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How to Plan for Onboarding in Green Industry Companies

February 1, 2022

This is the fifth installment in our six-part series on Recruiting and Retaining great talent for your lawn care, landscape, or tree care company. We’ll be talking about the importance of onboarding your new hires well. 

What Do We Mean by “Onboarding?”

We’ve all had experiences with onboarding in our careers. Some of those experiences have been stellar, while others have left something desired. 

When we’re talking about onboarding, an excellent working definition is “A thoughtful plan for how to get a new hire adapted to your company culture and contributing to your workforce as quickly as possible. This includes paperwork, introduction to company values, and job training.”

Why does this matter? Well, a good onboarding experience can improve your retention by 82%. If you hired ten new employees this Spring, wouldn’t it be great to keep eight of them? How much less recruiting work would you need to do if you could retain your workforce at a higher rate year-over-year?

Not quite convinced this is important? NALP‘s Young Professional’s Network has a podcast called “Growing in the Green Industry.” In an episode from December 2021, they had two professors who teach landscaping and horticulture at the university level as guests. One of the projects they assign is a “business plan” for a fictional company. Start listening about the ten-minute mark, and you’ll hear that, overwhelmingly, students want a great company culture and an exceptional onboarding experience.

Make Sure to Have Onboarding for Every Role

Some things will apply to EVERY new hire you make. Everyone will need to fill out an application, I-9, benefits elections, etc. You may even have a proprietary process, and you need them to sign off that they won’t steal it. 

You should also have a part of the onboarding process specific to each job role. Include things in new hire onboarding that apply to that person’s day-to-day position in the company. 

For example, if you’re hiring a Lawn Care Technician, they should get some basic agronomy during their onboarding process. If you’re hiring a groundsman for your tree pruning company, there should be training content around proper pruning practices and equipment safety. 

There are parts of your hiring that everyone will go through. But outside of the “basics” of hiring a new employee, you need to ensure they’re equipped to handle their daily responsibilities. 

Start Onboarding Before Their First Day

There are plenty of ways you can get onboarding wrong. The most significant way to fail is not creating a thoughtful plan for getting a new employee up to speed. 

The next biggest misstep is failing to start the process early. There are plenty of things that need doing before your new hire steps in the building for their first day. 

Organize Internal Assets

According to landscape industry expert Fred Haskett, there are several things you can begin to do before your new employee even shows up. You should set up any meetings they will need to attend, plan how you’ll introduce them to their new team members, and assign the person responsible for their training. 

Ensuring that your team is prepared for the new hire’s onboarding is a great way to make them feel comfortable and ready to work. 

Help Them Hit the Ground Running

I once worked at a place that had proprietary software. They created it, so no one else in the industry used this particular software. And while they were building a newer version, it was a bit dated and glitchy. 

Before I started, I knew about this software. I knew it existed and figured I’d get some training on it during my first week. And to be sure, I did. 

What blew me away was that I got a training video before my start date in my email. I got a link to a short Youtube video they created that walked new hires through why the software existed, what it did for the company, and how to use it. 

There’s no reason you can’t use this same process for software or processes you use every day. Consider sending your new hires training videos on the software they’ll use (like a time clock), how to load a trailer, how to secure wheelbarrows or rakes – anything they’ll be doing every day. 

Softwares like Process Street or Tallyfy allow you to create these processes digitally and see how far a new hire has gotten. If they’ve completed all their virtual training before starting, that saves you time getting them “up to speed” their first week. This approach has the added benefit of preventing the “deer in the headlights” reaction from your new employee and the “drinking from a firehose” approach many companies use; it allows the new hire to onboard at their own pace if they choose to do so. 

To stand out, consider sending them a video tour of the grounds and offices, plant nursery or staging area, and a greeting from their immediate manager or supervisor. A welcome gift never hurt either. 

It should go without saying that you can send them any “Day One” paperwork in advance. Let them get the application (probably already done, but maybe not), I-9, etc., out of the way before they walk in the door. 

Don’t Forget About Company Culture!

Your candidates should be prepared with all the information they need to know about the internal workings and culture of the company. Don’t leave any information that’ll make them stick out as the “new person,” no matter how small. Here are some things to consider. 

Company Values

They should have heard these in the interview process, but an in-depth explanation of each of the company’s Core Values is in order. Make sure you do this early in their onboarding process. You need to communicate your most important priorities up-front. 

I had a job where my first official meeting was with the owner/CEO. We sat down and reviewed each of the company’s Core Values, and he asked me point-blank, “Do you have any conflict with any of these? Are there any you think you’ll have trouble embracing?” 

That company didn’t do everything right, but this was the right approach. I would suggest taking that a step further – explain what your values look like in the “day-to-day” operation of the company. 

For example, I worked for a company where “Trusted to do the right thing” was a Core Value. What this looked like in practice was team members self-reporting safety and property damage incidents. They knew they wouldn’t be in trouble for reporting a branch falling on a fence. But if they tried to hide it or deny it, that was a different story. 

That company I mentioned above, where the CEO personally did my Core Values training? One of their Core Values was “Positivity.” I took that to mean you maintain a decent attitude, and you’re not constantly a “Debbie Downer.” What it looked like day-to-day was that team members were never supposed to verbalize any negativity. I didn’t find that out until I got my review, and it turns out many of my coworkers saw me as “negative” because I process frustrations verbally. 

Don’t leave people unprepared. Tell them your values, and give them examples of applying those principles in whatever role you hired them to fill. 

Paint a Picture, “Warts and All

Don’t hold back from explaining how your company works in the interview process, even the “bad parts.” Things that you think might “scare people away” might not. 

I worked a job where we worked six days a week for 9-10 months a year. Saturdays were occasionally shorter, but in all, I worked almost 60 hours a week on the regular. 

I heard my boss tell a candidate, in front of the room of current employees, that “You may work some overtime. There will be a Saturday here-and-there, too.” I glanced at the other veterans in the room to see if any of them would speak up. None did, so I called my boss out on this lie right in front of the candidate. 

It didn’t scare him off. He was a machine – had private mowing clients that he did in the morning before work, worked all day, then went for five-mile runs at 10-11 pm every night. He had no “Off” switch. 

This guy came back and thanked me for being honest with him about the job. “I probably would have quit a long time ago if I hadn’t known what to expect. Thank you for being honest with me about it from the beginning,” he said. He went on to management in the company. 

You can, and should, bring your new hire up to speed on all things related to your company culture. They should get the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let them decide to join your company under the right set of expectations, not a polished, manipulated version. 

During the onboarding process, make sure you present an honest assessment of your company’s virtues and flaws. If you’re too close to do this objectively, get a feel for this from your team. Offer them the opportunity to give you blind, honest feedback about the company. If you see something in those responses you don’t like, you may need to address your company culture.

Communicate ALL the Things, No Matter How Small

There may be things that you see as common sense or insignificant. Or, you think that a person will catch on because they begin to see “everyone else” at your company doing things a certain way. 

Don’t assume any of that. Even for “small” things, make expectations clear from Day One. 

I worked for a landscape company where all the heavy trucks and equipment were parked behind the building, and employee parking was on the front and side. So, the trucks had to drive through the employee lot to get out of the yard. As a result, the company had a policy that everyone needed to back into their parking spots. This way, when people are leaving at various times in the afternoon, there is next to no chance they wouldn’t see a truck and trailer pulling through the lot. It was a practice that reduced safety incidents dramatically. 

I watched a new hire pull into (rather than back into) his spot every day for nearly six months until someone mentioned it to him. He never noticed everyone else’s vehicles facing the other direction, and no one had told him during onboarding. 

Anything you want to be completed in a specific way, make sure you tell them no matter how small. If it’s clocking in and out, where to put their uniforms for laundering, which locker to use, or how to turn in their paperwork at the end of the day, leave nothing to chance. Explain it all to them. The fewer surprises they have during their first few weeks, the more likely they’ll be to stay. 

A Safe Way for Candidates to Ask Questions

One of the best bosses I ever had did something for me on Day One. He took me to lunch. 

The purpose of this was two-fold. Yes, he wanted me to feel welcome and all that. And to be sure, it did that. 

But he also wanted me to be able to ask questions, away from other people in the office or on the team. He said, “I know it can be intimidating to ask questions around other people. I didn’t want you to feel self-conscious about asking a question in front of other people. So, if you have any questions you didn’t want to ask this morning, I’m here to listen.” 

While your new team members may not have any questions on Day One, they will have them as the week goes on. Creating a safe way for them to ask you questions without feeling “dumb” is a great way to build loyalty. 

Perhaps you give them your cell and tell them to text you with questions. Maybe it’s taking them out to lunch sometime that week or pulling them off a job to run an errand with you for an hour. Whatever works for your business, find a way to get them away from their new teammates and make it clear – this is the time to ask questions. Make sure they know there’s no fear of judgment. 

You’ll probably be surprised here. If you get the same questions repeatedly from new hires, you know there’s a glitch in your onboarding process. Tweak it to accommodate the repeated questions from new hires, and you’ll fine-tune your onboarding. 

Conclusion

A great onboarding experience will help you keep a much higher percentage of your new hires. That saves you time and money in the long run, and it builds tremendous loyalty from those employees. When they feel like they’re set up for success, you’ll get happier, more productive, more loyal team members.

Go back and read Part 4: Employees Have Lives

Read the final installment Part 6: Pay and Benefits

Download the FREE Recruiting & Retention GuideAll six blogs condensed to help keep your staffing efforts on track this year!