Recall your feelings the last time you arrived at a meeting – conference, board of directors, lunch – at an unfamiliar location. What were your emotions? Did you know where to park? Did you know where to go? Did you know what to expect?

Milligan bob
Senior Consultant / Dairy Strategies LLC
Bob Milligan is also professor emeritus, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornel...

I expect you had some concerns and some uncertainty. Now multiply those emotions many times, and you can start to understand how an employee feels as he or she arrives for the first day of work.

Onboarding is today’s term for acclimating the new employee to the dairy farm. It is more than just orientation and training that have been our traditional focus for new employees.

The Society for Human Resource Management describes onboarding as: “The process by which new hires get adjusted to the social and performance aspects of their jobs quickly and smoothly, and learn the attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors required to function effectively within an organization.”

Onboarding, then, continues until the employee is acclimated to your vision, core values and farm culture, and is fully performing his or her job responsibilities. It includes much more than learning the skills and responsibilities of the position.


I understand that expanding beyond your past orientation and training sounds like unnecessary work and time. However, think about that meeting you considered above. How important was your initial impression? I assume it was very large and very lasting. The same is true for a new employee. First impressions are often lasting.

In fact, research shows that fully half of new hires decide they will leave the company, business or organization in the first week on the job. Not all leave immediately, and a few probably change their mind and stay, but most leave eventually without ever becoming engaged employees.

For a new employee to become a long-term, highly productive, engaged employee requires a three-part onboarding process. The first two, orientation and training, are familiar. The third – we will call it engagement – is new. The first two are necessary; the third is crucial to your goal to have passionate, career-oriented employees. We will look briefly at the first two and in some depth at engagement.


You have likely always been a part of your farm. The information the new employee requires in orientation is second nature to you. You will undoubtedly miss many key items unless you have an orientation checklist containing all of the items the new employee will need to know to feel comfortable in his or her new surroundings.

You can ask your newest employees to help you develop the checklist and add to it over time.


You or the new employee’s supervisor is the training expert. My only suggestion is that you be certain to explain why tasks are performed the way they are. This explanation will enhance the new employee’s comfort level, confidence and engagement in the tasks and the farm.


The more we learn from modern research about how to lead and coach employees, the more we understand that the most productive, easiest to supervise and longest-tenured employees are those that are passionate about the farm’s success; they, then, work because they want to, not because they have to.

Onboarding to create passionate employees requires your leadership and coaching from day one. In fact, engagement, and thus onboarding, starts with recruitment and selection as you select candidates who are a “fit” for your vision, values and culture.

We look at three components of onboarding for engagement. The first is to be certain the new employee quickly learns about your farm. Include the following in your continuing discussion of your farm:

  • Continually discuss and use the farm vision and core values.

  • Explain your hopes and dreams for the future and some of the strategic moves you have planned or hope to plan to fulfill those hopes and dreams.

  • Talk about the history of your farm, including the founders.

  • Share the traditions, symbols and meaningful events important in farm culture.

The second is building strong relationships with every member of your workforce. Back in the “old days” of supervision, friendships at work were frowned upon. Today’s research contradicts that idea. In fact, the Gallup engagement work finds that having a “best friend at work” is highly positively correlated with engagement.

Begin by introducing your new employee to your workforce. Use your knowledge of the new employee to suggest common interests. Monitor progress to be certain the new employee is being assimilated into the workforce.

The third component – passion – builds on the first two. Passion takes time to develop but is easily “snuffed out.” Two suggestions to get started on the right path are, first, to show your own passion.

Most of us, especially us males, struggle showing our emotions. This is a good time to overcome that reluctance and let your passion for the farm show through.

Second, it is not too early to talk about opportunities for the new employee to grow and advance his or her career at your farm. Since he or she has just been in the job market, career plans have likely been in his or her thoughts. Connecting early with possibilities will increase passion for your farm.

Onboarding success ideas

Two suggestions to successfully implement the three components of onboarding are:

1. Re-prioritize the first week. Since we have had an open position, we want the new employee to get started right away. However, onboarding is a marathon, not a sprint. I suggest the priorities for the first week should be orientation, engagement and training, in that order.

2. On the new employee’s first day, explain that you will meet with him or her weekly at a set time with the only agenda item to discuss progress in the onboarding process. I suggest starting each meeting with two questions: What is going great? What could be going better?  end mark

Bob is also professor emeritus, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University.

Bob Milligan