The Right Way To Handle Onboarding and Reboarding

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Updated April 18, 2024

In college, I had an ill-fated stint as a server at a mall-based restaurant. Onboarding there consisted of a piece of paper saying I knew I had to purchase my uniform – a green apron and a polo shirt embroidered with Bay Back Rowing Company – and a place to sign acknowledging those would be paid for out of the first check. It also included a guy telling me where the bathroom was and the final instruction to “shadow Mike.”

Mike wasn’t a trainer.

I failed miserably at serving dessert when, following Mike's explicit demand only to serve one scoop of ice cream, the customer responded, "What the hell is this?" and demanded more before calling for the manager. I then endured a dressing down by my manager in front of a table of eight patrons.

Yes, I learned.

I learned I had been thrown into a pool and told to swim.

That experience has informed all the onboarding I have crafted for my clients over the years.

Onboarding should prepare an employee with care.

So many retailers struggle to fill positions due to high turnover and uncertainty about the future.

Here’s a secret…

The better you onboard an employee, the more likely they will stay.

And the converse.

What is onboarding for a retail employee?

Onboarding, one of the toughest job transitions, includes all the detailed steps you use to set an employee and your team up for success. Onboarding basics usually cover the following:

  • Payday
  • Mission statement
  • Sick policies
  • Chain of command
  • Harassment guidelines
  • When to arrive, where to park
  • Dress code
  • Cleaning procedures
  • Employee discount
  • Emergencies like theft, earthquake, active shooter, fire, etc.

Larger retailers will include compliance training, stock options, education credits, health insurance, and more.

Most standard onboarding processes are geared around orienting the new associate to the store, not planning for their long-term relationship with customers and the retail brand.

What often is not covered is:

  • The joy of using your products
  • Introduction to your entire team – finding something in common, team cohesion
  • Identification of the top 5 items you sell
  • Who your customer is
  • What to do when it is slow
  • The value of learning instead of doing
  • Setting the stage for ongoing training
  • Growth opportunities to become long-term employees

What causes poor onboarding experiences?

Looking at this orientation - much like any training - as something to get through, not the foundation of success for your brand and your crew.

What are the costs of lazy or non-existent onboarding?

According to Kronos and the Human Capital Institute, 57% of those surveyed stated that lack of manager bandwidth was a barrier to proper onboarding.

Saying, “We’re too busy to train,” can stop you dead in your tracks from making your retail stores a success.

What is the upside of a good onboarding program?

According to Recruiting Daily, 69% of employees with a positive onboarding experience are likelier to remain with the employer.

Effective onboarding reduces failure rates and increases employee engagement and retention.

Further, standardized onboarding also results in a 50% increase in productivity.

Think about that the next time you tell your crew that old saw, "If you can lean you can clean."

So yes, onboarding employees for success is a smart return on investment, but it takes time.

When onboarding is rushed as a checklist to be completed as fast as possible, you set yourself up for associates having to learn – as I did in that restaurant – only from making mistakes. When it is a process where the learner is achieving quick wins, it boosts motivation and confidence in your new hires.

Yes, driving a car too fast and getting a speeding ticket teaches you to watch out – but you still get the ticket.

Likewise, while I learned Mike was wrong about the ice cream, the customer was too pissed to enjoy it – even after I added three scoops. And I was gone within a few weeks after that, and other experiences left me feeling unprepared and vulnerable to the public. 

Other drawbacks due to poor onboarding are that the employee never learns what success looks like on your sales floor with customers, what performance needs to happen to get a raise, or what your customer service and sales standards are.

Yet retailers have been onboarding employees faster than ever to try just to stay open.

And I get it, but your goal isn’t to get a body on your floor…you need them to be better trained on your expectations than ever before.

After all, the buying frenzy is over.

Those reasons alone should make you want to take a second look at how you introduce a new hire to your sales floor.

Onboarding is deliberate.

It is measured.

And it is reinforced.

It is your best shot at creating a customer service experience people will rave about.

And reboarding is no different…

What is reboarding?

Reboarding - re-onboarding - is a reintroduction for employees to the workplace after an extended period, or it can be an acknowledgment that processes and procedures have been updated since an employee started.

Things like innovative new digital technology, ship-from-store, and online returns are obvious, but what about a branded customer service process?

How about new CRM policies around follow-up?

How about new mystery shop programs or vendor comparisons?

There’s always a reason to make your employees smarter—both new and seasoned. Shared knowledge is important in creating an effective team.

According to Harvard Business Review, "Great onboarding helps individuals regain their confidence and reduces the time it takes to get up and running. But new hires aren’t the only people who could benefit from this type of structured support. Right now, everyone at your company needs some form of onboarding."

While such a process may feel like something you can run through as a checklist, your goal is not to get through it but for your staff to attain comprehension.

I often say, “Training is something you do, not something you did.”

What do you do with a retail team that has been there a while?

They may pride themselves on product knowledge and generally knowing how to do their jobs. If you haven’t talked about ongoing training, they may feel belittled or discredited. After all, they feel what they did was good enough to be employed at your store for a long time.

So, one of the keys to reboarding is presenting it correctly. It isn’t about something your staff has done wrong. Reboarding is designed to make sure everyone has the same game plan for what you expect. It is team-wide onboarding with positive performance, well-being, and innovation implications.

What is it not?

Reboarding is not a three-hour meeting in a conference room or like one hardware retailer I witnessed in Michigan, setting an employee down in front of a bunch of dated DVDs on an old Dell computer and telling them to “watch them all and come see me when you’ve finished training.” She left the room, and the new hire began scrolling on his smartphone.

What’s changed from the pandemic in terms of training?

During "The Great Resignation," people supposedly left the workforce forever. Over one million people retired. But 2022 then heralded "The Great Return" to work.

Yes, things have changed.

Retirees have re-entered the workforce since their 401Ks aren’t as robust as they thought, inflation has eaten into savings, and let’s face it, active people who could do the job well got bored.

After all, many people get into retail because they want to connect with people, and they miss that.

Handling onboarding and retailing in your store is just one of the most crucial parts of your Retail Management toolkit.

Some things must be repeated during training for part-time, full-time, and seasonal employees, making the trainer feel brain-dead. Your mission and procedures are important, but saying it repeatedly can make the delivery sound like it came from comedian Rodney Dangerfield.

For that reason, making onboarding videos can be helpful. Don't overuse them, though; it can give the impression that the learner is becoming a cog in a machine. Your goal from the moment you hire an employee is to make them feel they are the most important person in your organization so they will do the same for your customers and result in more full-priced sales.

Did you know?

One of the lesser-known features of my SalesRX online retail sales training program is our ability to upload your best onboarding and product explanation videos directly into the platform. Hence, everyone gets the same message every time, without a Mike interpreting the learning.