Professional snow and ice managers can use any downtime to engage in ongoing professional development, and workforce training is an effective means of strengthening and improving an operation. Zack Kelley, director of operations at Sauers Snow & Ice Management, a snow-only firm based in Philadelphia, suggests organizing training into three specific buckets – operations, including day-to-day tasks; risk management, which encompasses not only legal issues, but first-aid training; and culture building, which includes team building and improvement, as well as leadership.
“During any sort of downtime, polishing up on each of these three areas is a good use of a contractor’s time,” Kelley says.
This is Sauers’ biggest training bucket and includes a number of different subcategories, Kelley explains. “And the biggest thing we’re focusing on is client communication,” he says. “And that goes for the guys shoveling the sidewalks all the way to the guys managing clients’ sites.”
For example, if a client approaches a Sauers’ employee with a question, to request additional service or has an issue that needs to be addressed, then they need to be educated on not only the appropriate response, but what the next step in the process is, Kelley says.
Every employee must have a working and thorough knowledge of not only how to communicate with clients about snow and ice management questions, but then how to communicate theses concerns and requests internally with Sauers’ management team.
Kelley adds communication can be a very deep training topic. For example, how many managers know how to write a well-thought-out email, he asks.
“You want to be professional and you want to be concise,” Kelley says. “Your team must communicate the right details. And professionalism is a big point we’re trying to drive home this year. Phone calls and texts … our snow managers run into all of those scenarios throughout a snowstorm, whereas some clients prefer an email, some prefer text, and others want a phone call. So, we try to train for all of those (scenarios).”
In addition, Sauers trains its employees on the ANSI Industry Standards for Snow and Ice Management, available through their affiliation with the Accredited Snow Contractors Association.
“We’ll literally go through the Industry Standards with our people line by line,” he says. “The way we do training with our snow managers is weekly, so we’ll cover a few ANSI standards every week as a refresher, and we’ll incorporate photos and videos as examples to reinforce the ANSI standards.”
And if there’s additional downtime, Kelley says Sauers ensures its snow managers complete ASCA-C training. “We won’t typically do this in the fall because it’s a crazy time for us getting ready for winter,” he says. “But when it doesn’t snow, we typically have our guys engaged in the ASCA-C training during that time. We feel it’s very beneficial. And frankly, it’s already premade so we don’t have to remake it if it’s already out there.”
As the industry gets more litigious, snow contractors must seek out ways to protect themselves. Sauers addresses this issue at both a high level and at the operational level so even the guys on the frontlines shoveling know how to mitigate slip-and-fall conditions, Kelley says
“We talk about the importance of documentation and making sure they have the correct weather conditions down and they’re prepared for anything,” he says.
“We must limit risk, and we feel this starts with the guys in the field. And over the last couple of years we’ve caught more things this way because our ground crews have any eye out for these details.”
Risk mitigation also includes first-aid training, Kelley says, and they stress the importance of being well prepared.
“We teach CPR and basic first-aid skills,” he adds.
The team at Sauers Snow & Ice has focused on building a productive corporate culture over the last two or three years.
“It’s made a huge difference in how we work and how people view us,” Kelley says.
“And it’s certainly something that can be worked on and implemented during season downtimes.”
Part of building a strong culture involves gaining an understanding of what they can do better as a team and as individuals. To achieve this, Sauers reviews every single employee and service provider.
“We want them to know the chain of command and who their managers are because if they have an issue it can be addressed immediately,” Kelley says. In addition to individual assessments, the Sauers team seeks to gain a clear understanding of how their clients view their performance.
“Since last year was a down year for us for snow, we beefed up our surveying process to gain better client feedback,” Kelley says.
“So, we survey all of our clients and all of our service providers and all of our employees after every single snow event … regardless if it’s just a salting event or a 6-8 inch storm.
Everyone receives a survey on their phone the next day that asks them to grade their manager, their response time, etc.”
The survey has proven an effective way to highlight service issues.
“For example, all of our subs at the end of the year are graded on a scale from 0 to 100 on how they did,” Kelley says. “That grade is based on their communication, the documentation and app usage, their operational skills, were they on time and followed through on the scope of work … this all goes to computing a grade at the end of the year.”
With clients, the Sauers’ team recognizes property managers don’t have the time to fill out extensive survey questionnaires. So, instead, they field a single question to clients: Rate us on a scale of 1-10.
“If they respond with a seven or below, it automatically triggers a follow-up question that asks: We realize we could have done a better job with the storm, what areas specifically did you have an issue? These responses go to me and to the regional manager for that property and our goal is to address these issues within 24 hours,” he says.
The author is editor of Snow Magazine.