Almost every owner or manager of a contracting firm brings up the challenging problem of finding and keeping qualified technicians. Some of the old-timers complain they can’t seem to figure out what motivates the younger technicians entering today’s marketplace.

Many managers believe that, for those who want to work as an electrician or technician, good pay will provide enough motivation. Although good pay does attract and keep quality people, it’s not the only way.

That fact shouldn’t surprise anyone. In the 1970s, the American Management Association (AMA) declared that pay serves only as a negative incentive. By that, the AMA meant pay motivates only when a worker feels he or she does not receive enough money to meet basic needs. The AMA based this statement on an in-depth analysis of workers in a wide range of settings using psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological, safety, social, esteem and self-actualization.

Communicate regularly and often

So, how can you motivate your workers? Once the pay you offer meets their basic physiological and safety needs, you must find other ways to motivate workers by offering incentives that will meet one or more higher-level needs. One way to do this is to communicate with your employees.

Your job as a manager includes developing your technicians. Young people today need encouragement to learn and to take responsibility for the nature and quality of their work. Those who perform quality work need recognition. They also need additional responsibility in a manner that both promotes a desire to grow in competency and celebrates their achievements.

An electrical contracting firm owner would hold a two-hour class at the end of the day during the middle of the work week. He would have one of his experienced journeymen present a specific National Electrical Code issue, as it applied to a current project. At the end, the owner would have a quiz with two or three pertinent questions relating to the presentation. Every person who answered the questions correctly would receive $50 on the spot.

This approach may seem crude, but the results proved effective. The key to the success of the presentation came from its relevance to current daily work. The $50 offered a reward perceived, not as compensation for work on the job, but as a prize awarded as part of a competition.

If your company is perceived as an industry leader, you must challenge your technicians to live up to that image. You can’t continue to hold onto your leadership position in the business without investing in each technician’s growth. You must help your personnel grow in both technical and personal managerial skills.

Human capital—your employees-—will always stand as your greatest asset. James C. Collins wrote a management book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don’t,” that describes how companies transition from being average to great and how some fail to make that move. Collins defined “greatness” as financial performance several multiples better than the market average over a sustained period of time. Collins discovered the main factor for achieving the transition came from a narrow focusing of the company’s resources on their field of competence.

In the book, he asks the following three questions: “How many of your people are on the bus? How many understand where the bus is going? Have you shared the destination and route?”

Collins found when companies focus only on financial currency, they provide no meaning to their workers and, therefore, are doomed to fail. Humans simply will not perform well for any length of time without a deeper meaning and purpose. This position serves to validate the AMA findings.

Essentially, the technician wants to know the bigger picture of why the company has become a leader and how it intends to stay in that position. Additionally, the technician wants to know what part he or she will play in both “steering the bus” and sharing in a leadership role.

Owners and managers need to know and understand each technician’s personal goals. They need to ensure each technician knows how the long-term corporate goals will help achieve his or her personal goals. And, owners and managers need to remain open to receiving input from their technicians to better synchronize corporate and personal goals.

The basic foundation in developing qualified technicians comes from integrity, excellence, teamwork and accountability. In order to develop a sense of belonging to a company that has become a leader in the industry, training opportunities must remain relevant to the technician.

Employee development initiates a vital cycle of business growth. Proper training will develop a technician who ultimately becomes confident and filled with pride in his or her work. Employee excellence leads to customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction leads to customer commitment.

The technician presents the face of the company to your customer. How much you understand what motivates your technicians will determine whether you can take your company from good to great.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.