If there’s one thing that business leaders know, it’s this: Turnover is expensive. Quality employees create revenue at values that are often multiples, if not exponential, to what they cost. This is why great employees are so invaluable, and why turnover is such a problem for integrators.
In businesses like ours, many retention challenges are magnified because of the specializations required to succeed in our industry, along with the size of our businesses and the need to keep people up to date on trends and technology.
These challenges will never cease to exist in our industry. However, over the past few years, I’ve noticed something that I think all integrators could do much better with: getting new employees started on the right foot. Successful onboarding decreases turnover and makes finding and keeping talent a greater likelihood.
The term “onboarding” refers to the way we bring new employees into our organizations. By and large, small companies struggle with this because they’re so busy dealing with day-to-day challenges that they just don’t have time to spend on developing and training new employees.
I can’t tell you how many times a new sales professional who joins an integration firm (especially one new to our industry) is shown to his or her cubicle, handed a laptop and more or less told “Good luck!” I’ve seen project managers and installers who unintentionally enter “trial-by-fire” roles where they spend a week or two with others working in the same role and then are set free to figure things out on their own.
First impressions can be very hard to change. When you tell candidates that your company is a progressive-thinking, employee-focused firm during the interview process, and then they encounter situations like those just mentioned, that discrepancy sticks…and perhaps even leads them to wonder whether they made a good career move. Experienced pros in our business may not require a ton of handholding to get started, but there is much to be said about a company that shows how much it values its people by having a set of procedures and education plans for new employees.
The problems associated with improper onboarding may appear pretty evident. So what should employers do about them? Here are a few steps I recommend that can make all the difference:
Create an overall onboarding guide for every new employee. This may sound pretty simple, but too many companies lack this basic step. Not only are these guides important for the employee, but they’re also important to protect your business from legal issues later. There are many things employers are required to do when new employees start, and most fail to do all of them. By having a guide, both you and the employee can clearly understand what needs to happen on both sides.
Layer onto the overall onboarding guide some company- and role-specific start guides. From technology systems to social media policies to a role-based training checklist, give new employees a clear path as to what they will be learning and when they can expect to learn these things.
Use new technology, regular communication and cross training to create employees who have a broader understanding of the business. One tool I’ve seen many companies start to use is on-demand videos. These can keep employees up to speed and trained on new tools and best practices without taking up too much of someone else’s time. The videos can also facilitate ongoing discussions between management and employees, and even show internal employees some of the great projects happening in the field. Other regular communication tools, such as status meetings, can be helpful.
When employees are just starting out, they often feel isolated. By allowing them to know and anticipate that feedback is coming and readily available, you can make the onboarding process more enjoyable.
Getting off to a good start may be one of the most important steps in creating a culture of engaged employees that stay for the long haul. By focusing on sound procedures for new employees and role-specific developmental needs, companies can ensure an enjoyable start for all new employees.
NSCA has just unveiled a tool that can help integrators tackle this massive onboarding challenge: the C-SIP (certificate for systems integration professionals) program. These online courses are four to six hours long, and are broken up into job-specific roles.
Once you’ve hired someone to fill a sales, finance, marketing or operations position, for example, that individual can enroll in the appropriate C-SIP program. The course is conducted online at the user’s own pace. Not only does it offer specific information and guidelines based on certain roles within the organization, but it kicks off with an overview of what systems integration is, why it’s important and how the industry is changing.
This is an especially valuable component when bringing new blood into the industry. It can take months for a previous “outsider” to fully understand what systems integration is. But the C-SIP program should help them get there much faster, without having to pull existing employees away from their responsibilities in order to train and educate.