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An effective onboarding strategy is key to a new employee’s level of engagement and productivity.

May 30, 2014
Margie Holly
Hire Power Industry News

Angela TaloccoMargie Holly

Fifty percent of all hourly workers leave new jobs in the first four months, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. In the landscape industry, that figure is likely to be higher as waves of new hires may cycle through each season. That revolving door can translate into hundreds or thousands of wasted dollars.

While various factors affect an employee’s decision to stay or go, experts agree that an effective onboarding strategy is key to a new employee’s level of engagement and productivity. Onboarding is more than just having a new hire fill out paperwork and watch an orientation video. It is a strategic, timely and consistent system of acclimating the employee to their role within the culture of the company.

Crafting an effective program. As you formulate content and a delivery timeline, keep in mind two primary goals: Make employees feel welcome and comfortable in their role, and minimize the time it takes them to become productive members of the team.

Your program should provide new employees with answers to the following:

Do I have what I need to do my job? Instill confidence by giving them basic tools and training from the start. A confident employee will be ready and eager to produce results quickly. For office workers, field supervisors or customer service reps, have their phone, workstation or vehicle set up before they start. For laborers, emphasizing their safety from day one and offering a clear map of training opportunities will inspire them to advance their skills and earning potential.

Do I know what is expected of me? A 2010 study by Cognisco found that businesses lose approximately $37 billion annually as a result of employees not understanding their jobs. Managers should clearly define job responsibilities and performance expectations while also emphasizing the employee’s role in upholding company values and ethics.

Who do I need to know?
Provide opportunities for new employees to network across the organization with peers, department heads and senior managers. New hire meet-and-greets with the executive team, a day of cross-functional job shadowing or team-building events and lunch with department heads of other functional areas are all easy ways to help employees old and new establish relationships across the organization. Employees who feel they have effective working relationships and are accepted as part of the team tend to report higher job satisfaction and are more likely to stay with the company.

What is it like to work here? Whether by design or default, every company has a unique culture, vocabulary and behavior patterns that reflect its values. Provide learning opportunities that will help new team members understand and fit into your culture. Employees learn the culture best by observing real life behavior, so be sure the new hire is exposed to your culture in action, for example through community service days, team building events, shadowing customer service reps or even just socializing at a team picnic or after work soccer game. This will help them adjust faster and will contribute to their commitment, satisfaction and success.

Tips for successful implementation. Once you determine what new employees need to know, refine delivery of content by what they need to know on the first day, the first week, first month, first quarter and first year. Remember, an onboarding program is not a single event, nor is it an information dump of the entire history, mission and vision of the company. It is a focused ongoing effort to ensure your employees have the tools and confidence they need to succeed.

Be relevant, timely and flexible. Deliver information in useable chunks that can be easily assimilated within the context of the employee’s early development. There are some things your employee needs to know in the first weeks to be effective in their role. Other details are “nice to know” and can be saved for a more formal group presentation delivered within the first month of joining the company. But don’t wait longer than a month or you risk the employee becoming caught up in the whirlwind of the job.

Deliver content through flexible venues. Some data lends itself to a formal presentation while other information is better demonstrated through team meetings. More intangible information, such as culture and behavioral norms, is best gleaned from informal or social settings, such as mentoring sessions or team outings.

Pair new hires with buddies and mentors. Sometimes new employees fear asking a “dumb question” in front of peers or are unsure how to navigate sensitive cultural issues. Work buddies or mentors should model appropriate behaviors within your culture and can offer a more intimate setting where it is “safe” for them to talk about topics they may feel uncomfortable discussing with their immediate supervisor or team.

Encourage two-way communication. Offer several channels through which employees can give feedback and get their questions answered – FAQ’s, HR help desks, post-training focus groups and team socials.

Be sure the employee also receives regular feedback, especially in the first 90 days. Use tools such as interim performance appraisals, 360-degree feedback and regularly scheduled check-in meetings with managers. I’d suggest weekly check-ins with the manager for at least the first month, and then adjust as you feel is needed.

Think of a good onboarding program as a chance to bridge any gaps between expectations and reality for the employee and the company. When done consistently and well, it will help you reduce turnover costs, ensure a faster learning curve and develop a more productive and engaged workforce.


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