In deciding what they will do – and do differently – to respond to today’s business challenges, organizations have moved onboarding up on the priority list. The ability to make new or redeployed employees productive and effective in the shortest possible time is more critical than ever. At its best, onboarding is a holistic process that connects employees to the right content at the right time. When it’s done well, onboarding can be one of the most effective, rewarding, and sustainable investments that a company can undertake.
So what does a successful onboarding process look like? In our work with hundreds of companies, we’ve found that these six principles are necessary.
1. Begin before Day 1. There should be no delay in onboarding, as this impacts the time it takes for people to get up to speed. Find out how people prefer to learn and be managed, what frustrates and motivates them, and how they like to receive communication. The more you match people’s expectations with what you will deliver, the more at ease they will be and the sooner they will offer their contributions.
2. Link onboarding to the organization – not just the role. A great orientation process should help an employee identify with the company and feel a sense of belonging. Present the history of the company and share compelling success stories. Focus on your vision, mission, and values, and how they connect to the strategy and corporate goals. Explain the marketplace and how the company functions, including how it makes and spends money.
3. Make onboarding a process, not an event. The best organizations see onboarding as a process over several months. The employee needs to know what is expected at one week, two weeks, a month, etc., and what to expect from management and peers. Help people set career paths that are realistic, motivating, and effective.
4. Involve as many people as necessary. The manager or mentor of the new or redeployed person has perhaps the most important role, as the primary support and provider of tools and knowledge. This person models the company’s culture and desired behaviors, answers questions, and explains things that aren’t in the “official rule book.” A mentor relationship can increase productivity more quickly with less risk of turnover.
5. Enable networking. Interacting with co-workers or leaders who have different experiences and perspectives helps people form their own views and see where they have a special opportunity to contribute. The most potent networks are forged during crossfunctional activities around a common interest or project. This opens up discussions that might never come up at meetings.
6. Get them in the game! This is really the most important principle. Find ways of making people immediately feel invested – heart, hands, and minds – in the new company. If they don’t see quickly how they matter, they can feel overwhelmed and incapable of contributing until they’ve “earned their stripes.” Be sure they feel this sense of connection from the very start.
So when you’re planning or retooling your onboarding program, take a holistic view and let people see, as soon as possible, where they can add value so they feel they belong, are part of the team, and are definitely adding value to the company.