The Right Onboarding Checklist Can Lower Your Employee Turnover Rate

By Amy Castro//March 1, 2024//

The Right Onboarding Checklist Can Lower Your Employee Turnover Rate

By: Amy Castro//March 1, 2024//

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Global Pet Expo is right around the corner, and this year I’ll be present two education sessions in Orlando on March 20. One of my programs will be on the topic of employee onboarding, so I thought I’d give you a sneak peek into that program.

In today’s fast-paced world, the success of any business relies on its ability to onboard and retain a highly skilled and motivated team. A great onboarding program is even more critical in pet retail, where turnover is often swift and regular. Unfortunately, many pet business owners don’t have a solid onboarding plan and instead rely on completing paperwork, giving a tour, explaining the job, and then sitting back to watch, wait and see how well the employee adapts.

However, onboarding is more than just welcoming new team members and providing a 30-minute orientation; it is about creating a smooth transition into your business’s culture, values, and operations. If you do it right, you’ll build a team that works well together, is productive, and provides exceptional customer service. You’ll also be more likely to retain great employees who got off to a great start. Many retailers fail to realize that just because an employee takes the job, that doesn’t mean they’re not still receiving offers from your competitors. If they don’t feel welcome, productive, and comfortable in their new role with you pretty quickly, they’re likely to find another place that will fulfill those needs.

Building a great onboarding program begins before you build the actual program. The first step is ensuring that every position in your business has a clear job description that outlines expectations, roles, specific responsibilities, and goals for your staff. It’s vital that everyone on your team clearly understands their role within the organization and how their contributions impact their success as well as your business’s. Clear expectations help eliminate confusion, reduce conflicts, and improve teamwork. Defining roles involves clearly outlining each person’s specific job duties and responsibilities. This ensures that employees know exactly what is expected of them and helps avoid any overlap or gaps in responsibility. When everyone knows their role, they can work more efficiently and effectively towards common goals. Additionally, setting clear goals provides your team with a sense of purpose and direction. It gives them something to strive for personally and collectively as a team. Clearly communicating these goals helps align everyone’s efforts toward achieving success.

Once you have great job descriptions and clear roles and responsibilities, only then can you start searching for and interviewing people who best fit them. Although this column isn’t about hiring processes, I highly suggest you review yours before creating job ads and scheduling interviews. The whole point of creating an onboarding process is to help a great hire get off to a great start and build a great team that is loyal and committed to your business. If you have boring ads, you won’t attract the right people. If your interview questions are ineffective, you won’t know the right people when you meet them. If your interview process has flaws, suitable candidates will get turned off or fall through the cracks. Therefore, it’s essential to do your homework on things like writing a job ad that attracts the right people, writing effective behavioral interview questions, how to effectively conduct the hiring interview, etc. What I will say about hiring is that although a significant part of your screening and interview process should involve thoroughly assessing each candidate’s qualifications through job-specific questions, it’s equally important to screen for and ask questions about a candidate’s personal characteristics and values. Look for team members who exhibit empathy, patience, good communication skills, a desire to work with and help people, and a genuine love for animals. Also, consider “fit factors” that align with the specific aspects of your business that make it unique. For instance, a business in a rural community will have different pet needs and types of customers compared to a business located downtown in a major metropolitan area. This step ensures that the individuals you bring into your team will fulfill their job roles and contribute positively to your company culture.

Once you and everyone else understand your roles and goals, you must ensure you’re prepared to provide new hires with the tools to succeed, including clearly defined and documented processes, training, and mentoring. Your training should cover everything from company policies and procedures to specific tasks. If you don’t have documents that outline these basics, you’re in trouble. How can you hold an employee accountable for doing a task incorrectly or breaking a policy if they’re not written down? Having policies and procedures documented not only ensures that new employees have all the information they need from the start of a new job but also helps them feel supported and comfortable knowing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing to be successful.

Training and mentoring are also crucial components of onboarding. Equipping your team with the necessary skills and knowledge is essential for their success and the success of your business. Providing comprehensive training ensures that your employees fully understand their roles and responsibilities, clearly understand company policies and procedures, and can effectively carry out tasks related to their jobs. You might also want to consider establishing a mentoring process or program. Pairing new hires with experienced team members helps shorten their learning curve and allows employees to build good working relationships with their coworkers. Here’s a quick tip: Choose your trainers and mentors wisely. Constantly asking the same great employee to train or mentor new employees can be taxing and unfair. Consider offering additional compensation or rotating the mentoring responsibilities amongst your team members. When you just read that, if your first thought was, “No way. I can’t let Dave get anywhere near new employees,” then it’s time you take a closer look at whether Dave should even be working for you.

Once you have job descriptions, roles and goals, and training in place, now you can start creating your onboarding process. Onboarding often lasts one to three months or more, with specific activities and milestones.

The first step in developing an onboarding program is to define the goals and objectives of the program clearly. This involves identifying KPIs or Key Performance Indicators. You’ll need to ask yourself what skills and knowledge are necessary for success in each role, identify the processes for developing those in employees, and set deadlines not only for completing the program objectives but also for you’ll be expecting employees to “master” new skills and knowledge. Many of my clients will first identify the process steps from when an employee shows up on the morning of the first day of work to the last day of the onboarding plan when the employee “graduates.” From there, I help them create a structured plan that outlines all aspects of the onboarding process. This includes activities such as welcoming new hires, introducing them to team members in a way that starts building great working relationships, and then daily activities that take the latest hire from newbie to fully functioning expert team member in a systematic, repeatable way.

A final and essential part of building an onboarding process is putting in place opportunities and tools to evaluate the effectiveness of your onboarding program. Your first attempt at creating a program will likely have flaws or things you want to change. If you don’t take the time to evaluate it, you’ll find your employees will quickly toss out the plan, and you’ll go back to having no actual process and high turnover again. Get input from new employees and those who train and mentor them to identify areas where adjustments may be needed. You can get this information through one-on-one conversations, surveys, or both, and you don’t have to wait until the onboarding process is over to ask for feedback. Especially when your program is new, you will want to make adjustments along the way to improve the process for employees who are testing out your new system. Additionally, monitoring KPIs can provide concrete data about how well your onboarding process works. Are new employees hitting productivity targets quickly? How long does it take for them to feel fully integrated into the team? Are they successfully completing training and doing so by the deadlines you’ve set? Regularly analyzing these metrics will allow you to identify any patterns or trends that indicate where adjustments may be needed.


Amy Castro is a business and leadership expert who speaks, trains and consults with pet businesses that want to build best-in-show teams that deliver a Five-Star Customer Experience. She’s also the host of the Starlight Pet Talk podcast, where she interviews pet industry experts and others to give advice and information for pet parents to help their pets live long, happy lives.