Employee Happiness Is Paramount - Best Practices
Construction Equipment Distribution magazine is published by the Associated Equipment Distributors, a nonprofit trade association founded in 1919, whose membership is primarily comprised of the leading equipment dealerships and rental companies in the U.S. and Canada. AED membership also includes equipment manufacturers and industry-service firms. CED magazine has been published continuously since 1920. Associated Equipment Distributors
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SECTION: Best Practices

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Employee Happiness Is Paramount

Written By: Mary Sedor

Article Date: 11-01-2005
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

At Sunstate Equipment, happy employees mean satisfied customers.

Dealers are constantly faced with finding new ways to recruit and retain employees, as well as improve customer satisfaction. One rental company in Phoenix, Ariz., has found a way to keep both employees and customers happy. In fact, Sunstate Equipment executives say the ultimate effect of satisfied employees is satisfied customers. Promoting A Positive Culture

Founded by Mike Watts in 1977, Sunstate is an independently owned rental company. The company believes strongly in having a positive company culture and has programs in place to establish and preserve open lines of communication.

The company culture is defined by the company's core values: people, integrity, challenge, empowerment, teamwork, and fun.

"This is a service business," says Benno Jurgemeyer, Sunstate executive vice president, "and it's driven by the people in the business. We view our employees, customers and vendors as partners. If we take care of our employees, they will in turn take care of the customers."

Sunstate uses a team-driven business model. For example, they approach a metropolitan market as a single profit center and use a centralized dispatch system. The salespeople are not commissioned, but instead work as a team and share information and leads. By approaching the business in this way, sales and operations must work closely together, which can only be accomplished with the right kind of culture.

"If we want employees that have pep in their step," says Jurgemeyer, "they must be a part of the team. They have to buy in to what they're doing and believe in what they're doing.

Branch manager Scott Jones agrees.

"We're all working together toward a common goal," says Scott. "This company offers so much opportunity and reward for hard work."

The positive culture begins the first day on the job. A new hire goes through an orientation and is assigned to a mentor. The mentor familiarizes the new hire with the job's responsibilities and the company's core values.

"We want them to have a voice in the company," says Jurgemeyer, "and to take pride in their jobs. That reflects in the level of service they provide to the customer. We try to provide an environment that allows people to develop and to contribute to the business - one that allows them to be recognized and treats them fairly."

Reverse Review

One of the ways Sunstate tries to accomplish this is with a reverse review process. During an employee review, employees are not the only ones in the spotlight - the employees also review their managers.

Before a review begins, employees answer 20 questions about their managers such as rating the manager's ability to keep them informed. On the second page of the review, employees have an opportunity to record their opinions of the manager's strengths and weaknesses.

The key to this entire process is that it is done with open communication. The employee knows the comments in the review will not be held against them in any way, instead they are used to improve the work experience.

"The reverse review has tremendous value," says Jurgemeyer, "but it's one of those things that if not done correctly results in people being apprehensive. They won't say what's on their minds and no one will get any benefit."

Regional and senior management teams are copied on all reverse reviews. When something appears on the review that does not appear to be consistent with management practices, the issues are discussed with the manager. The goal is to have the manager and the employee working together to resolve the issue.

"We're not doing this to criticize and ridicule," says Jurgemeyer, "we're helping them to become better managers. Sometimes what comes out is not only an action plan for the employee, but also an action plan for the branch manager to improve management practices."

Always An Open Door

Another part of Sunstate's positive culture is the open door policy: Employees know they can go to their senior managers and talk to them about issues that arise.

"It's not uncommon for someone who works in the yard or the shop to have an issue and come to the top to discuss it," says Jurgemeyer. "It requires a lot of trust. While it takes time for most new employees to become accustomed to it, they gradually learn that they can bring forth concerns."

Sunstate's culture is very open and direct. Employees are often seen providing constructive criticism to their managers. At Sunstate, when an employee has suggestions, they are taken seriously. The company has an award-winning suggestion program.

"We believe some of the best ideas come from the individual doing a given job," says Jurgemeyer.

The employee submits a suggestion and a team reviews it. The team then communicates back with the employee. Only the CEO can turn down a suggestion, and the employee always knows why a suggestion was or was not implemented.
"We're saying, ‘Don't accept something because that's the way it's always been'," says Jurgemeyer. "We want people to challenge us, submit suggestions, and bring concerns to the attention of managers."

Happy Customers

By creating this type of positive culture, Sunstate has inspired loyalty among its employees. Bill Fowler, regional operations manager, says the company means what it says.

"We back up our commitments to employees, customers and vendors," says Fowler. "It feels good to be a part of that."
Having this type of company environment has led Sunstate to low employee turnover, and the company has a number of employees celebrating 10-, 15- and 25-year anniversaries.

Sunstate employees Cletus Caroland, Don Weirich and Mike Scott agree that it's the people they work with that make their jobs worthwhile.

"I look forward to coming to work," says Caroland, metro service manager. "I really like the people I work with."
And for Mike Scott, counter sales rep, it doesn't seem like a job.

"I'm doing something I enjoy with people I consider my second family," he says.

Jurgemeyer offers advice to dealers trying to implement a culture change in their dealerships: Encourage open communication.

"I think in any business, especially a business where the culture and the employees interface with your customers on a daily basis, a satisfied and motivated workforce is paramount," says Jurgemeyer. "In the end, the product we are really delivering is service."

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