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Westec Guards Its Competitive Edge

August 1, 1995
Related Topics: Strategic Planning, Featured Article
Do your employees know more about your business than you do? Westec Security, Inc. thought its employees might, so management begged the question. What it discovered led the company to focus on improving service delivery and developing a formal, long-term strategic planning process. About two years ago, the company harnessed the power of a teammate opinion survey to investigate whether its mission and formal statement of values were being implemented by managers and employees. Westec's human resources department chose Hay Management Consultants in Los Angeles as its partner in the teammate opinion survey process. Without a doubt, the company has taken the survey responses to heart.

Founded in 1970, Westec Security, Inc. is one of the largest full-service security firms in the United States, with more than 60,000 monitored clients and revenues approaching $80 million. Part of the Secomerica Group, the company employs more than 1,000 people at 16 locations in California, including its Newport Beach headquarters. More than 25 franchises and dealerships also fly the Westec flag throughout the United States and Canada. Both Michael Kaye, president and CEO of the Secomerica Group, and Arthur Branstine, president and COO of Westec Security, believe in managing the company based on the following mission:

  • To provide peace of mind to customers by delivering innovative, essential-life services of extraordinary quality
  • To create an environment in which people can grow to be the best they can be; can contribute their best toward this mission; and are appropriately recognized and rewarded for their efforts
  • To provide shareholders with a dynamic industry leader, yielding an attractive return on their investment and maximizing their confidence in and commitment to the company.

Westec strives to achieve its mission through a group of 12 core values that were established by Kaye three years ago: commitment, dignity of the individual, empowerment, flexibility, humility, sense of humor, innovation, integrity, passion, porous organization, quality and teamwork.

Several of these core values are straightforward and self-explanatory. Others reflect a vocabulary and perspective unique to Westec. For example, the wallet card carried by each Westec teammate (a term applied to all employees) explains humility by stating: "No matter how successful we may be, we will not be arrogant." Porous Organization is defined by the words: "We believe in the free flow of ideas and in open communication." And to Westec teammates, passion means: "We believe in the heart and in the incredible power of human will."

"In society today, there's been a breakdown in people's confidence in many traditional sources of authority. Many people are looking toward the corporation to provide some continuity and anchoring in this area. We have the opportunity to make a positive impact on our teammates' lives by managing from the perspective of these core values," says Kaye.

The following nine-step methodology helped ensure the success of this employee opinion survey project. Eight of these steps were completed within six months.

  • Establish key success factors
  • Develop the questionnaire
  • Administrate the questionnaire
  • Process data, perform analysis and write reports
  • Brief executives
  • Communicate results to teammates
  • Develop an effective follow-up process
  • Initiate improvements
  • Maintain ongoing commitment.

Establish key factors.
The Hay consultants met with the core Westec project team to jointly agree upon a set of key success factors that would create a standard for the survey process. Included in the project team were HR executives from Secomerica, each company's communications specialist, and the regional director for Research for Management, a division of Hay Management Consultants. The team established these key factors:

  • Ensure linkage to Westec's strategy and values
  • Ensure user friendly questionnaire design
  • Involve teammates as internal project advisers to ensure buy-in and relevance
  • Employ internal marketing techniques to ensure high participation rates
  • Take advantage of state-of-the-art data processing
  • Use executive summary techniques when reviewing survey results
  • Maintain momentum and focus during the critical follow-up phase.

The second step in the survey process was to design a relevant, user-friendly questionnaire. The Hay consultants met with the core project team and groups of employees to discuss how to make the survey relevant to Westec teammates' daily experiences. They decided to organize the survey based on Westec's value statements. Hay maintains a large data base of questions that can be accessed by each client. Westec took advantage of this resource. However, because the company was interested in probing the realization of its values, it also was necessary to create several customized items to fully reflect the nature and intent of these values.

For example, for empowerment, the survey asked questions such as: "My immediate supervisor gives me enough opportunity to participate in decisions that affect my work." Individuals were asked to choose between five possible answers, ranging from "Strongly agree" to "Strongly disagree."

For porous organization, the survey included the statement: "I prefer to receive information on what teammates can do to improve their work performance through..." They were asked to circle one of seven sources, such as one's own supervisor, memos, town-hall meetings or conference calls. In addition, the survey attempted to measure integrity and teamwork, along with each of the other core values.

Teammates complete the surveys at home.
The Westec human resources department first ensured that all teammates became highly aware of the survey effort through internal communication channels (such as the Westec newsletter and meetings with supervisors). Although participation was voluntary, teammates were urged to consider the survey an opportunity to improve their own work environment, and to give feedback directly to the Westec senior-management team. Paper-and-pencil questionnaires were given to each teammate at lunch meetings, along with a confidential, pre-addressed envelope for direct mailing to the Hay data-processing center. Teammates completed the surveys at home. Westec selected this methodology because human resources wanted to guarantee the responses would be completely confidential. When all of the returned questionnaires were counted, Westec had received a 52% return, a positive sign for an initial benchmark effort. The target-response rate for the second effort will be 65%. This goal will be achieved by supplementing the usual corporatewide communication effort with a campaign targeted at those areas that yielded the lowest response rates during the first survey, and by setting aside company-paid time for teammates to complete the survey.

Hay took responsibility for the data processing, analysis and report writing. Many companies that attempt to do such work in-house discover they only obtain a rudimentary summary of data. Moreover, they're uncertain about interpreting the data and planning follow-up actions. Hay, however, prepared a series of reports that segmented the data according to a series of pre-established locations and functions. The consultants also prepared a separate report that contained all of the teammates' open-ended comments. The most important report was the corporate Executive Summary presented during an executive briefing.

The Hay consultants presented the corporate Executive Summary during a half-day, onsite briefing with the Secomerica Group president and CEO, the Westec president, and the top Westec executive team and communications specialists. Hay summarized Westec's areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. The overall results confirmed that teammates regarded Westec as an attractive employer. Yet there were many issues that required further attention. Among those identified and addressed were:

  • Turnover and staffing, as they relate to the delivery of quality customer care
  • Training and skill development for supervisors and managers
  • Strategic planning, as well as timely reactions to marketplace changes.

Hay also prepared preliminary recommendations regarding the next steps to be considered by Westec as it moved forward with the survey follow-up process. These preliminary recommendations were prepared with full awareness of what has proven effective at other leading companies throughout the United States. These recommendations were used as initial thought stimulators by Westec. But the company quickly realized that the ultimate responsibility for effective decision-making and improvement rests with Westec managers and teammates.

Results disseminated to all teammates.
Several major follow-up techniques were utilized to ensure that actual changes would be made and that the survey investment would be well justified. After the executive briefing by the Hay group, the Westec human resources department gave a series of presentations throughout the company to highlight key findings and to clarify the differences between companywide findings and other local issues.

The Westec newsletter highlighted the survey process and the most important findings in a series of brief articles directed at all teammates. At several Town Hall meetings (an open forum for information exchange and testing of new ideas), the most important opportunities for improvement were outlined, and management expressed its commitment to follow up after the survey.

The Westec human resources department also prepared a Teammate Feedback Booklet that summarized a series of findings-both the upside and the downside. The Westec survey process was highlighted in the Hay Research for Management Commentator, a quarterly Hay newsletter that focuses on successful work in business culture and employee-opinion research. Copies of the newsletter were made available to Westec's newest teammates.

Next, a group of 11 task forces was organized and charged with reviewing local results. They were expected to recommend appropriate initiatives. Each task force represented a separate business location or group of smaller locations, and each consisted of four to six volunteers from the various functional areas within their location. The human resources representatives were present for the initial task force meetings across the company.

Each follow-up task force was asked to prioritize their recommendations, with a primary focus given to the top two or three improvements. They were also asked to report to senior Westec management once a month by a conference-call. Several of the task forces very quickly set up ongoing improvement programs, despite the fact that not much time had passed since they had been given the information. Each of the 11 follow-up task forces will remain intact during the second Westec Teammate Opinion Survey, which is currently under way.

Westec changes its strategic-planning process.
Was the company's mission being realized? With that question at the core of the survey effort, it was fitting that Westec's response to the results was the implementation of a formal strategic-planning process. Teammates at every level of the organization worked side by side with senior Westec and Secomerica executives-and an outside consulting firm-to complete the initial, three-year plan. Says Branstine, Westec's president: "The formulation of our strategic plan wasn't only a necessary step for a company committed to improvement and growth. It is also a perfect example of translating what we learned from the employee survey directly into a competitive advantage."

Following the completion of the initial overall plan, each of the company's branches completed their own corollary plan. Immediately following the completion of the initial planning process, Branstine directed what he termed a full-court press to communicate the overall plan and the supporting branch plans throughout the organization. "Creating the plan was only the beginning," says Branstine. "Our next objective was to have 100% knowledge, understanding and support for it." Step one included a day-long workshop attended by more than 200 teammates. "In a business like ours that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you just can't have everyone at this kind of workshop," says Branstine. "But 200 well-informed teammates was what we sought as an initial critical mass." Immediately following the workshop, a concerted communications effort was undertaken, utilizing department meetings, the Westec newsletter, the quarterly Town Hall meetings, new-employee orientations and a variety of other steps. The next survey is being amended to measure the success of these efforts.

"The formulation of our strategic plan is a perfect example of translating what we learned from the survey directly into a competitive advantage."

According to Branstine, one of the big programs initiated after the first survey was the Customer Care Program. The company involved each teammate in a series of half-day seminars that involved 12 to 20 people at a time. They discussed the survey results, where the gaps had been found and which areas needed improvement. "In any organization you find people who want to do a good job-but that's not the issue. The organization inadvertently [creates] barriers that inhibit [employees] from doing a good job," he says. "The survey was an important step toward understanding the barriers to delivering good service, be they pay and recruitment-related or more related to overall job satisfaction. A lot of what Westec has done is to start with a customer focus and work back to the company's own work methods," says Branstine.

Since the half-day Customer Care seminars, Westec has designed and rolled out a new Customer Care Skills Training Program, which includes the entire organization. Other action items include improving telephone systems in several locations and increasing staffing in critical departments with high levels of customer contact. Westec's Customer Care philosophy and the initial components of the Customer Care Skills Training Program are the focus of a mandatory, one-day teammate-orientation program.

In an era of downsizing, first-level managers are critical.
Front-line supervisors increasingly feel the pressure as their spans of control have increased along with productivity demands. Westec found that many of its supervisors-though they were well-intentioned-lacked basic management and communication skills. "When we reviewed normal, day-to-day management issues, the biggest gap was in front-line supervisory training," says Branstine. So Westec instituted programs that will provide additional front-line leadership training for all of its managers and supervisors. Rather than requiring everybody to do everything, individuals worked on the areas in which they needed improvement. Part of each participant's objectives includes the completion of and certification in each training program component. And each executive and manager is held accountable for ensuring that every supervisor and subordinate manager in their group achieves their objectives.

Westec also has decided to review its supervisory selection procedures. "We found that in first-line supervision, [one] tends to promote the best technician for the job, not necessarily the best manager," according to Branstine. "So we've begun thinking about management succession. Today, we're in a more dynamic environment, and this [situation] poses an entirely new set of challenges."

From this survey alone, Westec had the opportunity to review more than a dozen separate reports. Many addressed improvement opportunities at particular locations or functional areas as well as at the company overall. In these reports, managers were able to obtain an initial assessment of some improvement opportunities at the local level. These opportunities ranged from making simple procedural changes to taking a fresh look at the components of Westec's model for customer service.

"Many specific recommendations resulted from the survey," according to Branstine. "We have taken a number of actions on a local level. Among them: Improving service at our Pasadena branch, improving patrol at the Van Nuys branch, improving customer service in Santa Monica and making procedural changes at our Communications Center in Irvine. These interventions ensued because particular groups or locations indicated the need for further investigation in order to maximize Westec's prospects for strong growth and profitability."

Maintain ongoing commitment.
Westec formed local task forces after the survey, which will regularly report on their progress (what they are working on, why they are working on it, developing a priority list and set of goals). Each task force is cross-functional, and will include a teammate from Service, Patrol, Sales, Customer Service and Installations. Five or six functions are represented on each Task Team, depending on the nature of each branch.

When they return to their regular department or functional meetings (weekly or monthly), teammates will be able to provide updates, receive feedback and establish themselves as the contacts for the attitude survey. They will convey the following: "Here's what we're working on, here's what we heard you say, and by the way we're not going to address these two issues for these reasons, but we're going to do these five." In other words, members of the Task Teams will provide plenty of feedback to the functional groups.

Westec also plans to publicize its progress in the company Hotline magazine and through quarterly Town Hall meetings. "There's plenty of communication. Sometimes you may not act on [an item], but at least you can acknowledge and discuss it," Branstine says. "These surveys aren't inexpensive. But we've gotten a return. Contrasting the money we spent [on the surveys and the follow-up actions] to the positive business results we've seen, there's a return. And we think it's large."

Survey sharpens Westec's competitive edge.
Westec is unique in its market because of the range of products and services it offers. The company's reputation as the clear leader in its market niche has been built on being able to provide a very high level of customized service. Because of that reputation, Westec must continue to ensure high-quality service and a sharp delivery system.

The company, therefore, surveys its clients informally on a continuous basis, and every 18 months it conducts a formal survey of its client base. This year Westec also began surveying the non-client base, the non-Westec alarm user base and the total non-user bases to determine why people do and don't buy alarm systems and related services. Westec senior management wants to know how teammates feel about the quality being delivered to the company's clients. Many of the questions asked of teammates on the Teammate Opinion Survey are the same ones Wes-tec asks its clients, but from an internal perspective. If teammates don't believe the company is delivering the quality of service that's being sold, Westec management immediately focuses on closing those gaps. About as instantly as a patrol officer responds to an alarm going off.

Personnel Journal, August 1995, Vol. 74, No. 8, pp. 84-88.

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