Here’s an open secret for AV integrators: Attracting and retaining successful employees is challenging.
So in late 2015, when Brian van der Hagen heard the clarion call from AVI Systems CEO Jeff Stoebner, he answered it. Van der Hagen previously had served as AVI Systems technical services manager before leaving to work in sales for various organizations within the AV industry. When he returned to the fold, it was at Stoebner’s request that he help to find solutions to lower the company’s high employee turnover rate and to teach employees new methods for selling successfully.
As a result, in January, AVI Systems launched myAVI, a personalized learning management dashboard, a live portal where employees can access educational resources online and in person.
“What we needed was to put a better learning environment together with a greater dedication to reinvest in our employee base,” van der Hagen said. “We have 505 employees, and we needed something that would be chock full of learning elements for all levels, all job roles.”
To that end, van der Hagen and his team of two others created a talent management system and a performance module for job performance reviews and measurement, and for succession planning, prepping for the next wave of leadership by elevating employees to the next levels of their careers. Together with Stoebner and involvement from the HR team, modules and platforms were designed to facilitate the ideal learning environment.
“I'm sure other integrators have versions of this,” van der Hagen said. “Ours is what I like to call a ‘worthy investment.’ This is a sizable commitment in its totality in terms of human capital, physical buildout, and software.”
The AVI Systems physical buildout includes a brick and mortar expansion with a learning center at its Eden Prairie headquarters. The 20,000-square-foot expansion is slated to open at the end of May.
“Our model of ‘attract and retain’, serves as a vision statement for top talent,” he said. “There is a shortage in terms of attracting employees with the specific skill sets that are needed. That’s the magic draw and finding it is difficult.”
Typically, AVI Systems has been hiring employees either out of trade school, hoping to incubate them, or hiring them away from competitors. “Now we’ve migrated away from hiring on technical talent and are looking at a fit for our company values model,” van der Hagen added. “Then we will make the training investment.”
The myAVI dashboard project started out by looking internally, he said, focused on that internal culture to assess what would be most successful, and what employees were asking for, which was more access to higher levels of learning and measuring, and accountability and visibility.
“The dashboard is meant to give employees a place to watch their own progression and further their knowledge base,” he explained. “It’s an employee's view of themselves, keeping them active and relevant by giving them access to the knowledge they need to move up. We tell them that their success is up to them without limitations. Our summer 2017 goal is to make the dashboard portal available to our customer base and to anyone in the industry.”
Imparting AVI-isms (the company’s best practices) is another important element in the overall program. “These include knowing how we do sales training within the company, how we go to market, and gaining industry-specific knowledge at the Infocomm and AQAV levels,” van der Hagen said.
Another aspect is a professional development learning environment focused on the core functions of becoming a manager, a leader of others. “The materials cover the human aspects of management such as how to handle workplace conflicts,” he noted. “It’s a learning track for those skill sets.”
The company’s related sales program training is an instructor led and online presentation that starts out with three days of classroom training and then continues for 12 weeks of extended online sales curriculum. Employees participate in two sessions within their first year of employment.
To kick off myAVI learning, AVI has committed to a three-year contract with InfoComm to license all CTS, CTS-I, and CTS-D prep courses. In addition, non-CTS InfoComm courses (Quick Start to the AV Industry Online, Essentials of AV Technology, and AV Math Online) will also be available.
“Our commitment with InfoComm licenses a fair amount of their curriculum,” van der Hagen said. “Currently, we have up to five of our own in-house instructors and are aiming to add two more and to add to the curriculum. Since the instructors are in-house, they have eyes and ears on the new talent coming in and can build bonds with them. If the students have questions, they can reach out to the instructors. Since we are 100 percent employee-owned, these instructors are their co-owners.”
Van der Hagen is pleased with the dashboard and training programs to date. “I like the direction and decisions we’ve made in dealing with this industry wide challenge,” he said. “It fits our culture, and we’re getting good hires. I’m optimistic that we will continue with enhancements to make it even better. The commitment is strong, and when Jeff (Stoebner) says learning and development will be the number one expenditure in years to come, that’s compelling. Ours is a cultural commitment to learning.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, CO.