How to onboard new hires

BlackBridge took big step earlier this month when we hired our first full time employee, Vinny Licari. Vinny joined us from the same alma mater that Vince Fabrico and I graduated from, Quinnipiac University. We’re very excited to have our new hire join the company, and one thing’s for sure: I learned more lessons in the last four weeks on how to train and onboard new hires – and about managing a business – than I have since I co-founded BlackBridge five years ago. They say that you never really “know” something until you try to teach it to someone else, and this is especially true when you’re trying to teach someone how to work as part of your business. These important lessons will shape BlackBridge for the foreseeable future.

Classroom vs. Live Training
Before Vinny started, we spent countless hours creating training material that we thought would be valuable for showing him the ropes of the new job. The goal was to have a textbook that we could work through from start to finish with the idea that once complete, Vinny would be prepared to start. I quickly realized that formal classroom-style training was not going to be the right fit, and we decided to abandon this plan.  

I think this plan failed because we realized that new employees are hungry to get started and “learn by doing,” and it’s important to harness that enthusiasm rather stifling it with a classroom setting. BlackBridge wants to have the best trained employees, and by no means do we think that it’s acceptable to risk your reputation with an untrained employee, but it’s important to understand the best way to get from point A to point B. I do think it’s critical for new employees to have a firm understanding of the industry and the product that they will be buying and selling, and I now think live training is the best method for them to gain this knowledge.

I’ve discovered that the best motivation is the prospect of making a difference and accomplishing a goal. After a week and a half of teaching Vinny all about the types of plastics / paper / foam that he’ll be purchasing, we decided to put him on the phone. I came to the conclusion that this was the best method of training because it would be impossible for me to foresee all of the issues that could come up in a typical sales call. You can’t expect to think of and document and map out every possible customer interaction and put it all in writing in a way that anyone is going to be able to memorize or internalize; instead, we discovered that training new hires works best when you work closely with them and give them room to try (and fail, and learn) and succeed on the job. From working with our new hire, I learned that – assuming you’ve hired the right person for the job, which I believe we have done – if you have an eager employee who’s ready to learn, all they really need is your promise to support them, and a push to get started.

Trust but Verify
When you hire someone, you are trusting them with your money and your reputation.  Employment is an exchange of capital for labor, and the equation has to be balanced for it to work. As an executive and a manager it’s important to make sure this equation stays in balance at all times. If you are paying and not getting a fair amount of labor and productive return on your investment, then the scale tips and the employment agreement fails.  

Setting goals is critical. But goals cannot just be handed down from on high by management – ideally, employees’ performance goals should be set as a team based on what everyone thinks is achievable. You don’t want to set goals too high so that no one can complete them, because that is a surefire way to ruin employee morale. Goals should require a small stretch and once the goal is accomplished, you set a new goal. Goals can always be reset, and should be evaluated on a daily / weekly basis. At BlackBridge, feedback is encouraged because we feel that it makes employees find their voice and realize that they are part of a team. Once again, this is part of managing the critical Capital / Labor balance.

Continued Education as a Team
College graduates have an asset that seasoned professionals in our industry often lack, and that is the fact that they have four years of higher education – just by virtue of having gone to college, it’s a sign that they have a sense of curiosity, they’re critical thinkers, and they know how learn. We decided that we could learn from this and as a company we put in place a continued education plan that allowed for the entire organization to grow in the same direction.  

At BlackBridge there is always a book being read and discussed on a daily basis in our morning meetings. Opinions are encouraged and expected.  Our goal is to hire employees that have active minds, who like to think and analyze and ponder big questions affecting our business – how things are done, how we work, how we can do things differently, how we can build better relationships with customers; it’s all fair game. We have a free-flowing discourse at our company and we have fun learning from each other – we encourage everyone on the team to either agree or disagree in a big way. Having no opinion is a dead give-away that your employee lacks passion; we’d rather have people with very strong opinions – even if they come off almost “too” strong sometimes – instead of people who just don’t seem to care about anything.

As an executive your job is to set the vision of the company while managing both expectations and culture. Culture is the hardest thing to create at a company, because it’s not something that can be dictated or written in a manual, but it can certainly be shaped and encouraged over time.  When culture is encouraged it propagates throughout the organization and sets a theme of what is expected. Hiring our first employee has reminded us in a powerful way of what kind of culture we want to create here – open, supportive, energetic, innovative, and fun. We’re doing things differently and bringing new energy to our industry. Hopefully with every new employee we hire into the future, we can hang on to this core aspect of our company culture.

This is the beginning
BlackBridge is growing and we are always looking for talented members to join our team. We already have our second hire starting August 31st (more on this soon), and I look forward to learning more and growing with our organization. Perhaps that’s been the biggest lesson from hiring our first employee – as much as I tried to “teach” this new employee about our business, I’ve already learned so much more about being a manager. It’s a powerful, humbling experience and it’s also very rewarding. I look forward to learning more of these lessons in the years ahead!