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A Better Way to Onboard

There is no making up for a first impression, especially when the relationship starts online. After so much time and effort is taken to attract the right person, you want to be sure to put your best foot forward at that first face-to-face meeting.

by Mark Lanfear
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There is no making up for a first impression, especially when the relationship starts online. After so much time and effort is taken to attract the right person, you want to be sure to put your best foot forward at that first face-to-face meeting.

Now you may think that I’m talking about social media or relationship sites. But the match I’m talking about is your onboarding process. If you or your company isn’t ready for that first date (the start date), you may be leaving the wrong impression with the top talent you’ve recently hired. And just as with social media or real-life dating, word gets around.

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So let’s talk about what it really takes to lead a successful onboarding process and how it can build your overall talent pool—leading to a deep pipeline of top talent that can help you weather whatever workforce storm or drought you may face in the future.

First, dare to be different. Sure, onboarding is about standard operating procedures, technology hardware and software, safety rules, and OSHA regulations. But let’s get creative. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Use your creativity to get the foundational messages out in the best possible orientation an employee can have. Your goal is to get the new employee hooked right away so that he or she can start contributing as quickly as possible. Consider techniques such as prehire orientation, which helps prospective employees understand your company and see how their skills and talents complement the organization. You may want to consider hiring a company that will produce orientation videos that are different and that can communicate your message in a highly creative way.

That said, your second goal is to be sure to cover the basics and to lay a solid foundation for an employee’s new role, so get it all out there! Onboarding can be an overwhelming process for new employees, but presenting a methodical written plan will put their minds at ease so they know exactly what the expectations are for their roles and for their participation in orientation. Do them a big favor and get rid of electronic distractions like email and mobile phone use, and make sure everyone is properly introduced to all participants, opening the door for good dialogue. Finally, make sure that all administrative forms, from direct deposit applications to health benefits and emergency contacts, are available and ready to be completed. Getting these foundational but highly important items taken care of right away will provide relief and allow for new employees to focus on the unique information that you and your team are presenting, which is what’s at the core of importance for your company.

Another critical “do” for the onboarding process is spreading it out over time. It’s been misrepresented for years that a short onboarding process, such as a standard one-day orientation, is a successful one. I remember many orientations that I attended where the instructor “hoped” to get finished an hour or two early; however, this is one time that winning the race against time is not a positive. The thought that all onboarding needs to be completed in a day or so just isn’t the right fit for the employees of this generation, or for the highly specialized and complex work that we do now with the additions of technology and transformational work environments. A successful onboarding process is one that does not bombard new colleagues in one day with all the information they’re going to need for their career. Getting foundational information to the employee up front is what he or she really to needs—and allowing for additional information down the line will give everyone the time they need to acclimate to the new corporate environment they have entered.

This “additional information” can be delivered in the form of a mentor or a group of experienced employees assigned to the new team member in order to foster a continual link to institutional knowledge and experience. Although this could be seen as a drain on resources, in fact, a mentoring program has been shown to make the onboarding process smoother and quicker for the new employee in leading him or her to become more productive. Ultimately, these relationships lead to a deeper employee connection to the corporation and a deeper understanding of the corporate culture—and hopefully, long-term retention.

All too often the organization puts so much time and effort into the recruiting process—as it should. And there seems to be a collective sigh of relief when the right person finally accepts the job. I would warn that that’s not the end of the race but only the beginning. The most important window of opportunity to influence a new employee is during the orientation process, when he or she is wide-eyed and enthusiastic about coming on board. The benefits to an organization that has a great onboarding program will be increased employee engagement, reduced turnover costs, and a more successful and productive organization as a whole as colleagues come to truly understand their roles.

And finally, don’t forget that a successful onboarding program is there to serve the individual, but ultimately, it’s your organization that reaps the true and long-term benefits of a great program and a great launch to these new colleagues’ careers.