When I was new to being a contractor and hiring employees, we had a pretty streamlined onboarding process for a new hire. The new hire and I would chat a bit and then he would be on a project. The “process” was simple but not very effective.
With the often-amazing experiences that occurred because of that “process” (or likely because of the lack of a process), I and the other good people at our company were compelled to develop a better way of making it more likely a new hire would be successfully integrated into our company. Let me describe what we did with some insights from some of my consulting clients added.
Preach the Gospel
The owner of the company, the person who was crazy enough to start the business, should talk with the new employee about why the owner decided to go into business. Points to address include:
- What makes this company different?
- What embodies a good employee for this company?
- What should clients feel/think when they interact with an employee of this company?
- What is not acceptable to the company?
In having this discussion it would be appropriate for the
owner to be referencing the company’s mission statement and core values. Telling
stories about how other employees brought different aspects of these two
documents to life is more compelling than simply having the employee read them.
By taking the time early in the employee’s time with the company to address these items, it becomes less likely the employee will go off and damage the reputation of the company and more likely the employee will know what he or she should be doing.
The person in the company who is responsible for administration should review the employee manual with the new employee. Keep in mind the employee is likely to be overwhelmed by information and is probably feeling a bit anxious. Go slowly. Ask questions to see if the new person is “getting it.”
Give the employee the manual to take home and read. The administrative person should ask him to bring to the administrative director any clarification questions he might have. That admin person should also make sure the employee signs the form declaring he received a copy of the manual, read it, and will be following the rules laid out in it.
I think you learn a lot about someone when you have a meal with them, so the owner and another company member or two should take the employee out to lunch that first day. Observe how the employee interacts with the server and the other attendees of the lunch. How does he carry himself? Is he pleasant to be with or does it take work to engage him? What questions does he ask?
The insights that come from this informal social situation can help identify opportunities the company might need to address with employee.
Find a Partner
The new employee should be assigned to an experienced employee whom the new employee can work side-by-side with for at least a day, if not a whole week. The goal is for the following to happen:
- The new employee watches what the partner is doing.
- The partner watches the new employee do something.
- A feedback session then occurs so that the new employee understands the difference between what he did and what should be done.
- The new employee tries it again.
Over and over that happens. By doing this, the new employee
is being trained, a concept which is very foreign to many construction
companies but common at many other types of businesses.
The training partner should be referencing any company documents that the new employee’s position will require he or she understands and knows how to use. Often it is good to give the new employee the documents to take home and review so that person will be more likely to understand them.
As part of the training partner’s job, make sure the partner introduces the new employee to the clients of the company, watching while the interaction takes place. Any insights provided will help the partner when coaching the employee.
The new employee and that person’s manager (and/or the owner) should meet weekly to address the following two questions:
- In the previous week, what do you think went well with your work at our company?
- What do you think could have gone better with your work at our company?
As the employee answers each question, the manager needs to
be asking followup questions, such as “Tell me more,” to drill into the answers
the employee is providing. It is essential the questioning help the new employee
respond as specifically as possible.
After the employee answers the two questions, the manager should answer them from his perspective. The idea is to compare the employee’s and the manager’s perspectives on the employee’s performance in the previous week so they truly get on the same page.
The interaction then should wrap up with the employee and the manager agreeing about one thing the employee should be focusing on getting better at over the coming week. At the next weekly interaction the two of them will review what progress has been made.
Have a probationary period for the new employee. About 90 days provides both the new employee and the company the time to really get to know one another.
If it is going well, then company benefits might kick in at the end of the probationary period. If it is not going well, then the company likely needs to free up the new employee’s future. Upon doing that, the company needs to address what happened in the hiring process that made it so the company hired this individual who didn’t work out and how to avoid making the same mistake in the future.
It is essential that your process, whatever it is, is followed with every employee. By being consistent you make it less likely that anyone in the company will end up confused about what it means to be a good employee.
When we first got started we did not have a mission statement, core values or an employee manual. Even if you don’t have those items, have the same set of interactions I am suggesting with each new employee. As you have the interactions take notes about what you are addressing with the new employee. Those notes then become the basis for creating these essential documents.
One day you will be looking back, like I did, wondering how
you ever did onboard an employee without being systematic about it!