Getting the best person for the job

KNOWLEDGE is a hugely important part of the supply chain, of course, and it can be handed down through books and charts and so on. But knowledge is also gained in the job, and the way knowledge is imparted to new employees is key, according to Crosscut Clyde.

Staff Reporter

Every year we are provided with a myriad of supplier buyer’s guides, which are effectively an A to Z of all the products in all shapes and sizes.

These arrive in various forms: hard copy, soft copy, supplements as part of annual subscriptions to mining magazines, lift outs, fold outs and even wall charts.

I have to confess I am not sure if these guides are of as much value these days as they once were, given the amount of information we can access via the web and via email.

But they are important marketing and communication tools anyway, so keep them coming and up-to-date (once a year is fine).

Another useful thing about these once-a-year guides is that by flicking back through a few issues you can get an idea of the evolution and expansions (or contractions) of certain products, product lines and technical areas. This is handy for new staff especially.

Of course, this sort knowledge isn’t just amassed in books and guides and tech specs.

The great thing about our industry is the intellectual property amassed in the people over time. From the long stayers in a trade or supply chain to those who spread themselves over several companies in their career.

There is no right time or length of tenure in a role or job or even field, as far as I have been able to determine, but a minimum two to three years would be fair to build up expertise and confidence in the position – for the company, the employer and the employee.

After all there is the honeymoon period, which lasts around 100 days. If a person has not got the basics of the operation and product acumen by that time, then they are most likely not right for that position or your company.

Many companies operate under a probationary period of three months. I do not believe this is quite long enough, and I don’t really believe enough effort is made to offer the right sort of training during that time.

Please don’t shoot the messenger, as these are only my observations, and there are companies that operate in the reverse, throwing masses of training in for new staff at the very beginning.

How much is too much or not enough is not for me to say, but all up there has to be an understanding of the skills that have been hired compared to how these skills need to be honed to achieve the best outcome for the employee and the company.

Training providers – yes, another link in the supply chain – can assess and build up these skills, but like any other supplier, they have to first understand the issues pertinent to the role and company.

Let’s take an example. A new sales rep is employed by a company. The rep is relatively new to this product range (in other words, not coming from the competition) but knows the industry base.

My recommendation prior to doing anything towards throwing training at that person is to put them with your most experienced rep for at least three weeks.

Two things happen here. One is that there will be a sorting out of personalities with the young blood versus the old. Of course, this may not occur, but I bet there is always an element of it in any new working relationship.

The second is that there will be a transfer of values from the old to the new which simply cannot be found in text books nor can be taught by professional providers. The new staff member will see, first hand, what is really happening on the company front line.

In my experience, however, one should not always place one’s total decision of acceptability of a new staff member on the old rep when seeking feedback.

Of course an experienced manager will gain a strong indication of how well the person will grasp and take on the culture of the company by talking to the experienced staff who have worked with that person. It’s just one factor, of course, alongside several others.

With such information onboard, and once satisfied, then by all means get the new employee started on product training and whatever other induction is necessary.

But a word of warning from someone who has seen people sink and swim in the deep end: it is possible to expect too much, too soon.

Remember, the outcome is to have the new rep at the front line, so you should never doubt the ability of your buyers to aid in the training process.

Once the new kid on the block wins the confidence of his customers, then the customers will be great trainers in their own right.

Like you they have people they are training on an ongoing basis, and understand that no one has it all early in the piece.

If all this does not work by the time the 100 days are up, then maybe you got it wrong, but at least you will have the opportunity to discuss this with your new employee.

One final point: if you fail to hold this discussion, then in my mind you have failed yourself and your company.

In this day and age of skill shortages, we’re all aware of people in jobs who aren’t suited or who just don’t work, but are kept there because of expediency.

It can be hard, but you should use that 100-day mark to make sure you’ve got the best person in the job.