The Great Resignation has put companies’ recruiting and hiring processes into overdrive. But managers often place most of their time, efforts and emphasis on hiring the right people and spend hardly any time with them once they start the job. That is a mistake. It’s crucial to begin the onboarding process well before an employees’ first day and ensure it lasts well beyond.
Most hiring managers don’t realize this, but after new employees accept a job offer, they are still evaluating whether they made the right decision to join the company or not. According to recent research by Digitate, an artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous enterprise software provider, a negative onboarding experience can result in new hires being two times more likely to look for other opportunities, and one in five new hires are unlikely to recommend an employer after their new hire onboarding experience.
What Onboarding Is Not
Before we dive into what onboarding is and how to do it well, let’s evaluate what it’s not:
- Onboarding is not an all-encompassing orientation shared through hundreds of slides that lasts for half a day on a new hire’s first day, before throwing them to the wolves.
- Onboarding is not about setting up your email, calendar, collaboration tool and benefits. Well, it is, but it’s much more than setting logistics. It’s about building
- Onboarding is not a human resources (HR) initiative. Sure, HR drives it and ensures it happens. But the hiring manager, recruiting, information technology (IT) and senior leaders need to be involved in the experience and understand their role in this process.
- Onboarding is not a process that starts on day one. It starts as soon as the new employee signs that offer letter. Everything that happens after that either validates the new employees’ decision or makes them question it.
The days prior to a new hire’s start date provides a prime opportunity for everyone in the organization to make individuals feel welcomed. Preboarding also provides the opportunity for the company to demonstrate their cultural core values. If an employee signs an offer a month prior to their start date, check in with them periodically to see if they have any questions and to fan their excitement.
A week and a few days before the new hire’s start date, ensure the employee has everything they need for their first day to be successful, like a computer, equipment and office supplies. Consider sending flowers or a plant, and a well-timed “welcome to the team” text up to one week before day one.
Onboarding is about helping employees move from that initial excitement they had about the job to a feeling of psychological safety and belonging. Too often, the emphasis for new employees is more focused on getting them up to speed on the business so they can start working on key objectives. While it’s important for employees to be clear on work expectations, it’s even more important for them to build new relationships.
Provide new hires with a list of leaders and team members they can turn to when they may have a question. This can not only help them complete their work properly, but also in connecting them with key people in the company.
During onboarding, reinforce the purpose of the company, the high-level strategy, the team strategy and objectives you want them to achieve. Sharing more about the cultural behaviors and how this looks on a daily basis through processes and practices is also a key conversation to have with a new employee. Each hiring manager should also develop a tailored 90-day onboarding plan that includes “rules of the road.”
This can consist of key people to talk to as well as clarification on how teams work together, how group lunches work, when “all hands” meetings take place, special words or acronyms that are used and collaboration channels they need to join. Schedule one-on-ones to check in with them.
“How are you doing?” is a powerful statement and can help managers gauge how their new hire is acclimating to their role and the company.
Spencer Harrison, associate professor of INSEAD, takes onboarding one step further by calling it “inboarding.” This focuses on what organizations are allowing people to bring into the organization before trying to put things onto them. Instead of solely focusing on training and inducting the new hire into the company, the company should also be open to learning what the new hire can do for them.
After 60 to 90 days, a new employee begins to move from onboarding to “experiencing.” At this point, they should feel safe, like they belong and and trusting of their colleagues, teammates and manager such that the focus is on continuing to deliver great work.
While it may be tempting to think that onboarding is complete at this stage, it’s not. It’s imperative to stay invested in the employee’s experience and training even after the 90 days. Ensure new employees are clear on company goals and expectations and continue to reference and values.
It’s also never too early to start discussing their learning and development (L&D) goals and how they can reach them in the company. Don’t wait for a formal feedback process to give feedback. Give it in the moment. Don’t wait for the engagement survey to provide data on employee sentiment. Ask how they’re feeling. Don’t wait for the end of the quarter to reward behaviors that are especially consistent with those cultural behaviors. Acknowledge a specific behavior or task in real-time.
Many companies are now reboarding as we head toward the post-COVID-19 pandemic. In many ways, leaders are no longer just onboarding new employees – they are onboarding all employees to a new way of work.
Beverley Kaye calls it the “stay interview.” In her book, “Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss,” she emphasizes that leaders should not wait for the exit interview to ask, “What can I do to keep you?”
Reboarding can prevent the reshuffling, rethinking and resigning. It can even be a reset for both the employee and the manager to check in and ask the better question, “How can I support your success?”