Over the past three years I was part of a team that personally onboarded over 1,000 new hires.
Unsurprisingly, Scaling your company and to accommodate the growth, we all – from HR to IT to Operations to Facilities to Training – had to figure out a way to increasingly make each new hire’s start productive, successful and high touch.
At the end of the day, though, no matter how many new hires were in the room, the most important agenda item we had to remember was very simple:
Create meaningful connection.
If we were able to create a setting where new hires could truly relate to each other and identify with the company’s mission and values, feeling inspired, engaged and ready to dive in, we had won. The rest was just gravy. We had fulfilled the real purpose of onboarding, which is to re-recruit these new hires and reinforce that they made the right decision.
Here are seven ways we learned how to say, “Yes, we are the organization you thought you were joining!” and “Yes, we do have our act together!”
- Tackle the big questions right away – or better yet, before day one. Benefits, payroll, and paperwork; many employees want to be able to go home after their first few days knowing their direct deposit is set up and they are able to answer a spouse’s questions regarding health insurance plans. Take care of these items efficiently and effectively so they can focus on the good stuff (like learning new colleagues’ names).
- Recognize that joining a company with new vernacular, norms, names, and product is a lot of information to take in. Offering a one-stop-internal-shop for new hires to access resources like PowerPoint presentations from their first week, a company dictionary, org chart, branding assets, holiday schedule, etc., is a highly valuable tool that they will all silently thank you for and eagerly consume in their down time. In addition to information overload, EVERYONE has first day jitters. I can’t tell you how many people would walk in on day one and admit they didn’t sleep the night before. Therefore, making the unfamiliar familiar as quickly as possible goes a long way.
- Have an airtight process for distribution and set up for all of the “goods” – computers, building badges, parking passes, etc. A strong partnership with IT is critical. The quicker and less painful this administrative process is, the more impressed and assured that your new hire is about their decision. Many organizations do not have this down, and employees would remember the pain of previous onboarding experiences (“I went months without VPN access”, “My email address was wrong for so long everyone knew me as Bob. My name is actually Rob,” or, HR’s greatest nightmare – “I didn’t get paid for six weeks!”)
- The more people you have outside of HR involved and running onboarding, the better. As valuable as it is to have strong HR, new hires want to hear from company leaders. And as valuable as it is to have the sponsorship of executives sharing company history and vision, new hires also want to hear from employees on the front lines on how they do the actual work. Make the presentations focused on story telling rather than sharing facts and figures and they will be able to more quickly relate. Hands on training around the company’s product will also help any new hire – from sales to accounting to legal – be able to better articulate at their neighborhood block party what the company does. And, as many know, the real onboarding comes after week one, directly from the manager. (Hiring managers achieve hero status if they actually complete a detailed 90-day onboarding plan. Just saying.)
- Onboarding is a time for new hires to evaluate if they made the right decision…or not. Zappos has become known for “The Offer”, a program that offers new employees one month’s salary if they opt-out after deciding the culture is not a good fit or them. Parent company Amazon took up the same practice last year with “Pay to Quit”. The reality is that unhappy employees make for unhappy companies and this is a way to avoid the higher cost of attrition down the road. While you may not be at a point to actually pay employees to leave, it is worth inviting an open dialogue if a new hire is second-guessing their decision.
- Values. Arguably the most important component of a new hire’s onboarding. Since both the espoused (i.e. “Customer success is number one”) and inherent (i.e. Work hard and be nice to people) values shape the organizational culture, it is essential to demonstrate how these actually play out in the day-to-day life of the organization for your new hires to internalize what success looks like. If they are able to identify and articulate how they relate to the values, you’ve done your job.
- Relationship building. Make the time; create the space. As much information as you may want to disseminate during that first week, it won’t be as valuable in the long run as allowing the new hires to connect with each other in more than an obligatory-ice-breaker kind of way. Since inclusion is a such a significant predictor of career engagement and success, they will always remember the effort if you find a fun way to do this – company sponsored dinner and drinks, office scavenger hunt, volunteer event, etc.
Both research and conventional wisdom suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. Help them get started on the right foot by following the steps above to a great onboarding program. At the end of an ideal week, your new hire will have made meaningful connections, feel as if they actually belong to this new organization, and are excited to contribute quickly to your company’s mission.
Photo by: Laura Kidd