Listening To The Voices
Forgive the executives at Ancoma if they hear voices in their heads. It seems that the N.Y.-based mechanical contractor has been letting everyone — customers, employees and apprentices — have a say in how the company is run.
The 49–year–old company has seen its sales triple in the last 10 years, and lands squarely on our Pipe Trade Giants at No. 82 this year. Jim Brennan, one of four owners of the family-run business, attributes the growth to input from surveys he sends to the employees, apprentices and customers. The company surveys its employees and apprentices a minimum of once a year. Customers receive a comment card after every job.
“Our people realize someone is listening to them,” says Brennan, who runs the company with his three brothers. “We may not be able to do everything they ask for — but then we explain why we can’t do it. At least they’re getting a voice at Ancoma — most companies don’t do this.”
Brennan says communications have improved within the company since the employee surveys began more than two years ago. “Communication is always one area we’re trying to improve,” explains Brennan. He receives an average of two “OFIs” (opportunity for improvement) per week, and a 60 percent survey response rate from his 200 workers.
The OFI is the employee’s suggestion box. Showing its commitment to openness, Ancoma publishes a log of all OFIs every six months, complete with answers to suggestions. The survey, on the other hand, measures different areas of the jobs — everything from teamwork to management relationships. Better training, an employee newsletter, several committees and more community events were born out of the survey.
“This company has always been people oriented,” says project control administrator Eileen Vieira. “It may seem old-fashioned to be that way in today’s business climate, but we really care about the opinions of our employees. Because you don’t always see your fellow employees, you tend to lose sight of what they are going through, what their goals are and that we are all each other’s customers. We don’t want anyone to feel alienated.”
Apprentices find out how much Ancoma cares about its workers. While the survey directed toward the apprentices is training oriented, the group of new hires can still offer ideas for change. The apprentices are not Ancoma employees, but rather union employees.
“We want those workers to feel like they are Ancoma employees,” says Vieira. “We don’t want the apprentices to get lost in the shuffle. We benefit from the amount of experience they gather from us throughout the years.”
Brennan echoes the same thought: “The participation for the apprentice survey is mandatory. They’re younger and want to feel wanted. And we want to make sure they’re learning the right thing during their five–year program.”
Apprentices become better employees, Brennan believes, once they have the mechanics of the job down. Ancoma closely tracks what its apprentices are learning. “If the apprentice spends five years in plumbing, he’s just going to be a plumber — which is OK — except that he doesn’t know the 10 other things he should know,” Brennan says. “We try to rotate these guys every six months.”
The obvious benefactor of all this surveying is Ancoma’s customers — 70 percent end up returning. Brennan says the repeat customer gives his company a better understanding of who they are working for. About 25 percent of the customers return the survey.
“After a while they get a little sick of sending in the survey time after time,” explains Brennan. “At least if there’s something wrong they can write and tell us about it. And if there’s something good, they can tell us that, too.”
Brennan says his company has grown more than he ever anticipated, and that a five–year strategic plan is about to be put into action. “Last year alone we grew 25 percent,” Brennan explains. “We want to slow the pace a little; we’re striving for 10–15 percent a year.”
Brennan better consult the voices about that.