In part one of my two-part series about how managers can fast-track new field technicians for success, I discussed the challenges that new hires face when moving from a single-site position into an unsupervised, travel-intensive field service role. If new techs are simply given an address and pushed out the door, they might survive on their own. But chances are that they’ll acquire some bad habits along the way, habits that will make them less productive and too independent when it comes to towing the company line.
So, what are service managers to do?
Let’s examine ways to encourage behavior that fosters productivity and employee loyalty, drawn from first-hand experience during more than 35 years in the field.
Tip No. 1: Mentor, Mentor, Mentor
Ideally, a new tech should shadow a mentor until both the mentor and the rookie feel comfortable. And if you haven’t established mentorship opportunities, what are you waiting for? Sure, many service organizations struggle to overcome the talent crisis in field service, but mentoring is a critical, and often overlooked, aspect of training.
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And thanks to technology, virtual mentoring is now an option for service organizations that just can’t take techs’ time away from the customer. With their mobile devices and next-gen tools like augmented reality, senior techs can virtually support newcomers and provide encouragement when the going gets tough.
The downside of virtual mentoring is that it’s difficult to monitor and even harder to enforce. When a new tech is told that he or she will be riding along with a senior tech for a few months to “learn the ropes”, both the mentor and the mentored understand their roles. But problems arise when a manager tells the team to “keep an eye on the new hire and help out if he gets stuck.” New hires eager to prove their competency might refuse to ask for help, and experienced team members—despite their best intentions—get busy and forget to check on the new hire.
Both scenarios are understandable, which is why managers play a critical role in successful virtual mentorship programs. They’ll need to be in constant contact with new hires to ensure they seek help, and with the service team to ensure that technicians provide support.
Tip No. 2: Help Newcomers Adjust to the Realities of Solo Field Work
Socialization among field service personnel is unique, and if no care is given to foster team spirit, new techs will often bond with those they interact with the most: customers.
One-on-one mentoring can help new hires transition from an office (or on-site service) environment to the field. If a single mentor is not practical, consider ride-alongs with a different tech at least one day each week.
Team meetings and manager ride-alongs will provide some much-needed socialization for new hires, especially if they are encouraged to share their frustrations and victories. This is best done face-to-face to cultivate team spirit and to help new techs build social bonds with their coworkers, which helps to develop company loyalty.
Tip No. 3: Encourage Technicians’ Freedom
Giving approval to techs who use company time to run personal errands might go against conventional wisdom, or even company policy, but chances are that your senior techs have found ways to “cheat” the GPS tracking and reporting systems you use to try to make sure everyone is putting in a full day’s work. So why not use it as a carrot instead?
Technicians appreciate a manager who allows them to run by Home Depot to pick-up some supplies for their weekend project, or to leave an hour early because the next service is in another city and there’s less than an hour left in the workday. It is important that you let your techs, new and veteran alike, know that you’re fine with an occasional personal use of company time. (They should also be aware of the limits and and recognize when they’ve exceeded them.) By ignoring this reality, new techs might feel as if they are cheating the system and wonder what else they might get away with.
Tip No. 4: Reinforce Good Behavior
Rewarding field service technicians with time off during slow times is a smart strategy to reward employees, no matter their tenure. Techs who have developed bad habits should be disciplined, but then rewarded when their behavior changes. Most managers hate the discipline side of managing so much that they forget that it takes positive reinforcement to make a lasting change in someone who has developed a negative habit.
Poor work habits start early and are often a result of either a lack of guidance when a worker transitions from an office environment to working in the field, or from learning those unwanted behaviors from senior technicians. This is why it is important to choose the best mentor, if mentoring is an option. Mentor or not, reinforcing good work habits with a reward such as leaving a few hours early will not only be a hit with your technicians, it might just make them work harder to earn a few hours off in the future.
The goal, after all, is to build a field service team that’s productive and that will speak well of the company to customers. It’s easiest to instill a sense of loyalty and responsibility early on, but even the most jaded technician’s behavior can be changed with the right mix of discipline and reward.