Take hires from new to committed

Feb 27, 2022

Getting new employees in the door is just the start – onboarding and training compel them to stay.

Recruiting new employees is a process approached with considerable time and effort at most AEC firms. Hiring a new employee is certainly worth the resources and energy, as determining the capabilities of your new employee and understanding how they will enhance your company and its culture is crucial. However, what happens once those employees start? Sure, they get a tour, they meet their colleagues, and they’re set on the right path for success. Or are they?

The challenges of finding employees right now are well documented, so when we finally find one, it is understandable that we feel the hard part is over and we don’t put as much focus on making them stick. Yet can we expect new employees to know all of the intricacies of company culture and expectations in a day, a week, or even a year?

Onboarding and training are the work that needs to be done with thought and intention to create an environment of success for both the new employee and the company. The following are a few ways to invest in an environment for success and examples of how our firm implements these strategies:

  • Understand the systems. Making sure a new employee gets the big picture of the business is important to long-term success. The roles we are hiring everyone for are primarily to improve the company and our ability to serve our clients – their specific expertise is secondary. If they understand that they will be working on stormwater and how that bit of the company works, that’s great. Yet helping them understand the administration behind the stormwater department, the survey crew that provides data, and the accounting that pays the bills not only helps the employee get the bigger picture but will hopefully help them see where they fit into it and how they impact it.
    At our company, we take new employees (in a group) for an entire day to learn about our open-book management and send them to a two-day professional management course, and a course on conscious leadership, regardless of their experience or role in the company. Every employee is important and can impact the culture and the bottom line – letting them know and learn this fact is good for everyone.
  • Meet the people. Consider having new employees meet with existing employees for a few minutes to get to know them (or a reasonably large sector of the company if numbers or locations make this impossible). Spending time with every employee one-on-one for 20-30 minutes might seem like a pretty hefty time investment for the new hire. But consider the outcomes: The new employee discovers common interests with the people they will be spending more than half their waking hours with. Suddenly it’s easier to ask questions, get input, and approach people in the office because they feel more familiar. And the converse is true, too. Existing employees will be more likely to include the new employee now that they know some history, preferences, and commonalities. Connections are made faster and easier, and the new employee will feel more comfortable and be productive because of the time spent early in their tenure.
    At our company, we provide new employees with a “Green Book” that includes a page for each of our existing 64 employees. The new employee has a conversation with each existing employee to learn about each other’s history, family, role at the company, interests, and how they will interact. That equates to about 25-30 hours of time – time we feel is well-spent in creating lasting relationships.
  • Deliberate training. Lots of businesses have formal training programs. Consider the manufacturers or multi-continent distributors who have a certain way of doing everything. Sometimes, in the AEC industry, however, we throw new employees into the mix with little formal training. The new employee has to rely on past experience or the experience of the person sitting next door. With formal training right off the bat (and not just “when we get time” or “when we get to it”), new employees learn the right way to do things with confidence.
    At our company, we have formal, self-made, video-driven training for all new engineers and designers on how we use CAD. Every new employee, from a co-op to a senior designer, gets the same basics so they understand how to keep things consistent, store and name files, etc. When everyone is doing the same thing from the start, it’s much easier to work within each other’s projects seamlessly, fill in if someone is unexpectedly out, and jump in to help when someone is on a time crunch.
  • Check in often … and down the road. Checking in with a new employee early and often is obviously important. But make sure you continue to check in later – in one year and beyond. As stated in the opening, understanding a company’s breadth of work and culture in a year is difficult and overwhelming, and that’s in the best of circumstances. These check-ins are also great opportunities to gain insight to how your team is doing as the onboarders/trainers – what does the new employee think worked well? What part of the onboarding process needs more work to be better?
    At our company, we schedule regular, informal check-ins with new employees once a week and more formal check-ins every 30 days through the first half-year of employment. After that, employees continue to meet with a mentor monthly to continue the acclimatization process.

In the end, having a great onboarding and training program isn’t just about the new employee understanding their new environment. It’s about helping them feel like the valuable part of the company they are from the get-go, as well as helping existing employees feel the same way about the new employee. The investment in time and resources up front will pay dividends by creating an environment of consistency, productivity, and relationships that will help the new hire, your existing team, and the bottom line. 

Matt Hoying is president at Choice One Engineering. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.