By Matthew Wirth

New hires need to go through some form of orientation, but do not mistake orientation for onboarding. Understanding and awareness of company culture, mission, HR compliance, standard business practices, and accounting methods familiarize an employee on how to successfully function in their new workplace structure.

While these standard operating practices (SOP) are a necessity for everyone in the company to “be on the same page,” they do not prepare a person for a career in the water business. In addition, there is a special language—a vernacular—associated with any vocation, and water is no different. An understanding of water vernacular is assumed by people in the business. Under­standing of the basics of water treatment allows one to understand the language and make sense of common conversations.

Here is a look at some of the basic words and processes everyone in the water business must know. Included is a sample of an onboarding schedule for consideration. Remember that every business is a little different and individualizing both an orientation and onboarding is part of management’s responsibility. Without a head start into a new position for new hires, employee retention becomes difficult.

In orientation, the employee learns the responsibilities, expec­tations, SOP, code of conduct, and human resources protocols associated with their employment. Onboarding is a schedule of training activities laid out hourly and daily for a period—this could be a week, six weeks, or longer depending on the employee’s experience and the amount of knowledge needed to succeed in the position. No matter how experienced and/or knowledgeable the hire, people do not come into a business totally self-funding and ready to perform seamlessly without an understanding of the work and tasked assigned to the position. Even a trained surgeon cannot step into the operating room and perform a procedure if they don’t know where the scalpel is.

Water Business Vernacular
The water industry, and individual water businesses, have their own language. The first piece of paper handed to a new hire is a definition of terms and commonly used acronyms associated with internal and external communications. Next is the units of measure. It can quickly become confusing when one hears things referred to a “cube” or a 1054, SDI, IEx, etc. Simply put—without an under­standing of what is said, there is no understanding of what to do.

Here are examples some of the general words and terms used in water work:
Here are examples some of the general words and terms used in water work:
1) Hardness
a. The presence of the hard mineral salts of calcium and magnesium.
b. Measured in grains, mg/l, or ppm.
i. One grain is 17.1 mg/l or ppm.
2) Measurements
a. Grain.
i. A measure of weight—an old unit of measure about the size of a “grain” of wheat.
b. Part per million (ppm).
i. One part per million is equivalent to one pound in 120,482 gallons.
c. Milligram per liter (mg/l).
i. Milligram per liter is equal to a ppm—a ppm or a mg/l are the same.
3) Volumes
a. Cubic foot.
i. A cubic foot is a volume of a one-foot x one-foot x one-foot cube. Sometimes referred to as a “cube.”
ii. Media commonly comes in cubic foot volumes.
1. It is not uncommon to see media represented by a weight. This is just the weight of the volume one cubic foot, and this varies with the type of media.
4) Media
a. What goes inside water treatment systems.
b. It can be softening resin (mineral) or a filtering material.
c. Dead end filter/separation products use a media for their construction.
5) Physical Water Treatment—Chemistry
a. Ion Exchange (IEx).
i. The most common ion exchange is softening where the divalent ions of calcium and magnesium are exchanged for monovalent sodium—or in deionization hydrogen.
ii. There are multiple other IEx applications, but these are specific to advanced technologies.
b. Filtering
i. The separation of suspended particulates from a water source.
c. Adsorption
i. Removing water-borne contaminants by adsorbing them onto a media substrate.
d. Catalytic
i. Using a catalyst to accelerate a chemical reaction to allow a media to capture or adsorb at targeted constituent in water.

The list goes on and there are different terms used in every organ­ization, but it become clear with just a simple review how complex the vernacular is in the water industry. Companies cannot expect a new hire to understand the daily conversations without first knowing the language.

Orientation
Remembering the three reasons people do not do their job:

1) They do not know what their job is.
2) They do not know how to do their job.
3) There is an outside influence preventing them from doing their job.

An orientation explains what the job is and outlines responsi­bilities, expectations, company operating practices (one of the most important is who does the billing, ordering, and collecting) code-of-conduct, and any practices unique to the organization. In orientation, be very clear about what is intellectual property and proprietary information/trade secrets—this should be covered in a confidentiality agreement and/or a nondisclosure agreement.

Onboarding
Bringing a new hire into the organization is the company’s opportunity for a first impression. Fail here, and the previous efforts of finding, recruiting, and hiring a new team member are possibly lost. Some people simply need a job and will perform to get a paycheck but not in an optimal way. Get this right and the company gains a valuable asset—a productive team member who raises the level of performance of the other team members. There is no “getting this wrong” in the first days and weeks of bringing a new person into the company.

Onboarding offers the new hire a glimpse into the day-to-day functioning of the business. Whether the person coming on­board is a sales rep, warehouse or tech staff, office, or support worker, manager, etc., it helps for them to see working structure of the company.

Understanding, even if it’s a glimpse, what their fellow team members do to keep the company on track and profitable helps the hire feel part of the team. Seeing that everyone in the organization relies on others to do their job effectively and efficiently sets the expectations and tone for your new employee. Showing newcomers what it takes for the company to be successful produces appreciation and empathy for fellow team members.

The onboarding process and schedule is a published company document guiding the hire through their first days and weeks—starting on day one and ending with a final review. Commonly, the person leading the onboarding is an assigned mentor or corporate trainer. The length of the onboarding varies with need. On day one, share the Corporate Onboarding guide with the new hire and discuss the process. Be clear that they will be working through all the steps and be prepared to respond to questions concerning their learning alone the way. Notice week one starts on Tuesday. Monday is not necessarily the best day to start with an onboarding. Mondays bring challenges and possible chaos—not a good environment for an excited, possibly scared new team member.

Throughout the process of onboarding, take time to review and assess the progress. Participation in challenges, review, and assessment are not optional for either the mentor or their trainee. Managers need to be engaged in the onboarding of people under their umbrella of responsibility and review progress—and be ready to step in and affirm or redirect progress.

Throughout the onboarding process (Image B), there are opportunities to redirect, back up, and adjust. For instance, if the new hire is a seasoned professional and they can move quickly through the process, then accelerating and moving to regular activities is acceptable—be cautious here and be very clear that if there is a setback, then the onboarding will reset. The scheduled onboarding may end, but there needs to be reviews at 90 days, six months, and annually. This is valuable for both the company and the employee. Never forget that three reasons people do not do the job:

1) They do not know what their job is.
2) They do not know how to do their job.
3) There is an outside influence keeping them from doing their job.

It sounds simple or even obvious, but people are complicated, and without communication and understanding, employees get lost in the day-to-day tasks. Staying aware, engaged, and affirming are all critical to maintaining one’s workforce. Being direct and clear about expectations and responsibilities keeps the “noise” out of the workforce feed­back loop. Noise (negative communication) kills productivity and damages profit­ability. More than any time in recent history, attaining and keeping good people is a challenge. Working diligently on your workforce is a full-time job.

In organization management, experts say that 10% of any workforce needs to be replaced. They also say that once replaced, 10% of others will fill the place of the unproductive. This is a somewhat cynical look at the workplace, but it can be accurate without managing every company’s number one asset—their people. Be aware, be engaging, be firm, and never forget to be affirming. Humans crave affirmation and it never hurts to tell someone, “Good Job!”

About the author
Matthew Wirth is a Water Professional with 42 years of experience, working at multiple levels in the water industry. The scope of his experience includes heavy industrial and commercial systems to public and private well applications – both customer direct and nationwide distribution. In addition to front line field support (including design, application and service troubleshooting), Wirth is an approved trainer for several industry organizations, state CEU programs and an author for trade periodicals. He holds a Water Conditioning Master license in the State of Minnesota, a BA Degree in organizational management and communication from Concordia University (St. Paul, MN) and received his engineering training at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, SD. Wirth is the General Manager of the Pargreen Sales Engineering-Water Division in Chicago, IL. He can be reached at (630) 433-7760.

 

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