Today the process of ensuring the new employee has a great start, becomes engaged, and stays is called onboarding. Onboarding is more than just orientation and training that have been our traditional focus for new employees.
The Society for Human Resource Management describes onboarding as:
“The process by which new hires get adjusted to the social and performance aspects of their jobs quickly and smoothly, and learn the attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to function effectively within an organization.”
Onboarding, then, continues until the employee is acclimated to your vision, core values, and farm culture and is fully performing his or her job responsibilities. It includes much more than learning the skills and responsibilities of the position.
In fact, research shows that fully half of new hires decide they will leave the company, business, or organization in the first week on the job. Not all leave immediately, and a few probably change their mind and stay, but most leave eventually without ever becoming engaged employees! Or, even worse, they stay but become below average employees and often “the one rotten apple” on their team.
For a new employee to become a long-term, highly productive, engaged employee requires a three-part onboarding process. The first two – orientation and training – are familiar. The third – we will call it engagement – is new. The first two are necessary; the third is crucial to your goal to have passionate, career-oriented employees. We look briefly at the first two and in some depth at engagement.
First, however, and before the employee arrives you must have a detailed onboarding plan — orientating, training, and integrating the new employee. Schedule time for yourself and others to connect with the new employee. It is easy to get engaged in activities and leave the new employee “hanging.”
You have likely always been a part of your farm. The information the new employee requires in orientation is second nature to you. You will undoubtedly miss many key items unless you have an orientation checklist containing all the items the new employee needs to know to feel comfortable in his or her new surroundings. You can ask your newest employees to help develop the checklist and add to it over time.
You or the new employee’s supervisor are the training experts. My only suggestion is that you be certain to explain why tasks are performed the way they are. This explanation will enhance the new employee’s comfort level, confidence, and engagement in the tasks and the farm.
The more we learn from modern research about how to lead and coach employees; the more we understand that the most productive, easiest to supervise, and longest tenured employees are those that are passionate about the farm’s success; they, then, work because they want to, not because they have to.
Onboarding to create passionate employees requires your leadership and coaching from day one. In fact, engagement, and thus onboarding, starts with recruitment and selection as you select candidates who are a “fit” for your vision, values, and culture.
We look at three components of onboarding for engagement. The first is to be certain the new employee quickly learns about your farm. Include the following in your continuing discussion of your farm:
- Continually discuss and use the farm vision and core values.
- Explain your hopes and dreams for the future and some of the strategic moves you have planned or hope to plan to fulfill those hopes and dream.
- Talk about the history of your farm including the founders.
- Share the traditions, symbols, and meaningful events important to in farm culture.
- “Chalk the field.” Provide clarity in instructions, tasks, plans, and expectations. Although always important, clarity is especially important for the new hire.
The second is building strong relationships with every member of your workforce. Back in the “old days” of supervision, friendships at work were frowned upon. Today’s research contradicts that idea. In fact, the Gallop engagement work finds that having a “best friend at work” is highly positively correlated with employee engagement.
“We want to focus on creating a memorable experience for the new hire in the first year rather than processing them in the first few weeks.”
– Cheryl Hughey, Director of Onboarding at Southwest Airlines
Begin by introducing your new employee to your workforce. Use your knowledge of the new employee to suggest common interests. Monitor progress to be certain the new employee is being assimilated into the workforce.
Consider identifying someone – let’s call him or her a “buddy” – who the new employee feels comfortable going to with concerns or issues. This person could be you (the owner), his or her supervisor, the person who recruited the new employee to the company, or just an engaging member of the current workforce.
The third component – passion – builds on the first two. Passion takes time to develop, but is easily “snuffed out.” Two suggestions to get started on the right path are first to show you own passion:
- Most of us, especially us males, struggle showing our emotions. This is a good time to overcome that reluctance and let your passion for the farm show through. In today’s tough times, this may be difficult but it is crucial to not “infect” new employees with today’s pessimism.
- It is not too early to talk about opportunities for the new employee to grow and advance his or her career at your farm. Since he or she has just been in the job market, career plans have likely been in his or her thoughts. Connecting early with possibilities will increase passion for your farm.
Two suggestions to successfully implement the three components of onboarding are:
- Reprioritize the first week. Since we have had an open position, we want the new employee to start working right away. However, onboarding is a marathon, not a sprint. I suggest the priorities for the first week should be 1) orientation, 2) engagement, 3) training.
- On the new employees first day, explain that you (or his/her supervisor) will meet with him or her weekly at a set time with the only agenda item to discuss progress in the onboarding process. I suggest starting each meeting with two questions: what is going great? and what could be going better?
A final note regarding exceptional new hires. Too often, it is assumed that exceptional hires are smart enough to figure things out on their own. This is a dangerous assumption! Exceptional new hires come with high expectations; it is imperative that you meet and exceed those expectations from the beginning.
Bob Milligan is a dairy consultant with Dairy Strategies. This article appears in his April newsletter and is used here with permission. Bob can be contacted at [email protected] and by phone at 651.647.0495.