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Here’s Your New Office …

“Welcome to the camp, I guess you all know why we’re here.”—Pete Townsend (from “Tommy”)

I’ve been commenting here for the past couple of installments on the proposition of recruiting an estimator for an open position, and it occurred to me that this exploration has presented a plausible segue into a related topic: how to provide an effective orientation for a newly hired bidmeister and thereby enable him to reach his maximum performance level in the least amount of time. This may seem pretty basic at first brush, but I have in years past been the incredulous witness to a number of circumstances in which an otherwise professional organization’s initial introduction of a new member into the corporate culture could be described in three one-syllable words: sink or swim.

As astonishing as it may sound, some corporate officers or operations managers perceive the notion of self-orientation as some sort of test of adaptation skills and so limit the process to a few perfunctory introductions to the other staff members and an abrupt dismissal at the new digs: “Here’s your new office…if you have any questions, just ask somebody. Everybody around here is sooo helpful—you’ll catch on.” As if everyone on the staff has a Mother Theresa complex and nothing better to do with their time than show the newbie the ropes. Like hell. There’s no serious expectation that gushing fonts of office altruism will spring forth here to carry the day. No, this is an ill-conceived experiment to see how quickly the neophyte subject can run the maze.

Call me madcap, but I believe that a little bit of well-planned time invested up front for explanation with a new hire will not only relieve postal levels of frustration, but will pay off in captured productivity almost immediately and in spades. If this sounds more reasonable than the rat-runner approach, I offer here a few fundamental but critical suggestions to include in a thoughtful and proactive orientation process.

Take the time to explain what the established office protocols are, especially those that may be peculiar to the particular office. This may include such basics as regular daily working hours, pay period, absence policy, email and Internet use, phone setup and voice mailbox, coffee-pot etiquette, or more specific items such as bid calendars, weekly meetings or vehicle use. Communicating the chain of authority from the outset would be highly recommended along these lines. An organizational chart defining the pecking order is preferred, but even a verbal tip or two with regard to unofficial claims of territory could be immensely instructive in helping the newbie get his bearings.

Communicate what the job expectations are, specific to the position. Hopefully a written and detailed job description specific to estimating was presented during the screening process. Above and beyond this, most firms have determined certain projected levels of dollar volume bid activity and certain sales expectations consistent with the local market. These goals should be conveyed at the outset to establish reasonable objectives and to lend clarity to the employment agreement. In addition, the expected degree of client cultivation and socialization should be conveyed up front. Some firms expect a high level of customer interaction while others want a work-horse quantifier who limits his interaction to follow-up phone calls and leaves the schmoozing to the business development agents. Expected maintenance of bid logs should be raised here as well.

Make certain that the bidmeister-recruit has the required tools to get started. By this I mean procure and test out the computer hardware and estimating software that the newly acquired exactimator will need to hit the ground running. Presumably the which-and-what of this item have been determined in the pre-hire routine. If so, then just a couple of hours of
preliminary setup time by the office info-tech person will ensure that your new hire won’t get bogged down in endless startup snags and counterproductive database diversions.

On a related note, the company’s sources for job leads needs a thorough treatment here, whether they consist of online databases, paper reports, incoming invitations from current or prospective customers, or a combination of the above.

Spin off an introductory letter to regular and prospective clients. This is a no-brainer. First of all, you’ve got some bragging rights here, so why not assert them? Then too, it would seem somewhat brusque to suddenly insert a stranger into your clients’ daily dealings without proper advance notice. Further, you are sending the message that you are expanding your estimating services to meet your clients’ growing needs. Finally, a promotional letter that endorses your new bidmeister’s many positive attributes will boost his confidence at a time when he is most likely going through the typical new-guy angst. An added plus: The body of the letter is already written for you. Just plagiarize his resume’ and cover letter.

I’m anticipating a response to all of this good advice that goes something like. “Sure, Vince, this all looks great on paper, but where do we get the time to do all of this?” I think this common complaint hits on the real reason behind newbie neglect. No one can afford to devote an entire day or two toward helping the new kid in town get adjusted. My answer is easy: It needs to be a team effort. Delegate one component from the previous bullet points and have one member of your staff spend an hour explaining the drill. Then another, and another. If you have eight people on your staff, you can give eight hours of orientation without unreasonably plundering anyone’s time hoard. And that should be sufficient to stave off the alternative—that is, a new-hire who inundates a sympathetic few with a boatload of mind-numbing questions as they arise (usually every five minutes or so). Again, if you invest in this kind of effort up front, you’ll have your new man generating sales in no time.

Vince Bailey is an estimator at E&K of Phoenix.

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