Tips for Developing a Stellar Onboarding Strategy

The first day on the job can be overwhelming for a new hire: new rules, new processes, new technology, new faces and new company culture. The early days at work also set the tone for the employer-employee relationship. Developing a stellar onboarding strategy helps ensure your new worker feels welcomed, learns the ropes and becomes a contributing part of the team.

Stellar Onboarding

Most companies already handle the processes part of onboarding fairly well—email, user names, passwords and other technologies. But they don’t always focus on the human side.

“Most companies view onboarding as something that benefits the company,” says Jacob Morgan, author of "The Employee Experience Advantage." “It's designed to get the employee up to speed as quickly as possible. Bosses say, ‘We always want employees to hit the ground running.’ But if anyone has ever tried jumping out of a moving car (I don't advise it!) then they would know that hitting the ground running is actually quite painful.”

People First, Then Processes

While your new employee is getting up to speed on company technology and tasks, put a face on it. Make sure an executive comes by to say hello. Have the employee’s new manager take her to lunch, Morgan says. During lunch, remind the employee why she was hired in the first place and get to know her as an individual. Instead of asking the employee to approach an office full of new people, ask the rest of the team to stop by the new person’s desk during the day and say hello.

“We all had our first day starting somewhere and it's usually a bit exciting, scary, perhaps overwhelming,” Morgan says. “Many of us even experience a bit of imposter syndrome. Let's remember that when it's someone else's first day and treat then accordingly.”

Culture Cues

Onboarding should include letting the new employee know more about the corporate culture. Ask your last new hires what surprised them the most about the company culture.

Then leverage the answers to make sure you let your new employees know the unwritten rules of your office culture. Does the whole office go to lunch together on Tuesdays? Does everyone go for drinks together on Thursday or Friday after work? Do you celebrate birthdays in the break room? Do you cover the phones for each other? Are interruptions welcomed or bad form? What does a closed office door signify in your company?

Make Processes Personal

Using a checklist of tasks and goals is great to make sure you don’t forget something critical. But don’t approach onboarding as one-size-fits-all, Morgan says. That makes it feel like a chore to the employee. More important, it doesn’t work.

Asking a hands-on learner to watch as a boss or someone else manipulates new software on a computer screen doesn’t enable learning—it fosters frustration and/or boredom.

Instead, when training an employee on new technology, software and processes, ask the employee how he or she learns best. Is he a visual learner—one who learns best by seeing a written list of instructions? Is she one who learns best by listening to an expert explain the process? Or a hands-on learner who understands a task best by doing it, perhaps with help the first time? Based on the answers, tailor your training to suit the employee. “Onboarding needs to be as personalized as possible,” Morgan says.

Benefits to Employees and Employers

When onboarding is done well, both employees and employers benefit. “It's about creating an experience that lets the employee know they are appreciated and the company is excited for them to start working there,” Morgan says. “Ideally an on-boarding program will give employees the confidence, tools, support, and resources to start contributing to the organization as soon as possible, and doing so in a meaningful way. Employees get a sense of confidence and support while feeling like they everything they need to start making a meaningful contribution to the company. Employees should feel safe.”

How Long Does it Take?

Onboarding can last a few weeks, a few months, or longer. Check with employees after three months and ask them if they feel connected and up to speed. “You’re never really done with onboarding as long as you can keep learning and growing within the company,” Morgan says. “It's like being in a relationship. Ideally, you're always working to improve.”

The benefit to you of a good onboarding strategy is employees may not be ready to jump out of a moving car, but at least come up to speed faster.

Finally, improving your onboarding strategy may mean you don’t need to on-board as often—your employees will be more likely to remain on the job.

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