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From Lumberyards to Hot Dogs: One Growth Company’s Approach to Onboarding

You can shorten the distance between making a great hire and achieving optimum performance. Here’s how.
illustration by Todd Detwiler
illustration by Todd Detwiler

Studies show a strong connection between three critical talent metrics — productivity, retention, and engagement — and how well a company addresses “onboarding,” the orientation and socialization that employees receive during their first 90 days on the job.

At Texas Instruments, for example, employees who participated in an improved onboarding program became fully productive two months faster than employees in a traditional program, according to a Society for Human Resource Management report.

Drexel Building Supply offers an ideal case study. The company has nearly doubled its work force since 2008, its growth powered by customer service, product expertise, and teamwork. Its approach to onboarding stresses those values:

1. The Yard: Every new hire starts in the lumberyard, getting to know “the heart of Drexel’s business,” explains Stacey Stoffel, the company’s marketing director. During “team boot camp,” new hires heft the products, handle custom orders, and work alongside frontline employees.

2. The Card: Also on Day One, every new employee is handed a two-sided business card bearing Drexel’s 10 core values — ethics, respect, balance, winning attitude, communication, development, teamwork, change, have fun, and accountability.

3. The Hotline: Following boot camp, new hires spend time answering the customer-service hotline to get a clear understanding of the company’s challenges and opportunities.

4. The Hot Dogs: Owner Joel Fleischman regularly hitches a Weenie Wagon to his truck and delivers lunch to customer job sites. He brings along Drexel employees, including new hires, so they can master customer service. That helps drive referrals.



Online marketplace Etsy takes a different approach to its onboarding “boot camp”: New hires spend four to six weeks rotating through all of its internal teams. This not only provides great training but also gives rookies an instant network of co-workers, which helps them feel welcome and enables them to tap into the company’s collective expertise far more readily than a slower acclimatization process would. Does your company see onboarding as an opportunity rather than a chore? Tell us in the comments.

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