Build a better employee. Sounds easy right? But it is far from easy; it is a very long process and it starts long before you have hired that perfect new team member. It starts with how and where you promote this new job offer you have. It is an offer, after all. You are offering to give someone a job. You need to build a solid hiring process long before the new applicants start knocking on the door. Where will you advertise this job offer, what will it say? What kind of candidate are you looking for? Who are you targeting? What kind of person would make the best employee? And someone who is standing upright and can hold a brush is not the right answer.
I have found that we often shoot too low when looking for quality candidates for a position in the car wash. By the way some of the help wanted ads are written, we often get what we asked for. Your help wanted ad needs to be exciting, bright, informative, and appealing to those who want to work for a company that is fun, face paced, with advancements, bonuses, and offers a long-term employment opportunity. Tell them you offer paid training and free uniforms. This type of ad will attract better candidates than saying something like this: Car wash attendant wanted; must work weekends.
When the applicants start rolling in and filling out their applications, make sure the person who is doing the hiring is the same person handing out the applications and greeting these new potential employees. You hopefully will be seeing them again in a formal interview, so introduce yourself and thank them for coming in. After they are done filling out the application, I recommend always conducting a mini, five-minute interview right on the spot. Keep it informal; look over the application for mistakes or blank areas as you ask the candidate a few quick questions. This will help you to decide if this person is a good enough fit so you then can check out their references and possibly call them back later. Write down their answers on the application. Ask them if they are working now, and when they would be available. Do they have a driver’s license and how would they get to work every day? Ask if they can work weekends, and why they would love to work at the car wash. Make sure you give them your business card and let them know to keep in touch with you and check back with you in a few days if they are still interested in the job. The ones who call you back in a few days let you know they are really interested and often turn out to be good employees.
Some people say employees never read employee handbooks, so don’t call it an employee handbook. Call it a new-hire pamphlet. Regardless, you need to design and print up a sheet or two that nails down the basics of working for your car wash. New employees have a lot of questions, and a new-employee pamphlet will really help them and you out if it is done correctly. Here are some common questions you can touch on:
• When is payday; do you offer direct deposit?
• When do I take lunch?
• Do I punch out for lunch, or do we eat while we work?
• What can I wear?
• Can I smoke cigarettes while I work?
• Can I use my cell phone while I work?
Also this would be a good place to include your drug and alcohol policy along with a copy of your safety program. Now let’s talk about the interview process.
This is where so many employers drop the ball. You need toconduct a great interview. There are many very informative ways to conduct a great interview online, but this is the one thing you do not want to shortcut. The hiring of most new employees who end up not working out within the first 30 days could have been avoided if the employer had conducted a better interview. For example, how did you not know that the new woman you just hired has two kids that she needs to drop off at school and daycare every day? In some states it is illegal to ask applicants in the interview if they have children, but there is no law that says you cannot ask them if they have anything going on in their lives that could interrupt them from making it to work on time everyday. The question I always love to ask: “So, how long have you been wanting to work at a car wash?” You might want to write down their answer to this question; it might play into your final decision as a tiebreaker when you have to decide whom to hire.
Long before you bring in that new employee, you need to have a new-hire policy in place — not for you, but for your existing team. They need to know what your expectations are; they need to know what to expect; they need to be taught what their jobs are when a new hire walks into the car wash. As much as we would like it not to be the case, a new employee is not going walk in the first day and be just one of the team — another topnotch employee. They have to be taught, they have to be lead, and they have to be guided. You need to make sure you have a program in place — policies and procedures that show everyone how this new employee is going to be trained.
The process is up to you. Every wash is different, but the basic steps I can tell you and these work. Day one, you the employer or manager, need to keep a blank schedule. This new employee needs to be your shadow for the first day. This does not mean you can never leave his side, it just means you are sending the message that your primary job this day is to get the new team member off to a great start working for your company. The new worker should not work much his first day, he or she needs to learn. They need to see and absorb the information first so, in the days ahead, they can begin to put into action what they learned. The first day you need to get to know each other, show them around, introduce them to your people, show them where the bathroom is, where can they go to eat lunch, let them see what you do everyday. You want to instill pride into this person from day one. Introduce them to some of your best customers. Talk to them about the history of your business and the vision moving forward. Help them to feel what your business is all about.
During the first day of training, break all the rules. Buy the employee lunch, call him “sir,” and treat him with the respect you would accord the mayor. Give new employees an official job title. Give them a uniform — a hat or tee shirt. Have all these ready on their first day. Plan your day around them. Give them a few free wash cards or vouchers to take home and give to their family and friends, telling them about their new job. This day is about welcoming them to your company, not about putting them to work.
Often, your present people are great teachers.
Day Two and Beyond
Let new employees go home after day one with their minds full instead of their muscles sore; there will be plenty of days for that. Day two and the days following are the days they learn their job. Once you have taught them the basics, turn them loose. Set up a small schedule and let your employees spend some time with the new person. Assign periods of the day for the new team member to work at the station he will be assigned with other employees who are masters at that spot. Often your present people are great teachers and can help you in training your new employees. Some people get nervous when the boss is around too much at first. Allowing your new hire to relax a bit and work with some of your seasoned veterans will help them to get settled in quicker. Make sure you have defined a clear training schedule. Provide the new hires clear expectations on what their job will be for the first few days and weeks, and let them know its all about learning and growing into the new job. Make sure you conduct routine evaluations and let new hires know they can come to you with any issues or questions.
How well do you think your car wash process is working? This is a great time to find out. First teach new employees how you want things done, then turn them over to your present employees to conduct some training on their own. Tell the new hires to come to you if they see that they are being taught something different than what you expect from them. This process finds gaps within your present wash process that you may not have known existed. This process also can expose some of your present employees who may have decided to fill in your new hire on their unhappiness here.
TAKE THE TIME
I have found that owners and managers want to begin making money off of new employees much too quickly by simply throwing them into the process with inadequate training and little direction as to what they are supposed to do. You need to take the time in the beginning. Throwing a new employee to the wolves only leads to frustrations for them, you, your present employees, and, worst of all, your customers. When your new employee doesn’t know his job and begins putting out a poor product and terrible service, it costs you a lot more in the end than a few extra days of dedicated training time. Building a perfect employee starts long before you even know who it is you are going to hire. The foundation of a great employee starts with your help wanted ad and builds from there. You can never hire a perfect employee, but you can build one.
Chuck Lundberg, a 25-year car wash industry professional, is presently general manager of Clean & Green Car Wash of Marlborough, MA and owner of Independent Car Wash Consultants of NH. Chuck has served on the board of directors of the New England Carwash Association and, most recently, was a speaker on a panel discussion at The Car Wash Show in Las Vegas in April. You can contact Chuck via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.