Since we’re all sophisticated individuals running our businesses benevolently and by the numbers, I’m sure you have a robust and meaningful program for onboarding employees. Starting a newbie is never easy. Building an inspired and exciting program for the people you entrust your future sales to deserves more than a brief intro on clocking in and shadowing a vet for the morning. Getting help – good help – has never been tougher. It’s an employee’s market. Springtime is upon us, so perhaps cleaning some processes is in order. I’ve never been a fan of the “this is the way we’ve always done it” methodology anyway. In that spirit, I was reminded of something very important on our yearly IHFRA board meeting zoom.
IHFRA is not a self-licking ice cream cone, no matter its appearance. We have great people in the office and on our board and Executive Committee who sincerely care about the reps and the industry. They work hard and deeply desire to make a difference. It takes a lot of time to communicate with our members and offer help and support to those who need it. Trust me, a lot of them need it. Mostly on the technology side of things, one of our biggest concerns is our aging membership. I’m 51 and considered “one of the young guys,” if you can believe that.
Nonetheless, recruitment into the industry is a constant struggle. There are NO practices published to be a rep, there is no official entré into the business, and we have no performance groups to really dig into to find ways to improve what we are doing when onboarding employees. The old school mentality of wake up, douse the fires, and get on the road to write an order has been the model, and I fear it’s not a very sustainable one.
One of the more seasoned members of the board, of which there are many, brought up an unfortunate story about a young rep who made some rookie decisions about what else he put in his bag to sell. When management caught wind of it, he was drummed out of the company. He was told that he should know better than to slide another line in without complete transparency to the company. Should he have known better? I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but if the words “you should know better” ever come out of management’s mouth, the onus falls right back on them for not communicating clear and concise expectations. Jocko Willinck, a personal hero of mine, would call that “Extreme Ownership,” and the boss must take that hit. The young lad was never told that this was a rule, and he assumed he was an independent rep and could sell what he pleased. It seems like a reasonable expectation, but his boss felt otherwise. All of us on the board felt for the kid. Here was a real “young guy” in a biz that needed him, and the biz chewed him up and spat him out.
I was fortunate. When I started my rep career, some of the more seasoned guys took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. I was told all about the expectations and the rules of the road of the company and how not to get myself into trouble. It turns out there are unwritten rules of engagement for reps as each company is unique. Rules that are not adhered to will suffer the wrath that would make for a great TV series; imagine The Office meets Benson with a double scoop of Married With Children.
It got me thinking about how critical those guys were in getting me off on the right foot. Management gave me a customer list, a login, and a catalog; patted me on the back and wished me good luck. We reps may laugh at that with a knowing “what did you expect” grin, but we should expect more. New members of the team deserve better; much better. I deserved better because coming from retail to repping was a crazy step. A big step. I had a mortgage, two young kids, and a wife at home, and I was going to start investing my time, expertise, and money to build a territory that, quite frankly, was a minuscule fraction of what it once was. It was a big risk.
If you’re still reading this, you’re either thinking that your onboarding is pretty good or that it’s the exact opposite. One of the ten commandments of selling is: “with each feature expressed, a benefit shall follow.” In retrospect, onboarding employees is one of the things I think I could have done better in my business. Especially since I knew how important developing a program is, but it was never sexy enough or urgent enough to creep up my to-do list. So for me, as much as for you, I gave this a ton of thought, and here is what I would do and why if I was bringing new hopefuls into the brigade of furniture people.
7 things to improve onboarding employees
- Explain in detail the mission statement of the company and its vision. Even if this came up in the interview, the mission and vision represent what you are doing here and add contrast to the obvious fact that the reason to come to work is to make money. There must be something more than that, and you have to believe it so you can inspire your team every day.
- Document each process the company has that is customer-facing. Explain your marketing methodology, sales and customer interaction processes, floor rules, and how an order gets delivered. Get into the why’s. Why do you feel your strategy is the best? How did you come up with it, and how will the way you run the business benefit the team member? The new team member is investing in your business as well, and if they understand WHY you believe you know what you’re doing, they will believe in you.
- Provide a place to be fulfilled and happy. The proverbial worm has turned, and it’s important to keep in mind that happy employees make for happy customers. Once upon a time, making sure that your business was not deemed a hostile work environment was good enough. Nowadays, you are responsible for the happiness of everyone that walks into your building, be they an employee, customer, or mail carrier. Don’t fight it; embrace it. If you lean into it, it’ll show. It may cost you more money, but trust me, it will come back to you in ways you can’t measure.
- Have several expectations that are mission-critical. I’m not too fond of cliches but never allow a customer to be asked if they can be helped. “Can I help you” is like asking if you can sell them something. Ever meet anyone so contrived that the fakeness oozes from their pores. It drives me nuts. There is nothing more disingenuous and disrespectful to the art of retail selling than asking to help someone. Anyone asking that question should be counseled and tuned up as to why that question is in no one’s best interest. Be more creative with how to approach this in your training when onboarding employees.
- Tell, show and watch. You can’t just tell someone the really important behaviors you want to be done in your stores during orientation. There’s too much to learn. You obviously talk about the processes and why they are important, and then you go hit the floor and SHOW the new team member HOW to do what you want to be done. Then it’s their turn, and watch them do it. Now you go back to the classroom and have them sign that they understand the policy, you saw them perform the behavior, and they sign that they did it so that there is no ambiguity. We want to get the “I didn’t knows” off the table and be able to decipher between “I can’t” and “I won’t.”
- Product knowledge! The great Chet Holmes said, “Train, train, train, or feel the pain.” Famous retail guru, trainer, and my old boss Harry Friedman, in his infinite wisdom, answered the question of “what happens if I train them and they leave” with “what happens if I don’t train them and they stay?.” Salespeople don’t have to know everything, just more than the average bear. Teach them some buzz words that they can sprinkle into their presentation. Subscribe to shelter magazines and have them around the break room so they can see the trends as they develop and talk about them in your meetings.
- Mentorship is huge. When I joined a fraternity in college, they assigned me a big brother. His job was to dummy-proof me and make sure I understood the expectations and didn’t do or say anything stupid. When a new recruit is initiated into the ranks, assign them a mentor who can help them navigate their way through the rough times. Sort of like a sponsor or a big brother/sister. They’re not a boss, just a seasoned person who knows the ropes.
If you’re onboarding employees with these things in mind and intentionally invest in their happiness, well-being, and success in a meaningful way, you will also find more happiness, fulfillment, and success in your business life. What’s more, is that your customers will notice too.
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