As a consultant and human resources generalist, I’ve onboarded numerous new employees since 2004, as well as created new onboarding practices and processes within organizations.
Many organizations, large and small, struggle to do it well. I would add that the struggle applies to any level of employee from front-line workers to executives, but a particular gap exists when onboarding leadership positions and roles that are more specialized.
There are endless blog posts – some great, some fairly useless – with advice on activities to incorporate into your onboarding process. Search the internet and read 5-10 articles, and the best ideas start to rise to the top.
Before diving into those details, however, I’d like to suggest some values to keep in mind when onboarding new employees:
Starting a new job and joining a new organization comes with a mix of emotions, including but not limited to:
- Lack of control
- Apprehension about performing in a new environment
- Eagerness to contribute
- Overwhelm of new relationships and new information
A good onboarding program meets employees where they are on all fronts.
There’s a lot to do in the first few days and weeks. Design an onboarding schedule that allows variety and balance. Plan for a mix of content-sharing; relationship-building; absorbing and reflecting; and admin time to fill out forms and set up systems. Schedule meetings with a range of colleagues – leaders, direct reports, and peers – to provide scaffolding for the employee’s relationships within the organization.
Great employees have a lot to contribute – that’s why you hired them! – and aren’t content for weeks and months to passively receive information or “shadow” in meetings. Meanwhile, new hires do need training and context on doing their job in that particular organization. Design work assignments so they can start contributing – even in small ways – beginning with the first week of work. Provide both positive feedback and constructive criticism so the employee understands expectations from the beginning.
This might otherwise be invisible, but it’s foundational to everything that has been said so far. What happens if a new hire shows up and you “wing it”? They will not get their professional or social-emotional needs met, you will spend months playing catch-up, and they will leave sooner than they would have otherwise. Start planning onboarding from the minute the offer letter is signed and countersigned.