Now that you’ve hired your new employee(s), it’s time to bring them into the fold of work.
Onboarding your new employee is the next critical step in their success. People are our biggest investment. You’ve won them over with your transparent and value-driven hiring process, now you need to ensure that they know they made the right decision.
Some larger organizations have very prescribed onboarding programs. Bootcamps, workshops, orientations — what you call it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you should go deep in process, policy, and culture (oh, and people too).
That’s really what onboarding is – diving into each of the key areas we’ve been discussing and building a foundation for the new hire.
The goal of onboarding is to set up your new employee for success: to build on the reason you’ve hired them and ensure they understand the unique things your organization brings (people, process, policy, and culture) to be successful.
The goal isn’t to rapidly get through a set agenda and get the employee contributing as a productive member of the organization (yes, we do want that too). The goal is to teach them the things that makes your organization unique (people, process, policy, and culture) and ensure when they do start their work they carry those values forward.
Onboarding also has a strong emotional component that can’t be forgotten. Your new hire is going through changes as well. They’re about to meet new people, perhaps be in a new city, and are about experience a rollercoaster of life changes as they take on their new role. You have to keep this in mind as you embark on this journey with them. You are playing a supporting role to them on their journey just as much as you are playing a guiding role.
Let’s talk about a few things with onboarding:
- Structure and format of onboarding
- Learning versus doing
- Integrating new hires into the team
As we jump into onboarding, remember what I’ve said all along. Your organization is unique and there’s no “one size fits all” to the 3Ps + C (people, process, policy, and culture). You need to shape and sculpt these topics into what works for you and your organization. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to do these things — a scaling organization will find a way to make them happen. That’s what will deliver you success.
Structure and Format
How long you commit to onboarding someone is more a question of what information you have to convey and how successful the new employee is at absorbing it, vice a magic number of hours or days it takes to complete onboarding.
Companies need to build in flexibility (and possible rework) into their onboarding plans. Yes, if you have a two week process that’s well scripted to bring in the millions you’re hiring, great. You need to ensure information isn’t being simply thrown at new hires — that it sticks so they can add value and help you scale (more on that below).
The successful company is going to invest time in onboarding and refining what the onboarding structure/format look like as the company evolves.
Quick aside: I favor doing as much of the administrative work in advance (that’s reasonable) to handle. New hire paperwork, health insurance information, etc. If not possible to do in advance, that’s all a day one checklist.
An aside to the aside (process here): I’m a huge fan of new hire checklists. This includes items the new hires needs to complete (with POCs for questions) and also items the company needs to complete. I’ve had great success in breaking them down as follows:
- Before day 1: Items like: employment papers sent out, equipment ordered, accounts created, etc.
- Day 1: I always call out the high priority items that need to be addressed the first day. Completion of employment paperwork, meet and greet with boss, welcome email (from boss), etc.
- First week: Items that aren’t top priority but are still important: get access to additional systems, read the handbook, complete trainings, etc.
- First month: Items that need to be tracked but aren’t as time sensitive: complete any other trainings, any additional HR items, etc.
I keep the checklist to items to be actually completed, not goals. This is a tactile checklist to ensure the employee (and the team) know what needs to happen to get the new hire squared away from an administrative side. I’ve used everything from Trello cards to Google Docs to Basecamp to manage a checklist for new hires. Each new hire gets their own project/checklist and off we go. Assign actions and make it the new hires responsibility to follow-up and get things done (also forces them to get to know new people in the process).
Back to the full onboarding experience.
I like to find the balance between: small group experiences, meet-and-greets with key people in the organization, and individual learning activities (areas where the new employee can be on their own learning or partakein career enrichment).
Small Group Experiences
Small group experiences should be with a mix of members of the new team and non-team members. This is about exposing the new employee to the people in the organization, facilitating network building, and building confidence that it’s okay to reach out and ask for help (no one likes to ask for help in a new job — we need to make it the norm that it’s okay to reach out to people you don’t know/barely know for support).
This is the main opportunity to broadly expose the new hire to the vast arrays of work you do before they get pulled into an intense focus on their daily work. Embrace this opportunity to showcase the diversity of your organization and highlight the way your culture has driven your success.
I recommend also including dedicated “meet and greet” times with key people in the organization. Aside from the supervisor, who is the champion of ensuring the new hire’s success, who are the other key individuals in the company that the new employee should meet?
In smaller companies, I’ve had these meet and greets include the CEO/founder where we had a great conversation about the company history and intrinsic values. It has also included key department heads or other partners that the new employee will be closely working with throughout their career.
With each of these interactions, they key is to not only bond and get to know each other — it’s to reinforce the values your company holds true (culture). The veteran employee should take time to demonstrate and highlight the ways they exemplify the values of the organization in their role/department. This will continue to reinforce the culture you’re working to build and show the new hire that this is the way your organization runs.
In addition to small groups, ensure you have a series of individual experiences allow introverts time to regroup, reset, and process a bit. Some people need a moment to reflect and capture what’s going on and what they need to focus on next — building this time in is essential.
Successful individual experiences include:
- Review company processes/policies (e.g. read the handbook, review SOPs, etc.)
- Complete required training (e.g. social media etiquette, OSHA compliance, etc.)
- Position-specific training (e.g. AWS certifications, software training, etc.)
It’s about finding a balance between structured and unstructured time. There is no right answer as it varies employee to employee. Key is to maintain some level of flexibility.
If you have too much unstructured time, you’re going to find new hires may get bored and wonder if they’re adding value. Too much structure and you’re setting up the precedent that your organization runs non-stop without a time to think.
Ensuring Value Add
In the end, you are going to take them through a series of experiences that instill the items that matter most to your organization, know the people, comprehend the processes, ensure they understand the boundaries (policy), and can contribute and execute the culture you are growing.
Some organizations have instituted a mutual checkpoint at the end of onboarding to check: 1) does the new hire want to stick with the organization (they get a free pass out no harm/no foul — some companies even pay you to leave), and 2) did the new hire successfully “complete” the onboarding process. For the company, this could be a skills test to ensure they are able to perform the job based on new training; however, it’s often a culture test to ensure they understand the culture the company embodies and will hold it true as they move into their new role.
You need to weigh what’s best for your organization. I like the value a checkpoint brings. A wrong hire isn’t going to add value to your organization and this is a fair point to see if your hiring process netted a successful hire or if you need to refine the process a bit (and have the new hire transition on). You also need to look at this as an opportunity to learn from the onboarding process you’ve created and see where you need to adjust it. Some organizations will have the new hire repeat the onboarding until they pass (or give you 3 tries to complete). This could be both a skills pass and a cultural pass. This person is now a representative of your company – you need to ensure they’ll represent you well.
Whatever you decide, you have to hold true the principals and goal of onboarding: to prepare the new hire for success.
Learning v. Doing
I strongly believe most organizations plan for the balance between learning and doing during onboarding. So much onboarding time is spent on being lectured on history or process that we forget the value of jumping in and doing work.
People learn in different ways; and many people receive a lot of personal (and professional) value from learning by doing in a safe environment.
I’m not talking about going through hypothetical roleplaying activities or computer-generated scenarios (though those may be fair starting points for demonstration). I’m talking about actual real work that will get the new hire exposed in a safe environment.
Startups and mid-size companies with customer support elements have a leg up in this area. A good balance of onboarding should include doing rotations in customer support. I can’t think of a better place to:
- Understand the concerns and feelings of the customers/users;
- Scan across broad topics of the product by learning about the offerings to resolve issues;
- Dig deep in pockets of the organization to meet new contacts as they learn; and
- Start learning about the company culture and putting it directly in to practice.
Some organizations rush right into “the new hire must be instantly productive.” I agree they need to be productive; however, we need to strike the balance between learning and doing — in a safe space. A safe space where someone is there to guide them, positively correct them, and also be open to having hard conversations.
I’ve had a longstanding philosophy as a program manager (PM) that the best thing I can do for a new PM is to have them take on some seriously hard projects. That could be hard customers to deal with, complex issues to solve, etc. The key is – push them to learning new things and ensure you, as a leader in your organization, provide a safety net and a feedback loop to that employee as you go.
As the new hire is onboarding and balancing learning and doing, there needs to be a concerted effort to integrate them into the team.
Integrating New Hires into the Team
Some teams are newly formed around a certain challenge: we’re hiring 10 people who’ll come together to solve New Customer X’s problem. Other times, and the more common case, is the new employee(s) are joining existing teams.
Just as your company has an overarching culture, each team brings unique dynamics that make it what it is in your organization.
Management (and leadership) need to make direct efforts to welcome and engage with new hires. When new people join – celebrate it. You have invested a lot of time and resources to bringing them in — now make it known that the new employee is here and share it with the company.
On a simple level, send out an email welcoming the new employee to the team. Share some personal bits about the person and a bit about what they’ll be doing to bring your company to the next level. This isn’t only reserved for senior leaders or managers joining your organization. Make it the expectation for all new hires. Each of them has a story and will be contributing to your organization’s success. Create a culture where you are people-centric and encourage others to promote collaboration and network building.
Some companies may, COVID aside, take new hires out for lunch with the team or do some team activities the first week. I’ve also had CEOs in small/mid-size companies take new hires out for dinner where they can share the vision of the company and build personal connections over a meal (as noted above).
Whatever you decide – make it a part of your process and culture. When new people join, we do X because of Y. For example: when new people join, we host a welcome lunch because we have an inclusive and welcoming culture.
Takeaways from: Building the Team
- Find the balance in the onboarding experience – between mixing up the structure to giving time to the new hire to process.
- Ensure the onboarding experience is adding value – the goal is to reinforce your organization’s approach to people, process, policy, and culture.
- Establish an administrative checklist to get the mundane tasks tracked and managed.
- When able, find opportunities to learn by doing. Create a safe space for the new hire to contribute to actual work (beyond scenarios) and learn how the 3P+C exist in practice in your organization.
- Focus on opportunities to integrate new hires into your organization; understanding that the company and each team have bring a unique culture to the table.
Now that you have your future employee hired, they’re onboarded and integrated into your team, we are going to talk about what happens when your organization is scaling and your people are not scaling with it. Next time we’re going to tackle having those hard conversations and more when we discuss Facing People Challenges.
To be continued.