and love to win day in and day out,” Hydronics Division Manager Rick Coppola says. “Our customers win and we win.”

As Rick said, creating a special work culture has to start at the top and there has to be buy-in by everyone. I believe all employees need/want an authentic boss and business. I also believe the goal of every organization should be to operate at its fullest potential by allowing people to do their best work.

Research from the Hay Group finds highly engaged employees are, on average, 50% more likely to exceed expectations than the least-engaged employees. The survey also shows companies with highly engaged people outperform firms with the most disengaged folks by 54% in employee retention,
by 89% in customer satisfaction and by four-fold in revenue growth.  If these statistics alone don’t get your attention, I’m not sure what will!

 I hope this article has given you a few ideas on how you too can create a fun, rewarding and productive workplace. Good selling!