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The First 90 Days: A Critical Time for Employee Retention and Success

The First 90 Days: A Critical Time for Employee Retention and Success

Quick-service restaurants have a retention problem. Even in a competitive market, employees know there are other options out there if their current job isn't working. A startling 30% of employees have left a job within 90 days of starting, and that number is often higher in the QSR space. If you are interested in boosting employee retention, you've got to set employees up for success as quickly as possible. In this article, we break down the steps you can take in the first 90 days to make work meaningful and maximize employee retention.

But before we do that, a quick reminder of why employee retention matters:

  • Losing employees is expensive! The average cost to hire and train one hourly employee can be upwards of $5K.
  • Turnover negatively impacts customer satisfaction. We’ve all experience understaffed quick-service restaurants, and can probably recall some specific ways that the overall experience suffered as a result.
  • Turnover is contagious. Lower employee retention means your remaining team might need to work harder or longer hours to pick up the slack. Alternately, losing seasoned workers has a negative effect on your ability to effectively train new hires.

Now that we’ve established why employee retention is so important in the franchise and QSR space, let’s cover some specific things you can do to improve retention by focusing on the first 90 days:


1. Start with a clear job description

One of the best ways to set employees up for success is starting with a crystal clear job description. Job descriptions set the tone for what you expect from an employee and help them understand how to be a great hire.

Bad hires can cost your organization thousands of dollars. Lack of alignment between employees and companies is one of the biggest factors when it comes to lackluster employee retention. You want to set standards so everyone is on the same page.


2. Create a structured onboarding program

Once an employee is selected, you need to provide them with a structured onboarding process. Instead of throwing employees into the deep end, companies should create a process that slowly integrates new employees into the company.

Many organizations use a 90-day onboarding process that’s broken down into three segments:

  • Day 1-30: The first thirty days are all about learning. In this phase, employees are being trained and closely monitored. Managers will likely watch these employees very closely and teach them all the tricks of the trade.
  • Day 31-60: The next thirty days are all about contributing. During this phase, managers give employees more leeway to contribute to the company. Workers may still make mistakes, but they have much more autonomy and should know some parts of the job without help.
  • Day 61-90: The last thirty days are all about mastery. By this section of the onboarding program, employees should show signs of mastery in their job. They should be able to lean on managers less and take care of most issues independently.


3. Collaborate on goal setting for the first 90 days

It’s essential to help each new hire set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) that they will work to achieve during the first 90 days of employment. Goals give employees something to look forward to when onboarding becomes tough. If they are consistently making progress on their goals, they are doing great, even if working is challenging.

Managers and workers should collaborate to work on what those goals are. Goals might look slightly different depending on the person you are working with. For example, an employee holding their first job must cover different material than someone with previous experience in your industry.

When you collaborate with the new hire, you can further structure your onboarding plan and create one that fits their needs and skill level.


4. Create progress checkpoints during the onboarding process

90 days flies by in the blink of an eye. If you are not careful, employees can watch that time pass without making any progress on their goals and skills. Employees will enjoy their job more if they see that they are making progress while being able to correct errors as they happen.

Creating progress checkpoints lets employees and employers get a pulse on what's going well and what could be going better. Often these checkpoints happen at the end of every thirty-day period.


Provide regular feedback to new hires throughout the onboarding experience

Feedback is an essential part of the onboarding experience. Employees need to hear all the good (and bad) feedback you have for them. Don't wait for feedback to pile up. Find ways to share it early and often. Dumping negative feedback can make it challenging for employees to hear. No one wants to listen to a list of 50 things they are doing wrong. Instead, find teachable moments, in the moment, to correct negative behavior.


Use recognition to reward employees for their onboarding success

If you’ve got praise, share it. Recognize your staff for all the hard work they are doing to succeed in their new role. You can share this praise during team meetings, in one-on-one conversations, or using your company’s internal messaging system. These recommendations might seem straight forward, but they go a long way when it comes to boosting employee retention.


5. Offer training and development opportunities to new hires 

Training is an essential aspect of the onboarding process. According to Shift, 40% of workers who don't get the training they need will leave in the first year. Companies cannot expect employees to succeed if they aren't given the proper training.

New team members need proper opportunities to learn the job without fear of retribution. Your new workers might make a costly mistake, but it's all about helping them learn and become better employees.

Everyone has different learning styles that impact how they absorb information. While some workers may be able to listen to an instructor or watch a video to learn, others may have to work through an actual scenario to understand the information they are being presented.

Training isn’t an eight-hour shift on a busy weeknight. It requires time, patience, and attention. 


6. Don’t forget to create moments for ownership during the first 90 days

Ownership is essential to the onboarding process. When employees can say, "I accomplished this on my own!" it makes for a positive experience.

You may not be able to trust a new hire to close a store by themselves, but is there a part of the closing process that you can defer to them? Break big tasks into smaller chunks and help employees feel comfortable taking ownership of those experiences.

Before you know it, you'll be able to give new workers more significant tasks because they'll have the confidence needed to take on those responsibilities.


7. Survey your new hires to see how you can improve the experience

It can be challenging to know if you are getting the onboarding experience right. You should elicit feedback from new hires to see where you excel and where you can improve as a company.

Keep these surveys short and ask questions that don't require personal information. Anonymous feedback can help new hires (who may feel vulnerable) open up about their experience.

Take this feedback seriously. New hires are the only people who can tell you how effective your onboarding program is.


Boost retention by creating a world-class onboarding experience

The first 90 days at a new job can be tough. There are new faces to learn, vocabulary to memorize, and rules to remember. As overwhelming as it can be, starting a new job is also exciting. It can be a fresh start for workers wanting to change their lives.

Employees are becoming more aware of a job's impact on their lives. They want to work for a company that values them and their contributions enough to set them up for success from the start. Throwin your team to the wolves doesn’t work. Investing in a structured training program will.



30-60-90 Day Onboarding Challenge

Are you ready to create a world-class onboarding experience? Check out this 30-60-90 day onboarding challenge to learn how:



  • Create a clear, concise job description
    • Write out candidate standards for open positions.
    • Look over each job description to ensure it’s easy to read and understand.
    • Ask for feedback to ensure your job descriptions are clear and helpful.
  • Select a qualified applicant
    • Based on your standards, pick a qualified candidate to hire.
  • Share the required paperwork 
    • Ideally, much of this paperwork can be completed digitally before the employee’s first day.
  • Announce the new hire internally
    • Once you know an employee is joining, introduce them to the company.
    • Let your team know how to interact and connect with the new employee.

Day 1-30: Learning

  • Complete any remaining paperwork
    • Within the first few days of your new hire’s start date, their onboarding paperwork should be completed.
    • Ask managers to shout out employees who fill out their onboarding paperwork quickly and efficiently.
  • Set 90 day onboarding goals
    • Chat with your new hire to set SMART goals for their first 90 days.
    • Consider how the phases of onboarding might require different levels of mastery.
  • Immerse new hires in your company culture
    • During the first month, employees should be getting to know your company and what you stand for.
    • Teach employees about your company mission, vision, and values by playing a game of company-centered Jeopardy.
  • Help new hires get to know their colleagues
    • Team building is critical. Encourage your new hires to get to know who they’ll be working with.
    • Ask managers to host team building sessions in all meetings with a new hire attending.
  • Complete: 30 day check-In
    • At the end of the first 30 days, ask each manager to sit down with their new hires. What’s working? What can be improved? What do they want to see in the next 30 days?

Day 31-60: Contributing

  • Small project
    • By the end of the first 30 days, employees should be able to handle a small project or task on their own.
    • Assign each new hire a special project they can complete that will improve the company. For example, a cashier could organize the condiment station at a restaurant. 
  • Create cross-functional bond
    • Work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Cashiers might need to work with cooks. Staff going into the field will need to work with employees at the main office.
    • Assign a cross-functional project for new hires to work on.
  • Focus on skill development
    • By the second month, you should be able to see where your new team member may be lacking. Focus on those areas with development exercises that target their needs.
  • Complete: 60 day training check-in
    • The 60-day check-in is all about determining what has been accomplished and what’s left for employees to be seen as fully integrated into your culture.
    • Create a plan to address gaps in development in the next thirty days.


Day 61-90: Mastery

  • Assign a mentor
    • As employees move into the mastery stage, they need a partner outside of their manager to continue to grow.
    • Pair the new hire with an experienced employee who can act as a mentor and provide guidance throughout their career development within the company.
  • Complete: Project ownership
    • New hires should take ownership of a project by the time they are in the last thirty days of onboarding.
    • Assign the new hire a more substantial project or task that requires them to take ownership and demonstrate their ability to work independently. Provide support and guidance as needed.
  • Senior leadership exposure
    • Senior leaders play an important role in employee development. Make sure that workers are given face time with higher-level managers.
    • Invite senior leaders to a team meeting to get to know new hires.
  • Complete: 90 day training check-In
    • At the end of 90 days, employees should be fully integrated into your company and ready to tackle work at full capacity. Chat with each new hire to ensure they feel ready. What do they feel like they are missing, if anything?

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