7 Steps to Employee Retention: Step 1: “On-boarding” /04-09-2014

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Last week we considered that as much as 30% of the construction workforce will be at least 55 years old by 2020, and that replacing workers in your company can range from $5,000 for a laborer to as much as $35,000 for a veteran department manager. With statistics like that it’s easy to see why contractors might want to do what they can to retain the workers they have.

So here are my Seven Steps to Worker Retention:

Step #1 – “On-boarding”

Step #2 – The 90-day Plan

Step #3 – Skill Training

Step #4 – Coaching & Mentoring

Step #5 – Engagement/Participation

Step #6 – Responsibility Enhancement

Step #7 – Performance Review

As I explained last week, few of these steps are new, though terminology might be a little different from what some contractors use. In fact most contractors have used at least one of these steps at one point or another.

But what’s different and important – especially in light of the shortage of construction workers – is that contractors need to practice all of these steps together if they want to retain the workers they have. Now, let’s look at our first step.

Step #1 – “On-boarding”

The term on-boarding isn’t new.  While it hasn’t been around for 50 years it has become a more commonly used term in the past five to 10 years in some industries.  It really hasn’t been all that common in the construction industry until just three to five years ago for many contractors.  So what is on-boarding?

On-boarding is an approach to prepare both the company and the new employee for a positive employment experience.   It’s an effort made by the hiring company to prepare new hires for their new work environment.   Likewise, it’s also the preparation a company makes to make sure their current workers are ready to project a positive and sincere image, creating a very good first impression on new workers.

There are many actions, techniques and approaches that can be used to ensure that the on-boarding experience is effective.  We’ll spend the remainder of this article providing you with a number of efforts you might want to use (as stated or modified) to fit your company’s culture and resources. 

Components of Effective On-Boarding

  • Prepare Your Culture for New Workers. This is not as easy as it sounds.  Some of your current workers are, quite honestly, horrible when interacting with a new employee.  They might not be sociable or helpful in the early days, not to mention that they might refrain from making eye contact, quickly walking away from a new worker or looking for opportunities to avoid the “newbie.”  To prepare your culture for new workers is to communicate your personal expectation to welcome and integrate them into your organization.  This first component really does begin with the contractor and the senior leaders.
  • Train Your Current Workers on Interpersonal Skills. This training might include teaching your workers, especially field workers, how to shake hands with other people, how to ask friendly questions of a new worker without being too invasive or personal, and how to assist a new worker without making the new worker feel stupid.  Learning how to make eye contact, how to square one’s shoulders up to another person when speaking, and how to listen with interest are all skills that can be taught…and learned!
  • Advance Newly Hired Employee “Reading Literature.” There is often a space in time between candidates accepting your job offer and their first day as a new employee.  Send the new hires an article or perhaps some company information that might kick-start their thinking process.  Some contractors have sent new hires (before their first day) a package that contains some company literature, perhaps the employee handbook, maybe even information about a project that the new workers will be assigned to when they begin.  Sending such literature in advance has less to do with the importance of the literature and more about sending a strong message to the new hires that they are needed, are being thought of, and that the company is anxious to get the learning process moving.
  • Prepare for Day 1 and Making a Great 1st Impression. When that new employee arrives on the very first day it is crucial that the contractor and every other person available make an effort to greet and welcome the new employee.  In most companies a general company orientation is part of the first day, maybe a few introductions are made, and then the new worker is escorted to his cubical or assigned to a crew.  While the temptation is to get the new employee “doing” as soon as possible, it is more important on this first day to be sure he is made very familiar with co-workers, the work area and where tools and resources are located. Even for the new field worker there is much that a contractor can do to make a great first impression, including:

* Introduce new worker to rest of crew workers

* Pre-assign a current worker to be the “buddy” for the new worker

* Provide lunch for the entire crew on the new employee’s first day (Crew members will begin to love the first day of a new worker!)

* Have the crew leaders spend a bit more time explaining work processes, standards etc. for the way your company performs tasks

* Have the current workers present the new worker with a new company logo’d hat, shirt etc.

* Encourage your current workers to each provide some fun information about themselves or the crew experience during break times

  • Finish Day 1 with Supervisor Conducting “De-Brief.” To bring a bit of closure to what is usually an emotionally trying day for a new employee, have the new worker’s immediate supervisor spend a few minutes at the end of the workday just seeing how the new worker faired.  Ask your leaders to share how glad they are that the worker has come to work for the company, maybe even pointing out any positive observation that they made about the new worker.  Have the leader ask the new worker if he enjoyed his day and if he has any questions that can be answered before he leaves work.  Such follow-up really does provide the final “book end” of experience for the new worker on his first day.

Now, with the on-boarding effort complete with the first day, this doesn’t justify having all the workers begin to treat the new worker with anything less than the same respect afforded them on the first day.  However, we’ll look at the next 89 days of effort in our second article in this series.

A final thought before closing out this first step.  On-boarding is HUGE in the life of any new worker.  Think about the fact that most new workers will return home and be asked by a spouse or significant other, “How did your first day go?”  You want your new worker to have nothing but positive things to say about their first day’s experience.  Such a great first impression will get the entire relationship off to a great start!

On-boarding, no cousin to “waterboarding,” is your preparation and execution to retain new workers.  Unless you want to experience the turnover costs addressed earlier in this article (and in the introductory article to this series), put to use the components to making the first day on a new job the best experience possible for new workers. The effort will reward you handsomely.

Here’s to bringing new employees “on board” with your company and to building long-term relationships with your workers!

Brad Humphrey  

© 2014 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™