Getting Onboarding

Onboarding is a human resource (HR) practice gaining traction throughout the ag industry. This is a process focused on engaging new hires in their job and helping them understand and embrace overall company vision. However, many of us in the retail agronomy business are left asking a simpler question: “How do I get this new employee in the saddle, trained on how we do things and generating a return, fast?”

The answer to the question is through an onboarding process built to help the employee learn a lot in a short period of time. The ability to make a new employee “stick” can often be tied to what they learned (or didn’t learn) during their first three months on the job. A number of organizations, both in and out of ag, have studied employee departures. A study done by found that 30% of new hires depart their company within two years. At an average of 25% of annual salary to replace that employee, the costs can really add up!

Engagement Is Key

Clear onboarding processes will provide a new employee with the training and resources they need to fully engage them in the role and company culture. An engaged employee understands their role, believes in the culture and future of the company, is energized to do their job, and overall a much more successful long-term employee. To create an energized employee, your onboarding process needs to include the following five components.

The first component in a successful onboarding program starts before they are even an employee. It begins with the very first “touch” of the candidate, whether it’s on campus, at a trade show or in the field. In high performance organizations, everyone becomes a recruiter for the company. The first impression your organization makes on this future employee will set the stage for their desire and attitude during the onboarding process.

Pre-hire onboarding requirements will include compelling job postings, prompt follow up by interviewers and a professional presentation of the organization. The offer itself is even part of the onboarding process. Know your candidate and make an effort to present an offer that will be accepted without negotiations. We have heard many stories of clients hiring someone, negotiating hard on the compensation to keep costs down and getting a disengaged employee on day one.

Now that you have an accepted offer the first day needs to be handled appropriately in the second component. You never get a second chance to capitalize on first day excitement, so make Day One special! Most new hires decide whether they made a good decision during their first week on the new job. Someone should greet them when they arrive and start by sharing their startup plan and answering any questions they may have. This is also a good time to take the new hire through the company’s mission, vision and goals and more importantly, how their role ties into where the company is going.

A key component to this initial meeting is to share with them who their mentor is. This mentor, or “Go-To” person, is critical for the new hire to be able to ask questions. If there is a “secret sauce” to onboarding, most HR professionals will tell you it is a mentor to the new hire. Tom Nelson, the vice president of HR for Farmers Cooperative Co. in Ames, IA, said: “An HR representative can make sure the employee has all the paperwork done and is ready for day one, but a mentor is a critical component of the onboarding process. A mentor enables that employee to successfully learn their role on a day-to-day basis.”

Tools Set Up

The third component is usually the easiest to make happen but the most overlooked by our clients — tools! The new hires’ desk, phone, computer, cell phone, vehicle, etc., need to be ready on Day One, with all accounts ready to go. Preparation will be noticed and greatly appreciated by the new hire, but it’s the lack of preparation that will immediately question the decision they have made. Nelson believes that this part of onboarding “can be handled by an administrative level person because it is generally a list that needs to be completed, but most organizations fail here because no one is responsible for the list.”

Our fourth onboarding component is a three-legged stool that consists of the hiring manager, HR and a mentor. These individuals must be in constant contact with the new hire to answer their questions and provide ongoing encouragement through the starting process. This prevents the employee from ever feeling “lost” or confused, and will make a big difference in the attitude of the employee. Everyone in the three-legged stool should initially check with the employee on at least a weekly basis to evaluate progress against a training plan and answer questions. The time between check-ups can stretch longer over time, but this group needs to continually make sure all HR issues are taken care of and that the new hire is assimilating into the organization and learning what they need to do. An ongoing system of feedback and continuous improvement is the goal.

Our last component is dogged determination. Most new hires will tell you that it takes 12 to 18 months to completely understand everything about their role in a company. How long is your orientation and onboarding process? Does it match the 12 to 18 month needs of your new employees? Don’t discount this length of time. Stay determined to answer questions and coach the candidate past the challenges they may face as the expectations and demands of the role increase.

Onboarding may not sound like rocket science, but it’s the little things that put the rocket on the right course to success. As recruiters, we know which companies have strong onboarding processes, because our candidates succeed and don’t call us frustrated with lack of direction or confusion. To retain your best, hire right and onboard through a process that sets them up to succeed.

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