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Holding Onto Talent--Costanza Style

July 26, 2013
If you’re one of those who can match Seinfeld episodes to their daily lives, this blog’s for you.

If you’re a Seinfeld fan you may remember the episode where he’s trying to rent a car. The agency says they ran out of cars despite his making a reservation. The agent indignantly says “I think I know why we have reservations,” after Jerry lectures her about the purpose of a reservation. His response: “I don't think you do. You see, you know how to ‘take’ the reservation, you just don't know how to ‘hold’ the reservation. And that's really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them,” he says, while madly flailing for imaginary pieces of paper flying through the air.

A recent discussion about the challenge of holding onto logistics talent reminded me of this scene. Lots of employers know how to hire talented people, they just don’t know how to hold onto them. That’s especially the case where work is hard, hours are long and fun is none. That discussion took place during a visit to the Houston DC of Silver Eagle Distributors, the largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch products in the U.S. and the second largest beer distributor in general. Working at this DC is a team of maintenance technicians who take care of the company’s fleet of hundreds of vehicles, including trucks, service vehicles, sales vehicles and lift trucks.

In a recent blog about this operation, I quoted Ed Pritchard, senior vice president of fleet management and purchasing, who explained the challenges of maintenance keeping pace with this site’s production demands. It can get so hectic that talent turnover is a real danger. Silver Eagle found a way to keep its technicians engaged with their job: give them more work.

Actually, they let them take on projects that engage their creative and competitive spirits. These are projects that the technicians own and have nothing to do with their day jobs. They use their free time on weekends to work on them. Work on what? Race cars.

They’re  actually making use of the axles that come off of out-of-service tractor trucks, and even use cabs they found in a local junkyard, to rebuild them into dragsters. When I visited them, the plan was to display their newest drag racer at the company’s new Pasadena DC when it opens soon.

“These guys are constantly spending their time working on our trucks, same old ones in and out,” he said. “All these guys are so technology advanced on this machinery they’re able to take an extra project on and use their imagination.”

This brings them to the shop over the weekend during their off-time. Building dragsters with each other while having “a couple cold ones” boosts morale, especially during times when more vehicles than usual come off the road needing service.

“These guys get worn down during those periods and these types of projects, when the volume loads finally decrease, help them relax by figuring out how to accomplish one of these projects and feel good about themselves.”

George Costanza’s Dad used two words to boil down the secret of holding onto talent: