Baby On Board

By Jim Cory

Lucky you. Your company just hired Dave, who’s leaving a competitor to take the job. Dave has an incredible resume. When he walks in the room you smell stardom. Now, recruiting completed, you can kick back and watch the fireworks, right? 

Not so fast.

First off, bear this in mind. When you hire someone, that person, like Dave, already works somewhere else. At 4.3 percent unemployment, there are two big reasons why someone working somewhere else would come to your company. Either they don’t get along with their manager—the most common reason for leaving—or you’ve convinced them that working for your company will be fun and exciting and has a future, i.e. career potential.

Disorienting Orientation

So let’s get back to Dave. D-day arrives. Dave’s at the front desk. “Did you have an appointment?” says the receptionist. She calls you and you call your sales manager, who’s so busy organizing the Monday morning sales meeting that he forgot about Dave.

“Hi Dave!” he says, bounding in. The paperwork’s “around here somewhere” but can Dave just hang tight a few minutes?

Let’s guess how this scenario plays out. In six months Dave’s back at his old job, or maybe working somewhere else. According to Dr. Talya Bauer, Cameron Professor of Management at Portland State University in Oregon, more than half of new hires leave within the first 18 months.

Or—this actually happens 4 percent of the time, according to The Wynhurst Group —Dave excuses himself to get something from the car, and vanishes. Which sounds like a fun movie but not if you’re living it.

No Surprises

Apart from empathy, what’s missing from Dave’s situation? A connection. He’s signed on to be part of your organization but nobody knows about it because, a) it’s not a priority and b) there’s no process in place to introduce him to colleagues and ensure that he has the skills and information he needs to do the job.

Home improvement companies aren’t especially good at this. Many hire only when they have to and preparing that new employee for success is an afterthought.

So how do you do it? First send a strong signal that the new hire is important. For instance, if Dave had signed on at Yankee Home Improvement, in Western Massachusetts, he would’ve been shown directly to the office of its president, Ger Ronan, and given “the red carpet treatment” (see humorous company video). Ronan would lead Dave on a tour of the company’s building and steer him into the 10-minute meeting Yankee has every morning at 10 a.m., where he’d be introduced all around.

Total Immersion

And don’t mistake the few hours spent processing paperwork and making some introductions for onboarding. Yankee, for instance, uses an onboarding checklist to ensure that every hire gets the same level of welcome.

For some companies, onboarding is tantamount to immersion therapy.

“We challenge every department to have a documented process for onboarding people,” says Brian Gottlieb, president of Tundraland, Wisconsin window, bath and deck company in Green Bay.

For Tundraland, onboarding’s a 90-day process that includes 30-, 60- and 90-day reviews. Day one? Culture. If Dave got hired on there he’d be hearing about the company’s mission, its vision, its community philanthropic work and after that he’d be talking to people in various departments and positions. He’d be assigned to a sales team, reporting to its captain. Then he’d spend some part of the day, for the next few weeks, talking to and working with people in different departments. That would give Dave a holistic sense of the organization. The chief financial officer Tundraland just hired, for instance, spent time in its call center.

Absorbing culture is “so important,” Gottlieb says. “Understanding the ‘why’ of training, committing to personal development, inspiring the one next to us to do something great, that’s the training process. That’s onboarding.

Whatever You Want It To Be

Absorbing someone into your organization can be as simple or elaborate as you choose to make it. What matters are results, and results equals retention, which was identified as  “employers’ biggest concern” in 2017 by Fortune magazine. The Wynhurst Group finds that “new employees who went through a structured on-boarding program were 58 percent more likely to be with the organization after three years.”

Employees need to understand why you do what you do as well as how. At American Design & Build, in Bel Air, Maryland, for instance, onboarding is all about educating new hires in “how we run the business and how our customer service and product are so important,” says Vice President of Marketing Kevin Carmen. “Our real success stories are the people who’ve been here ten years,” he says. In today’s job market, ten years is an eternity. And if you were Dave, at American Design & Build, you’d soon be on your way to the supplier’s factory to see exactly how windows are made.


Short And Sweet – Job Fairs

Contractor associations and individual companies turn to job fairs to meet potential employees. While job fairs aren’t new, they’re a recent development in the home improvement industry. Job fairs can telescope the recruiting process into a few hours.

Second Chancers

If you desperately need people but dismiss out of hand the idea of hiring someone with a record, it might be time to take another look. Managing people successfully is about managing the individual.

Wanted: Hungry, Humble, and Smart

If you’re looking for employee installers, hire for attitude and be willing to train. Top replacement contractors discuss their training programs and how it is paying dividends.

Learning To Get By

English-speaking installers may be convenient but in many trades they’re no longer the majority. If you’re in the exterior contracting business, chances are good you’re using crews who don’t speak English.

Second Time Around

Companies once viewed former employees as gone for good once they left the company. Now it’s welcome back with arms wide open.

Reality Check

Every home improvement company is looking for people. So why would they want to work for yours? First off, what do the people you value want from an employer, and do you offer it?

Custom Solutions

It was standing room only in the meeting room at the Baltimore Convention Center last October. The topic: Labor. That is, a shortage of it. Owners are being forced to improvise.

Normal People

Profiling can be a key recruiting piece but it’s up to you to manage them.Larry Closs, owner of Maxhome, in New Orleans, is “totally sold” on profile assessments to avoid mis-hires.

Thank You For Being Here

Culture is king at home improvement companies with long-term employees. Advice from top contractors on how to think long term and create a culture of loyal, engaged employees.

In Sales: People Skills Predict Success

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Hard Truths, Soft Costs

Owners often discover what someone’s worth only when they have to hire a replacement. Jim Cory examines the real value of good employees in this month's column.

Recruit Like You Market by Jim Cory

Shane Schuckman is looking for a canvas manager. In the last year and a half, the company he co-owns and manages Renewal by Andersen of Phoenix - has had seven.