You don’t have to look very far to figure out how important people are at Equipment Depot.
Type in its Web address, and it’s right in front of you. The address — www.portmanpeople.com — is a nod to the firm’s previous name, Portman Equipment Co., and it emphasizes the pivotal role that employees play at the company, which provides service and sales for material handling, mostly dealing with forklifts.
“You can’t do everything yourself,” President and CEO Ed Neyer says.
And that’s where his 400 employees come in.
As Equipment Depot continues to grow from the business Bill Portman and a handful of others started in 1960 — reaching 2007 revenue of about $90 million — Neyer strives to keep the “family” connected
through open communication.
“Keeping that family atmosphere and that closeness is a struggle,” he says, but adds that keeping his employees informed is worth the work and the risks.
Smart Business spoke with Neyer about how to create a positive work environment by overcommunicating.
Take open communication to the extreme. We communicate with our people a lot. More than half
of our people are out in the field versus in the office. We have a quarterly newsletter about what’s going on in the company and what we expect. We have monthly meetings talking about how the performance was for the month. It’s really key to keep people in tune with what’s going on in the company.
We use the bulletin boards a lot. Our field people, if they don’t come into the office, get that information electronically through e-mail. We definitely overcommunicate. The key is to let people know what’s happening within the company.
The only thing that we have off limits is personnel-type issues — pay, those types of things. Obviously, that has to be one on one and very personal and confidential.
We are very open with what we share with our people, sometimes too open. When we have important issues that come up, sometimes our competitors find out as soon as our people do because of the
friendships between people and competitors. It’s frustrating. We think it’s more important to let our people know what’s going on, even with that risk. You have to weigh what’s more important: having your people know about that or the information leaking out.
Keep employees connected. It’s very important to keep everyone within our company in the loop, like they’re part of it. Two things happen [if you don’t]: One is people don’t feel as connected, and rumors go rampant. I’d much rather have our people know what’s going on.
The key is to have numerous ways to communicate with people and to let everyone within the organization know as much as they can about what’s going on. People want to be part of a team. They want to be part of a successful organization.
If they feel like they’re being left out, that doesn’t accomplish that. Our philosophy has always been to overcommunicate even at the risk of having some of that information leaked out to competitors. It’s very important to make sure people understand what your company’s about, what you’re in business for, what your expectations are.
The more connected they feel to the company, the more they want to stay as part of the company. If we don’t have a team working together to take care of the customer, we’re not going to be successful.
In a recent employee survey, we found that the top three reasons why our people thought that we were a good place to work was, [No.] 1, great people; [No.] 2, job security; and [No.] 3, family atmosphere. Pay and benefits were No. 4. They talked about being part of an atmosphere, being part of a team with great people.
If something comes up where they need somebody to back them up, if it’s a technician that needs a part, people are going to get him the part he needs. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If our people can’t count on the rest of the organization, they’re probably not going to be here for a very long period.
Involve employees in your plan. You need to have good people that really are part of the organization and can really implement your vision, your plan.Then the key is to make sure that they’re trained properly, that they’re empowered to carry out and make their own decisions, that they have the backing of the organization. They know that their decisions will be upheld.
Involving your entire team in planning for the future helps to guarantee the plan’s success. A
lot of the goals of our company are not just my goals but team goals. They have buy-in that way. It’s part of their plan and not just somebody else’s plan they’re trying to work through.
Keep customers with consistency. We also have very long-term relationships with our customers. When it comes to the relationships with our customers, it’s typically a handful of people that customers think of when they think of [us]. It’s the manager they deal with on the inside. It’s the field technician, the salesperson. If you don’t have that consistency, if every time a customer has a breakdown, we send a different technician in, and over a year, he might see six or seven different people, that doesn’t build the relationship.
There’s a feeling of trust there. If we had continual turnover in our people, I think we’d also lose customers.
How to reach: Equipment Depot, (513) 891-0700 or www.portmanpeople.com