Jim Kline: Get onboard before onboarding

by Jim Kline
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Recently published estimates state that up to 60% of new hires leave their employment within the first year. Certainly, there can be many reasons for this high turnover, but it is safe to say, at one level or another, the employee became dissatisfied with the job, and the work wasn’t a good fit.

One way to reduce turnover involves “onboarding” new employees. Onboarding brings new hires into the fold, so to speak, and oversees their integration into the company during the first year. It would be foolish to not consider the importance of properly bringing a new sanitor, chief engineer or plant manager onboard. However, selecting the right person lays the foundation for improving employee retention.

One bakery I know tested all new employees using a standard industry evaluation system that assessed each person’s potential for growth in the job. The company’s managers decided that, for operators, only those testing in the upper 20% and having an associate’s degree or equivalent would be interviewed. For non-skilled positions, the standards were lower. Guess what? None of the operators hired using these higher criteria lasted a year, but those testing in the next tier and hired for the non-skilled positions turned out to be great workers and solid learners.

Like most undertakings, hiring requires forethought and planning to get it right. So when going into the hiring process, spend time to establish what skills are required, and don’t forget about people skills, teamwork and your own management practices. All these need to go into the mix when defining what is ultimately required for individuals to be successful at their jobs.

Recently, AIB International studied the requirements needed for the various positions that make up the maintenance and production departments, and the result of its effort was quite significant. It found a major difference — and, in my opinion, a major disconnect — between listing the work to be done (as most job descriptions do) and describing the skills required to be successful on the job.

It is not uncommon to see “Troubleshoot and repair …” in a maintenance job description. But what skills are needed? Certainly, if you were troubleshooting a motor circuit, the knowledge of lockout and tagout, electrical safety practices, use of a voltmeter, problem-solving skills and the ability to operate the equipment would be what’s needed for a mechanic to succeed. And no surprise, if the mechanic gets stuck on a problem, these turn out to be the skills his supervisor needs along with effective communication and training skills.

Be it a mechanic or plant manager, the process is the same. Take the time to think about the skills needed, the environment they will be working in and the structure and people they will work with. Once you have the skills defined, the interview will be straightforward. Armed with knowledge of the skills you want performed, the questions you want to get answered will ­become upfront and unambiguous.

Whether you want job candidates to explain the steps they would take to solve a particular problem or conduct an annual appraisal, you will be prepared with the knowledge you need for an effective assessment of them and can clearly convey to candidates what skills they will need to be effective and successful in the position. After all, who knows ­better than they, if they have the skills you require?

Onboarding takes on real meaning when you have the right person brought onboard. 

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