One of the biggest problems in any industry is figuring out how to recruit and onboard talented young employees to grow your business. In niche industries like OSP and distribution engineering, this difficult task gets even harder. Industry knowledge and intuition are both necessary to make good business decisions, neither of which come overnight. Growing a new hire into an industry expert is typically a multi-year endeavor, but there are some easy things that you can do to shorten this lead time. Here are a few ways you can accelerate the growth of new staff members:
1. Hire good people who are willing to grow
Step one is to hire the right people. While the project will determine many of the characteristics you need in a new employee, there are a few things that you should look for that have nothing to do with their new job description. Ideally, every new member of your staff will be a culture fit, especially if they are spending a lot of time in the office. You're also looking for team members who are excited to grow—intellectually curious individuals who accept feedback and make adjustments quickly.
2. Start with a strong foundation
Even if you've hired someone for a specific role, you are doing your company a disservice if you isolate them from the very beginning. Whether it's sales, software development, project management, or accounting, there is high value in having a team that understands more than just one aspect of the business. To better understand the industry, new employees will need exposure to more than just the business unit they were hired to support. In the OSP industry, there are very few job functions that don't benefit from some understanding of the field, as well as billable work, government regulation, industry news, contracts/proposals, and legal aspects of the business. Immersing your new employees in their specific job function may be an efficient short-term plan, but building a solid foundation is likely best in the long run.
3. Provide real opportunities to fail
If you've followed the first two steps, giving your new hires a chance to fail is going to be a critical component to their growth. There are situations to avoid, of course—a finance intern shouldn't be making unilateral decisions about the 2020 Marketing strategy—but appropriate exposure to challenges will result in many small failures leading to massive success over time. For people who have a hard time letting go of control, giving new team members room to fail can be a huge task. If you're not willing to hand off important tasks, the team won't grow and new employees will never have the chance to learn and overcome.
4. Encourage lots of questions
Answering questions takes time, but forcing new team members to solve every problem on their own is just as costly. In a niche industry, it can take many years to absorb industry information organically. Asking questions allows new employees to hack the typical growth curve while leveraging the expertise of others on the team. Taking the time to thoughtfully answer employees' questions shows them that you are invested in their growth, and it can also help you process your own ideas and opinions about the industry. At a certain point, asking questions (instead of just trying and failing) can become a stumbling block, so make sure that your team is balancing their questions with genuine effort towards difficult tasks.
5. Give your team regular feedback.
Though it is sometimes faster to just fix someone's mistakes and move on, taking the time to provide your team with feedback helps them grow and ensures that fewer mistakes are made in the future. Feedback does need to be prompt, as individuals can quickly form bad habits. If you have a field crew that is out in the field each day their first week, correction after the first day will have a much stronger effect than feedback given after the first week. While regular, constructive critique is necessary for your team's growth, remember to also mention the things employees are doing well and how they have exceeded expectations. Like any other relationship, it can be damaging to focus solely on the negative.
6. Provide real support.
Growth is hard, which means it's almost always uncomfortable. If you're asking your team to learn and take on new job functions at a rapid pace, you also need to provide meaningful support when they become stressed, tired, or are feeling defeated. Be transparent about the timelines for a project, the margins that you expect, and the effort it is going to take from the whole team. Without this information, it's hard for any employee (not just the new ones!) to figure out what kind of energy to set aside to carry the project through. If it's going to be a marathon, your team shouldn't burn themselves out in the first few weeks, just as you should avoid a measured, sustainable pace if it's just a two-week push. Support can play a crucial role both in growth and in the overall culture of your team, as supported employees are likely to pour energy into supporting others (both in and out of the office). It's also much easier to grow when you feel like your team is rooting for you.
Thanks for reading! If you have any other tips to bring people up to speed quickly in the telecommunications industry, send them our way! Questions or comments? Give us a shout at email@example.com.