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You've gone through the time-consuming process of hiring a new employee, and you've hired the best candidate out there. Now you can relax, right? Not so fast. The work of onboarding has just begun.
Your new hire may have all the qualities and qualifications needed to make her a star in your organization, but the road to success isn't always that smooth. In fact, the line between fantastic and fiasco can be a thin one, and a lot of it comes down to how you handle the onboarding process.
Skeptical? Consider that more than half of all U.S. employees leave their job in the first year, citing internal factors like lack of training or mentoring as their reason for bailing. Contrast that with the 69 percent of employees who say they are likely to stay with a company for at least three years if they've had a great onboarding experience.
So what does "a great onboarding experience" look like? To help you train and retain new hires, here's our quick-start guide to best practices for onboarding.
1. Understand that onboarding isn't an event, it's a process. Some organizations mistakenly think that onboarding is an event that happens on a new employee's first day. Newsflash: a meet-and-greet over muffins in the conference room and pointing out where the restroom is constitutes only a small part of the onboarding process, which should actually start the day you make an employee an offer and continue for the next 365 days. PRO-TIP: Have a pre-set agenda for check-ins with any new employee at 30, 60, 90 and 120 days. Use that time to make sure the employee is settling in without problem or incident, understands his or her role and responsibilities, and knows where to go to give feedback or have an important conversation related to his or her work situation. Don't have an onboarding checklist? Download one here.
2. Include the whole team. We've all been there before: you come in to work one day, and there's a stranger in the breakroom. Is it a repairman there to finally fix the copy machine? Is it your co-worker's ex-boyfriend come to win her back? Later, you discover the "stranger" is actually a new employee no one bothered to tell you about, leaving you feeling left out of the loop (and him or her feeling unwelcome). How to avoid such sitiuations? Be sure to send an email to your staff before any new employee's start day letting them know about the new hire and a little bit about who she is and what she'll be doing. Next, arrange a coffee break (don't forget the muffins) at which your new hire can be informally welcomed to the organization and introduced to everyone on the team. PRO-TIP: While the whole team should play some part in the onboarding process, you should definitely consider assigning one person (a “buddy”) from HR or the new hire's team to help train her and make themselves available for questions.
3. Make a big deal of the new hire. That whole "coffee and muffins in the conference room thing" is a great way to introduce your new hire to her new colleagues and the culture of your organization, but it's just the start of the welcoming process. An employee's happiness, productivity, and commitment to the organization over the longer term are all linked. Translation? It's time for a little red-carpet treatment. Start by making sure your new hire's workstation is clean (i.e., no traces of her predecessor) and set up with everything she'll need (computer, email, phone and passwords). PRO-TIP: Spread the news! Go the extra mile and (if the position is at a sufficiently high level) issue a press release and/or social media updates letting people outside the organization know how excited you are about your new hire.
4. Encourage new hires to ask questions. New employees tend to have a LOT of questions. Where are the office supplies kept? How do I make the copy machine stop copying double-sided? If the yogurt in the fridge doesn't have a name on it, can anyone have it? Does Hal realize that a mustache is not a good look for him? (Just kidding, Hal.) But many new employees don't want to come off as clueless or bother busy colleagues with what may seem like silly questions and will struggle to figure things out on their own. While every boss appreciates an employee who shows initiative, new hires often waste a lot of time trying to figure things out or doing them incorrectly (and then having to re-do them) — time they could have saved (and put to more productive use) if they had simply asked for help or instruction in the first place. Make sure your employees know that you not only tolerate and expect questions, you welcome them. PRO-TIP: Don't think that by simply saying, "If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask," people will take you at your word. Instead, check-in with your new hires frequently, especially over the first few weeks of their employment, and encourage their questions as part of the on-the-job learning experience.
5. Lay a foundation for closer team integration. At Envision, we have a mantra: "Everything we do is connected." Our work in the areas of search, strategy, and leadership are all part of a bigger picture. (It's also why we feature gears — cogs meshing together to keep the machine running smoothly — in our logo and marketing materials. Like us, your organization is comprised of individuals who are engaged in collective work toward a common goal. But often people are confused about (or may not even know) what other people are doing to achieve that goal, making teamwork and integration a challenge. As you take on new, and possibly more staff members, you may need to hold more team meetings, at least for a while. People often gripe about meetings, but they are an invaluable way to get everyone on the same page, help them understand what everyone else on the team or in the organization is doing, and show them how the office is run as a whole. PRO-TIP: To ensure that your meetings are an efficient use of everyone's time (and eliminate some of the aforementioned gripes), be sure to map out your objectives for the meeting beforehand. What is it you hope to accomplish? What do you want and need to know from various team members? Is the information to be shared relevant to everyone who will be in the meeting?
6. Guess what? Your board needs onboarding, too. It may surprise you to know that new staff members aren't the only ones who need onboarding. To be effective, board members need proper onboarding, as well. Every organization strives to assemble the best board of directors possible, but once those members have been elected, getting the most out them is an aspiration, not a given, and almost always involves a carefully thought-out process. Applying some of the above tips can also be helpful for onboarding new board members (e.g., asking a veteran board member to be "buddy"/mentor the newest addition to the board). A general board member orientation session is another great way to onboard new directors and and, at the same time, invigorate the entire board. PRO-TIP: Want more information? Check out this great advice from the National Council of Nonprofits.
Some of the above tips may seem to involve a lot of unnecessary work, but when you consider the cost, in time and money, of replacing a valued employee with a new employee, it's really not that much and will feel like a bargain once that new employee has settled in and is contributing as a full-fledged member of the team.
Ashley Waterson, a creative messaging guru at Envision Consulting, has more than ten years' experience crafting content for various platforms, including comedy sketches, NPR features, and websites.