John had hired four new additions to his seven-person crew. The four “newbies” came from four different companies, two from the concrete industry, one from a home remodeler, and one young guy from a local restaurant. Not one of the four men had ever worked in the pavement maintenance industry.
Meeting John at a recent convention, he asked me, “Brad, I replaced my four guys that I lost from last year’s crew, now what can I do to get these four guys up to speed ASAP?” Let me present a few of the steps that I shared with John.
1. Present a Clear Message of Your “Philosophy & Approach” to Work
You always want your workers -- veterans and rookies -- to fully understand your philosophy of work. This might reveal how you look at customers and how they are to be treated, your concern for safety and how you want everyone to approach safety, and your thoughts on equipment use, handling, and maintenance. Of course it also will include how you want each employee to treat others. These topics, and others, should be clearly communicated as early as possible.
2. Clarify Roles, Responsibilities & Team Expectations
Individuals need to know clearly what you expect and require from them. Likewise, you need to present what your expectations are for the crew to work together as a team and why that is beneficial to them as a crew and as individuals.
3. Engage Your Crew with a “Dress Rehearsal” of Simulated Work Processes
Try to conduct some training before you hit the job sites with this new crew. You might show before and after pictures of past jobs. You might also engage your crew leaders (and veterans) to discuss important work processes, how to line out jobs, what has worked best etc. Also, try to get some practice in before the actual “game time” by doing a small project for free for a good customer, neighbor, or friend that might appreciate a little work and won’t sue you if your guys make a mistake here or there. This simulated effort provides some hands-on practice, allowing the vets to coach the newbies and gives the new hires a chance to ask questions without having a lot on the line early out of the chutes.
4. Spend Extra Time with Your Crew on First Few Jobs
You should do this anyway but especially on the first few jobs spend some extra time with this new crew as they get ready to leave each day and as they set things up on the jobsite. Overemphasize the importance of organization and planning out the job before arriving but let them know they can make needed adjustments once they hit the site.
5. Spend 1-2 Hours in Pre-Planning for Four Weeks
Again, as the owner or leader you should be doing this anyway but be committed to spending the first four Mondays of your new crew’s life together by planning out the week ahead. If you will drive this effort it will become an expectation that your foreman can do on his own on Monday mornings. The meetings might not need to be even an hour once they get into the habit of conducting the meeting and as the crew gets more accustomed to one another.
6. Hold Weekly “Pop Quiz” on the First Four Fridays
On Fridays hold a relaxed “pop quiz” for the crew asking them some softball-like questions. The objective here isn’t to “flunk” anyone but to promote learning, retention, and teamwork. Consider a few questions that you can ask each Friday.
* What were 3-5 things you learned as a crew this past week?
* What were 3-5 things you wished we had done differently?
* What are 2-3 efforts we need to improve as a crew?
* What can I (Leader) do to better support this crew?
As you can tell, the questions are simple but can reflect whether the crew is growing together or not. It brings the new guys along faster while providing your veterans a chance to sound off in a constructive manner.
This entire process is good for any experienced crew to do at the beginning of each season. It will prove extremely helpful for your new kids on the block, assuring them, and you, that a good start is in the near future.
Brad is President of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm that specializes in the construction industry. As a past contractor, he’s "been there" and now shares many of his secrets with contractors around the world. Brad was a speaker at this year’s National Pavement Exposition in Memphis and spoke at the 2011 Pavement Expo Live. For more information about Brad and his firm, go to www.pinnacledg.com. And don't forget to sign up for Brad's e-newsletter at www.thecontractorsbestfriend.com for weekly tips!