Building Productive Employees Through Internal Mentorship
By Corey Adams
I am big on training new employees. My problem, like most of you, is that we need guys in the field, not in a training room. I must be truthful and admit that the majority of our training ends up in the field. Hands-on from the word go. It is not the best, but it is the current state of our industry. Labor shortages are not helping either.
I agree that on-the-job training is far superior to anything that can be learned in a classroom when it comes to the physical side of the job, but how many owners have time to train every new hire personally? Not many.
What ends up happening is that our foreman, other employees, or no one ends up training them. If they do receive some assistance or tips, it is usually the way the teacher wants it done regardless of how we as owners feel about the same task. Therein lies the problem. Inconsistent methods scattered across multiple crews leads to inefficiency at best, and gross negligence at worst.
What can we do? Well, the cliché answer is to train the trainers, but it goes deeper than that. We need to make our lead guys aware of one of their most important job functions, mentorship.
Years ago, I worked with a foreman that was not a good teacher. He excelled in everything except training others how to do a job, or even how to help him do his job better. It was disastrous for anyone we put on that crew. Laborers, skilled guys, or really anyone that worked on the crew for more than a few days complained, underperformed, and most eventually just quit. It was not his fault, it was ours. We did not spend the time to explain that if you want good help, you need to build it. We were like every other company out there, hire someone then send them right into the fire hoping they could figure it out on their own. They did not.
What helps an employee grow is the same thing that most, if not all, successful business owners have, a mentor. Someone that takes the time to discuss the who, what, when, why, and how of the day-to-day tasks that are set in front of them. We can not tell a new hire to go tend for a block mason and just let the mason yell at him until he gets it right. That new hire will not stay around long. They need an experienced tender to show them the ropes, give tips, and be there to help them through the decisions that a good tender needs to make.
In college, I spent a year changing oil and tires at a service center. My first day on the job, I was partnered up with the longest-standing lube tech they had. He was a good old guy, knew what needed to be done, and was always available to answer my questions as they arose. He was integral to my success in this position. He helped me enough that about 8 months in, a service technician took me under his wing and started teaching me his job. Both of these mentors knew that I could only be an asset if I knew what to do, and when to do it. They both knew this was not my career but knew how to get the most out of me while I was there. A good mentor teaches you their job as much as teaching you yours.
I know this sounds somewhat crazy to some, and that is ok. The idea of on-site mentorship is rare in the construction industry. It will work. The real trick, as with many new systems and ideas within a company is implementation. How do we get the foreman, crews, middle management, and everyone else on board to train someone who can possibly be their replacement someday? Implementation starts with having the right people in place to mentor and teaching them how to do the owner’s job.
Over my career, I have worked with multiple employees that have left to start their own companies in direct competition with us. I am proud of that. If we were training our crew leaders well enough they could start their own company, they were providing as much profit as they could for our company while they were here.
So, what makes a good mentor? Experience is key, but it takes more than that. It takes someone that is in line with the core beliefs of ownership. Someone who understands the quality, and production you expect out of everyone. I look for people with positive attitudes, and pride in their appearance, and their work. You would not want to have the guy that leaves fast food cups and cigarette butts all over the site teaching a new hire how things should work.
Once you find some good mentors in your organization, bring them in and explain what you are asking of them. Make sure that they are willing to be a mentor. An unwilling teacher is not a good one. Your mentors need to know that this is a program that is meant to fast-track people with potential and allow those who need some more training to get it. Building productive employees to make their job easier, and the company more profitable. You may even give them a mentorship bonus. We used to pay foreman $2 per hour more when they took new hires. You find out quickly which new hires are helpful, and which need to be history.
As new hires come in, find mentors within your company that match the job description they were hired for. Masons should train masons, tenders should train tenders, etc. Find multiple mentors at different levels and match accordingly. You may be surprised at how quickly the new hires catch on when they have some direction.
Now seems like a good time to interject a little tip. You will find out that some new employees have more potential than others. They catch on fast, have a good attitude, and show signs of enjoying what they do. Once these types of employees get through the original mentorship, they need a new mentor. They need a mentor at the next level up from where they are now. The worst thing you can do for your company and an employee with potential is to stop pushing them. If they learn to tend well fast, find a mason to start letting them lay. We all have projects that can be used for practice. Push these employees to see how far they want to climb.
Training employees is not as hard as most belief. Sometimes it just takes having the right people partnered up with them to unleash the real potential that can skyrocket their career and your profits.
About the Author
Corey Adams Is Vice President of Kelly Lang Contractors, Inc. He also speaks on entrepreneurship to trade schools, and is a Certified CE instructor.