Essentials for Giving New Hires a Strong Start

The greater the effort made to prepare new hires for their job, the more likely it is that they will succeed

July 21, 2016

You’ve spent time and money to recruit a new employee to your sales, marketing, production, or administrative team. You’ve made the job offer and it’s been accepted. Now you want to breathe a sigh of relief.

Hiring may be hard work, especially for managers not used to doing it on a regular basis. But as the owner or manager of a home improvement company, your real job begins after the hire is made. Ultimately, of course, it’s up to your new hire whether or not he or she succeeds. But success will be far less likely if you fail to provide the tools and feedback needed to achieve it. That process of “organizational socialization” has a name: onboarding.

Retention Tool

Each year, roughly a quarter of the workforce either moves within the organization in which they currently work or changes jobs. In the home improvement business, rates of turnover vary by company and type of work. White-collar workers transition in and out at a slower rate. Chad Halverson writes in a blog at WhenIWork.com, “half of all hourly workers will leave new jobs in the first four months, and half of senior-level employees hired from outside the company will quit (or be fired) within 18 months.” But for new workers, the tone is set early on. According to a 2009 study by the Aberdeen Group, quoted by the Society for Human Resources, 90 percent of employees decide whether or not to stay in their first six months on the job. If they go, losing a new employee in their first year will cost three times that person’s salary.

Writer Roy Maurer cites a 2014 study by BambooHR of 1,000 respondents, a third of whom had quit a job within six months of starting. Why did they leave? A third of those who quit said they had little or no onboarding process. What might have kept them there, he writes, were clear guidelines about responsibilities, more effective training, a “friendly smile or helpful co-worker,” recognition of their unique contribution, and more attention generally.

Orientation vs. Onboarding

Many companies, including home improvement companies, offer new hires “orientation”—showing someone to their workstation and introducing them to their colleagues. According to Halvorson, if that’s where it begins and ends, it can come across as “outdated, off-putting, and counterproductive.” What you need today, he and others say, is a strategy that integrates new employees into the company, one that includes elements of orientation but is comprehensive and goes well beyond that. That’s onboarding, which recognizes that as much time and attention must be put into preparing a new employee to succeed as was spent to hire the person. The process could take anywhere from three months to a year, depending on the employee and the position.

Critical in Construction

The difference between orientation and onboarding will make itself known in retention. Constructor magazine notes that it’s already difficult enough to hold on to people in the construction business: “Turnover is thought to be one of the most expensive costs contractors bear as it leads to wasted time and resources as well as lower rates of productivity. A firm with a high retention rate is more likely to be perceived as a desirable employer, whereas a firm with a high turnover rate may develop a negative reputation in the marketplace.”

Even if the job is dirty and tough—exterior installation typically is—there are ways to manage that enhance employee retention, as Skip Lewis and Brian Smith point out in an article on the Omni Containment Systems website about workers changing out grease containments systems. Apart from providing safe equipment, most success with retention has to do with regular and meaningful communication, which includes “preparing your potential employees to succeed from the very first interview through the training and management process.” What they call the“consistent communication model …  will help to make employees appreciate the work environment, even in less than optimal work conditions.”

Keys to Successful Onboarding

Experts say these steps are essential to effective onboarding:

1) Communicate before your new hire arrives. Imagine if you signed a roofing or siding contract and between the time the salesperson left the house and the day the crew chief knocked on the door, no one in your organization had communicated with the homeowner. Well-managed home improvement companies avoid that by not only establishing a start date but by calling or emailing the day before the start to confirm. The more communication before, during, and after the job, the more likely you are to get a referral or another job. The same principle applies to your new hire. Be in touch regularly before they arrive.

2) Immediately make him or her feel at home. Not being prepared for the new hire's arrival sets an unpleasant tone. Make sure, blogger Sabrina Son writes on TinyPulse, that someone is there to greet your new employee and to introduce that employee to everyone they will need to know. The idea is to take as much stress out of the process as you can.

3) Know what they need to know. Identify the training they’ll need to succeed right away as well as over the long term. Take sales, for example. You have leads to run now, but if all you allow for is minimal training, you could be throwing those leads away. As Dan Marzinotto points out in the InsightSquared blog, Ramp: “Many sales leaders think a training program is as simple as handing out a sales playbook, having a few training sessions, and sitting in on a few calls. However, they are severely mistaken—truly effective sales training requires a much greater investment of resources and time. When speed is more important than preparation, newly hired sales reps lack the skills they need to succeed in the role.”

4) Track progress. The checklist you create or the onboarding software you use will allow you to plan for the immersion of your candidate, and to coordinate results. For a list of onboarding software products, see Softwareadvice.com; an excellent customizable onboarding checklist is available on the MIT website.

5) Designate a buddy or partner. An onboarding “buddy system” pairs the newcomer with an employee—ideally a peer, not a supervisor—who is well-regarded, a communicator, a strong performer, and knows the job. As Nancy Rubin writes at LinkedIn, a buddy system will “foster a comfortable relationship in which the new employee can access someone who is familiar with the corporate culture, norms, and expectations of the company.” He or she will coach, answer questions, and serve as an all-purpose point of contact.

Onboarding Never Stops

Though getting new hires to feel at home at your company is a process that typically takes three months to a year, there are those like Doug Coull, who argues in an article at TalentCulture that onboarding begins “at the first touchpoint in the relationship.” And that mindset “… should carry through to the first day of employment and all the way through the employee’s tenure.”

About the Author


About the Author


Philadelphia-based writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at coryjim@earthlink.net.

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