2003 Fall/Winter Volume No. 2


Dan Tyler
Production Manager
PolyJohn Enterprises, Inc.

One of the toughest jobs an owner/manager has in a portable restroom business is finding, training, and keeping good people. As a production manager here at PolyJohn, I've faced similar problems. In the early years of the company we had turnover problems and trouble finding good replacements. However, for the past seven years our workers have remained dedicated, loyal, and happy with their jobs. What's been the difference? Here are some of the things I've learned over the years that might help you make this job of keeping and developing quality-conscious people, a little bit easier and more rewarding.
Be careful in your selection of new hires.

Avoid prima donnas
and special projects

Look for people who are neither over qualified nor under-qualified. A person who is stepping down into the job you have available will always feel like they can do better, and probably won't stay long. A person who doesn't come with the right work and or people skills can negatively impact an entire team. It doesn't take but one or two people to affect overall performance.

Question why they are here now? I am suspicious of someone who is a "perfect" fit for your job. If they have held a similar job with a competitor, I would want to know why they left and how long they stayed. If the previous employer has gone out of business, you may be in luck finding someone who needs very little training. But if the employee left for other unknown reasons, you may be hiring someone else's problem.

Check how responsible
and conscientious they are

Don't rely on references because almost nobody gives bad references these days, it leaves them too vulnerable for legal action.

I like to find people who are prepared for the job, but have some room to grow. If you are hiring a service driver for example, look for someone who has a valid commercial drivers license and seems to enjoy taking care of vehicles. Look at his or her own car. Is it a messy wreck or is it well maintained? Ask if they change their own oil or fix minor problems themselves. You'll find that those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and take care of their vehicle, will be more likely to take care of your company's property.

Compensate and provide security

Once you have a team of workers in place, your second task is to make sure they feel appreciated and secure, yet challenged. People need a wage they can live on, a way to save for the future, and at least basic health coverage (as expensive as that may be). Try to find out what others in your area are paying for the same kind of work and pay accordingly. If you are at the bottom of the local scale, your employees will know that and hold it against you.

Employees like to know how the company is doing and to share in the success. Profit sharing bonuses are a popular benefit at PolyJohn. Every Christmas, Mr. Cooper hands out checks to employees based on how the company has done that year, and how much the employee has contributed to the success. Knowing they have contributed to a strong and growing company, helps employees take more pride in their work, and they appreciate having their contributions acknowledged. Being challenged to do better every year also keeps people involved and prevents complacency.

Give everyone written
instructions and attainable goals

It is also important that employees have a complete understanding of what is expected of them in terms of job performance and quality. Job descriptions should be written out in detail. Details should include both what is to be done, as well as how to do it, and why.

Performance goals should also be written down. Reviewing these with employees every few months helps them stay on track. Having job descriptions and goals in writing makes it clear to both sides what is expected. This contributes to the feeling that management plays fair and by a set of rules.

It may be necessary to change policies from time to time. Before establishing a new rule, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is the new policy fair and considerate to the feelings of all concerned?
2. Is there a good reason for the change, and has this reason been clearly explained to employees?
3. Have you considered discussing the change in advance to give employees a voice in the decision?
4. Does the policy improve employee effectiveness in proportion to the cost of time and effort it requires?

Pay extra for top performers

Paying for performance is also a strong motivation for most employees. If one driver services twenty percent more than another driver, it would be appropriate to pay more for the higher performing driver. However, you need to make sure drivers understand that speeding, and service shortcuts will not be tolerated. A driver should also be aware that if he or she loses a customer due to poor service or missed service calls, they can be held accountable and lose a corresponding percentage of their salary.

You may also want to offer generous bonuses or commissions to employees who bring in new customers. After all, new customers are the lifeblood of your business.

Be sure not to add work to an employee's expected daily performance without adding commensurate pay, bonuses, or other compensation. For example, if an employee suddenly quits, other workers may have to take up the slack for awhile. Carefully explain what you expect of employees in the interim while you search for a replacement, and what they can expect in return. Lack of communication or ignoring the added stress during these periods could lead to multiple desertions.
Motivate and continue to build team

Motivation needs to be more than just a few extra dollars in a paycheck. Many employees in the service business have been underachievers in school and other aspects of their life. They need to know that they have achieved success and appreciation in your company. A pat on the back and some nice words about them can go a long way to gaining their trust and building their confidence. Setting goals for employees that are attainable will also help them understand how they are progressing.

As employees gain your trust, give them progressive opportunities to be accountable for their work, responsible for the outcomes, and authorities over their own jobs. By becoming masters of their assigned tasks, people feel more secure and more willing to take on additional responsibility.

Whenever possible, bring employees together for team-building/ relationship-building opportunities. Host summer picnics and holiday parties where employees can bring family and significant others into their work community. Games of skill such as "pumpout/clean-up races" turn work skills into competitions that can be fun and help develop team unity.

Educate. Educate. Educate.

Professional certification for employees in the portable sanitation business is available through the Portable Sanitation Association International (PSAI). Employees who are interested should be encouraged to get their certification. Learning professional standards not only helps to develop better workers, it helps workers take pride in their own professionalism.

PolyJohn is proud of the technical innovations, production technology, and environmental practices that make us a world-class organization, but the real key to our success is the people who work here.

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