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Effectively Onboarding my new “Peeps”

Effectively Onboarding my new “Peeps”

I want to preface this article with a confession.  When I started writing about chickens over a year ago, I honestly thought I would run out of things to talk about.  I mean, how exciting can chickens be?  And how many ways can you tie chicken mama adventures to business?  But, as recent events have made me realize, I have a lot more to write about.  So, let’s get to it.
Two weeks ago, I went up to the coop on Monday morning to let the chickens out.  With all my chicken drama, I am in the habit of counting chickens whenever I go up to the coop.  Well, that Monday morning, I was missing a hen.  I opened the nesting box and there she was: my missing hen, Priscilla, sitting in one of the nesting boxes.  It seemed a bit early to be laying an egg, but at least I could count all my chickens, so I didn’t think much of it. 
Until later that day, when I discovered Priscilla was still sitting in the nesting box.  I made sure she was still breathing, and then started to think I might have a broody hen.  
What is a broody hen, you ask?  (At least, I hope you are asking, because I had no idea until I began my quest to become a chicken mama.)  A broody hen is a chicken that has decided to sit on and incubate a clutch of eggs.  
The next day, I went up to check and sure enough, she was still sitting on her eggs.  So I did the customary check to see how broody she was, and she passed the test (she tried to peck me and growled at me).  
As you may recall, I still have Oden, the rooster, so that means we are expecting! 
A few days later, we went up to check on Priscilla only to find that we now have two broody hens.  Sally, the lone hen survivor from the big chicken massacre, decided that she also wanted to sit on some eggs.  
While I don’t know how many eggs the two of them are sitting on, I think we are somewhere around 12 eggs each.  So we could have a flock of little peeps in the next week or so.
Preparing for a new addition to the chicken family is a lot of work.  We had to build a brood hen coop and buy new food, food and water containers for little peeps, and a camera to film the hatching.  I want those peeps to feel like they are welcome into our chicken family.  
How many of you are in the process of welcoming new employees into your work flock?  Some people are coming back to the office after an extended work-from-home stint, and many companies are beginning to add new employees to the team due to growth or attrition.  Done properly, the process of onboarding goes beyond taking new hires to lunch on their first day.  It involves helping them acclimate to their environment so they can thrive.  
Most likely, it’s been a while since you onboarded anyone. It may be time to dust off your onboarding process and make sure it’s up to date and matches the new workplace environment. 
If you don’t think you need an onboarding process, consider the following statistics: 

  • A report from the Society of Human Resource Management found that half of all hourly employees leave within the first 120 days. 
  • Another study completed by the Wynhurst Group found that having an effective onboarding process can increase employee retention by 58 percent and improve employee performance by 11 percent.

Here are some best practices to establish an effective onboarding process for your company:

  1. Establish an onboarding outline.  This outline may vary for each position but should be adapted to suit each new hire. Key aspects include:
    • Expectations of the job;
    • Explanation of how the job contributes to the company’s strategic goals;
    • Job-specific training with key personnel assigned to assist with the training;
    • Company-focused training so the employee understands the business, including its values and culture;
    • Performance goals.
  2. Be prepared for the employee prior to her first day.  What kind of a message does it send if you aren’t prepared?  Paperwork should be ready, a schedule established and team members notified. Having a new employee standing around waiting for you on their first day doesn’t send a welcoming message.
  3. Make onboarding a two-way street. Giving some responsibility to the employee during onboarding helps them gain ownership in the process. For example, you could have an employee list the areas where he feels he needs further training or exposure.
  4. Establish a calendar for onboarding.  What specifically does the company need to do in the 1st day, week, month and beyond?  What specifically is the employee responsible for?  Establishing 30-, 60- and 90-day goals for the employee can help determine if he or she is a good fit for your organization prior to the 90-day review.
  5. Schedule one-on-one meetings on a consistent basis.  During these meetings, both parties should be open to feedback, suggestions and questions.
  6. The onboarding process should extend beyond 90 days.  As the employee becomes a contributing member of the workforce, shift the conversation towards employee development and advancement.

I can tell you that having little chicks grow into laying hens (and hopefully a nicer rooster) seems like a much better option than putting up with Oden and paying an arm and a leg for laying hens.  Similarly, it might pay off to put some energy into developing your new talent into real assets for your organization.   
If you feel that your onboarding process could use some help, I have some resources that can help you strengthen it.  Email me today and I’ll share what I have.
While you can’t count your chickens before they hatch, you can prepare your new hires to assimilate into your culture and become contributing members to your flock.

Are We Better Together?

Are We Better Together?


As 2016 comes to a close, it is time to set 2017 goals. Do you have in mind what you would like to achieve from a business perspective? Personally? In your relationships? Have you thought about how you are going to achieve your goals?

At a recent Vistage meeting, our chair asked each member of the group what our goals were for the upcoming year. And then he asked us to write down what we needed from the group in order to achieve those goals. But, then he shifted the perspective and asked what we were willing to give to the group in order to help achieve our goals.

I’ll be honest, this exercise made me uncomfortable. It was easy for me to give specifics about what they could do to help me succeed in 2017. But, as I shared with the group, the chair challenged me to answer what I would do to ensure the group could help me. After some gentle prodding, I had to admit that I would open myself up to their feedback and suggestions, even if it pushed me outside of my comfort zone.

As I reflected on this exercise, I started to realize the power in this shift in thought. It moves the conversation from ME (my goals) and YOU (what you are going to do to support me) to how WE can collectively be better.

As you set the goals for your business in 2017, have you thought about what you need from your organization in order to achieve those goals? Have you talked with your employees about their goals and what they need from you in order to achieve their goals? And then, have you asked what all of you are willing to give back to the organization in order to achieve those goals?

The Weirdest Interview Questions

The Weirdest Interview Questions

Are you asking the right questions to determine fit and competency?

Have you ever walked out of a job interview and wondered what the point of some of the questions were?  During one interview, I was asked what book I was reading.  I thought to myself which answer would be better: “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking or “50 Shades of Gray” by E.L. James?  Will my answer impact whether I get the job or not?

When I think about silly interview questions, I am reminded of The Internship starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.  So, I thought I’d include that clip.  As you watch this, think about the questions that you are asking your candidates.  Are the questions centered around determining whether the candidate has the skills necessary to perform the job?  Will you learn if they will fit into the company culture?  Can you ascertain if the position is one that the candidate will find fulfilling?

The Internship: The Big Interview

Watch the Video

Hiring new employees can be challenging.  You want to find someone who will work well with the existing team, bring new ideas and also thrive in company culture.

So, spend time thinking about the right questions that capture how the candidate approaches difficult situations, how he has solved problems similar to what he will face in your company and what values she finds important in the work place.

If you spend that time ahead of the interview, the odds of choosing the right candidate are greater than the odds of your miniature self escaping from a blender.

Do I Really Need a Training Methodology?

Do I Really Need a Training Methodology?

Introducing Job Instruction Training

One way to remove variability from your process is to ensure the operators are properly trained. Sounds easy enough – but how do you go about doing that?

Fortunately, a proven methodology has already been developed. Job Instruction Training (JI), one of four programs contained in Training Within Industry (see this blog for more information on TWI) covers this important topic. According to JI, training can be broken down into the following steps:

  1. Prepare the Operator.  People tend to be nervous before learning something new and this can impact the learning process.  So, try to relax the operator while learning more about him, including any relevant experience.  You also want to explain why what they are learning is important and how this task relates to the overall manufacturing process.
  2. Present the Operation.  Explain each of the steps in the operation, identifying key points along with the reasons for each step.  Describing each step while the operator watches will help the operator learn much faster. The more senses that are utilized during learning will increase the retention rate and speed.
  3. Perform the Operation. Once the operator has seen the steps performed and had the key points and reasons explained, now is the time to try it himself.  As the operator works through the steps, have him explain the key points and reasons for each step.  Be patient as the operator walks through each of the steps taking the time to check for understanding by asking questions.
  4. Follow-Up.  Once you feel the operator has a good understanding of the process, you can leave him alone.  But, make sure you check back with him periodically (more frequently initially) to ensure the steps are being followed and he doesn’t have any questions.

After reviewing this information, you probably had a similar reaction as me which was “this seems fairly straightforward.”  However, I also wondered how many instructors have been taught how to train an employee to do a new job.  Without a doubt, it is possible to be successful without a fully defined training methodology, but, I wonder, how much more efficient and effective could you be if you took the time to establish a formal training method for your instructors to follow?

For more practical tips for manufacturing professionals to attract, train and retain your hourly workforce, go to




Starting a new job can be a little stressful.   Meeting new people, learning new tasks and an adjusting to a new workplace culture.  Can you think back to your first day with your current employer?  Were you nervous? Excited? How were you greeted by your new peers?  Was everyone expecting you?

Some employers seem burned out from the hiring phase – it is like a revolving door for new employees.  Employees are hired and then they leave within a week or two resulting in more time and money spent on recruiting and training.

Without a doubt, hiring employees has gotten much more difficult in recent years.  There is a shortage of skilled workers who have the workplace competencies needed in manufacturing.  So, recruiting qualified candidates is much more difficult.  (Check out this article on tips on recruiting the most qualified employees.)

But, once you have selected a qualified employee, you want to make them feel welcome. Have you thought about the first impression you give your new employee on their first day?  Could you do more to let your new employees know you view them as a valuable member of your team?  Here are few suggestions that could help in retaining your new employees:

  • Interview current employees about what they thought about their first day, week or month with the company.  What was their impression of how they were welcomed by the company?  What is one thing they would like to see improved or implemented?
  • Establish a mentor program so veteran employees can assist new hires assimilate into the culture.
  • Create an employee based committee to assist in developing and instituting the onboarding process.  You might even consider allowing them to participate in interviewing candidates.
  • Provide a checklist for the hiring manager or supervisor so they can ensure the company is prepared for a new employee prior to the first day.

Establishing an onboarding program is an important part of retaining your work force (check out this blog for more information on onboarding).  But, don’t overlook the importance of making a good impression on the first day.  Making the employee feel welcome and helping them adjust to your culture can help retain a valuable new employee.

For more practical tips for manufacturing professionals to attract, train and retain your hourly workforce, go to

Safety, Icebergs and Business Profitability

Safety, Icebergs and Business Profitability

The goal in manufacturing is to SAFELY make an end product that meets customer specifications with the lowest cost possible. There is nothing more important than the safety of the employees.  But even looking beyond the employee, having a strong safety culture also impacts your bottom line.

I recently met with a manufacturing professional who shared if you want to know if a company is profitable, ask them about their safety statistics.  If they don’t know them off the top of their head or can’t find them quickly, they are probably struggling financially. Without a strong safety program, eventually the number of workplace accidents will start to climb.

When thinking about workplace accidents, I imagine an iceberg with 20% above the water and 80% below the water.  The cost of the accident is the part above the water including doctor/hospital bills, employee time-off, etc.  But, the actual cost is what is under the water which includes increased insurance premiums, higher payroll and reduced plant productivity.

But, you don’t have to take my word for it.  I found a lot of data that supports the relationship between a strong safety culture and profitability, including the following:

  • A Liberty Mutual survey reports 61% of executives say $3 or more is saved for each $1 invested in work place safety (
  • Participation in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program saved one company $930,000 per year and the company had 450 fewer lost-time injuries than its industry average (
  • According to the American Society of Safety Engineers, investment in health and safety programs can result in saving in workman’s comp claims, liability damages and litigation costs in addition to improvement in productivity and employee morale.

Providing a safe workplace for your employees is a win-win.  It is good for the employees and good for your bottom line.  If you believe your safety program needs a little work, there are a number of resources available online including an article I recently wrote on the importance of reporting near-misses.

For more practical tips for manufacturing professionals to attract, train and retain your hourly workforce, go to

The Study of Andragogy

The Study of Andragogy


As you develop an approach to training your operators, it is important to remember that adults have different motivations than children or adolescents. Being aware of these differences and making adjustments to your training approach will make your operator training much more effective.

Andragogy is the method and practice of teaching adult learners. After studying the theory of adult education, Malcolm Knowles combined his research with andragogy and developed six assumptions related to adult learning:

  1. Tell them the Why.  It isn’t enough to tell an adult that something has to be done a particular way – they also need to know why it is important.
  2. Motivation.  Adults are motivated both externally (promotions, higher salaries, etc.) and internally (increased knowledge or self-esteem). Awareness of these motivators can augment the learning process.
  3. Self-concept.  They need to be treated like they are capable of learning and have the ability to direct their learning.  This means giving them freedom to identify areas of weakness that require further study.
  4. Respect prior experience.  Adults have different experiences that they will bring into their new workplace or position.  Try to draw out these experiences to use as a foundation for current training.
  5. Readiness. Motivation is much greater when focused on subjects they will encounter in either their work or personal lives. The days of learning Advanced Linear Algebra have passed (one would hope).
  6. Orientation. Learning should be based on problems that will be faced instead of theoretical issues.  The student will ask how this knowledge will solve a problem.  If a sufficient answer can’t be found, the motivation may be lost.

So, as you begin training your operators, try to keep these assumptions in mind.  As training material is developed, ensure that it contains information that is pertinent to the task they are being trained to do. Use job specific examples that can be easily applied. And remember to include why the training is important.  The more mindful you are of these assumptions, the more effective the training will be.  And that will in turn have the desired affect.

For more practical tips for manufacturing professionals to attract, train and retain your hourly workforce, go to

Benefits of Defining Your Skills Matrix

Benefits of Defining Your Skills Matrix

Understanding the Learning Continuum

39ab6100-96bb-4c42-a5f0-a0b58bc38e7cI don’t believe that any parent would allow a teenager to drive on a freeway without practice to develop the required skills. Learning to drive needs to be introduced in steps: first, a large parking lot, then maybe some side streets.  Once that seems easy, start driving on some busier streets and then eventually head onto the freeway.  Along the way, the driver exhibits understanding before progressing onto the next step.  The final demonstration is a written and practical test at the local DMV.

Not all operator training needs to be as structured as learning to drive.  But, we can agree that it takes time to learn the skills necessary to perform a task efficiently.  And before moving onto the next task, the student needs to demonstrate a certain level of competency.

A Gordon Training International employee, Noel Burch introduced the “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill” in the 1970s. These four stages are:
Stage 1: Unconsciously Incompetent – I don’t know what I don’t know
Stage 2: Consciously Incompetent – I know what I don’t know
Stage 3: Consciously Competent – I know what to do but still need to think about it
Stage 4: Unconsciously Competent – I know what to do it and don’t need to think about it

Unfortunately, many manufacturers label operators as trained or not trained.  However, being aware of these four stages can help develop a Skills Matrix for your plant and your employees.   Defining Stage 1 and Stage 4 is relatively easy, but, how do you define when an operator is at Stage 2 and 3? What is your criteria for determining when an operator moves from Stage 1 to Stage 2? How about from Stage 2 to Stage 3?

Adapting these four levels to a Skills Matrix for your employees could include the following criteria:
Stage 1: Minimal Understanding – must have constant supervision
Stage 2: Some Understanding – can work independently but supervisor must check work periodically
Stage 3: Fully Trained – can work independently
Stage 4: Trainer – able to train others how to do the task

Utilizing these 4 stages within your Skills Matrix can highlight areas and operators within your organization which would benefit from additional training.  It can also be used as a tool during employee reviews.

As you look at your operator training program, where do you fall on the continuum?  If you aren’t at level 4, what do you need to do in order to get there?

For more practical tips for manufacturing professionals to attract, train and retain your hourly workforce, go to

Don’t Be Like Me: Overcoming Obstacles to Effective Training

Don’t Be Like Me: Overcoming Obstacles to Effective Training

A number of years ago when I was a “wee little chick”, I was called into a room full of managers and told that I had been selected to attend a training.  I wasn’t given any of the reasons behind the training, the goals for attending the training or the duration of the training.  To be honest, I don’t exactly remember my frame of mind when I heard I had been selected, but, according to the trainer, my body language clearly conveyed that I was skeptical of the training and the trainer. Over the duration of the training, I learned a great deal about myself and how to be an effective manager and to this day, I also have the pleasure of calling that trainer my mentor.

This story is a good reminder that most people are skeptical about attending training.  Questions that may run through their mind include: Why am I here?  Is this really important?  What are the motives of the management team in selecting me for this training?

When it comes to preparing your employees, it is critical to be aware of these concerns and if possible, take steps to alleviate those concerns prior to commencing.  Communication is an important part of ensuring your employees get the most out of the training.  This communication can include why the training is important to the employee, why it is important to the company and what the company wants to achieve by investing in the training.

In some instances, training is a precursor to changes that are going to be instituted at the company.  And the employee concerns may be around those changes and how it will impact him.  Acknowledge that and provide the opportunity for the employee to share his or her concerns.

After the training, take some time to get feedback on the training, what worked well and what could be improved.  Not all training needs to be as entertaining as a U2 concert but, it is important that the employee gains the necessary skills, understanding or mindset in order to have the desired impact on the organization.

There is no doubt that if my manager had a 5-minute conversation with me about the training and why they were sending me prior to the initial meeting, I would have been much more receptive to what the trainer was sharing.  Yes, over time I did find value in the training, but, being prepared ahead of time would have allowed me to learn even more. As you send your employees to training, I hope you will learn from my experience and prepare your employees in order to optimize their learning.

For more practical tips for manufacturing professionals to attract, train and retain your hourly workforce, go to