Ingredients for a quality onboarding program
There are several ways that you, as a leader, can create a positive experience for additions to your organization through onboarding. There are a number of ways to welcome new hires that can be critical to building positive employee-employer relationships. Every approach fits into three phases that are involved in the process.
Phase 1: Pre-work
The first phase of onboarding is the pre-work phase. Because employees need to feel important and needed when they begin, several strategies can have great impact.
1. Build contact: A new employee’s direct supervisor should call her periodically prior to the first day of work. When a person is coming into a new environment, it can be overwhelming to leave her old comfort zone to begin again; even the most senior leaders are vulnerable. Calling the new person to go over what to wear on the first day, what the first day will look like, and letting her know how excited you are to have her join your team really influences her initial perceptions.
2. Include the new hire in correspondence and meetings: Supervisors are keenly aware of projects and teams to which the new person will be assigned. For group e-mails or important meetings, invite the newbie to participate or join the conversation. Building camaraderie with future co-workers prior to the start is vital to building effective teams.
3. Set up building access, network access, and workspace: You’d be amazed how many supervisors and leaders get this wrong. Have the new employee’s workspace completely set up and ready on day one. This includes the computer with network and e-mail access, phone with working voicemail, instructions for using the phone system (including transferring calls and setting up conference calls and call forwarding), and business cards. And don’t forget keys, keycards, alarm codes, and written security procedures. We’ve all heard stories about IT departments that can be unresponsive; supervisors play a key role in ironing out these smaller details.
Phase 2: First day and week
The second phase of onboarding centers on those first few days of work. Here are some ideas to ensure a great first week.
1. Take her to lunch: The new person has no idea what the norms are for lunch time. Is it an hour? Do people eat at their desk or go out? Welcome a new person by taking her to lunch or setting up a group lunch for the first day. On subsequent days, you can go an extra step and have other members of the team take her out to get to know her. Don’t underestimate the impact of this small gesture.
2. Introductions: Getting to know colleagues is the first step in building positive work relationships, ones that will endure through difficult projects and deadlines. Spend time introducing the new hire to others beyond the immediate team: parallel departments or project teams, and key employees in HR, IT, and support services. And introduce her to the president and key leadership. This makes new members feel valued and welcome.
3. Build a schedule: No one wants to begin their first few days mired in HR paperwork and forms. It’s important to have concrete tasks and conversations around work that first week. During the first week, make sure some meetings and team work are on her calendar. This creates space and time for her to quickly get to know co-workers while giving a sense of belonging and contribution quickly.
Phase 3: First 90 days
The third phase of onboarding is keeping in close contact with the new person for at least 90 days. Here are some suggestions that don’t require a formal onboarding process, just some effort from key leaders and supervisors.
1. Progress meetings: Have bi-weekly or monthly progress meetings to check in. Are you certain your new hire knows what is expected of her? Does she know the priorities? How clear is she on the objectives of her work? Meetings help you keep the new employee moving toward the mission, meeting all expectations, and becoming a strong team member.
2. Provide a mentor: Assigning a mentor to your new hire does not have to be a formal process. Select a team member who has the work ethic, drive, and skills that you want to see in your new hire. Help the mentor plan meetings and touch points with the new employee. With your support of both, the mentoring relationship can increase job satisfaction and productivity tremendously within the first few months of employment.
Amy Smith is an associate professor at Concordia University Chicago. She has more than 20 years of experience in management and leadership. She was a presenter at the 2012 Career Smart Engineers Conference.