Service Journey Day Recap: Building Next-Generation Service Leaders

Service Journey Day

Service Journey Day Recap: Building Next-Generation Service Leaders

This February, more than 35 service leaders gathered at the office of Comfort Systems USA in Houston, TX. The occasion? Service Council’s Service Journey Day, a day-long workshop to discuss how the service leaders of today can cultivate successful and impactful service leaders for tomorrow.

This is certainly a topic on many service leaders’ minds, and it’s easy to see why. A record-breaking 11,000 Americans a day are expected to turn 65 in 2024, making it the largest number of Americans reaching retirement age in history. Meanwhile, the challenge to attract and retain quality talent, particularly in the service industry, remains high.

Many of the executives in attendance for the Service Journey Day were not only underway with their succession planning, but also brought a colleague that they were mentoring for future leadership. Over the course of the day, the group talked about the challenges and solutions for identifying and developing future leaders to fill senior management roles.

Maintaining Culture Through Change

The first topic on the workshop agenda was the importance that culture plays in attracting and retaining talent. A challenge for many organizations is retaining their company culture through shakeups like mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures. For Comfort Systems USA, cultural fit is a critical consideration in all acquisition decisions. Additionally, they allow those companies to maintain the same culture they had before the acquisition. As Joe Lang, Vice President of Service, Technology and Innovation at Comfort Systems USA, put it, “We allow acquisitions to operate in the way that has already been driving success for them.” For Comfort Systems, the decentralized operations approach is a reason why people want to work for them.

Attendees agreed that communication is vital to success. Be as fully transparent as possible and ensure all employees understand the business vision for the future and why leadership believes it’s the key to success. This will help build trust and a feeling of empowerment among employees.

According to John Eberhardt, Senior Vice President of Service for Comfort Systems, this means changing the way you communicate and shifting communication methods. “We must equip our current leaders to lead, communicate, and relate to all generations. This is a crucial skill because we are essentially equipping the next gen to lead the next gen after them.”

What is your company’s communication style? What steps could your organization take to improve communication, transparency, and trust among your employees?

Establishing a Culture of Service

There is no doubt that a company’s culture is important to new generations of workers. As Lang pointed out, “It is no longer enough for companies to talk the talk. Today’s generation of workers wants to know that you also walk the walk.” Furthermore, while pandemic-driven hybrid and remote work has its benefits, it’s also had some negative impacts on company cultures because people aren’t spending as much time together. Because of this, it is even more important for organizations to establish a clear, well-communicated culture.

So, how do organizations establish a culture of service? Several attendees shared what they feel makes their company’s service culture effective. Rod Cook, Director of North American Service Operations for TRANE Technologies, said that TRANE’s ground-up service culture, which emphasizes the voice of the field service technician, has been critical to their success.

For Adam Gloss, Senior Vice President of Service for McKinstry, his organization’s customer-focused culture, as well as the emphasis on innovation and problem-solving, has resonated with younger generations who come to work at McKinstry.

What is your company’s culture and what do you think makes it successful? How can it be improved to appeal to younger generations?

Don’t Expect Talent to Come to You

As the discussion turned towards the challenges of the workforce and talent shortage, Joe Lang again made a great point when he said, “We don’t have a people problem. We have a talent problem.” Thus, the importance of talent development is more critical than ever. However, talent development will look different for each organization.

Some service organizations in more specialized sectors, such as Agilent, are hiring newly graduated students from Masters and PhD programs. However, said Harold Heald, Associate Vice President, Biomolecular Service Organization for Agilent, many of these candidates haven’t worked in a professional environment before, creating a unique development challenge within the organization.

For other service organizations, such as TRANE, the previous strategy of pulling talent from another company or industry is no longer feasible due to the lack of interest in field service in general. According to Rod Cook, even reaching out to potential recruits in high school is likely too late. Instead, TRANE is finding that it is easier to hire for character and train for talent, essentially building talent from the ground up.

Deepika DiGiovine, Vice President, Digital Applications & Connected Factory at Dover, echoed these sentiments, saying that Dover emphasizes finding and hiring characteristics that can work together. Additionally, when employees see they are being invested in, said Deepika, satisfaction is higher, and their sense of purpose within the organization is higher. These have all been important factors in Dover’s lowering attrition rates.

What is your company’s recruitment strategy, and is it working or not working? What opportunities for professional development does your organization provide to employees?

Comfort Systems USA’s Unique Approach to Recruiting

During the Service Journey Day, Comfort Systems also shared a recent initiative to solve their “people problem.”  When they realized that traditional recruiting methods weren’t working, they turned to a company called ADTC, an organization that helps connect people with employers who provide paid, hands-on training as HVAC technicians, diesel mechanics, and collision technicians. The partnership has been crucial to rebuilding Comfort Systems’ pipeline. It also helped them uncover a recruiting platform that they hadn’t considered before- TikTok.

According to ADTC, the social media platform TikTok is the number one recruitment tool for them. For Comfort Systems, this positively challenged their perception of recruiting. As Anthony Billups Jr., North America Vice President of Sales and Market Development put it, “TikTok is helping to make field service fun.” He cited the social media platform’s targeted marketing capabilities as being particularly useful because they can target people with characteristics that fit with the role of technician, such as someone interested in building and fixing things.

Additionally, Comfort Systems takes an omnichannel approach to recruiting and has improved the user experience, making it easier for interested prospects to apply. “It’s less about the social media platform and more about finding where the people are. Meet your talent at their channel of choice. For younger generations, that channel is TikTok.”

What is the number one recruiting tool (i.e. platform, program, word of mouth, etc…) for your organization? Are you taking an omnichannel approach or do you rely primarily on one or two tools?

Developing the Next Generation of Service Leaders

As mentioned earlier, another pressing matter for many service leaders is building a successful succession plan. As these executives either move up in the company or near retirement, they must identify and mentor future service leaders to take their place.

In Houston, over half of the group already had succession plans in place. One important point during the discussion is that leadership and succession aren’t something that should be hired for. Instead, be proactive about identifying potential leaders within the organization early and provide plenty of opportunities for mentorship and development.

As you begin looking for the leaders within the organization, Anthony Billups Jr. cautioned against looking for someone who is just like you. “You want someone who is going to bring a new voice and vision to the table if you want to drive innovation.” Otherwise, you run the risk of stifling both diversity and innovation.

Eduardo Bonefont, Worldwide VP of Technical Services – Life Sciences Segment for BD, also had a word of caution. “Don’t just identify one potential successor. Often, while you may have a say in which candidates are up for consideration, the final decision will not be up to you. The better candidate choices that you give those in charge of hiring, the better decision they’ll make.”

Identifying leadership is only the first piece of the puzzle to a successful succession plan. Lisa McFarland, Director of Service Transformation at Baxter, pointed out that, once identified, service leaders also need to keep their successors engaged, so they don’t grow bored while they “wait in line.” For Lisa, this means she is consistently looking for opportunities she can provide her successor to grow, be challenged and have a voice at the table.

Do you have a succession plan in place, or successor(s) in mind? What are the traits and characteristics that you look for when identifying potential leaders within the organization?

Interested in attending Service Council’s next Service Journey Day, “Mastering Remote Service,” at Verizon HQ in Boston, MA? Click here to learn more!

Tags: recruitment, Service Leaders, Talent development
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