Monday, April 26, 2021

Onboarding New Employees - Part 1

Actions to take: Don't rely on the HR checklist for onboarding a new employee. Welcome the employee before their first day. Give a proper introductory tour. Plan their first week with significant involvement from the rest of the team. Have weekly check-in meetings to see how they are acclimating. 

In our post about the first day as a new manager, I shared an anecdote showing that I used to have no clue how to effectively introduce myself to a new team. My supervisor walked me through several computer systems, showed me the required training modules for the week, and left. In that post, we focused on things that I as the new employee could have done better. Frankly, however, my boss in that anecdote committed far greater errors. 

It is embarrassingly common for managers to treat new employee orientations with a lack of care and forethought. Human Resources usually provides a long list of trainings, forms, policies, and so on that the new employee has to complete. The manager sees this mountain of work, throws in a quick tour of the office and introductions to the team, schedules a bunch of "on the job training" (read: sit there and watch someone else work), and calls it an onboarding. 

Be honest with yourself, how close am I to describing your onboarding strategy for new employees?

What outcomes do you want out of your employee onboarding? If you are a relatively intelligent and engaged boss, here are some things you might have said: 

  • Affirm the employee's decision to accept the job
  • Encourage employee to begin thinking of themselves as part of the team
  • Give employee clear understanding of next day's/next week's workload
  • Explicitly communicate what you expect of an employee on your team
The thrown-together schedule outlined above (which describes the vast majority of new employees' experiences), barely even hints at meeting these goals. There is a better way, broken into three sections: welcome elements, training with the team, and onboarding check-in meetings.

Welcome Elements

To make a proper first impression, you need to reach out to your new employee before their first day. As soon as HR has confirmed their hire, send an email to the new employee. Make sure the email hits these points:

  • Congratulations: The employee just got a new job. That is neat! It is also an accomplishment, assuming you run a high-quality, competitive workplace. Celebrate with them. 
  • Enthusiasm: Presumably, this is an excellent employee who beat out other excellent employees. It is both acceptable and encouraged for you to show your excitement at adding this new talent to the team.
  • Instruction (but not too much): Your employee will feel some anxiety at not knowing basic information about their first day. Ease that anxiety by providing the following details: where to park & any unusual travel info; how to enter the building; what to wear, roughly; when to arrive; when to expect to meet you (especially if you will not be the one answering the door).
  • Encourage questions: Do not ask, "Do you have any questions?" Instead ask, "What questions can I answer for you before your first day?"
  • Write like a human: There is no need to be stuffy in this email. The sooner you act like a person, the sooner your new employee will see you as a person. Remember, employees are predisposed to see the word "Boss" written on your forehead and every piece of correspondence you send them. Most of the time, that just distracts from effective communication.

The second half of your welcome occurs on the employee's first day. Most bosses know they need to tour the employee around the workplace and introduce them to the team. The best bosses know that there is a key behavior which makes this tour worthwhile. 

When you introduce the new employee to each of your team, do the following: give their name, explain their role in 2 or 3 sentences, then ask your current employee a question. For instance, "Ngoc, you've been a librarian here for 3 years, but you actually started as a teen volunteer over 15 years ago, isn't that right?" Your goal here is to pass the conversation over to the two other people. If they don't pick up on it, try again with another question. For the next 3-5 minutes, sit back. Step in only to facilitate further interaction by asking more prompting questions if the conversation winds down too quickly.

This is what a proper introductory tour looks like. Facilitate this kind of conversation for every person you meet on the tour. When done correctly, your new employee will end the day knowing of at least 3 or 4 other people who share some common interest or link. That is how you begin integrating them into the team from the very first day they are onsite.

This post is beginning to run long. In part 2, which will be posted Wednesday, we will cover "training with the team," "onboarding check-in meetings," and wrap up. 

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