All aboard!

If first impressions count, how come so many businesses get it wrong when new employees join them? Picture this: Your first day at a new company arrives and you are keen to get stuck into your new role…but your ID card isn’t ready and your temporary one doesn’t work. You can’t log into your computer because the password fails. No workstation has been prepared for you so you are propped up at a temporary desk near the noisy photocopier and your manager greets you enthusiastically but is distracted from the outset and rushes off to a “meeting” within 15 minutes of you arriving – leaving you with little to do and nowhere to go.

Familiar? Yep, me too. I think we all have “first day on the job” stories to tell.

Onboarding – the orientation of a new employee to their workspace, is a crucial first step in retaining and engaging talent. When a new team member steps through the door for the first time, we generally have them at their best – enthusiastic, excited, curious with an attitudinal clean slate. They want to know the job and get going so they can add value. The quicker you can get them going, the happier and more productive they will be – helping the business tangibly.

“Culture, values and a positive vibe should be the essential umbrella that sits over the top of all that you include in onboarding.”

Importantly, the research regarding the positive value of getting it right is pretty clear. A survey by Glassdoor has shown that a strong onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82 per cent. Yet clearly there is a long way to go to get it right as a Gallup workplace survey suggests that only 12 per cent of employees strongly agree that their workplace onboards well.

So, why are organisations so slow to move the dial forward with this one? My experience tells me there are a few reasons that contribute to onbaording falling flat:

  1. The onboarding job doesn’t have an owner. It takes time and effort to create a great onboarding process – but it really is worth it. Depending on the size of the organisation, this effort can utilise the time of a resource who could otherwise be utilised elsewhere. When no one owns the process though, it becomes fragmented and disorganised and parts get missed.
  2. The commercial value of getting onboarding right isn’t understood by leaders and those who’s yes/no opinion counts.
  3. The processes and tools to enable onboarding to happen effectively aren’t in place.

The key steps for getting onboarding right lie in forward planning. The more you do before your new hire steps foot in the door, the better the first week in their new workplace will be.

An onboarding checklist is a great way of making sure you remember all that needs to be done. There are a squillion checklist templates that you can access on the internet – remember to tailor it to your workplace, though.

Practical info required can be gained before a new employee steps in the door. If possible, gain emergency contacts, bank account details and other such

information via online links from payroll and other platforms prior to the first day on the job. This leaves more time to set the scene for a great first day.

Establish an agenda for the first week that focuses on:

  • practicalities of the role
  • values, culture and purpose at your workplace
  • connection with others
  • learning.

Structure = success. Organise your new hire’s time….but don’t make it not too jam packed as the ability to absorb all that is presented will be limited at this time.

Order tools of the trade well in advance if possible and check that all of it works.

We learn 70 per cent of our work from practical, “on the job” experience. Hence, a carefully selected mentor or buddy is a great way for the new team member to learn and embed the role more effectively.

Resist the urge to dump a heap of process folders on the new team member’s desk first up. Mandatory training is, of course, a priority.

Find a space in the Manager’s diary within the first day or two and lock it in – half an hour to connect and build rapport. This is an awesome opportunity to begin the process of articulating clear expectations and gain insight from the new team member regarding what they are looking to achieve. Book in a follow up chat in a month’s time to see how all is going.

Structure some time with other parts of the business who will provide info that will help the new employee know and do their job.

Check in, check in check in. Gaining feedback on the onboarding process from the coal face is the best (and really only) way to know if you are getting it right.

Culture, values and a positive vibe should be the essential umbrella that sits over the top of all that you include in onboarding. Positively presenting the organisational culture can’t be stressed highly enough.  Important research from Deloitte has shown that when we can demonstrate meaning and growth in the work new employees will do, they are engaged and productive in their roles more rapidly.

Provide positive and honest communication, connection with colleagues and leaders and clearly articulated accountabilities as early on as possible and you are 70 per cent of the way there to creating a great beginning for someone with exciting potential to add to the business.

The work you put in to creating a rocking onboarding experience before new team member steps in the door and during those vital first few weeks, the less likely they are to step back out of that door too quickly.

Good luck!

Lexie Wilkins, Culture and Employee-Engagement Expert and Director, Lexie Wilkins Consulting

This story first appeared in issue 28 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine

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