As busy as you are, it’s important to remember to put training on your To-Do list.
Training is one of the most costly things companies don’t do, says Tim Faller, remodeling industry consultant and owner of Field Training Services. Even experienced hires need training. From company culture to specialized skills, understanding financials, and technology, every new or promoted field or office employee needs to understand how your company operates in each of these areas.
Without training, new hires can flounder, ultimately costing remodelers valuable time and money, especially if they end up having to replace that new hire a few months down the road.
“The more you train, the more skilled your people are, and the more value they bring to the table,” says industry consultant Victoria Downing, president of Remodelers Advantage. You can’t afford not to train.
If a new hire says he or she is ready to hit the ground running, tell that person to hold on. It’s better to put someone on your team who’s just learning to walk. “If an individual isn’t indoctrinated into the way your company runs, he or she will have to figure it out on their own, and they’ll do things the way they are used to doing them, and that may not be a good fit for your company,” says Paul Winans, a veteran remodeler and consultant and facilitator for Remodelers Advantage.
- Winans suggests the company owner sit down with a new employee to explain the answers to the following questions: What makes this company different?
- What embodies a good employee for this company?
- What should clients feel/think when they interact with an employee of this company?
- What is not acceptable to the company?
“Without understanding these things, without that context, how can a new employee make decisions that are congruent with the company’s history?” Winans says.
As boss, you don’t necessarily have to be the trainer. In fact, it may be best to have a “champion,” says Downing. “Get one person on board who can pass along knowledge.”
Be under no illusions that just anyone can fill that role. “It’s a mistake to assume all good carpenters are good trainers. Just being in the presence of greatness doesn’t mean you’ll learn a skill,” Faller says.
While shadowing a more experienced employee is a good training method, there has to be “deliberate training,” Faller says. Tell the new hire he or she will be going out to learn how to do a specific job. Let the person on the jobsite know that you are sending out someone to be trained in a particular skill. Make it clear that you know the job may take longer and that there will be no repercussions if the budget is off. “Some companies actually have a category for training so it’s a job cost and not an overhead expense,” Faller says.
Keep in mind that everyone learns differently. A procedures manual is good to have, but a book might not work for everyone. “Tell someone what you want them to do, then have them repeat back to you what you’re going to do. Then you tell and show them at the same time,” Faller says. “Then have them show you and tell you what they’re doing. The back and forth will make it clear they understood what they’re supposed to do, and that they can actually demonstrate the skill.”
This same strategy can work for the office and production side of your business.
Some remodeling owners are uncomfortable sharing numbers with their employees. “That’s a huge mistake,” says Joe Stoddard, owner of Mountain Consulting Group and self-proclaimed technology evangelist and process improvement specialist. “Everyone in the company should have some idea about business basics-—gross profit, direct versus indirect costs, customer/vendor relationship best practices, what happens when a schedule is increased or shortened by a week or a month. If you don’t trust your employees with the numbers,” Stoddard says, “you have the wrong people working for you.”
But learning about the bottom line isn’t natural for everyone, says Faller. “Help employees understand why they need to care about the information, and how profitability can directly impact them.”
For example, if health insurance is important to the team, show them that they can create “x” amount of profit by doing a task in four hours instead of in six, then they won’t go over budget and a job will be more profitable. That money then can go back into the business for items such as health insurance.
Every employee should come on board with basic computer skills. From there, Stoddard says, “It’s up to the builder or remodeler to provide application- and role-specific training on whatever platform they’re using.” He suggests using a combination of the materials the software vendor has developed plus any training materials created in-house.
With technology training, “productivity may slow down before it speeds up,” Downing warns. People will drop a system if they don’t know how to use it effectively. Stoddard advises bringing in outside people to teach tips and tricks. “The more people understand it, the more they will adopt it without a lot of drama.”
Test and Assess
Regardless of the area in which you’re training employees, Stoddard says skills testing has to be part of the program. That can include written tests that an employee might take online as well as practical testing. “It doesn’t have to be drudgery.”
Winans suggests making a game out of reading the procedures manuals. At his former company’s weekly meetings, he says, “our office manager would tell employees that ‘in three weeks I’m going to ask you questions about these pages in the manual.’ Anyone who answered correctly got a point. Those with the highest points got first choice at the holiday gift grab bag.”
Continue measuring and tracking progress. “If the company’s not getting better as a whole over time, then something is wrong and they need to re-evaluate what they’re doing,” says Stoddard.
Matt Plaskoff, owner of One Week Bath, has a 90-day assessment. “It takes employees that long to get established,” he says. Specific goals and expectations for the first 90 days and for the first six months are laid out for new employees based on their job descriptions. At review time Plaskoff discusses what he feels the employee is doing well and in what areas he or she needs help.
Ideally, hiring or promoting should be done a month in advance of your needs. This way, an employee can experience almost every situation he or she might face going forward, Faller says. Training should be incremental and ongoing.
“Over the years you’ll get it across to people how [the skill they’re learning] impacts the company and how they impact the company.”