We recently set out to try and capture the essence of Hallam-ICS so that we could better communicate what we do and who we are to current and potential clients and employees. We learned that this can be a challenging exercise!There are several approaches that you can take to help define this. Simon Sinek recommends to “Start with Why” (full version or shorter version) while Steve Jobs shared his viewpoints as part of Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. They make the process sound easy…..
Where did we start? We followed a mantra that Dave Hallam, our founder, always shared with us:
Our business is 50% technical and 50% relationship
This belief continues to be true for Hallam-ICS today. Clients and employees expect technical excellence AND a positive experience when they work with us. Internally, we know what this means and how it expresses itself in our work, our culture, our hiring practices and our relationships with others. But, how do we effectively and concisely convey this philosophy in a manner that others can understand? We’re mostly engineers, not marketing experts. So, we engaged TREW Marketing, who specializes in marketing to engineers and who we’ve worked with since starting our inbound marketing efforts a few years back. Together, we knocked around a few concepts and picked two questions to explore and thoroughly understand:
- What is important to engineers and what do they expect from their employer? And,
- What is important to our clients and what do they expect from their engineering & automation consultants?
During our research, I recalled a book I had read several years ago called The Loyalty Effect (by Frederick F. Reichheld). Reicheld’s theory is that there is one constant theme that separates top performing companies in all industries – Repeat Business (i.e. loyalty). And, there are three elements of loyalty that must be built into a company’s culture and strategy:
1) Employee Loyalty
2) Client Loyalty
3) Investor Loyalty
All three are interdependent. As a 100% employee-owned firm (through an ESOP), we have investor loyalty and stability. So what drives employee loyalty and client loyalty?
We are fortunate that we have employee loyalty. Our voluntary employee turnover rate often runs at 5% or lower on an annual basis, well below industry averages. And, despite recent growth that has led to more than a third of our employees being hired in the past 5 years, approximately another third of our employees have been with Hallam-ICS for over 20 years. People stay at Hallam.
We also have client loyalty. Our business from repeat clients typically runs between 75%-85%. And many have been long-term clients, ranging from 3 years to 30 years. Clients stay with Hallam.
But why? What are the core reasons that employees choose to stay at Hallam-ICS and why do clients choose to continue to hire Hallam-ICS?
We recently conducted “stay interviews” with employees. We asked them questions about what they like and dislike about working at Hallam-ICS, what leads them to stay and what might cause them to leave. The most commonly cited reasons for people staying at Hallam-ICS were:
- Challenging work that provides a sense of accomplishment
- Management that is approachable, trusted & transparent
- A flexible work environment
- Supportive co-workers (friends)
We also set out to understand what is important to our clients. I spoke with several long-term clients and partners. While you might expect that clients would list technical expertise and pricing as top reasons, these did not often come up. These are core expectations; if we did not consistently provide technical excellence at a competitive price, clients would not hire us. Instead the comments centered on relationship topics:
- “Your people stay. That means I get the same team on projects year after year without having to ‘retrain’ a new team. With large firms, I get different teams every 6 months and have to start over.”
- “You have a lot of employees who have been with you for a long time. That’s important to me. If you treat your employees well, I believe that you are going to treat me the same way.”
- “You’ve created a culture where every employee feels they can do their best work. Clients feel this, partners feel this.”
- “I have a feeling of trust that you’ll do the right thing and you have my best interests at heart.”
- “You’re good at what you do, but you’re just very good people”
Now, to tie all these thoughts together. We started our discussion with TREW thinking that we would share how our Social Mission, employee camaraderie and our commitment to doing community service leads to a client benefit. But, we had trouble seeing the direct connection between the two even if we know they are somehow related.
However, the concept that a business philosophy of trust, approachability, transparency and generosity will appeal to employees and clients alike….well, maybe that makes sense. If you treat your employees well, they will treat your clients well. And, without clients, we don’t have a business.
Maybe what we have been aiming for can be summed up in some ways by Reichheld’s quote:
“The same business philosophy and operational policies that earn employees loyalty and boost their morale are likely to work for customers.”
All of these discussions and research led TREW to capture the Hallam-ICS essence in the phrase Inspired Engineering. These words resonated with us the first time we saw them. We each interpreted it in our own manner, but that’s the point. Inspiration is highly personal and comes from a variety of sources and manifests itself in different ways. But, the outcome is usually something pretty special. If we unpack Inspired Engineering, we find “50% technical and 50% relationship” at the core. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming blogs about Inspired Engineering at Hallam-ICS and would love to hear back from you about what inspires you!
About the Author
Keith is a graduate of the University of Vermont with a BSEE and an MBA. He has been with Hallam-ICS since 1988 as an electrical engineer, manager of integration services, CFO, and CEO. He focuses the company on understanding and meeting the needs of each individual client while at the same time delivering the highest possible level of technical expertise.
Read My Hallam Story
Hallam-ICS is an engineering and automation company that designs MEP systems for facilities and plants, engineers control and automation solutions, and ensures safety and regulatory compliance through arc flash studies, commissioning, and validation. Our offices are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and North Carolina and our projects take us world-wide.