Onboarding with Innovative Intent: A Tale of First Day Realities

By Ingrid Vaughan

You never get a second chance to make a first impression and first impressions are often difficult to change—which should make innovative onboarding a workplace norm. However, the reality is more divisive.

A Tough First Day to Forget
Amy is excited about her new role with Office 123. However, on her first day the receptionist doesn’t know who she is and asks her to sit in the lobby. Twenty minutes later she shows Amy to her to her workstation, where IT is still setting up her computer. Amy waits awkwardly until he is finished and sits down to wait some more.

A few minutes later she receives a stack of forms from HR and is instructed to fill them out and give them to her manager. Amy completes the forms, but realizes she doesn’t know where or who her manager is. She asks someone to help, but when she knocks on the office door she’s told the manager is on an important call—and to go back to her workstation and review the company’s website.

After an hour, her manager takes Amy on a cursory walk through the office introducing people briefly by name. They meet for another half hour and review the corporate mission and values, at which time Amy is referred to the receptionist to get options for places to have lunch in the area. Amy walks out alone and is not sure she wants to come back after lunch. She feels she’s made a horrible mistake in saying yes to Office 123’s offer.

The ROI of Day One
Unfortunately, this onboarding scenario is too common. Moreover, even if Office 123 is a great place to work and Amy’s first day was an anomaly, it will take weeks or even months for the company to win Amy back.

Alternatively, new employees whose arrival is highly anticipated and valued will be instantly engaged and eager to buy in to the corporate culture. In contrast, those who feel processed (just another cog in the wheel) take a long time to recapture the enthusiasm they may have felt when they walked through the door, or worse, walk out the door even before their probationary review.

Four Innovative Onboarding Truths
And while the detriment of a poor onboarding experience might be known, let’s revisit the fundamental benefits of innovating the onboarding process:

1. It gets new hires to successful performance faster. Understanding what is expected of them gives a new employee a leg up on successfully hitting the ground running.

2. It improves employee retention. Gostick and Elton, authors of The Carrot Principle, say that only four per cent of new hires decide after the first day that they are sure they want to stay with their current company, but with a structured and engaging onboarding process, 66 per cent of them are likely to remain with a company for longer than 3 years.

3. It gets new hires engaged immediately. Creating a fantastic, stress-free first day where employees are welcomed, immersed and given the opportunity to dig in to their new role is a sure-fire way to get them feeling fully engaged. When that’s continued throughout the onboarding process their commitment and motivation to perform deepens.

4. It improves your employer brand. Your onboarding process is an opportunity to brag on your company, including all the great perks and benefits they get from saying YES to your offer. In turn, they will brag about you to their friends and family. “Can you believe my company gives us (incredible thing)?” This leads to becoming known as an “employer of choice” in the marketplace.

Five Fundamental Onboarding Principles

Focus on teambuilding: Put new hires on teams to begin to build teamwork. The more quickly they get to know their co-workers the stronger their bond to the company.

Make it personal: Gallup surveys show that job satisfaction is higher in employees who feel they are cared about in the workplace so use the onboarding process to get to know them. Curious, open-ended questions will help you find out what motivates them, how they learn, where they will easily succeed, and where they might need support.

Engage the manager: An engaged manager sets the stage for a long-lasting, dynamic relationship that leads to retention. The manager should lay out the onboarding/training plan early in the process and check in both formally (weekly meetings) and informally (over lunch) to chat about how it’s going in the new role and offering ongoing support.

Buddy up: A buddy provides a safe place for your new hire to go to during the first few weeks and months, reducing the stress of information overload and overwhelm. This relationship will assist with culture integration and is key to new employees feeling valued and supported.

Get them working right away: New employees should not be waiting for something to happen. On their first day, and every day afterward, give them meaningful tasks so new employees take day-one ownership of their role.

Six Onboarding Practices to Follow
Here are a few examples of innovative onboarding practices. While the ability to implement these ideas will vary with different sized businesses, see if you can take the idea and find a way to make it work at your company.

Pre-board before you onboard: Providing new hires with information about the company a week before they are hired is a great way to get people excited about working for you. This could include FAQs, a welcome packet with the company history, core values, press clippings, org chart and what a new employee can expect during their first day, week and month.

Gamify the process: The idea is to make onboarding fun. Even small firms can plan fun team events or make a game out of learning about the company. Your creativity will get your new hires pumped about working for you.

Celebrate the hire: Bring in lunch for the team, let the new hire introduce themselves at a staff meeting, and talk to the team about what made you choose them for the role and how excited you are about their contribution.

Show your company values: Don’t just highlight them—show actual examples of how your employees “live those values” and bring them to life.

Get them “in the know” quickly: Schedule meetings with managers and key employees so the new hire gets a lay of the land and increases their connection with the team. Provide them with a glossary of acronyms, buzzwords and a who’s-who list of key people in each department.

Provide opportunities for team members to connect based on interests: Some larger companies assist employees with connecting with others on the team who have similar likes and interests (somewhat like an “employee match.com”).

Effective onboarding is one of the most important things a company can do to engage, excite, and draw in a new employee, yet very few companies do this well. Onboarding should be a team-building exercise that brings the team together rather than a boring info session before they are handed their first tasks.

A First Day to Remember
Done with flair, the first day experience can quite different the scenario with which we began. Consider the innovative alternative:

Amanda is excited about her role at Office XYZ. She is greeted by name and welcomed to the team by her manager at the front door. She is led to an open space where they spend several hours talking about her new role, the company’s values and mission, Amanda’s goals, and how she can be supported to be effective in her first weeks.

Amanda is taken to her tidy, well-equipped workstation where she finds all required equipment and supplies as well as a welcome card signed by the team and a company swag bag (including company branded coffee mug, T-shirt, and water bottle, and gift cards to Amazon and a local coffee shop). Amanda is asked to complete the forms on her desk for HR but before she finishes Annie introduces herself as her “buddy.”

Annie gives Amanda a tour of the office and introduces her to the team in each department. Annie talks about what she loves about working at Office XYZ, including their great team, and lets Amanda know about the teambuilding event planned for later that afternoon. Annie takes Amanda to lunch and gives her an opportunity to ask any questions she has so far. By the time Amanda gets back to her workstation, she’s thinking that taking this job is probably the best decision she’s ever made.

Smart onboarding can make for a world of difference at work. How can you add some spice to your onboarding process to quickly get your new hires motivated, productive and enthusiastic about your company?

As founder of SMART HR, Ingrid Vaughan is an experienced HR generalist on Vancouver Island committed to helping build dynamic, engaged teams, and growing successful businesses.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2016)

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