Onboarding has traditionally been nothing more than a corporate overview for new employees (and if they’re lucky, it’s in the form of a game) followed by a few hours spent filling out benefits paperwork, signing corporate policy statements and then maybe ending with the new employee meeting their leader for lunch. While these things certainly need to be done, it may be worth considering that an employee’s first day should be focused on what is most important and beneficial for their career, not for Human Resources processes.
The truth is, if you hire highly talented people, they don’t need to be lectured on how and why to follow your policies; they just will. In fact, traditional onboarding can actually be insulting to top talent! As such, while it is necessary to review policies, procedures, benefits, and other processes, the major focus of onboarding should not be on these things. Instead, we suggest a focus that is people-centric, with four facets, which are described next.
Facet 1: Help the new employee understand their role and their place within the organization.
Be honest and open with all new employees about how their role fits into the organizational hierarchy. What is the reporting structure, what departments work closely with their department, and how accessible are leaders and employees from other teams, departments or divisions?
Facet 2: Help the new employee get to know their colleagues and especially their leaders.
This could even include a review of the entire corporate structure and the functions of all or most employees for smaller organizations. It will be especially critical to identify the organizational, departmental and team-based subject-matter experts – the people who will be vital information sharers and knowledge givers. However, do not underestimate the power of simple team- or peer-based activities that enable the new employee to identify potential friends and allies.
Finally, while most people roll their eyes when asked to engage in ice-breaker activities, if done right they do serve a very important purpose and can be very helpful as an onboarding tool. For one thing, they give more introverted employees a way to express themselves without the need to act extroverted and social! Second, they enable friendships to form in a more expedient way.
Facet 3: Ensure the new employee knows how their work will be helping the organization fulfill its mission.
Will they be helping to improve patient/customer/guest satisfaction? Will they be improving efficiency or effectiveness in operations? Will they be helping to shape the future of the organization and its operations? The more a new employee understands about the impact they can make, the more important their job becomes and the more discretionary effort they are likely to expend.
Facet 4: Answer any crucial questions the new employee may have.
Simply waiting for a new employee to bring you any questions or concerns means you may never get those things from certain people. Remember that to be a new employee is often nerve wracking and there is a great deal of uncertainty. Anything you can do to ease a new employee’s uncertainty, the better, and asking them about their needs and questions is likely to help facilitate this process. Good questions could include:
- “Why do you do this the way that you do?” or
- “Who could I turn to for help with X?” or
- “What cultural norms do I need to embrace and what should I avoid?”
To provide you with a template or guide for how to do person-centric onboarding well, think about implementing the following steps and protocols:
The manager should schedule and set up an initial conversation with the new employee during their FIRST DAY at work to have a “job alignment discussion.”
- During this discussion, the manager should talk to the new employee about their role and responsibilities; identify the employee’s ideal job structure and responsibilities based upon their desires, motivation and talent. Contrast that to the job description and make adjustments if you are able; remember, it’s easier to change a job than to change a person!
- Schedule a follow up job alignment discussion for 30 days later to make any adjustments after the employee has been exposed to the role.
- Ask the new employee how often they would like to meet to discuss his/her needs, performance, successes and goals. Then, schedule coaching investment discussions to align with their preference.
Schedule an all-team meeting or outing during the employee’s first or second day on the job so the team can meet and get to know the new employee.
- Utilize an ice breaker to ensure everyone gets time to share. An ice breaker can also make sharing personal and professional information easier for those who are introverted.
- Have the team members discuss WHY this job is so important from their perspective. Share customer/patient/guest comments or feedback and have a top employee share their story of what the job means to them or the impact they’ve been able to make in their role.
- Repeat this type of meeting/outing with the entire team at the 60- to 90-day mark to reinforce WHY the job is so critical.
Match the new hire with a mentor or peer buddy within the first weeks.
- This tends to work best when the matching is based on factors such as personality, ambition and talent/potential rather than just the person’s role.
- A superior approach to onboarding is to ensure it is focused on the employee’s path to success, with much less time spent on policy and procedures. Please know this style of onboarding is meant to compliment, not replace, your existing onboarding program; fit in the paperwork and policy education around the employee-focused aspects described below. Better yet, use technology to your advantage and have the employee review any policies, fill out paperwork and watch any required training videos online before their first day!
- This way they will be able to focus on building relationships and learning about the organization’s culture on their all-important first day on the job. Identifying how your company can do this will be a very important first step we can help you explore.
Brent Proulx, M.S., SPHR
Senior Management Consultant
Brent Proulx, M.S., SPHR is a Management and Leadership Consultant for Talent Plus. He is passionate about helping people and organizations become more successful at what they do through the creation, implementation and perfection of strength-based measures for selection, development and coaching.