10 Best Practices to Improve Onboarding Programs

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The long, arduous interviewing process is done. A great candidate has passed the background check and drug test with flying colors. After interviewing a great many applicants, you’ve found a person you’re confident will make a significant contribution of value to your Fortune 1000 business. The hard part’s done. Pat yourself on the back.

But you may want to postpone the celebration, at least until onboarding is complete. The process of welcoming your new superstar into the organization is critical; in today’s job market, a poor onboarding experience may compel a new hire to quickly flee from even the most reputable employer. And a smaller, hungrier competitor may snap him or her up in a heartbeat. So it behooves you to make your new employee’s onboarding experience as smooth, welcoming and productive as possible.

Simplistic as it may sound, all that’s needed is a well-defined plan incorporating 10 simple but vital concepts:

1. Put yourself in the new hire’s shoes.

After performing a function repeatedly and routinely, sometimes we forget what it’s like to be on the other side. But remember what it’s like to be the new guy. Anticipate what you’d expect or like to happen on your first day – and even before you walk through the doors of your new job. Lacking empathy can hurt not only the new hire you’ve worked so hard to engage, but seriously damage your employer’s reputation; remember that dissatisfied new employees, with the full power of the Internet at his or her disposal, may freely post negative impressions that can seriously and detrimentally impact the brand your company may have spent years and millions of dollars building.

2. Reach out and let your new employee know before the start date what’s going to happen next.

Don’t wait until the employee’s first day to acquaint him or her with your onboarding process. Communicate via email – or even better, phone – before the first day. Specify not only when and where to show up but how to dress, whom he or she will be meeting with, how long the first few days will be, regular work hours, pay dates, vacation and sick day policies, and other necessary details that can be handled before Day 1. A brief “heads-up” conversation may allay the new hire’s fears or apprehensions and possibly expedite the onboarding since he or she will be better prepared. And a lot more comfortable and confident too.

3. Make sure immediate help is available to them.

That first day can be a lonely one. It may be frightening and intimidating, like the first day at a new school. Remember what that felt like? And in joining a large firm like yours, the candidate may be too overwhelmed to ask questions. Ask if the hiring manager or one of his/her staff can shadow the new employee to answer questions that pop up. In spite of the clearest instructions, a new hire may be overwhelmed or nervous, and not understand what he or she is supposed to do – but be too shy to ask. Having a temporary “Mr. or Ms. Know It All” at hand may not only provide assurance but reduce the risk of the new employee making mistakes that will have to be corrected later. If a “veteran” employee is not physically available, at least provide the new employee with a name and phone extension of an individual who can provide immediate “911” assistance.

4. Don’t give them writer’s cramp on their first day.

Everyone knows the first day at every job is laden with paperwork. Payroll/bank deposit forms. I-9. Emergency notifications. Why not be the exception to the rule? Provide the new employee with as many of the materials he or she will be required to complete in advance, so he or she can take time to complete them properly and without any stress. Doing so will expedite the process and reduce stress – on both your parts.

5. Create a checklist for internal processes that need to be done before the first day.

Design a spreadsheet with all necessary tasks, their due dates, and a column for you to check them off as they’re completed. Items may include having the new employee’s computer ready, with appropriate software and access already made available to all the shared drives, networks, files, and other resources they’ll need. As appropriate, phone, email address, business cards, business phones and other devices, and VPN access should be ordered in advance. Check off each task as it’s completed so nothing is forgotten or delayed.

6. Make their first day special.

Consider little niceties he or she will appreciate finding in their work area, like a “Welcome to the team!” greeting card or even a company-logo coffee or water cup with their name on it. In large organizations like yours, a 60-second “welcome” video from the CEO or VP of HR can prove reassuring and comforting to new staff, and used repeatedly for all new hires (great ROI!). Such attention to detail can further improve your company’s brand.

Have everything ready in a welcome pack including (as appropriate): ID badge, name tag, keys, parking pass, notepad, pens, scissors, and other office supplies. Make sure you or another appropriate employee walks the new hire around, shows him or her where the rest rooms, lockers, refrigerators, water and coffee machines, and break areas are, and where departments he or she may be working with are located. Provide directories of all phone extensions and email addresses, as well as a floorplan or map indicating who and what’s where. Ensure the new staffer is introduced to all members of the team and perhaps also to managers with whom he or she will be interacting.

7. Explain your company’s computer network(s), including shared drives, software suites, and where on the network materials they’ll need are located.

One thing many large organizations forget is to ensure new hires know about their systems and network. Have an authority such as an IT Manager show the new employee where on the network they can find sales materials, marketing materials, spreadsheets, presentations, HR forms, how to inform managers of sick days, how to request vacation time, where the closest printers are, how to fax/copy/print materials, security codes that may be necessary to access hardware and secure materials, and other required information. If your phone system is unique, proprietary or complex, make sure the employee is taught how to use it and how to record outgoing messages. The sooner they know where to find and how to use the resources they need, the sooner they’ll succeed.

8. Keep the process organized.

Arrange necessary meetings and reserve conference rooms as necessary. Try to keep the schedule for the first week organized and tight, but with room for flexibility if things change. Provide the schedule to the new hire and all necessary staff. Doing so will ensure all bases are covered as well as demonstrate your company’s professionalism to the candidate. Does your business use a shared online calendar where the new hire’s schedule can be input?

9. Tell them about training they’ll be receiving.

Your new hire may be required to attend training courses, either online or in person. Share the individual’s curriculum with him or her as soon as possible so he or she will know what’s going to be expected from them, and hopefully increase their enthusiasm for the new gig. And let the new employee know how much time will be required for each course, and if there will be quizzes on the new material. Explain if such training will be continuous and what it may cover. The more information the new team member has from the outset, the more prepared he or she will be. And that’ll make you look good.

10. Solicit feedback to further improve your program.

The more information you can reasonably derive from a new employee about the onboarding experience, the better equipped you’ll be to improve it. Encourage open communication. Listen. Arrange a 30-minute meeting with the new hire to find out what went wrong, what went right, and what could have been done better. Support honesty and candor. Let the new employee know how important his or her input is. You’ll not only gain insight to possibly modify and improve your onboarding process but foster an attitude of mutual respect, frankness and openness.

PS – consider applying these Best Practices not just for new hires; some may be applicable for inter-departmental moves and promotions of current employees.

Also, you may want to employ these concepts not just for lower- and mid-level employees but for incoming managers and even C-level engagements.

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Lewis Lustman

Lewis Lustman is a content marketer who enjoys developing materials that engage, inform, challenge, and hopefully entertain my audience. Lewis is a former journalist for Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and has worked for a number of leading advertising, marketing, technology, and PR firms over the years. Interested in a topic that he hasn't yet tackled? Drop him a line in the comments section!

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