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The Art of Onboarding – it’s in the DNA!

Much has been said, discussed and published over the last couple of years about how critical onboarding is as part of the new hire process. There are no less than 2.5 million Google hits if you search for the term “onboarding.” The question I have for managers and HR professionals is, “If onboarding is so important, why are so many of us (companies) terrible at it?” The onboarding of a new employee is such a critical part of their orientation and integration into their new work environment, yet many of us spend so little time and attention in ensuring it is properly planned and goes well. I am sure we have all experienced that scenario where on your first day at a new job you spend the better part of the day filling out forms and sitting at your desk surfing the company intranet site or network directories. We know how terrible a feeling that is…so why do we subject new hires to our organizations to the same fate? In order to provide a better onboarding experience to your new hires, you need to think of onboarding as an ongoing process…or better yet, make it part of your organizational DNA. Essentially, onboarding is part of your overall Talent Strategy. Onboarding forms part of your employee retention efforts and should integrate with your recruiting strategy and your employment brand.

Alway remember - make your new hires feel welcome!Onboarding can not be a one time event or something that happens during the first week of employment. To make for a better new hire experience, there are several critical things you need to do (can do) to make onboarding part of your organizational DNA:

1) Have an onboarding plan prepared – this plan should cover off the 1st day, 1st week, and 1st month activities. It should identify key activities, events, etc. that your new hire will participate in, be required to complete, etc. It is also a working document that gets amended during the 1st month as the first 90 days start to materialize. This needs to be owned by the new hire’s manager.
2) Reception aware of arrival – Ok, the plan is in place and now your new hire is scheduled to start/arrive. It is vital that the front desk position in your company is aware of their arrival. Nothing gives a better 1st impression than when the new hire arrives and the receptionist is aware of their arrival, has their name badge ready, greats them and informs their manager that they have arrived. Conversely, there is nothing worse than a new hire arriving and no one is aware that they were starting.  The employee ends up feeling like a nuisance, not welcome and ultimately questioning why they joined the company.
3) Manager present – It is critical, and if at all possible, that the new hire’s manager is there on Day 1 and they sit down with their new hire to welcome them to the company.  They need to have a discussion about the new employee’s role, the plan (see point #1), give them an overview of how their performance will be evaluated, what they will be working on and then take them to their desk to help them get settled;  and yes, the workstation/desk area is prepared for them with a working PC with network access, office supplies and a phone.
4) Workplace buddy assigned – IBM has led the way in the practice of assigning a workplace buddy for a new hire. This person is someone (via a formal or informal program) that the organization recognizes as an ambassador for the company. This is an individual who can show the new hire the ropes, provide them with a proper office orientation (if the manager does not), introduce them to key players, their team, etc. They can also be the person that the new hire asks the “dumb” questions of like “where are the office supplies” or “where can I store my lunch.” The workplace buddy can also help the new hire adjust to the office social norms, get a feel for the culture and help them feel a part of the bigger picture.
5) Planned lunch – A critical part of the Day 1 onboarding process is lunch. Part of the plan should be for the manager and/or the workplace buddy and at least one other co-worker to take the new hire out for lunch. It allows the employee to make critical connections at work and alleviates some of that first day stress. There is nothing worse than a new hire either eating by themselves or leaving by themselves to find something to eat on their first day.
6) Focused training activities – instead of having the new hire focus on reading policy manuals, fill out forms, etc. on the first day/week, have them involved with some team training activities. Get them up to speed on key technologies that are being used. A great way to do this is to have them spend a bit of time being trained on key technologies/processes and then having them job shadow/ask questions of other employees.
7) Scheduled dept orientations – the final part of your Day 1/Week 1 plan should involve having your new hire meet with the heads of other key support departments. They should have previously scheduled meetings with HR, payroll, quality assurance, marketing, I.T., etc. This helps break up some of the potential monotony of the (important) dept. orientation and further allows them to build some key relationships.
8) Measure the results – to find out if your onboarding program is truly working you need to measure the results. This can be done via 30-day follow ups, employee surveys, identification of goals and successful completion during probationary period.    You can also measure effectiveness over time by looking at your first year attrition rate (% employed after year 1) and their 1st year performance evaluations as quantitative signs of the effectiveness of your onboarding program.

While not intended to be an exhaustive list, these are but a few ideas on how to make onboarding part of your organization’s DNA. These tips should also help you improve your first month, 90 day and 1 year retention numbers. It comes down to proper planning, communication and above all RESPECT for your new hire.


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