Onboarding: A Wise Investment

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By: Barbara Davis, Senior Recruitment Consultant

Onboarding?  New employee orientation?  Same difference, right?

Well, no.

After an exhaustive search, you have finally identified the perfect candidate.  She will be starting in a couple of weeks. You sent her all of your benefits information and enrollment paperwork and she has returned the forms. You gave her the handbook so she knows the basic policies. You take a deep breath, close the folder and move on.  Right? Nooooo! It is time for onboarding.

The purpose of onboarding is to ensure new employees want to be part of your organization, enjoy working at the company, can readily serve as ambassadors to potential hires and clients, and ultimately, produce quality work. If you can tie HR forms, processes and programs to the heart of the business, your onboarding process should reflect the culture of your organization. Ideally, it employs blended, personalized learning and a mix of consulting and coaching.

Another key piece of laying the groundwork for successful onboarding and employment is having a full understanding of the requirements for the job. There should be a complete description of the essential elements of the position. Actually, this should have been developed as part of the recruitment process. In addition, a definition of what constitutes successful performance of the job should be provided. Finally, metrics and/or analytics that measure the performance should be designed. The resulting information should be provided to the new hire before work begins.

The onboarding process lasts for at least 90 days, possibly as long as a year. The length depends partially on the probationary period. A new employee will feel more confident and comfortable if she knows she has a coach who will help during the probationary period, a time in which a new hire can sometimes feel as though someone is observing with a judgmental eye. Ideally, each new hire would have a mentor. This person should be an experienced member of the organization who is willing to answer questions and provide information for the new hire during the entire probationary period. It should also be the mentor’s role to take the new employee out to lunch on the first day.

On the first day of work, employees should be able to connect with coworkers and experience a small success right away. For that reason, it is best to have as many of the orientation requirements as possible completed on or before the first day (i.e., providing all employment and benefits paperwork ahead of time). New hires should be familiarized with the office. Along with finding key locations in the office (bathrooms, lunch room, conference room, etc.), members of the organization can share information that relates to the company’s products or services, and its mission.

Though camaraderie and belonging are important, employees should also have a first-day opportunity to feel productive. When the new hire returns to his or her department, the manager should introduce the new hire to the members of the department and sit down to explain the new hire’s role. Within that role, the manager should have previously identified a small task that the new hire can accomplish on that day. It should be simple but relevant.  If some guidance is required, a fellow department member should be available to provide the training. For the remainder of the day, the new hire should work on that task. By focusing on this small task, the information overload often found in immediate “full-throttle” training may be avoided.

In the first month, the employee should receive all of the training necessary to be able to use the tools available to her and to understand the products. It is during this period when the employee’s strengths should come into play. The amount of training and method of delivery vary based on the individual employee. The manager helps the new employee set small goals and checks in regularly to be sure the new employee has everything needed to succeed and that she really does have the skills required to complete the essential tasks. If the new employee does not reach out to the mentor, the mentor reaches out instead. The new employee does not feel forgotten and knows that support is available. The mentorship continues through the end of the probationary period.

In the second month, the new employee learns more about other teams, cross-training if appropriate. The manager works with the employee to develop long-term goals. If possible, the employee also works in customer service and attends at least one product demo to fully understand what the company’s business is all about. All departments collaborate on this process.

In the third month, the employee works independently but with periodic meetings with the manager to discuss progress, successes and opportunities. Along with the steps that are specific to new employees, are the ongoing processes that keep all employees in touch with company news and aligned with the mission.

Onboarding is an intensive process. It will be taxing to provide such a rich experience to each new hire. However, the consequences of ineffective onboarding range from poor performance and dissatisfaction, active disengagement and, eventually, to turnover. Being able to implement this onboarding process will require buy-in from leadership and from all levels of the organization. It will require planning for staffing to ensure no single department is overly burdened at any given time. Looking for synchronicities that will facilitate both the hiring and onboarding processes will help. An effective Human Resources Manager will be able to develop these processes, ensure foundational elements are in place, orchestrate their roll-out and ongoing implementation, evaluate their effectiveness and adjust the processes as needed.

Contact us to discuss the unique attributes of your own organization.

Posted: June, 2016

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