The Biggest Challenge: How to Hire & Keep Good People

By: Brandon Grover (CEO & Founder of Sage Pest Control and Founder of Briostack

Everywhere I go in the pest control industry, people are talking about the tight labor market and how it’s become their biggest challenge. The “Great Resignation” was one of the top stories from 2021 as a record number of workers quit their jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, an average of 3.95 million people voluntarily quit their jobs every month in 2021. That number represented 3% of the work force quitting every month, meaning about one-third of the entire work force voluntarily quit in 2021.

Even more alarming, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that the monthly quit rate for the service industries was 6.4% per month, meaning about two-thirds of the entire services work force voluntarily quit in 2021. Unfortunately, the pest control industry has always had historically high turnover, especially when it comes to technicians. Most pest control companies retain only about 40% of their technicians each year.

While COVID certainly had an impact on the “Great Resignation,” Bill Conerly, an economist who writes for Forbes, recently wrote about how the tight labor market has more to do with supply and demand. According to Census Bureau figures, the pool of incoming, new workers available is now growing at the slowest rate since the Civil War. Boomers are retiring and millennials are mostly of working age, and their generation was followed by a record number of low births. The underlying challenge is lots of people are aging out of the workforce with very few coming into the workforce.

In other words, today’s tight labor market is not a blip on the radar. If you’ve been thinking this storm will pass, you’re setting yourself and your company up for failure. These trends underscore the critical importance of making sure your company is very good at recruiting, hiring, and retaining good people.

So how do you get ahead of these challenges? Here are 10 helpful steps:

  1. Plan and Document the Employee Journey. When you fail to plan, you are by default planning to fail. It makes a huge difference when you’re intentional about the entire journey of your employees, not just portions of it. Many people use the terminology of cradle to grave, meaning the first to last interaction needs to be carefully considered and planned for. This “Employee Journey” should become a living document that you refine over time. Block off at least an hour every week to work on this process until it’s polished and something you’re proud of, and then keep working on it. You’ll be glad you did.
  2. Clarify and Improve Your Company’s Mission and Values. If you are focusing on profit, even just a little more than your people and your service, you’ll always have a harder time keeping your employees and customers. In his best-selling book “Built to Last,” Jim Collins and his research team studied 18 top companies in American history and what separated them from their next closest competitors. Their research showed that the top performing companies had purpose beyond profit, and that purpose made a significant difference in their ability to attract and keep top talent and outperform their competitors.

    As an example of this principle, during Ford’s most productive stretches as an auto-manufacturer, there was tremendous focus on what they called the “Three—P’s,” people, product, and profit. The idea was that if they put more focus on taking care of their people and their product, then the profit would be sustainable and more significant. This focus laid the foundation for Ford to become the most dominate auto-manufacturer in American history.
    People become more engaged when they feel like they’re a part of something special. There’s the old analogy of three guys hired to lay bricks, the first guy says, “I’m laying bricks,” the second guy says, “I’m building a church,” and the third guy says, “I’m building the house of God.” When you can hire people who believe in what you believe, they’ll work for a purpose instead of for money. This is where good company culture starts.

    Building a great company culture and being able to keep great people isn’t a one-time, short-term initiative. It isn’t something to check off the list of to-dos and then move on. If you want to move the needle, you must carefully think about how you can help people and make their lives better. Then you need to make sure these ideas shine through everything you do. Your company mission should become clear and strong and manifest daily. Once you cross that threshold, it becomes much easier to recruit and keep good people. Getting this part right makes everything else much, much easier.

  3. Engage Your People in the Recruiting Process. Most companies will use services like Indeed or ZipRecruiter to help find applicants. Additionally, we’ve seen many companies offer a referral bonus to their employees to help with recruiting. If you’re not doing this now, I would highly recommend this approach. Involving your employees in the recruiting process helps turn them into promoters. Also, when your people can recruit and work with their friends, it makes a big difference with job satisfaction and retention. Many companies offer between $500 and $1,000 in referral bonuses. Most companies will spread the payment of these referral bonuses over a year: some upfront, some at the 6-month mark (if the recruit is still employed), and then some at the 1-year mark (again, as long as the recruit is still with the company.)

    I’d recommend creating referral cards for your employees. People want to work for more than just money, so you should include your company mission and values on these referral cards as well as place for your people to write down their name. This makes it easy for your employees to hand these out and recruit while they are out and about and get credit for their efforts.

    While it’s true that people want to work for more than money, they also want to be taken care of. In a WTW research project, research showed that “49% of employees will look for a new job in the next 12 months due to confusion or dissatisfaction with benefits.” Benefits are often the first thing new applicants will ask about. Offering good, easy to understand benefits is an extremely important part of attracting and being able to keep good people.

  4. Be More Intentional about the Screening Process. Focus on hiring for attitude and then train for aptitude. It’s far more important to find people who have the right attributes and who know nothing about pest control, than to find an experienced employee. It’s much easier to teach pest control than it is to change bad habits. It helps to get specific about what you’re looking for and then make sure you’re screening for those characteristics. Most companies will work through a process that may include some of the following steps: phone screening, full application, in person interview, background check, or personality assessment.

    Throughout this process you want to ask the right questions and experiment with how these steps can help you find the right people. Take a closer look at this part of your employee’s journey. This is an important part of the employee journey where being thorough and planning can go a long way. There are great software and service options that can help with personality assessments, background checks and the entire screening process.

    Most research show that the cost of replacing an employee can range from 50% - 400% of their annual salary. Those costs are incurred with all the obvious upfront expenses but also show up in some not so obvious areas such as the following: the cost of dissatisfied customers that cancel because of higher employee turnover, the cost of mistakes made by newer employees, and the cost of placing more strain on your management team because of high turnover and more training. Many business owners don’t want to spend the extra time and money to build out and refine their screening process. The sad reality is that underinvesting in this part of the process might be costing you more than you realize.

  5. Improve Communication and Connectivity. I went to lunch with a close friend years ago who has started and sold serval very successful companies. I asked him about company culture and what his opinion was on how to improve it. He told me that the only thing that he had ever seen really move the needle was helping people feel like they are winning. He then recommended what has become one of my all-time favorite books, “The Four Disciplines of Execution” by McChesney, Covey and Huling. This book has done more to help me improve and execute than any other book I’ve ever read.

    Because of this book, I got better at setting annual goals for my companies and helping each department contribute to those goals and know when they are winning. Because of this book, we also implemented monthly companywide meetings and got better at communicating with our people about our company mission, focus and goals. These efforts have made a huge difference in helping our people feel like they know what’s going on and they’re a part of a winning team.

    In these monthly companywide meetings, we have each department report on the past month and their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators.) Each department also recognizes an employee of the month and employee birthdays (tenure with the company) and gives these individuals gift cards. Then, I’ll take time and talk about how we’re doing with our annual goals, and I’ll often talk about our Company Mission and how it’s driving our progress as a company. I’ll also try to share a story about someone who went the extra mile or something else positive, and I always make sure to sincerely thank our people and encourage them. We usually have lunch at these meetings and also try to incorporate some sort of 10–15-minute activity that everyone can participate in.

    These types of Townhall/Companywide meetings go a long way in helping our people feel like they are winning, being recognized, and connecting with everyone in the company. They also help everyone feel like there is good communication happening in the company; they have regular perspective into the company goals and mission and how the company is performing across each department. This also helps with accountability and is a great way to help each department improve performance and receive positive recognition. These meetings could be held monthly or quarterly, but I wouldn’t recommend any more or less frequently than that. Adapt these concepts to fit your company but make sure you’re leveraging these principles to help your people feel like they are winning and there is good communication.

  6. Have More Fun. We have held a Summer Olympics for years that our people always look forward to. We break the company up into groups and then individuals in these groups participate in a series of activities that everyone can do for points. Then there is an awards ceremony and food afterwards, and the winner’s name goes on the Summer Olympics plaque that is proudly displayed at the office.

    There are lots of possibilities: Christmas parties, company picnics, take your team to a minor league baseball game, barbeques, service projects, costume days with awards, paper airplane competitions, or take one person in your company out to lunch every month and just get to know them. Some of these ideas may seem overwhelming. If that’s the case, start small. No matter where you’re at, keep improving and keep trying to get better. Your commitment to these types of activities and ideas will absolutely be worth it. Your people are the life blood of your company and the more you invest in them, the stronger your company will become.

  7. Be More Creative. In his book “Delivering Happiness,” Tony Hsieh tells the story of how he took Zappos to over a billion dollars in annual merchandise sales. Somewhere along his journey with Zappos, Tony and his team decided to make delivering wow (great customer service) and taking care of their people central to their Company Mission. One of the creative initiatives that made Zappos famous, when it comes to taking care of their people, was their annual Culture Book. Every year they would ask each employee to write a few paragraphs about what Zappos means to them and how they would describe the Zappos culture. They would then collect these statements and put together a culture book with pictures and make copies for everyone in the company. They would even publish the not so glamorous entries and use them to learn from. This kind of exercise can be adjusted to fit your company but focus on the idea of being creative. Those efforts will be appreciated and help your people feel more loyal, more heard, and more connected at work.

  8. Get More Feedback from your Quarterly & Annual Reviews. Every employee should have the opportunity to meet with a supervisor as a part of at least an annual interview, if not quarterly. These reviews should be positive experiences for the employee and provide a two-way street for feedback to go both ways. Employees should be getting coaching and feedback as often as possible, but this provides an opportunity to review those concepts and express appreciation for the employee and highlight their contributions and strengths.

    As a part of this process, many companies will also incorporate some of the following steps: review any eligible annual bonuses with the employee (90% objective, 10% subjective), provide a summary of annual benefits and see if there are any questions (this summary should be crafted to help the employee see and appreciate the totality of their compensation package and increase their appreciation and understanding), talk through areas where the employee still has room for improvement, express appreciation for the employee, highlight their strengths and their progress, or ask the employee how the company can better serve its customer. Also, ask the employee what the supervisor can improve on and what can be done to make the company a better place to work.

  9. Improve Training & Strengthen the Employee Supervisor Relationship. One of the processes we have implemented in my pest control company is monthly QCs. Every month our Branch Managers will go out incognito and observe every one of their technicians perform a service. The technicians never know when this will happen or that it’s happening. Then after the service is complete, the Branch Manager will approach the technician and review the job with them. Then the Branch Manager will ride along with the technician to their next stop, and complete that next stop with the technician while providing extra training and encouragement.

    These QC’s provide great accountability for our technicians because they never know when their work will be inspected. This has been a great way for our company to help ensure a higher quality of service. This monthly process has also provided our Branch Managers a great opportunity to coach our technicians in the field. It’s also strengthened their relationship with each of their technicians because they know the Branch Managers are getting out into the field to help them learn and do their job even better.

  10. Measure What Matters. When performance is measured, performance improves. Make sure you’re tracking your employee NPS (Net Promoter Score.) NPS scores comes from the question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how likely are you to refer working for _______ Pest Control to friends and family?” Make sure you’re also asking the following types of questions, “If your response was a 10, what are the main reasons why?”, and “If your response wasn’t a 10, what would it take for _______ Pest Control to improve your working experience enough for your answer to become a 10?” There are lots of good software companies that can help you with employee surveys. Gathering this information at least once a year will help you get better insight into how your employees feel about their work and what you can do to improve.

    It’s also helpful to track the following KPIs: your employee attrition rate (total number of team members measured against total quits), the average lifespan of an employee, and cost per hire. Tracking these numbers will give you tremendous insight into the health of your employee journey. It also makes it easier to measure the effectiveness of the adjustments you make to the employee journey.

Aristotle said, “Pleasure in the Job puts perfection in the work.” Enjoyment or pleasure at work comes in large measure from feeling connected, having purpose, and realizing you are doing well. Hopefully, some of these ideas will lead to improvements in your business or spark other ideas that will be helpful. These types of initiatives take time. Be patient but be persistent. The Great Resignation and the constricting pool of incoming, new workers are leading to the tightest labor market we’ve ever seen, with no end in sight. Your efforts to improve your employee journey might well be the single most defining element of your company’s future success. Good luck and keep on keepin’ on.