Cary Chapman is an Advisory Board member of The Service Council and is the former National Service Manager of Mettler-Toledo, Safeline. With over 40 years of experience in field service and service management leadership positions, Cary is well-respected and is a frequent speaker at industry events, including The Service Council’s Smarter Services Executive Symposium. You may also enjoy Part 2 of 3, The Interview and Part 1 of 3, The Search in this guest blog series.
Onboarding the New Employee
An important caution to begin with is the need to stay focused on the new candidate. I have seen several instances where the attitude becomes “well they have accepted our offer, now we can relax”. For some period of time our new candidate is still being contacted by companies they had communicated with during job search. With some frequency a better offer comes as a result of the previous interaction and, if we do not continually impress them, they might be tempted to accept the better offer. Usually there is time between acceptance and the start date. Be sure to stay in contact with the new employee while working on the variety of items that need to be completed as part of the onboarding process. I like to forward the new hire an agenda for the first six weeks. This should break down their activities week by week outlining when they will be free to travel home for a weekend and what they should be mentally prepared to do during training. If the new hire will be living in extended stay accommodations during their training, provide them a map of restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, laundromats, and gas stations, etc. This will help them to quickly acclimate to the area they will be living in during their training and it also demonstrates the company’s care for its employees. Caution number two would be their housing. I have seen many companies house new employees in very inexpensive hotels. I strongly believe that inexpensive equates to bad experience. It is not necessary that it be an expensive property but it does need to be a good, solid middle of the road hotel that is comfortable with the best chance of quiet nights.
Beginning on their first day of work, the intent should be to have a well-organized plan with no gaps; it makes the day go faster for them as well as an opportunity for us to view them with a solid work load. At the end of the first and second weeks, I practice conducting a formal sit down to bring any issues that either of us might have out on the table to be quickly addressed. Another practice to consider is assigning a peer to the new hire whom they can contact any time with questions because sometimes the new hire is far more comfortable with a peer than a manager. During their training period, I like to get the new hires out for two one-week ride along sessions with different peers (one being the assigned mentor). This provides the opportunity to expose the new hire to our very best and also allows our seasoned techs the chance to provide some valuable feedback to us on the new hire. The front line manager will have frequent discussions over the training period, however when the training is complete, I like to have a wrap-up discussion just before the new hire heads to the field to operate on their own. I’m looking for the new hire to be almost in the mode of pleading to get started on their own. If they are hesitating, I try to get to the bottom of “why” because the last thing we want is to have techs acting indecisive in front of the customer. We should also solicit an “okay” from the training department to release the new technician or hire into the field. When the tech is in the field operating independently for the first several months, I or one of the front line managers will work with dispatch as to the new hire and which calls would be appropriate for them. The last thing we want to do is put them in situations for which they are not prepared. I am a strong opponent of the sink or swim mentality that so often exists in the service ranks. This normally is justified by commenting “well if they survive it will make them stronger” or “when they learn the hard way they will never forget it”. Any gain realized by the sink or swim mentality will potentially result in a significant negative customer experience. We want to encourage new hires not to give up easily and to work their way through an issue with phone support, or logical step by step trouble shooting. However, in the final analysis, we do not want them to embarrass themselves or our company in front of the customer.
New hires are made aware of a prearranged six month review that I like to have with them. In this review, we talk about their onboarding progress and that, if their performance is on track, a dollar an hour increase will be given. During this first six months, the management team should be talking with all who came in contact with them: their assigned peer, trainers, ride along techs, their first line direct manager and HR. The highlights of this information should be included in their six month review. With this being the conclusion of their first six months, it is the perfect opportunity to have the new hire fill out a short questionnaire on their opinion of how the overall onboarding process went. With expected progression being met we would, through dispatch, continue to increase the difficulty levels of their assigned service calls based on their completed levels of training and their monitored performance. Generally speaking, at the conclusion of the first six months and the review, the new hire should be acclimated enough that you now treat them like the rest of the staff with regular reviews etc.
It is my feeling that if we have gone through the challenging and time consuming process of finding and interviewing a candidate, we should be willing to invest the time in onboarding these good candidates solidifying them as one of our key players on our service team. With the demands of today’s business world, it is very easy to lose sight of the necessity to remain focused on our new hires to ensure we enable them to fully prosper. The quality of the person we put in front of our customers is a direct reflection of our company and its ability to delight our customers. I sincerely hope that in this three part document I have provided a few nuggets that can potentially improve this process within your organization which will lead to happier customers. I wish you a successful search for your next candidate.
BONUS: A companion blog (4th in the series) which we will publish over the coming week will highlight a 6 week chronological onboarding checklist guiding you through the first weeks of on boarding the new employee. It isn’t meant to be a one size fits all approach, but rather a recommended set of activities which you can adjust based on the nuances of your particular business model and market segment (I have managed technicians where the training period was anywhere from 2 weeks to 9 months – adjust your schedule accordingly).