Onboarding: The Key to Valued Employee Retention

Branding, corporate identity and corporate image are just a few of the buzzwords the folks in the marketing department use to describe the basic building blocks of a comprehensive business development plan.

What these terms have in common is that they’re all about communications. Simply put, as every convenience retailer knows, the world won’t beat a path to your door unless you tell them your address, said human resources expert Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics Inc. in Sugarland, Texas. Store operators also believe everything they do—from how the customer is greeted, to managing accounts payable, to the way the restrooms look—melds into a cohesive whole that communicates the character of your business to everyone in your sphere of influence.

“While most retailers understand how important branding, identity, and image are to winning and keeping customers, many have yet to realize that the same principles also apply to how an organization attracts and keeps quality employees,” Kleiman said.

Onboarding is a fairly new term that was created to encompass all the various steps and interactions that take place between a job applicant’s first contact with your organization up until the applicant-turned-new-hire can be considered “mainstreamed.” Onboarding includes the entire recruiting, selection and hiring process as well as orientation, training, and even the first days, weeks, or months on the job.

“The key to successfully managing the onboarding period is to recognize that first impressions are lasting and that what happens during this time correlates directly to how long new hires stick around,” Kleiman said. “Onboarding recognizes that fact that all applicants and new hires draw conclusions about your organization, both formally and informally, based on factors as diverse as how efficiently and courteously job applicants are handled to the way the interview is conducted, how the offer is extended, and how relevant (or boring) orientation is.”

Ensuring the Right Fit
Throughout the hiring process, applicants are asking themselves: “Will I like working here?” And then, post-hire: “Have I made a good decision?” Once hired, they voraciously gather every shred of information available in order to see if hiring promises are kept and expectations met. They keenly observe all personal interactions to see how employees treat one another as well as customers and vendors. “Their circuits are on overload trying to figure out how best to fit in and if anyone is a potential friend, foe or ally,” Kleiman said.

If the new hire finds the employer does not keep its word, has misrepresented any facet of the job or the company, is disorganized, unprofessional or disrespectful, most new hires will feel absolutely no compunction about moving on in short order. In other words, the employer did not keep its end of the bargain and the deal’s off.

“Of the many walking turnover statistics I’ve debriefed, most hourly employees said they knew within the first two days whether or not they made a good decision, but most also stuck it out for about two weeks just to be completely sure the job was not for them because no one likes having to go out and do a job search all over again,” Kleiman said. While it would be impossible for any manager or supervisor to personally shepherd a new hire through the entire onboarding process, a commitment to five simple actions will allow you to cement a good relationship with the new hire as well as catch and correct any misunderstandings or missteps before they result in a costly resignation.

The ‘five firsts’ of new-hire onboarding include:
First Hour: Be on time and prepared to greet the new hire enthusiastically. Make introductions. Give a tour of the entire facility and an overview of what to expect. Assign a mentor or friend to be their “go-to” person until mainstreamed. Answer all questions. Most importantly, make it clear how and why their job is important to the organization so they can justifiably take pride in their work.

2. first day: At the end of the new hire’s first day, be there to ask how it went. Any problems? Any suggestions? Anything we could do better? What were the new hire’s first impressions?

3. first Week: At the end of the first week, ask the same questions and more.

4. first Paycheck: Deliver the first one in person. If the new hire is not working out, this is the perfect time to cut your losses. If the new hire is working out, tell them how pleased you are and ask how they are feeling about their new job. Put younger employees and teens at ease and let them know how you feel about their performance.

5. first Anniversary: This is a big deal to most every employee, especially teens. “Be sure to acknowledge it in some way,” Kleiman said. For example, some employers have a combination birthday and employment anniversary cake once a month. A personal note of appreciation they can share with family or a small token of appreciation work well too.

“The thing retailers need to remember is first impressions are lasting and the fastest, least expensive way to reduce costly employee turnover is to make more favorable first impressions than missteps during onboarding,” Kleiman said.

Targeting Teens
Employing teens has always come with challenges, and that’s more important today than ever. Raised while multi-tasking on life’s super-technology highway, they can confuse, complicate, and at times, consternate.

“The truth is every generation thinks higher of their own performance of when they were teens. How soon we all forget,” said Ken Whiting, president of WAVES for Success Inc., a consulting firm in Santa Cruz, Calif., that specializes in youth hiring. “Still, the reality for many businesses is teens are the employees closest to the customer. To remain competitive and maximize profits, it’s essential that employers capture, leverage and contribute to the skills that teens can bring to the workplace. But that requires change on the employers’ part.”

This is an age group, most born since 1990, whose entire lives have been enveloped in a world of technology, information and communication change, as well as major cultural and societal shifts. Less attention has been given to personal responsibility, and basic work ethics are not taught in school or at home. They simply have never heard about the importance of being on time and in uniform, giving respect to a supervisor, communicating clearly, making eye contact or job commitment significance.

So what’s an employer to do? Plenty, said Whiting, who offered guidelines to an effective strategy to working with teens, which he refers to as “WAVES.”

WAY OF LIFE: This is about improving the workplace environment. Appreciate the fact that young staff members are the way they are. “It’s not wrong, it’s not right, it just is,” Whiting said. “Meet them where they are. Allow some failure. Don’t focus on what they’ve done wrong. Build your relationship by encouraging them on what they are doing right. They can become fiercely loyal if they are taken seriously and treated with respect.”

First impressions mean everything. Be welcoming, provide social events and emphasize fun. Celebrate their successes, not those just from the workplace, but learn where they excel away from work. Go the extra step to even make a connection with their parents, families and friends.

ATTITUDE: “Employees come with an attitude of independence focused on ‘what’s in it for me.’ If you learn how to feed this you’ll find highly motivated teens,” Whiting said. “Provide flexible scheduling and provide incentives for performance, and don’t make them wait. Instant prize programs are best.”

Recognize positive behaviors and catch them doing something right. Promote strong performers quickly and give them more responsibility. Patience is not a virtue with teens, so provide variety in job duties. Establish goals and empower them to come up with the answers.

Just as important is the attitude of store managers. A condescending and inconsistent attitude from leaders at work will send your teen employee out the door and working down the street.

VERBAL, VIDEO AND VISUAL: This age group has watched 20,000 hours of TV by the time they are 18. Over six hours per day are spent in front of a video screen. “You need to use this technology to your advantage. Include some examples here, such as create a training video for your staff to watch, use computer programs to train new hires,” Whiting said. “Names are important, so don’t be afraid to use their nickname.”

Job applications should be online and your work schedules posted on your Web site. “Don’t print mounds of paper and expect the information to be read and retained,” Whiting added. “Make handbooks and memos less complicated and smaller, while focusing on the most important items for your business success.”

Enhance communication by using e-mail and text messaging. Create a vibrant workplace through the use of photos and videos of employees at work and away from work.

EDUCATION, NOT JUST TRAINING: If training is the “how,” then education is the “why.” This age group requires to know the purpose, the why, behind tasks. Never assume anything—confirm their knowledge and explain the purpose behind every task.

“Parents and teachers used to prepare teens for the workplace,” Whiting said. “That does not occur at the same level as it once did. Build education into your training process and you will find longer-term, and a more committed young work force. This is the new calling for today’s teen employers.”

STYLE MATTERS: Style is how employees look, the image of your company and how they are treated at work. Teens care about how they look and how they’re treated. Uniforms shouldn’t embarrass your staff, and your grooming policy should be relevant. Be prepared to justify both to your employees.

Be knowledgeable of current teen trends in fashion, music and entertainment, and pay attention to the techniques and strategies utilized by retailers to get teens to spend their hard-earned money.

“Teens don’t quit companies, they quit people,” Whiting said. “As a supervisor of teens, how you carry yourself has a huge impact on performance and retention. Every manager or supervisor needs to be on board with the commitment of getting the most from your teens.”

A fresh approach in working with your teens does not mean that you need to compromise the values and principals of your business. Instead it should provide the opportunity for you to increase your focus.

“Teens can be inspired, motivated and productive,” Whiting said. “Today’s teens are the most knowledgeable and adaptive group ever. Don’t judge them through the eyes of when you were a teen … look through theirs. You have nothing to lose, everything to gain, and you’ll have a positive impact on the lives of the teenagers you employ.” CSD




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