How Kimberton Whole Foods Improved Its Onboarding Process With PeopleMatter

By: on October 5, 2015

This is part three of a five-part series. Check out parts one and two here:

For this installment of our employee engagement series, we speak with Lydia Sadauskas, chief people person (the internal term for “HR director”) at Kimberton Whole Foods: a five-location, 165-employee organic grocery store chain in Pennsylvania.

After dealing with a mountain of paper applications and I-9s—along with some questionable hiring decisions on the part of store managers—Sadauskas knew she needed a way to improve onboarding.

With PeopleMatter, application and onboarding processes have become fully automated. And perhaps most importantly, Kimberton can find workers who are just as passionate about organic food and sustainability as the rest of the staff.

“The hiring process, through PeopleMatter, has helped us identify who the best candidates are as a cultural fit for us. While they’re stocking the shelves, carrying heavy boxes or unloading a truck, they genuinely feel engaged with something bigger. People are staying longer, and when they leave, it’s more painful to say goodbye.”

Lydia Sadauskas, Chief People Person, Kimberton Whole Foods

Q: What are your primary responsibilities as chief people person?

My primary responsibility is the preservation of the culture, and to continually ensure that the practices that are procedural and more of that legal, colder part of it are infused with a way [of doing things] that matches up with who we are. I define policies and procedures for job descriptions, recruitment, training, orientation and onboarding.

Q: What did recruiting and hiring look like before you got PeopleMatter?

A lot of the hiring processes were left up to the store managers, so it was very helter-skelter. A lot of [the time] it was people walking in, filling out the application, having a quick chat with the store manager and then either getting hired right there or being set up for an interview. Based on what labor budget? I have no idea.

Then I had to rely on the store managers to hopefully get an application to me if they felt that somebody was a good candidate. I didn’t know if we were being consistent with questions we were asking, or whether we were clear on the type of person we were hiring. There was no way to tell on paper applications. I was using measures like: Did they have good spelling? Did they fill the entire application out? Is their handwriting neat? I had no way to really assess.

Q: And onboarding?

When I first came [on in 2007], I had to spend several weeks going through every single employee file just to make sure that they were compliant and to make sure that all of the forms were there—because they weren’t. I would have to send an email to managers [with the onboarding forms]. Eventually, we got Dropbox, so people could print them out themselves. But then, of course, tracking is crazy, because I have three days to get that I-9 in to ensure that it’s completed.

There was no orientation. If you showed up, we might get you a vest and a name tag, and now here’s a couple of forms for you to fill out. [Managers would say,] “Make sure you get them to us by the end of the week or whatever.” It was very casual.

I-9 management in PeopleMatter

Q: What were some problems as a result?

We always lost paperwork. We were spending a lot of time and money in just the sorting of paper, and trying to figure out whether we had everything.

So many times, the store managers would end up calling me and saying, “Did you get this application?” “Can we hire this person?” And I had no way of really being able to keep it all in one place. It was just chaos.

We were probably spending three to four months in trying to hire somebody. Then we’re short-staffed, and everyone else has to pick up the slack, which led to higher burnout. Retention was a problem, too, because we didn’t make the right hire.

Q: Did you ever hire someone, and then it became apparent that it was a poor fit?

This young man who was trekking across the country, he came in with his dreadlocks and no deodorant. Everyone thought this was a cultural match, so he was hired. He showed up at one of our company get-togethers without a shirt on. It was bad, just really bad. There was no way I could prove that it was anything performance-based, because it wasn’t. He was doing the job. Was he offending the customer base along the way because he wasn’t washing himself? Well, sure.

And then, one day, he was just gone. I figured, in his nomadic lifestyle, that he would eventually just walk out the door—but those are the types of things that happened. That was the perception of a “cultural match.”

Q: Was there a “straw that broke the camel’s back” that led to the decision to look at software?

One day, I sent an email and told the store managers to please send me all of their applications—because, at the time, people were putting their Social Security numbers on there, and I didn’t know where these things were ending up. My greatest nightmare was that there would be some sort of identity theft, or that we would be out of compliance by having people’s Social Security numbers so exposed.

In my desire to get all of this stuff, I am not kidding, I probably had over 500 paper applications on my desk. I told Terry [Brett, the owner and founder,] that we need to hire help, get software or both, because it’s a tremendous disservice to the company and to the rest of the staff.

I had started doing my research a while back and, at the same time, we were on the second round of redoing our website. I thought it was a great opportunity. If we’re going to go online, I want to do it now.

Q: So you led the search to improve onboarding?

Yes. I looked at a few systems, but they seemed cumbersome to me. It needed to be intuitive, because not all of our managers are tech-savvy. Ease of use was the number-one thing. It also needed to be geared towards an hourly, retail situation.

Nobody really had what I was looking for. Then Terry forwarded me an email from Adam Burress, who was working at PeopleMatter at the time. As soon as I had my first conversation with Adam and I saw the demo, I said, “I think this is it.”

Q: What did you like about it?

The customization … was very appealing. They had this great IT team that was going to work with us to be able to create a seamless transition from our website into PeopleMatter, without people even knowing that they transitioned into a different environment.

I wanted to have an application that was easy for people to immediately engage with … that was very appealing to me, as well.

Q: What was the time frame for deciding on PeopleMatter and implementation?

It was less than six months. We signed on in October or November [2013], and we were implementing in January and February of the following year. We were fully ready to go by March 2014.

Q: So what does the hiring process look like now through PeopleMatter?

Now, nothing comes to us on paper. It is all driven through PeopleMatter. Once someone applies, I’m continually screening. I’m looking at their assessments to match people up with who we are culturally, and [am] taking a look at the skill set to … see if they are able to do the job based on the job description.

After the initial screening, I email the store manager with three or four applicants [who] I think are good. [The manager will] add or subtract from the list. Then I go through a phone screening process with the applicant. If I feel that this is a person [who] we want to take the time to meet, then they meet with the director of operations and myself. If we feel that they’re a good cultural match … they’re invited to an open house, where 17 or 18 people [who] are applying for various positions throughout the company come and meet people.

At the end of that process, we have our own rubric to fill out [in PeopleMatter]. If anybody scores poorly or receives a red flag, and I have [set criteria] for the red flags, we don’t continue with them and the process ends there.

Candidate assessments in PeopleMatter

Q: Once someone is hired, how does onboarding work?

After they’re hired, they are contacted [through PeopleMatter] by our HR admin specialist, who invites them to go through the onboarding process. That’s all done online. That includes the I-9, the W-4, photo release, the handbook, emergency form, residency form—all that stuff.

The first day for anybody starts at our headquarters, where they meet with myself and the admin person to make sure that we have the copies of all of the correct paperwork. It’s a very short and dirty version of an orientation. Then, about two to three months into somebody’s hire, I will hold an official orientation taking them through the handbook.

Q: What has been some feedback about the new processes?

The majority of store managers just think it’s so cool. Everyone got on board really fast, which indicated to me that people were eager for change.

What I oftentimes get from [applicants], having worked with PeopleMatter now, is: “Wow, that was really fast.” An applicant will be like, “I just applied, and you’re calling me a day later.”

The other piece that has made a big difference for us is the scheduling module. Not only do people get to see their schedule on their mobile apps, but we can send out all kinds of messages and notifications. Currently, three out of our five managers are using PeopleMatter as their primary source of communication. Our staff loves PeopleMatter.

Q: What are some positive results you’ve seen since the switch?

Our retention right now is at 77 percent. Before, it was around 56 percent. When we have a full-time key position lead, we seal it. The onboarding process has also ensured compliance.

The hiring process through PeopleMatter has helped us identify who the best candidates are as a cultural fit for us. While they’re stocking the shelves, carrying heavy boxes or unloading a truck, they genuinely feel engaged with something bigger. People are staying longer, and when they leave, it’s more painful to say goodbye.

Map image provided by Kimberton Whole Foods.

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