Improve Construction Employee Retention With a 90-day Action Plan

Allowing a “probation” period does allow for greater review and assessment and prevents a rush to judgment

The 90-day Plan will not cure all of your new employee learning needs, but it will set your construction company apart from many of your competitors.
The 90-day Plan will not cure all of your new employee learning needs, but it will set your construction company apart from many of your competitors.

Any contractor knows that retaining workers takes a huge effort. No leader is “off the hook” from working to keep workers on-board and committed to staying with their employer. Interesting new research demonstrates that even an employee peer group can be quite influential to encourage a new employee to stay with her new employer longer.

In a previous article on how to retain our workers I introduced seven steps that many contractors have embraced with success. They are:

  • 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

While not every contractor excels at each of the steps, all contractors at some point realize that all seven of the steps are critical to any serious attempt to retain workers. And with a great shortage of workers for our construction industry current in play, it is imperative that every contractor consider what he might do to find, hire and hold on to those “precious assets” we call employees.

We will pick up today then with our second step to employee retention, something I call the “90-day Plan.”

The 90-day Plan is a strategically developed action plan that lines out for a new worker what her first weeks with the new company will entail. Is there anything magical about “90-days?” Well, sort of! Let me explain.

For companies with more than 50 employees, the attention paid to complying with government employee regulations is important. Most companies recognize that it is important to provide a period of 90 days to allow a thorough opportunity for the new worker to prove her ability and demonstrate her potential to a company and to allow the employee to recognize if the company is the sort of company she would like to work for. 

Certainly most contractors will tell you that they have their opinions formed about a new worker much sooner than 90 days. The fact is, allowing a “probation” period does allow for greater review and assessment and prevents a rush to judgment. However, most companies that formally commit to a 90-day trial period fail to have any real plan for a new employee. Here’s the typical first few days for a new employee:

  • Introductions to coworkers and leaders
  • General orientation to company policies
  • “Go to work…and figure things out!” (employee is “turned loose” to see what she can do)

While that might exaggerate things a little, those efforts are not far off for many contractors. Think about this reality for a newly hired employee: when she arrives for her first day of work she has invisible antennae on “high alert” listening, watching and sensing anything and everything that confirms for her the decision she made to join the new contractor. Personalities, smiles, tones of voices, jokes, manners and amount of attention are just a sample of the things that a new worker will be sensitive to experience.

And when that new worker arrives at home after her first day at work, and if she has a spouse, significant other or even just a roommate, you can be sure that at least one question will be asked of the new worker: “How was your first day?”

How that new employee answers this question is based totally on how she interpreted her first day of reading the workplace and the people she just spent time with. What sort of impression do you imagine she would realize on her first day at your work place?

This is why I developed something that I call simply the “The 90-day Plan.”  It’s not magic, but it does provide you with a bonafide strategy to share with your new workers on their first day. Just imagine the positive first impression a new employee might have for your company if on the first day she received, as part of her orientation, a well-thought-out plan for her first 90 days.

While such a plan might scare some new workers, it will more likely have a positive impact on the new employee’s mental attitude, as she clearly understands that your company is prepared for her participation. The plan also sends a strong signal that she is expected to contribute sooner rather than later.

While every 90-day plan can be different for every new employee, there probably are several items that might appear on most of your new worker’s first 90 days of work. Let me share with you a sample 90-day plan for a crew foreman. Look more at the range of things that are presented during the first 90 days rather than the specifics. Obviously, what you might create would be tailored to your organization and the job that you hired the new employee to do.

The 90-day Plan for crew foreman

  • Week #1 – General information about company, policies and walk-through of employee handbook
  • Week #2 – Focus time discussing leadership skills and techniques
  • Week #3 – Focus time on job scheduling and planning
  • Week #4 – Training on construction “math” to improve calculating productivity rates and projected manpower
  • Week #5 – Review of company equipment, vehicles, tool needs, and maintenance and operating requirements
  • Week #6 – Discuss industry, challenges and trends
  • Week #7 – Training on building teamwork for construction crews
  • Week #8 - Communication training to improve interactions with different personalities
  • Week #9 – Training on coaching and counseling employees
  • Week #10 – Review of material use, advantages and options
  • Week #11 – Introduction to improving customer retention through satisfaction techniques
  • Week #12 – Developing the crew foreman’s strategy for growing crew productivity, quality and safety

Now, there are a few other “secrets” to making this approach more beneficial to both the company and the individual.

First, there should be a “pop quiz” every Friday for the first 12 weeks. The pop quiz can be verbal or written and should not necessarily be conducted to “flunk” the new worker. In fact, just the opposite intent should be in play. For example, to have some fun with the new worker, the questions for the pop quiz at the end of Week #1 might include some of the following questions:

  1. Where are the rest rooms for the women and men?
  2. What are the hours of the company?
  3. What are the company colors?
  4. What type of construction did you experience this week?
  5. What are the names of two employees you met this week?

You can see from this list that the first week’s questions are softballs not intended to trip up anyone but simply to remind the worker that the company expects her to retain some of what she learned during her first week. Certainly the questions can become a bit more challenging as the weeks proceed.

Second, the worker should be engaged with work and her peers as soon as possible. Short of positioning a new worker in an unsafe work situation, the sooner the new worker can join her peers and begin to get a feel of the tasks involved the better motivated she will be. While there might be some weekly topics for training or discussion, the contractor needs to expose the new worker to her specialty of construction as quickly as possible, even if the new worker comes from a similar background. The contractor must demonstrate why the company is different from the company the new worker just left.

Third, for the first 12 weeks the new worker should have a “partner” while at the workplace. The partner might be a fellow crew or department worker, but the more important role is for the partner to check in with the new worker at least once a day to see how the “newbie” is getting along. Such extra attention can really go far in winning the new worker over to the culture of the contractor AND, such a relationship also provides the contractor with another employee’s opinion about the new worker.

Fourth, require a “lessons learned” report from the new worker. Like the pop quiz, contractors can gently push new workers to be more alert and interested in learning their new role. Here’s what I would recommend a contractor ask the new worker to verbally report to her senior leader each Friday, just before the pop quiz:

  1. What did you learn this week?
  2. What did you learn that will improve your performance or behavior?
  3. What did you learn that will help this company be better?

The questions are simple and really allow the new worker to demonstrate her awareness and her attention to what was presented during the week. A contractor might be surprised at how many new workers, even management level, “sleep walk” through their first few weeks. It’s almost as if the new workers are enjoying their lack of accountability! 

The 90-day Plan will not cure all of your new employee learning needs, but it will set your construction company apart from many of your competitors. Remember, raising the excellence at your company can be done through a number of means. The 90-day Plan is just one method to building long-term employees.

Make the first 90 days work for you … and for your new workers!

Read all of Brad's articles on the seven steps to worker retention:

Step #1: On-boarding

Step #3: Skill Training

Step #4: Coaching and Mentoring

Step #5: Engagement and Participation

Step #6: Responsibility Enhancement

Step #7: Performance Review