How do you double your workforce without chaos?by
Saeed Sheikh shares his experience of increasing the business’s workforce.
Doubling the workforce doesn’t mean doubling your headache. That’s not blind optimism; I know it can be done because I have done it myself in recent months. Opening a new office or doubling headcount in existing premises may seem like a recipe for stress, hassle and inconvenience. There is also the worry of training up a new batch of employees to enable and empower them to build relationships with your existing customers. Wouldn’t some customers get frustrated with having to deal with people who weren’t yet sure what they were supposed to be doing?
These are important concerns and provide a snapshot of the complex decision-making processes behind taking a business decision to rapidly expand and recruit. When choosing a location for your new office, vital considerations include determining the location that will attract the most talented (and loyal) workforce. This can be challenging. From experience, commissioning research on potential locations or new sites removes some of the headache. A location survey can encompass key subject areas such as staff attrition and unemployment rates, average salaries and property prices, and accessibility from other areas. Based on research findings, your business can identify the area best placed to accommodate your business and staffing needs.
Naturally, choosing a location that’s promising from a recruitment perspective is only the beginning. One still needs to actually get the onboarding process started. A great way to do this is to bring some of the business’s most experienced staff to the new premises while the new recruits are arriving. Existing employees will be able to show the incoming employees how their job is carried out in practice. They’ll also give the new recruits a glimpse into a company’s particular values and culture. Often in a sales environment, for example, the top priority for staff is to reach out to as many new customers as possible. However, if your focus is centred on the retention of existing loyal customers then consistent delivery of good customer service is key.
Of course, anyone can repeat these common business sense philosophies endlessly at training sessions, but unless people actually see more senior colleagues working in these ways they may not adapt as easily. This is why it helps to integrate new staff with staff that have been working with you for some time.
It is also essential that any company making lots of new hires can provide a standardised training programme. This is why you should consider hiring lots of new people at once rather than staggering their arrivals. This seems counter-intuitive: surely there’s far more chaos in bringing in 50 new workers at once than a few at a time? But the problem with the latter option is that you may end up delivering a slightly different overview to staff being trained in sporadic batches. And in the long run it takes up far more company time as you have to keep repeating training sessions. It’s easier to bite the bullet and bring everyone on board at once. It is of paramount importance that teams have the same level of training, delivered with the same level of detail and points of focus.
The onboarding programme must take new recruits through the company’s history, goals and ambitions, and introduce them to their customers – not just briefly, but actually give them a full overview of who they are and their concerns. Speaking from experience, if most of your customers are SMEs: your staff need to understand what owners of small and medium-sized businesses are thinking so they can better relate to them.
Finally, companies need to realise that training doesn’t end when the onboarding process has finished. You should always keep up with your employees and make sure they’re fitting into their new roles. If you monitor your employees carefully, using measurable metrics, then you’ll be able to identify areas where employees need more support. Any approach to staff monitoring should be tempered with moderation and balance. Staff should feel supported to take the lead and use their own initiative, and heavy surveillance can stifle development.
Finding the right balance between collecting and analysing performance-related data and allowing staff freedoms to lead can be one of the most challenging training problems a business will face. There’s no easy one-size-fits-all solution to this dilemma: all companies have different requirements. All I can advise is that you really need to invest time so you can discover the perfect balance – and not only for the positive effect on staff retention rates.
Perhaps the most important point to share from my experience in doubling a workforce is remembering to look to the future. When lots of new employees arrive it’s easy to get overwhelmed and focus only on the moment. But it’s essential that you keep the big picture in mind. Because there is a reason why you’re putting these strategies in place. And in the future, all of your customers will benefit from the changes you’re making. If you keep your sight on that, it will guide you through some of the challenging times. With the right people, training and support in place, such ambitions goals are within anyone’s reach.
Saeed Sheikh is account management director of XLN Telecom. XLN is one of the fastest growing companies in the UK having already supplied phone lines, broadband, mobile, card processing and energy to over 250,000 small businesses. Founded in 2002, XLN set out to change the stranglehold that expensive consumer giants had on small businesses and their expenditure on essential services.