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Finding keepers: The art of new employee orientation

Finding keepers: The art of new employee orientation

Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at foodservice leadership conferences worldwide. His newest book Fundamentals is available at Amazon or Check out his leadership video series at This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

“Today, more than ever, if a company is bleeding people, it is bleeding value.” —Marcus Buckingham

Last month, this column examined the essential best practices of recruiting and attracting high-performing foodservice managers and crew. This month, let’s take a deeper dive into the next step of the process: Successfully hiring and transitioning new employees onto the team.

Know the difference between orientation and onboarding. Orientation, which happens first, is all about information and introduction, and onboarding is the process of acclimatizing and alignment. Both practices should be imbued with focus, energy and enthusiasm. Orientation begins before the first day and ends early the first week. Onboarding starts the first week but continues throughout the different stages of one’s career. Orientation is usually focused on paperwork, organization and introduction to the company. Onboarding is about adjusting new hires — or veterans who have recently been promoted — to the social, political and performance realities of the new job as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

Orientation sets the tone. The foodservice industry does not have a labor crisis; it has a turnover crisis. Smart organizations proactively build retention and momentum into the orientation and onboarding process.

Want to design an awesome welcome and alignment process for new team members? Three steps:
1. Design it from the new employee’s perspective, not the HR department.
2. Make a list of the worst orientation experiences you ever had. Then don’t do them — ever.
3. Make a list of the best orientation experiences you ever had. Then do them — always.  

Once a job offer is tendered, let the celebration begin. Assign and introduce the employee to his or her job mentor, or “buddy,” and send a fun greeting via email, text or phone. Have your ad agency — not the HR department — design a fun and awesome multilingual print or electronic pre-hire welcome package with key information, website links to company history, cultural touchstones and other information that markets the job and company to the new hire.

Questions are the answer. To create the most effective onboarding process, a good place to start is by asking managers and shift leaders: “What kinds of questions are the new employees asking themselves on the first day?” Then design your program to answer those questions with fun, energy and candor.’s research reveals that common questions include: “Was this the right decision? Will I like it here? What kind of people work here? Can I do the job? What’s expected of me? Will I succeed?”

To help assure them, consider making the following promises: “You will be treated with dignity and respect,” “You will be given the resources you need,” “You will be taught what you need to succeed,” “You will receive frequent and clear communication on the things that matter,” “We will all be accountable to uphold standards and culture,” “We will hold fun and positivity up as important business goals.”

Onboarding is a productivity tool

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Effective onboarding has been proven to improve productivity, customer service, self esteem, confidence, pride and retention. Onboarding improves employee retention rates by as much as 58 percent in some studies.

Onboarding should be a structured, fun and energy-driven process for engaging and integrating new employees into your restaurant, not a day of solitary confinement filling out paperwork and watching training videos on an iPad in a dining room booth. Make the first day awesome. Make sure a well-trained job mentor is present and acting as a brand ambassador. Many companies outside foodservice have a dedicated, full-time Onboarding Director to manage the process, since retaining key employees saves hundreds of thousands of dollars in recruiting, hiring and re-training costs. Survey the new team members — especially managers — 30 to 60 days after their orientation and onboarding experience to see how you could improve the process.  

Onboarding is an important development process for every career milestone. Have a plan in place for acclimatizing every veteran to each new role or stage of growth as his or her career advances.

Lay out a path. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal cited a survey of 32,000 workers that found that the number one reason people leave companies is pay, and a close second is a lack of career opportunities. During initial onboarding, and every six months after the start date, re-emphasize the career path opportunities in your company and cite examples of specific employees who successfully rose through the ranks. Chipotle’s famous “Restaurateur” program does this exceptionally well. GMs should be adept at career-counseling at the unit level to keep our A players on the team and build a leadership pipeline into the future.

Know your ABCs. In his bestselling book, Topgrading, author Brad Smart posited the notion that there are four types of job applicants: A players, B players, C players and D players. Unsurprisingly, he suggested focusing on recruiting and hiring A players. Great idea, except that A players are never looking for work. C and D players are. So we need to ensure our managers have the skills to develop Cs into Bs and Bs into As. Next month, we’ll examine best practices related to that process. It’s important to be good at hiring people, but it’s more important to be great at developing them.

Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at foodservice leadership conferences worldwide. The third edition of his bestselling book, Fundamentals, is now available at bookstores and Amazon. Check out his training catalog at, and follow him on YouTube and Twitter @Sullivision.

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