First Impressions: Implementing Effective Onboarding Practices - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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First Impressions: Implementing Effective Onboarding Practices

Photo: LandCare

You put a lot of effort into recruiting and hiring new employees for your team, but the hard work shouldn’t stop there once they’ve signed on. Onboarding is a crucial step that sets new hires up for success. Proper onboarding can also help reduce high turnover rates.

For instance, when LandCare restructured several years ago, they also assessed and redesigned their onboarding practices to ensure everyone receives a consistent and thorough experience.

“High turnover rates signify disengaged team members, so we knew we had to improve our entire employee experience,” says Jennifer Burnett, VP of organizational development for LandCare. “We recognized that the onboarding process is an important step in making sure our new team members feel welcome and appreciated. It also serves as an opportunity to instill the culture of LandCare.”

Lindgren Landscape, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, also recently implemented new onboarding practices when they hired HR director, Jesus Meza, in January 2020.

Main Onboarding Steps

At Lindgren, management members are notified of new hires at least a week in advance. The new employee’s workstation is made ready to go and a personnel file is created with all the pending information to be filled out.
The new employee is given a tour of the company and meets management members and co-workers. They are given PPE and access to the necessary training programs/software. Meza says the administrative portion of onboarding can take half a day to a full day, while the hands-on portion can take up to two weeks depending on the experience of the new hire.

Photo: LandCare

“Safety is our top priority, so our first order of business after completing new hire paperwork is to make sure our crew members and supervisors understand what to do and how to do it safely,” Burnett says. “Our production managers guide new team members through a series of activities, including the new hire orientation video, safety demonstrations, issuing of PPE & uniforms, driver training (if applicable) and seasonally appropriate technical training. Introducing and reinforcing new processes and operations during the first few weeks of employment keeps our new team members engaged and on track.”

Jason New, principal of McFarlin Stanford, advises having a pre-start checklist of things to have taken care of before the new team member’s first day. Some of the items to have taken care of include having business cards and shirts ready and having all the necessary technology set up. New says providing a company roster with contact information and pictures also sets new employees up for success.

“When they sign the offer agreement and say, ‘Yes, I’m coming to work for you’ the work really starts onboarding there,” New says. “Two weeks is pretty professional and standard, but lot of times they are coming to work for you sooner than the two-week period.”

New encourages companies to have employees come in before their first day to fill out HR-related paperwork and take a quick tour of the office so they’re not so overwhelmed on their first day.

Tony Nasrallah, president and founder of Ground Works Land Design, based in Cleveland, Ohio, has his new hires complete their onboarding paperwork digitally ahead of time. Nasrallah says the key to onboarding is to make the new hire feel comfortable. It can be as simple as letting them know where the restrooms are located.

“Another one that I always like to do is making sure that they have an opportunity to meet the other managers that they’re going to work with on a regular basis so that there’s no mystery of who the new person is, what do they do and things like that,” says Chris Psencik, vice president of McFarlin Stanford.

Psencik also suggests outlining a 90-day plan for the new employee so they know what they’ll be doing for at least the first 90 days.

“I think it’s good, regardless if somebody is experienced, to talk about the expectations of what a day looks like and the expectations for a month looks like,” Psencik says. “Because everybody even though they may all be account managers managing maintenance portfolios, they all come from very diverse backgrounds. The methodology that we may have and teach may be the polar opposite from what they’ve experienced.”

Making New Hires Welcome

Lindgren Landscape ensures new hires are made to feel welcome with their workspace ready to go.
Photo: Lindgren Landscape

LandCare, Lindgren and Ground Works provide their employees with first day of work gifts, such as nice branded shirts.

“We’ve found that establishing and building personal relationships is most effective in making new team members feel welcome,” Burnett says. “We provide our production managers and supervisors with leadership training specifically to improve their interpersonal skills and to teach them how they can foster a positive environment within their teams. Additionally, we welcome all new team members at Stretch & Flex each morning and give them a Core Value card, which serves as a reminder of our commitment to our employees while outlining our guiding principles.”

Nasrallah conducts all his interviewing and onboarding himself as he wants the employees to understand who he is and what he believes in.

“This is a good chance for me to ask them what are your thoughts on this and what would you do so I can implement some of that stuff too,” Nasrallah says. “I take them out to lunch, introduce them and make sure they understand who everyone is.”

Ground Works will create a video introducing the new hire to the rest of the team by highlighting the person’s interests. At the end of the week, the company has a restaurant deliver food to the new hire’s house for their family.

New says they’ll send a floral bouquet to a new hire’s home.
“Let’s say it’s a foreman level position or above,” New says. “We want to know the spouse’s name, the kids’ names. We’ll send a little card with the flowers that’s at least $100. It’s bigger than what they’ll ever buy themselves. It’s a way of saying thank you and welcoming the family. We believe that’s a big part of making people culturally feel welcomed to the team that they made the right decision.”

New says they encourage the founder/owner to be involved with the onboarding lunch.

“As you get bigger, they need to be involved in that aspect,” New says.
Psencik adds that owners should not think of a new hire as someone to fill in a gap, but take an interest in them as a person.

“The number one reason why people leave is they feel like they’re not listened to, they’re not heard, and they feel like nobody really cares,” Psencik says. “What we find is if you can get the personal touch, the personal attachment to somebody and show them that you do listen, you do care and you’re invested in their success. Then you’re going to find a lot more success in having long-term employees.”

Check-Ins and Mentors

One way to listen to new employees is to conduct regular check-ins to see how things are going.

Meza says he does weekly follow-ups with new employees for the first 60 days. Nasrallah says he has formal checks at the 30-day, 90-day and one-year mark but he is checking in with employees weekly to see if there are any issues. Burnett says their production managers complete 7- and 30-day check-ins and some branches continue to perform check-ins at 60 and 90 days.

Photo: LandCare

During these check-ins ask the employee questions like ‘What can we do better?’ ‘How can we make you feel more comfortable?’ and ‘What could help you excel further in your position?’

“It doesn’t matter if you’re sales or maintenance or whatever, your job is not 100 percent defined,” Psencik says. “If you can have a 90-day plan, that gets them started, but then there need to be touchpoints at six months, nine months, 12 months that monitors to make sure everyone knows how you feel.”

Assigning new hires a mentor also helps with the onboarding process. At Lindgren, the crew lead serves as the new hire’s mentor. Burnett says supervisors and/or production managers are responsible for leading new employees through technical training and employee development initiatives.

“A mentor doesn’t have to be their direct boss,” Psencik says. “It can be a colleague at the same level, but I think having a mutual accountability partner there to go to with general questions that you may not want to go to your supervisor with, is really good.”

Why Onboarding Matters

New says while it’s easier to conduct the onboarding process for those at the management level, it’s even more important to put the same effort in for new hires on the field level.

“As an employer, the onboarding process is your first opportunity to create an engaged employee,” Burnett says. “Creating an onboarding experience that presents your people and culture to the new hire in fun and interesting ways can keep your team members excited and motivated to come to work. Additionally, encouraging supervisors and production managers to form positive relationships with new hires helps them build rapport with their teams. Employees who feel there is someone invested in their success are much more likely to stay and grow with us.”

Psencik says companies should examine their onboarding process and improve it all the time.

“Considering it is the entry door this will play a big role as the image and culture of the company,” Meza says. “It is crucial to have a proper onboarding process as this is where new hires start analyzing if their values align with the company culture. Furthermore, when a new hire feels valued by the company since day one, they are more likely to stick around for a long haul.”

This article was published in the March/April issue of the magazine.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.