In the last two years, the most basic concepts about the design and operation of business organizations have undergone more rethinking than at any other time in the last 300 years.
In 1722, John Lombe and his brothers completed the construction of the first industrial factory, a five-story textile mill in Derby, England, introducing the modern concept of bringing hundreds of workers together, out of their small cottages, and under one large roof to manufacture goods.
Three hundred years later, in the face of the current pandemic, business leaders all over the world have been forced to reverse course, sending millions of people back to their homes to work remotely. This strategic retreat has created “hybrid” organizations where some staff remain in their company’s traditional facilities, while others have settled into work-from-home employment.
Meanwhile, despite pandemic conditions, staffing shortages and supply-chain issues, companies still need to hire managers, staff and production workers. Good companies want to do their best to “onboard” them.
Onboarding newcomers normally goes well beyond the traditional new-hire orientation.
It is much more than a short indoctrination on workplace safety, evacuation plans, company procedures, passwords, door codes, other day-to-day matters and perhaps a tip-off to management’s hang-ups to be avoided at all costs.
A robust onboarding program enables newcomers to get a firmer grip on whatever they have been hired to do. It is also a first step toward keeping them on board. That’s especially important today, when retaining talented people over the long haul has become as important as recruiting them in the first place.
After two years, during which the word “virtual” has taken on more significance than ever before and everyone has said “zoom” more than they ever had in all the previous years of their lives, the process of onboarding has been extremely challenging.
As we dive a little deeper into our discussion here about onboarding—and the logical extension of it that we call “all-aboarding”—we acknowledge that most electrical contractors do not have a formal onboarding program in their companies.
Electrical contractors can take heart, however, in knowing that surveys indicate that most companies in many other industries are hardly more experienced at it than they are. Formalized onboarding is not the broad rule in most of the business world. But that’s not to say that it should not be. Before we conclude here, we will suggest a solution to making it more amenable to electrical contractors—especially service-oriented electrical contractors.
Let’s imagine a syllabus for an onboarding program that has just the right amount of formality for most companies. Business experts and academics have generated plenty of literature on the subject. We have gleaned the following, meant to summarize the kind of content shared in onboarding sessions for a hypothetical company of just about any kind:
- Why does this organization do the things it undertakes? This is a question about the basic philosophy that drove its founders—or more recent leadership—to pursue whatever kind of business it pursues. It’s all about the larger purposes that drive its culture.
- How does this organization regard the standards that govern its activities? On the one hand, this is about following the rules. It’s about compliance. In a larger sense, it’s all about character. How does it behave when nobody’s looking?
- What kind(s) of business is it in? This is the level at which the conversation begins for most salespeople on their first visit with a prospective customer.
- Who’s who in the organization? Here’s where newcomers learn their connections within the organization.
Designed and managed properly, an onboarding program will be a way to inform newcomers and a means of engaging them. Gallup Inc. and other research firms are renowned for reporting that the majority of employees in American companies are not engaged in their jobs. Onboarding offers a great start at heading off that problem.
Across the years, in survey after survey, employees have rated “job security” as a top personal concern. But today, conversely, employers are preoccupied with retaining the people who work for them. A good onboarding program can make both parties happier.
All-aboarding is simply an extension of onboarding. Its main differences are: (1) all-aboarding is for everyone in the organization, not just newcomers, and (2) it keeps going, year after year.
Newcomers generally wrap up their onboarding activities within 90 days—or, the length of their initial probation. (We do know of one company that has a six-year onboarding format!) But with all-aboarding, the fun will never stop.
With all-aboarding, we propose three enlargements of the onboarding concept.
- First, no one should be left out. All-aboarding should be an ongoing activity involving everyone in the organization, top to bottom.
- In characterizing the structure of the organization, all-aboarding should move away from visual representations such as the conventional “org chart.” (See the “Picnic in the Park” sidebar.)
- In addition to all-aboarding activities for company managers, staff and production employees, an organization should consider equally frequent sessions for their customers, vendors, lenders, lawyers, accountants and other allies. In most cases there is no harm, and indeed much opportunity for good, in inviting every one of the aforementioned to combined all-aboarding sessions.
It’s easy to understand the apparent benefits of keeping everyone in the company—and the cadre of allies just mentioned—constantly informed of the company’s current posture and future prospects.
However, it is even easier to overlook the obvious cost of not keeping everyone engaged. Having everyone participate in periodic all-aboarding sessions opens up the potential to receive their feedback and benefit from their knowledge.
Most ideas are not written down. Most ideas, taken one at a time, are not momentous. Collectively, though, hundreds of little ideas are what move companies forward. Another reason for making all-aboarding sessions routine is that, as time goes on, the potential for harvesting innovative ideas becomes greater.
At the end of the day, innovation is mostly a matter of replacing one little set of ideas with another little set of ideas. All-aboarding will help that along.
Finally, there’s an easy way to convey to everyone in any electrical contracting organization the concept of a perennial program of all-aboarding. If they simply think of it as being like a long-term electrical maintenance contract that continues year after year, almost everyone will understand the idea. Periodically revisiting the principles that drive the organization is akin to maintaining the systems in the facilities of an important customer. Everyone in an electrical contracting firm understands what that’s all about—and they love doing it.