Five Tips To Onboard The Right Way

I have a good friend who is starting a new job this week. Being the interested HR person that I am, I always inquire about the onboarding process. In the past, this was part voyeurism and part competitive intelligence. I wanted to know if they did anything worth using myself. Or, if they did anything spectacularly awful.

If you’re like me, you have had all kinds of onboarding experiences. When I started one of my jobs in retail, I walked in and before I could do anything (fill out paperwork, orient myself), I was pulled back to start unloading the biggest truck I had ever seen. In another job, I was brought in with a cushion allowing myself to get comfortable with my new role, meet all of the people I would be working with, and start thinking about my objectives going forward.

I don’t know if good onboarding practices ultimately lead to success (it seems like it would), but I do know it doesn’t hurt to get employees started on the right foot. Here are some tips to consider as you examine any onboarding process:

Communicate early and often

Are daily phone calls to your new hire or promoted employee too much? That may be, but using the interim period between when the offer is accepted and when the person starts is a huge missed opportunity that many onboarding programs miss. Leadership blogger Dan McCarthy talks about starting the onboarding process even before an offer is made to an internal candidate. That can be true for external candidates as well. Getting a person used to and excited for the possibility (and then the reality) of their new position is an easy way to get started on the right foot.

Feel out your newbie for pace

“Recruiter Guy” Chris Hoyt blogged about his experience of onboarding at his new position with PepsiCo. While your new employees blogging about their onboarding experience may not be for you, what Hoyt has done is show how the pace of his onboarding matched his experience and comfort levels. While many folks wouldn’t be comfortable traveling on business right away, it was obvious that it helped energize him and maximize the overall experience. I don’t know how intentional it was, but it shows that a rapid onboard isn’t necessarily a bad one.

Intentionally expose them to culture

Amy Gallo at the Harvard Business Review writes of the downfall of focusing on simply supplying information to new employees. You have to be intentional about exposing them to your culture, too. Her advice is to focus on bringing on the right people, getting them connected with the right people, and then getting them into their day-to-day routine as quickly as possible. There’s no arguing that cultural changes are a big step in the right direction.

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Use technology responsibly

We all love technology, right? Well, I did — until my onboarding experience where I sat in front of a computer for my first day to fill out forms, do mandatory training, and probably supply some clueless vendor with more validation data. I hated it. Many companies sell technology onboarding platforms as productivity drivers (like Taleo does here) but onboarding is more than just getting me up to speed and producing widgets for you in record time. It is also about your first efforts in retention and culture. You’re not getting that from a computer.

Harness that new hire energy

Capitalizing on new hire energy is one of the most vexing things about the onboarding process (as Jessica Lee at Fistful of Talent rightfully points out). The problem is that all of these new people don’t have the institutional knowledge necessary to use that energy constructively. If I can combine the point from Gallo’s piece in HBR, partnering that boundless energy with some of your most experienced people can be a huge win. Of course, finding the right experienced person is as important as the decision itself.

How do you ensure a smooth and productive onboarding experience?


2 Comments on “Five Tips To Onboard The Right Way

  1. I was so proud of the manner in which we decided to on-board new HR consultants to our staff. We gave them two weeks to talk with all the employees, learn about our operations, spend time reviewing our resources and materials, etc. all so that they would feel comfortable before being thrown in front of clients or having to field the eclectic range of phone calls we receive posing HR problems. We had a schedule for each day and felt we were doing a GREAT job of integrating people with our organization. The euphoria lasted right up until one new hire said, “I feel so unproductive – isn’t there something I can do that makes a difference. I want to feel like a consultant and help someone.”

    Now that could suggest that we didn’t do a very good job of explaining how valuable it would be for a new employee to have time to get familiar with the special sets of knowledge that some of our staff has, or that we didn’t make a case for why knowing what we had, where is was, and how to access it efficiently would pay off once they were with clients or on the phone. But I don’t think that was the situation. I think what we didn’t factor in is how important it is that a new employee, at whatever level, feels that s/he is making a difference very early in the new employment; that they can see tangible results from their work, even in the first few days.

    As a result of the comment, and our own further probing of what it meant and how to adjust things for a greater sense of meaningful work, we changed the entry two weeks to half days with staff and resources, and half days with clients/phones. We made sure there was someone nearby to assist with anything that the new hire didn’t yet know, but they actually got to do some of the work we hired them for. “Win-Win” is a trite phrase, but in this case it is the right descriptor for the circumstances. They got to work, we got to acknowledge their knowledge and ability to assist clients, and we increased their learning because it was more relevant given their client support activities.

  2. There's a lot good here. Well put.

    Many find the Align – Acquire – Accommodate – Assimilate – Accelerate framework helpful.

    Align – Get key stakeholders aligned around the new employee's role even before starting to recruit.

    Acquire – Remember that everything communicates and that the new employee's onboarding really begins with their first contact with the organization – or its representatives. So be sure to pre-sell while buying.

    Accommodate – This is where the technology, communication, and feeling out the newbie for pace kick in. One great way to do that is for the newbie's direct supervisor and the newbie to co-create the newbie's 100-day action plan

    Assimilate – Completely agree on the importance of intentionally exposing the newbie to the culture – as one of a wide range of things to do to help the newbie assimilate in.

    Accelerate – Harnessing the energy is important. It's really about inspiring and enabling the new employee to do his or her absolute best with his or her colleagues to deliver a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose.

    Lots more on all of this in our book, “Onboarding – How to Get Your New Employee Up to Speed in Half the Time”

    George Bradt – PrimeGenesis Executive Onboarding and Transition Acceleration

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