People-focused culture leads to big praise at Novak

Dec. 10, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Novak Sanitary Service.

Before Novak Sanitary Service employees start or end work, most of them will pass by a wall covered in cards.

Each one says “thank you” and is personalized with notes from customers.

“Thank you for helping my 85-year-old father bring the trash out,” one reads. “He appreciates that you took the time to help him.”

“She appreciates that you park off to the side of the building. You’re the only one that will do it. You’re doing an amazing job,” another one reads.

The driver “always comes around with a big smile on his face and says hi to the kids when they are outside,” another says.

And: “She is so impressed with how you guys take care of her,” another card reads. “It has been really hard since her husband passed away, and you guys make things 10 times easier for her.”

Lately, a new message arrives every few days.

“We’ve had 26 employee compliments in the last 90 days,” Novak general manager Mike Herbst said. “It’s huge. And that speaks to the people.”

Of Novak’s 93 employees, 23 are frontline staff who have been referrals in the past two years.

“To me, that’s phenomenal. That says something,” Herbst said. “And it’s not just us doing something great. It’s our team doing what’s right – bringing a safety culture and a self-directed mind-set.”

But maybe the biggest compliment is when family members refer their loved ones to work at Novak. And that happens a lot.

There are husbands and wives, siblings, and parents and children who all work in various roles.

“I started in June, and he started the following January,” said Becca Warner, who convinced her husband, Brian, to join Novak after she started working in customer service.

“He had previous experience with another hauler, and it didn’t have as much of a family feel. Here, it feels like a family. People depend on you here, and a lot of people appreciate you.”

When her husband joined as a driver, he had the same experience.

“It was way different than what I was used to,” Brian Warner said. “I didn’t used to want to go to work. I just forced myself. Here, I feel comfortable, and I generally go home in a good mood. They want me to take the time and do it right and be safe.”

While they don’t cross paths too often, occasionally Becca will take a call from a customer asking when a container is being hauled on her husband’s route.

“And I will say, ‘It looks like my husband is hauling it today, so I can promise he will be getting it for you.’ ”

The culture at Novak “is all about the people,” said maintenance manager Dave Gibson, who joined Novak in 2017. “The core values are all about the people, and as a company, it’s put us in a league of our own.”

Gibson likes his job so well that when his daughter, Courtney, moved to South Dakota from the East Coast, he suggested she apply to be a driver.

“She had never had any experience driving a truck, but we gave her an opportunity, and she went through training and became one of our premier roll-off drivers,” he said.

Courtney, 24, previously was a fitness trainer.

“I was totally up for trying something new,” she said. “Of course, I trusted it because it was my dad, so I said I’d check it out and do the application and see what they had to offer.”

While she was a little overwhelmed with the idea of becoming a driver, thanks to support from Novak and repetition on the job, she said she’s not going anywhere now.

“I just love the relationship between everybody. It’s more like a family there,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m competing against people. We’re all on the same team. And mostly what’s kept me there is my dad. He was the one who suggested it, and it’s helped me get on my feet and put myself in a good direction.”

Her dad said he’s proud watching his daughter at work.

“The job she does can be dangerous, and I would not want her doing that job anywhere else. But because of our culture and the fact that our No. 1 value is safety, that lets me sleep at night,” he said. “I’m so highly invested in this company as far as the culture and it being a great place to work that I’m honored to have my daughter work for this company.”

That culture is intentional, Herbst said.

“Every organization has a culture, and many have a culture by default. It’s just what happens. We take great pride in having a culture by design, and the best way we’ve found to do that is to get a lot of good people on the team,” he said. “They’re going to create the culture. We support it and help guide it, but really it’s our people – especially those on the front line – who drive our culture. And we’ve got great employees. I just love these people.”

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People-focused culture leads to big praise at Novak

There’s a wall covered with thank-you cards at Novak Sanitary Service — and an even better story of a family-filled culture that helped lead to it.

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