Sarah welcomes Bobby Lincoln, Supervisor of Customer Care Onboarding at Sysmex America, to discuss how to make onboarding personal – particularly in our now virtual world, how to train without creating overwhelm, and how to retain field service talent by offering career progression paths.
Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we’re going to be talking about tips for successful onboarding, training and retention. We know that with some of the challenges that exist in obtaining and training and retaining talent, these are topics that are very, very important to the vast majority of our listeners. I’m thrilled to be joined today by Bobby Lincoln, who is the supervisor of customer care onboarding at Sysmex America. Bobby, thank you so much for being here, and welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast.
Bobby Lincoln: Well, thanks for having me, Sarah. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. So this is Bobby’s area of expertise. And I’m excited to have him here with us today to give us some tactical advice on how to have effective onboarding and training. Onboarding is obviously the very first impression a new employee gets of your company. And with talent that today has many, many options on where they spend their time, it’s a very important first impression. So Bobby, before we dig into some of the things we want to touch on today, just tell our listeners a bit about Sysmex, yourself and your role.
Bobby Lincoln: Well, thank you. Yes. My name is Bobby Lincoln, as Sarah said, I supervise customer care onboarding for Sysmex. I’m also responsible for managing a group of field service technicians, which we’ll discuss those later on this conversation. In brief it’s a national group of field service technicians that we hire to support districts as they get trained to do installations and eventually move into a permanent service engineer role. But I do supervise the onboarding process for everyone in the service organization, I’ve handled this responsibility for going on little over a year and a half. So pre-COVID and after COVID experience going on. I’ve been with Sysmex now in year 16, which I hear is unheard of in modern world, everybody switch jobs from every three or four years. But no, I’m a lifer as they say. Sysmex is a medical device company at its core. We’re a Japanese based company.
Bobby Lincoln: We are the global leader in hematology diagnostics, we are now broadening our year analysis portfolio. And yeah, it’s been a wild ride. When I started with Sysmex, we were… I don’t know the exact market share number, but over the course of the last decade and a half, it feels really weird saying that by the way. We’ve become number one in the United States and the world.
Sarah Nicastro: Awesome. And I agree with you. I think after 2020 everyone should have survived and led through COVID on their resume. It’s-
Bobby Lincoln: Absolutely.
Sarah Nicastro: It’s a whole skill set in and of itself. All right, so we’re going to talk today about onboarding, training and retention. And I kind of lumped them together in the introduction, but they are really three different and three very critical areas. So let’s take them one by one. So we’ll talk about onboarding first. So to start, just tell us a little bit about what your onboarding process looks like.
Bobby Lincoln: Well, I would like to discuss because it has morphed over the last year. Pre-COVID we would have… We’d spend interviewing. We spent a lot of time on the interview process, which I anticipate most other organizations do as well. We would come into the office, in our United States offices located… Well, there’s a couple now actually. But we’d send everybody to Lincolnshire, Illinois, Northwest Chicago, and we’d come in and we’d spend day one just getting to know each other. And then throughout the course of the week, we’d have different presentations, discussions, we would do a tour of the building, we’d literally get to meet the CEO if he was in his office that week, which is pretty cool. A lot of people on day three don’t get to meet the CEO of their organization. But really, the big thing about our onboarding process is, the goal is two things. We want to acclimate our new employees to our organizations or better yet our culture, ultras big from where we are.
Bobby Lincoln: Also, there is a few things that we have to hit, certain metrics that every employee needs to go through and all the corporate things, the human resources, presentations, all of those things that many, if not all corporations put their new employees through.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bobby Lincoln: Yep.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So one of the big areas of emphasis for you is making the onboarding experience personal. So why is this something that’s so heavily prioritized? And I guess, more importantly, what are some of the ways that you accomplish that?
Bobby Lincoln: As I was thinking about this, two quotes come to mind. I’m a big quote guy. It drives my wife crazy sometimes, but you think of the godfather quote, it’s not personal, it’s strictly business. Well, I like to subscribe to… He’s a buffoon in many ways, but I’d like to subscribe to the Michael Scott version of business. And I wrote it down to make sure in case our listeners don’t quote me saying it wrong. So I did write it down, where he says, “Business is always personal, it’s the most personal thing in the world.” And you fast forward a little bit in that episode and he goes, “People will never go out of business.” And I really subscribe to that, we subscribe to that at Sysmex, we believe we are in the people business. Why wouldn’t we make it personal?
Bobby Lincoln: We hire folks to come in as service engineers, we hire them to do a technical job, but at the end of the day, that’s only part of it. Our customers are going to require some fixing as well. So we spend a lot of time on making it personal to welcome them to our family. Really a family. That’s our view. That’s how we approach it. And when you bring someone into your family, Sarah, you’ve probably had folks sit down at your dinner table before, and thought, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” We spend a lot of time on the front end so that when we bring folks in, they fit into our family and we want to acclimate them to that culture.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So when they start the onboarding process, do you have any examples of things that you guys do to make it feel personal to them? So that it’s not just employee one, two, three in onboarding session number whatever? What are some tips around creating a more personalized experience for those folks?
Bobby Lincoln: So much of this conversation, I’m going to tailor it more to where we are right now virtually, because in the office when I would host this onboarding process, it’s similar, but it’s different. So for example, we log in on day one, everybody comes in and I intentionally start our meetings about 15, 20 minutes before all the production starts, if you will. We get to know each other. One of the fun things that we do during this process, is every single class we challenge them with icebreaker questions. And it’s no fancy science behind it. I literally Sarah, go to Google and type in icebreaker questions. For example, one of them was what superhero would you want to be and why? My personal favorite is if you could upload one skill to yourself via the Matrix, if you could become Neo about anything what would it be? And we challenge them and talk to them.
Bobby Lincoln: It just naturally generates conversation. And to make it personal, this might sound crazy to some out there, but I want to create the environment of we’re sitting around the dinner table where you feel virtually comfortable talking to anyone at that table. That’s the atmosphere that we hope to create in our onboarding process.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now I have to assume being successful at that is more challenging in a virtual environment than it is in person.
Bobby Lincoln: It is especially challenging for people like myself that when I give presentations, I feed off the room. I love the energy in the room, you can look and see it’s harder I think, especially using certain platforms where now our new hire classes range anywhere from four to eight individuals. Seeing them on a screen, reading their faces for how they’re receiving the information is way more difficult this way. Whereas when you’re in the room, you can see it and feel it. This way, you kind of have to… I don’t want to say put on more of a show, but make it a little more entertaining, if you will. And that’s how I have… I’ve seen it work very well thus far.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And I think that not everyone can control, I guess, size of onboarding class, but when you’re doing it virtual, I think considering how many people you have in a group is important, because if it’s still not as easy as reading the room in person, but if you have to keep an eye on four, or six, or even eight individuals, energies and reactions on screen is one thing if you were doing a class of 20 or 25, or any more than that, it would become very difficult to give anyone that individualized attention.
Bobby Lincoln: Yeah. We had… This was right before COVID hit last year. The November prior we had a class of 18 people in our room. There’s no way we can do that in this format. In fact, we have made the decision based on occupancy levels of the buildings of local in Illinois, of what they allow, our new hire classes can only be a certain size, because of the restrictions that we have at our training center down the line. We have more frequent classes, but they’re smaller.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Which in the process you walked us through in terms of how you try and create more of that dinner table dialogue and really get people engaged, if you have four, six people, that type of interaction is feasible and easy to encourage. You don’t want them to be able to hide behind the numbers, I guess. Okay.
Bobby Lincoln: Yeah. And I have folks that work with me. We have people throughout the organization that come in and help. And we always have one of the new hires, one of their direct managers is tasked to assist with the process. And a lot of times, depending upon the presentation, or I’ve got two or three screens going and they get tasked with monitoring faces. That’s their job. They got to make sure the room’s awake, nobody’s falling asleep.
Sarah Nicastro: Right.
Bobby Lincoln: Yep.
Sarah Nicastro: It’s important.
Bobby Lincoln: It is.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So you mentioned this a little bit, but you have these folks come in and you… How long is the onboarding program?
Bobby Lincoln: We have it broken down into three segments. It’s onboarding week, which they spend day one that first week, that’s onboarding, that’s where we have human resources, we briefly get into anything technical in week one, it’s a lot of application building, giving them the tools. “Hey, this is what you use this for, this is what you use this for.” That sort of thing. Week two is our foundational class where we dive deeper into various processes and then they get put into our technical training curriculum.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. I like the one thing you said though, about the goal is an onboarding for them to have a foundational understanding, but not an overwhelming amount of detail.
Bobby Lincoln: Right.
Sarah Nicastro: So you want to give them the critical overview that they need to be able to move into the training program, but you don’t want to overwhelm them with too much at once. So talk about why you think that that concept is important when it comes to onboarding?
Bobby Lincoln: Absolutely. Are you a sports fan? Do you like football?
Sarah Nicastro: Yes, I have given up watching football since I had children so that my husband can do so because it’s one or the other not both.
Bobby Lincoln: Very nice. I get the television, I’ve got three children, and daddy gets TV on Sundays. That’s it. Four months of the year, daddy gets TV on Sunday. But I like in our training program to… All right. On day one of training camp, if you were to give your quarterback the entire playbook on day one, there is no way we could have the expectation that they could accurately and precisely execute that playbook in its entirety after that day. Impossible. If I could upload a skill like I mentioned, I would do that. But we can’t, we’re human beings. We have to absorb information, learn it and implement it. And so I like how we approach training to that. We have a certain progression. Once you can do A, let’s do B. Once you can do B, let’s challenge you with C. That’s The goal.
Bobby Lincoln: Because if we overwhelm individuals on the front end, they’re going to get burnt out. We’re all human beings, when we get burnt out, we don’t like what we do. I don’t want that, I never want anybody to feel that overwhelming burnt out where they just want to quit. Any manager, or anybody in charge of any program should not want that for their folks. But it’s step by step. And I liken it to the NFL playbook, you cannot expect them to do everything on day one, you have to work in steps.
Sarah Nicastro: Now have you seen a difference, Bobby, in terms of, I guess, bandwidth for consumption? Is that different in person versus virtual? So pre and post-COVID? And how has that changed?
Bobby Lincoln: I think in person I can connect and get more information through in a shorter amount of time. This platform allows, it’s just too much distraction. I’m looking outside my house right now, I’ve got my kitchen there, I’ve got to say no to all the snacks that are there, or the phone might ring or… I’ve had folks where their kids are home, my kids have been home. It’s challenging right now. It really is.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And you get the Zoom burnout, right? So when you’re doing onboarding in a physical location, you can say, “Okay, we’re going to do the first two hours in this room, and then we’re going to move to this room.” And you can change scenery, you can work in activities, or breaks, or what have you when it’s, “Hey, show up for your eight hour day and we’re going to spend the whole thing on Zoom, and I’m just going to crush you with information.” You’ll start to get blank stares after so long. So I would think you’ve had to be strategic about how you pace things so that you can keep people engaged as well.
Bobby Lincoln: Absolutely. We’ve had a certain strategy for onboarding for the last six, seven years, and it’s just day one, day two, day three, and so on. With this format, we’ve rearranged it because we don’t want to overload their brain on information on one day, because by three o’clock in the afternoon, you can see it, they’re done. We only really schedule out of the five days for week one, we’re on Zoom half days on three of those days. And so we give them more autonomy to do some of the corporate training stuff that’s online and the virtual training that we have everyone do. We give them the time to do that and do it at their own pace, because this is tough. This is tough.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. The last thing I wanted to talk about in terms of the onboarding experience is the emphasis that Sysmex puts on teaching the human side of the business in addition to the technical stuff. So tell us a little bit about that conceptually and then in practice, how you balance that within the coursework.
Bobby Lincoln: Sure. We understand that our customers are… We’re in medical devices, that’s what we do. Our instrumentation or analyzers, they are what our doctors and our healthcare workers use to save lives. The end of the day, that’s who our customer is. It could be me, I don’t want it to be me anytime soon, but I know that I will be a customer per se. We work really hard to understand that the end result of our instrumentation is a human being. And you can’t do this job effectively if you don’t have a passion for people. You just can’t. You can fix things, you can do a great job fixing that analyzer, but if you’re not good with your customer, that personal side of it, that human side of it, it’s just not going to work. And there’s a reason why we win so many awards year in and year out. Is because we focus on that. One of my favorite moments in this whole onboarding journey that I’ve been on camera, and if you ever listened to this, I’m calling you out.
Bobby Lincoln: We were in training and going through what our customer service model and how we approach it. And he raised his hand and he’s like, “I thought you hired me to fix instruments, all we’ve done is talk about people all day.” Right, that’s what we do. That’s what we believe. We firmly believe that if we take care of our customers and teach how to fix instruments, as well as down the road, making sure our employees are happy, it’s just a natural circle of success.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So what are some of the topics that you touch on in onboarding specifically when it comes to the human side? So obviously, you’re touching on the technical side, but on this human element, what are some of the things that you start the conversation on in the onboarding process?
Bobby Lincoln: We employ a model and I don’t want to give away too many secrets. But we work on human interaction, specifically how to defuse negative situations, there’s everybody listening to this that deals in service, most calls from customers are not happy once, there’s something that we need to fix. Something we need to resolve. Sometimes it’s the instrument, sometimes it’s the person, it depends. And so we spend a full day learning, teaching and every time I’ve given this presentation, I’ve thought of something new or how to interact with people. You can use it in your personal life. And it really centers around listening to others and having empathy for their situation. And we have been doing this for many years, and we just believe that if we focus on the people and we listen, and we acknowledge them and we hear them out, we can get to a successful resolution on both the technical side and the personal side of things.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s interesting, this is a topic that comes up more and more in terms of the emphasis on soft skills and the need to focus on that in training and talent development, because we’re really beyond a world in field service, where mechanical or technical skills are all it takes to do the job. So to your point, whether you’re talking about a break fix type service situation, where you might have a customer who’s frustrated or upset or stressed out because they need resolution on that, or whether you’re talking about even more advanced services and what it takes in terms of relationship building and being consultative and being viewed as a trusted adviser.
Sarah Nicastro: On any end of that spectrum, it becomes critical to have really good soft skills and people skills and communication skills and relationship building skills, in addition to being able to fix whatever you’re there to fix, right?. And I think that that trend in my opinion is only going to continue as we look at the automation of certain tasks using technology and just the changing world of what service is demanding. I think that those skills are only going to become more important.
Bobby Lincoln: Yep. And one of the things that’s really neat too, and it took me a while to learn this when I was new in field service, my background is in clinical laboratory science. I worked in a hospital lab for a little over four years and then moved into field service. But you as someone in field service, drive future sales more than you ever imagined. I didn’t realize that, I just thought, “Oh, our salesperson came in and did a fantastically good job.” And they’re like, “We sell because of our team.” And we’ve had customers that have been competitive takeaways, they’re… Let’s give some props words too. Some of their engineers, they had such good relationships that they worried about what was going to happen to them and vice versa. We don’t want to… If you’re my service engineer, what would happen to Sarah, if we jumped ship? That’s why relationships are so important. It’s so important all the way down the line. And that’s why we start off with that, because at the end of the day, business is the most personal thing in the world.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. So let’s talk then about training. So the onboarding process happens and they go through the two weeks of initiation and then they transition into the training program, right?
Bobby Lincoln: Yep.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So tell us what the training process is like at Sysmex.
Bobby Lincoln: We spend a week on onboarding, they come in and we acclimate them to culture and build them up and talk a lot about the customer service side. That’s week one. Week two, is a foundational training, a lot of the tools that we set up week one, we learn how to use. We get involved in them. We do some introductions to the various analyzers in our portfolio. What’s really neat about that particular thing is it’s used to be an onsite demonstration, or an onsite thing. Now it’s virtual, we’re doing this virtual. And what’s neat is we’ve used our various tools and we’ve got a world class center for learning that does a live stream. So they can live stream this class. It’s really neat to see. Then we mix in, it becomes a mix of technical training on site in the classroom style teaching and on the job. And so our philosophy is let’s get them in the field, let’s start learning who their customers are. Let’s hook them up with folks on their team that we trust to be a good mentor and then keep teaching.
Bobby Lincoln: And it’s a good six to eight-month process to get through all of the various training that we have. And even at that point, we’re very upfront. We expect, you’re not going to feel comfortable until you’re about 18 months to two years in this job. That’s just normal. That’s normal. Now everything is a bell curve. So there’s some on the front end, some on the back end, but for the majority, 18 months to two years is a fully functioning service engineer.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So I know you touched on this earlier when we talked about the football playbook analogy, but talk again about, within that six to eight month training program, how you phase in work. Because from what I’m understanding, you do that in an individualized way. So you expand on tasks as they become ready for more challenges. Am I understanding that correctly?
Bobby Lincoln: Yeah, that’s correct. We don’t want to take somebody two weeks into the job and say, “Here, go walk into the Mayo Clinic and fix their instrumentation.” That’s not fair. That’s obviously not fair for our customer and it’s not setting anyone up for success. It really is a… Now there’s an unwritten number of time or a tenure with which we gauge. Like, okay, we have to take any job, we have to be able to check the boxes. Some people check them faster, some check them a little slower. But it’s really a relationship. Training is absolutely a relationship between our center for learning that gives feedback on the individual. The individual has to take ownership and perform and then their direct manager has to navigate them through their journey of training to start saying, “Okay, you know what? Bob is ready to go out and do some preventative maintenance, let’s give it a shot. Go ahead, you have all day to get that done.” And we see how he does. Or an installation for example.
Bobby Lincoln: We know a certain analyzer takes a certain number of days on average to fix. Excuse me, to install. Let’s see how they do. Get them out there in the real world. We can train, train, train, but eventually you’ve got to go out on the field and play the game. And so it’s incremental for a reason because we want to build knowledge, we want to provide information and then start seeing how the performance is.
Sarah Nicastro: So you build from really simple tasks to harder tasks, both to build their knowledge and expertise, and also to protect the customer experience obviously. Like you said, not having someone brand new go into Mayo Clinic to do this job. And then you pair them with mentors. And how do you determine… Does everyone have a mentor? How does the mentor process work?
Bobby Lincoln: Oh, in a perfect world, we’d all have assigned mentors and that sort of thing. What’s really neat about how our districts are structured is that we have entry level folks all the way up to high performing award winners. And each team within your own organization Sarah, you probably have somebody that doesn’t have a mentor next to their job description, but you know that you would send someone to work with him. That’s our mentality. We know if someone needs some technical training within our group, we know who to send them to. When I was in the field, I was what we call our lead service engineer, which was directly below our district service manager. And I focused a lot on customer skills, administration type things. Technically, I was never the best at it. I’m a solid B+, solid B+ technically. But I excelled where my… I was really high performing in the customer side of things.
Bobby Lincoln: So I would mentor our new folks in that regard. So it’s more of a… In the world of unlimited budgets, we’d have this fancy mentoring program, I’m sure everyone listening would love to have that sort of thing. But the real world is we know who we can trust, we go to those people and just because of the type of culture we have, they want to see their teammates do well, because that makes their job easier, it makes the customers experience better. So it’s a little bit of both.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. Now, how do you sort of monitor performance throughout training to determine, I guess, both when to add new duties to folks? And then also, when they’re ready to graduate from training?
Bobby Lincoln: There are some official documents that we have that are designed to lead a manager to gauge their service engineer’s performance. So there are some boxes they have to check. But I can’t look at a team in California and say, if I’m not working with them day to day. Like I focus on my team, I know what I should expect from people as they progress. I’m not dodging the question, that’s just the honest answer, it’s not something that’s they have to do this, they have to do this. They have to obviously, but it’s more of… You just know it. It’s like watching your kid learn how to ride their bike. They go for a few feet, they go for a few feet, and all of a sudden, they’re riding down the street and you’re like, “Hey, where did you go?” They pick it up. You know. It’s feeling.
Sarah Nicastro: Correct.
Bobby Lincoln: And that’s the mentality that we have. We know when our service engineers are ready, you can just tell. And we introduced them based off of the maintenance tasks, to installations, to the full blown troubleshooting job that it is.
Sarah Nicastro: So when they’re ready to graduate, what happens next?
Bobby Lincoln: Oh, we throw them a big party, we send them out to dinner, and the CEO gives them gift cards. We have this really neat… Well, it’s like I said, pre-COVID, we had a full graduation week which was really neat. So they would come in and there would be specific, but we would bug the analyzers in the training department and they had to fix it, they had to go in and pretend that our technical trainer was the customer, we’d have to go through the entire experience. And they had to do it unsupervised, using only their team, their tools, the resources that they had. And at the end of the week, it was, you get a little certificate and we do… I wasn’t joking, we would have a very nice dinner and celebrate. Because it really is a journey. It’s something that we should celebrate. I just recently finished a master’s degree not that long ago. And-
Sarah Nicastro: Congratulations.
Bobby Lincoln: Thank you. Thank you. I went out for Baltimore’s best crab cake and celebrated. It’s fantastic. So you should celebrate your successes.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. Yeah. And that makes them feel acknowledged for their hard work and appreciated. Now when they graduate from training, this is going to kind of segue us into what happens next but what sort of the path from training on?
Bobby Lincoln: Then you get… So on onboarding, we’re going to acclimate you into the company culture. From there on out, it’s a slow acclamation into your specific territory, your customer base, that sort of thing. Once training is done, then you’re going to be on your own more, you’re going to slowly get your own territory. And as you perform and as your successes begin to mount and you prove that you can indeed do this job, then we’re going to continue to expand it until we get to where we consider a fully… Not fully functional, that’s not the right word. We have a certain number of designated instruments that each engineer is expected to service and carry and maintain that sort of thing. So full work load, if you will.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So after training, they come into your team as a field technician. That’s what you referenced earlier in terms of the team that you manage?
Bobby Lincoln: Yeah. So we’ve got the entry… We have two levels of entry into our service organization. One is entry level position. It’s what we call our field service technician, and I’ll use the acronym FST. The other way is the service engineer, which I’ll call the SE. So the FST, the field service technician is an entry level position. These are folks when I’m hiring for them, I’m looking for fresh out of college graduate, folks that want to get into field service. Like right now in my team, I’ve hired people that had previous experience, I had somebody that had no experience in field service, they had an electronics degree, clinical lab folks, shout out to all the med techs in the room. I have someone that went to college for sales that’s on our service teams. So we really have a broad scope of individuals that we look at for the FST position. The next transition to that is service engineer. So I like to describe it to use another sports analogy.
Bobby Lincoln: The FST is almost like the minor leagues. When a service engineer position arises anywhere in the country, that my team, my pole of FSTs will be the first place that we look at for, “Hey, we’ve got an opening in Baltimore,” which is right down the street from where I live. We have an opening in Baltimore, are there any FSTs? Before we look at… We obviously open up a job wreck, but we have folks that are trained, that are ready to go, that can graduate, if you will, into that promotion of a service engineer. But we also hired directly into that role based on experience.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So it’s like your farm team.
Bobby Lincoln: Yeah. I like-
Sarah Nicastro: Just trying to keep the sports analogies.
Bobby Lincoln: It works.
Sarah Nicastro: I’m doing my best, Bobby.
Bobby Lincoln: That’s good. That’s good, I like it.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. So I can see how that benefits Sysmex. So now we’re kind of talking about a few different things. I think that if you listen back to some of the podcasts that we’ve recorded on the topics of retention and talent and things like that, we’ve had a number of conversations about the fact that if your only strategy is to hire based on experience, and you think that you can continue to do that indefinitely, you’re mistaken, because you’re just going to run out of it. So this idea of… I like the examples you gave of all of the different backgrounds you have in your pool of folks right now, right? So they don’t have to have that experience, but they have an interest, they have an aptitude, they have some abilities to develop in this role. And you bring them on at that level and you work with them to develop all of the experience they would ultimately need to do that as a role.
Sarah Nicastro: So I think that’s a really smart approach from the Sysmex perspective, because you’re giving yourself a source of talent by working a step or two back in the value chain, rather than just expecting to be able to hire people that have done the job for X amount of time. But the flip side of that is, it gives an opportunity to foray into field service for folks that wouldn’t have the opportunity to join Sysmex that they didn’t have that experience. So as you’re bringing these people into the fold, talk a little bit about how an organization can structure and offer that career progression and why that’s important when you’re hiring younger people.
Bobby Lincoln: Oh, gosh! My immediate response would be who wouldn’t want to go to work for an organization where they didn’t have the opportunity to advance? I certainly wouldn’t want to go into a role that had no opportunity for growth or advancement, or there are people that do. God bless them, there are people that are looking for the seven to 3:30 punch in, punch out and that’s okay. I think the younger workforce that we have coming out of college, there’s a few things. They want to make an impact. Everyone wants to make an impact, how does what I do today affects somebody tomorrow? What’s really cool about this particular job in field service in healthcare in general, especially now, is I’ve taken instruments out of laboratories that had somewhere in the neighborhood of five million cycles through them. That’s five million people that I helped indirectly, but I helped them. That’s cool. I like that. That was neat. What I really enjoy about what we do is we not only hire people that are ambitious and fit into that culture, it is a culture, we look for folks that want to do that.
Bobby Lincoln: One of my favorite questions asked on an interview is, “Are you looking for a job, or are you looking for a career?” And it’s okay. I want career people. And we have various levels of hierarchy within the service organization. So you start out as an FST, or an SE and then the natural progression is to the next level and up. And what’s really fun about working at Sysmex, it’s in our mission statement by the way, is we challenge each other. We challenge each other. So my boss will sit down with me and he’ll say, “What do you want to do? Where do you want to go?” You’d be reasonable, you don’t say, “I want to be CEO next week,” that’s not going to happen. But I want to go here and here and here. And so we go, “Okay, well, here’s how I can help you get there. Here’s been my experience that got me to where I am.”
Bobby Lincoln: And so I like to do that with the folks that work for me is, I ask them, “Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?” And that opportunity, just having the opportunity to work for an organization that provides that, that pushes it, that in some ways incentivizes that, along with the impact of knowing that my job every day is going to effectively save lives, what’s not to love about it?
Sarah Nicastro: Right. And those are good points. I think that in the conversations I’ve had with people about managing an older generation versus managing the younger generation, those are a couple of key points. One is I get your point, I’m built the same way like, who would not want to progress in their career? But if you think about a lot of tenured field technicians historically, we’re happy to do the same job for 20, 25, 30 years. And they didn’t have that same… I’m over generalizing. Some people do, some people don’t. But if you look as a group, at the older generation of field technicians, I think you had a greater likelihood of people being happy to just do their job if it was a good job and not necessarily have that burning desire for continual evolution. And I think that’s something that the younger generation looks for in an employer. And then your other point about playing to the impact and communicating the difference that your employees are making in lives, is something else that has some real appeal for folks.
Bobby Lincoln: Yes. What I like also too that we do, and it’s not just… Even I had a conversation with someone who will just leave it as they’re a seasoned service engineer, the PC way, right? We were having a conversation a couple weeks ago about him playing out the string, if you will. “What do I want to do?” But yet, he also called me to talk about how can I improve this specific process that my team manages? So even though we have people on the twilight side of their career, it’s still a constant… There’s no way to describe it, other than you got to live it and feel it. It’s an innovative group that we are. And whether you’re day one, or year 35, it’s really the same goal. And I think we do a good job of hiring the right people, but also protecting our culture of who we are, that fosters that type of environment.
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That makes sense. Okay. So in terms of your evolution from the medical lab, to field service, to heading up onboarding and managing a team of field service technicians, what’s the biggest lesson you would say that you as a leader have learned?
Bobby Lincoln: Oh, good grief. Don’t expect me from you.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay.
Bobby Lincoln: That was a tough thing to learn moving into management, if you will. I have a certain way of doing things, I have a long track record of performance of processes that I’ve particularly employed, ways I handle customers, way I talk to customers. Not everybody does that. And so I learned very early on that I can’t have my own expectations for my team. I can set them, I can put the bar, “Here’s where I want to be. Guys, here’s where we are, here’s how we’re going to get there.” But everybody is going to do it a little differently. And so for me personally, that was one of the toughest lessons to learn. And to step back, when you’re in field service, you measure success very differently than you do in managing field service. Every day you walk in, “I fixed that, I did that.” When you’re working with people, it’s different, it’s a longer game. So that’s my biggest piece of advice for any new leader, is don’t expect you from other people.
Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. I like that. Any final thoughts or closing words of wisdom for our listeners on the stuff we’ve talked about today, onboarding, training, retention, anything related?
Bobby Lincoln: The virtual nature of everything we do now, I have found the greatest success thus far has been a couple of things. And this might sound a little crazy, because we’re in corporate world, but when I say make this process entertaining, make it entertaining. However, that needs to happen. Some things that we like to do is ask silly questions or play videos during… I’ve restructured half of the week with entertainment in it, click on YouTube things, that sort of thing. Just because, gosh-
Sarah Nicastro: I will say Bobby and I were exchanging some messages real quick this morning on LinkedIn in preparation for our recording today. And at the end, you sent me a meme and it was just such a little thing, but it made me laugh out loud. And it’s a small example. But to me after what we’ve been through as a world in the last year, there’s no reason to not introduce a bit more levity and just personal connection to exchanges. So, yeah.
Bobby Lincoln: Make it fun. Gosh, we’re doing this for eight, nine, 10, 12 hours a day, some of us. Gosh, have fun. Life’s too short. Have some fun with it.
Sarah Nicastro: Yes. That’s a very good point. All right. Well, Bobby, thank you so much for joining today and for sharing. I really, really appreciate it and hope you will come back and visit us again soon.
Bobby Lincoln: I would love to. This has been a blast. Let’s do it again.
Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. You can check out more of our content by visiting us at www.futureoffieldservice.com, you can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @thefutureoffs. The Future of Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS, you can learn more about IFS service management by visiting www.ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.