Reveille, reveille, reveille! Out of your bunks, Now! I will never forget hearing those words – and maybe a few obscenities scattered here and there – shouted at the top of the drill instructor’s lungs as the lights came on, and a trash can was hurled across the deck.

My first day in Boot Camp started at about 3:30 a.m. Up I sprung, wiping the sleep from my eyes and readying myself for the military’s version of an onboarding process. I didn’t know what the day held for me, but I certainly wasn’t in for cheerios and cartoons on this particular morning.

Next up was the issuing of the gear that we would need as new professionals in the United States Navy. We got uniforms, hats, boots, safety gear, and very thorough instructions about how to stencil them, how to fold them, and even where they were to be stowed in our lockers. Creativity and artistic license were frowned upon.

Written on the walls were clever sayings, such as “Through these portals pass the worlds finest sailors,” or, “It’s not just a job, it’s an Adventure,” or “Honor, courage, commitment.”

After receiving our uniforms, we started learning how to do our job. In Boot Camp, we didn’t learn how to navigate ships or tear down diesel engines. Our jobs were marching, cleaning our barracks, and working at the galley doing large-scale food preparation. We became masters at polishing the floor with our bare hands and peeling enough potatoes to feed hundreds of recruits. Needless to say, this wasn’t quite as exotic as the vision my recruiter shared with me.

Next, we learned our general orders, military history, and the basics of naval warfare. Over the next eight weeks, we did a lot of physical development as well. Running increased from a mile or so to several miles that were eventually timed and done as an entire company of men. Incorrect answers to tricky questions, smirks, or any amount of insubordination were always met with a request to “Drop and give me 50 push-ups!” Though now that I think of it…they weren’t really requesting at all.

Eventually, we mastered the basics and graduated from Boot Camp. Both I and my fellow recruits were incredibly proud of that accomplishment. Those of us who finished, about half, were old salts ready to take on the world.

When I got to my first ship I was the bottom of the barrel. A “new boot” who “didn’t know nothing.” Upon boarding, I was met with a whole new shopping list of basics to learn. I had to learn basic damage control, how to handle mooring lines, work in a gun crew, and my painting skills improved dramatically. I could paint anything they requested of me, as long as it was gray.

I learned a lot of life lessons from my time in the Navy that have served me my entire life. These lessons have also helped me to be successful in business and in life. So, let’s break out some of the processes that made my naval training successful that can be applied to your own onboarding process.

  1. Wear it with Pride. When we received our uniforms in Boot Camp, we were instructed on how to maintain them, and to take pride in wearing our colors. The same should go for your technicians, who are representing your company when they wear your uniform and company hat. Of course, we want them to look good for our customers, but expecting them to wear it well has more to do about how they will feel about themselves.
  2. Safety. Just like in the military, issuing safety gear and training new hires about the dangers of the job shows them you care about their safety. It’s important that you take care of your folks and create a culture of safety from the day they come aboard.
  3. Words to Live By. Each branch of the military has its own slogan that represents their core values. Your slogan should be no different. It should promote your mission statement, your vision, and your brand. Employees need to know and feel that these words are a guiding principle for how you do business and how your team treats each other. I wouldn’t work someplace I wasn’t proud of.
  4. Never Underestimate the Basics. Although the tasks we took part in were very basic, we were taught to do them a very exacting way and with consistency. Processes that your company performs every single day must be trained to a set standard. For example, when performing an HVAC System Check, is every aspect of that process trained through sequence? If your company is going to perform hundreds or even thousands of maintenance visits every year, each visit has to happen in order, the same way, and with a pre-determined result. If you don’t train the basics, the results will be inconsistent.
  5. Define the Progression. Are there technician levels within your company? If not, there is nowhere for them to grow. By creating levels of achievement, your employees will be inspired to climb the company ladder and grow as individuals. This also ties into your ability to recognize team members for both professional growth and responsibility, and to compensate them accordingly.
  6. Non-Negotiable Standards. By learning our general orders, we learned the non-negotiable standards that were expected of us. It was never OK to leave our post or fall asleep. Bad things could happen if we did. It’s also not OK to drive the company truck home from the bar or take advantage of a customer. Again, very bad things could happen. We can’t assume everyone’s definition of what is expected of them is the same. It shouldn’t be open to interpretation.

The success of my training while in the military service was achieved through practice, drill, and rehearsal. By doing tasks over and over the correct way, a consistently effective result can be achieved. In the same way, having a results-focused and well-executed training plan will teach your techs how to carry out their jobs with success and confidence.

Your methods, obviously, won’t follow the same approach as the United States Navy. However, you can accomplish many of the same great results in a kinder, more supportive way. After all, this is a volunteer service.

Publication date: 1/28/2019

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