The ongoing work of onboarding

by Sonja Heyck-Merlin

“Onboarding is much like other tasks. If no one is specifically assigned to help onboard and take control of it, no one is going to know who’s responsible, and it’s going to be passed around,” said Richard Stup.

Stup is an ag workforce specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the facilitator of a webinar series focused on the employee onboarding process. In the first of the series, Stup introduced an onboarding template, available as a free download at agworkforce.cals.cornell.edu/onboarding. The template is customizable and functions as an onboarding road map for the employer. In subsequent presentations, Stup and his colleague, Mary Kate MacKenzie, discussed additional tools to help employers establish an effective onboarding procedure – an action plan template and a Google Classroom template.

The action plan template (also available at the website) provides an opportunity for employers to write down specific onboarding goals. For example, an employer may want to write an employee handbook. Once they identify a goal, they can use the template to develop an action plan. “Indicate what needs to happen, who will do it and when it should happen,” Stup said. “If you start assigning tasks like this, then have a follow up on regular basis, you’re just more likely to get things done.”

In Stup’s experience, a significant amount of training is poorly planned. He encouraged employers to develop and pull together the materials that they need for training and to set time aside for training. “Most importantly, identify who is responsible for that training. It often gets dumped on the existing employee who happens to be there. All kinds of problems come out of that situation,” he said.

Google Classroom, a cloud-based application, is another tool that may help employers organize and streamline their onboarding procedure.  According to MacKenzie, who works with Cornell PRO-DAIRY and the South Central New York Dairy and Field Crops Program, Google Classroom can serve as a repository for all the different content they need to get through the onboarding process.

Cornell Agriculture Workforce Development has also created a customizable classroom template with the same structure as the downloadable template. One advantage of Google Classroom is that because it’s cloud-based, it can be accessed from any device connected to the internet. It’s also free and fairly intuitive to use.

“It’s a powerful tool because it allows you to organize all the different kinds of content in one place. It’s instantly accessible to the onboarding manager, and it gives various ways to share that content directly with your employees,” MacKenzie said. Employers, for example, can upload training videos, provide links to tax forms and share housing information.

MacKenzie cautioned that Google Classroom requires ongoing management. “It’s not really a set it and forget it kind of thing,” she said. It’s a place for employers to store and organize their content, but they will have to revisit the information regularly to make sure it is relevant and up to date and to support employees as they move through the content. “Google can’t onboard your employees for you,” she said. “You’re still going to need to be involved in leading and facilitating that process.” Lucas Smith of Cornell can share the Google Classroom template. He can be reached at ls768@cornell.edu or 315.759.8188.

Stup said that no matter which onboarding tools and templates are used, it’s important to get all relevant stakeholders committed to the process. Management must decide who will be involved and how to ensure that the process is completed with each new employee. Something as simple as a checklist can hold each person accountable. Ideally, a milker or front line employee should take about a month to onboard. A more complex position may take months or even a year to get that person up to speed, Stup said.

He emphasized that training and feedback shouldn’t end with onboarding. “You also need to make sure you have a system in place for performance feedback. I am talking about day to day feedback – giving them positive reinforcement about the things they are doing well and redirecting them when they are a little off track – or when they’re really doing something wrong, talking with them and correcting that behavior.”

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