10 Tips for Effective Onboarding

January 30, 2014

Effective onboarding is essential for the vitality and success of your organization. In fact, adding a new team member to a workplace environment is both the chance to pass on and reinforce your organizational values as well as the opportunity to influence and enhance your culture. So we give a lot of thought to the orientation and onboarding of new staff at HopeLab.

Get Onboard

We’ve found the following practices to be helpful in welcoming a new employee and setting them up for success:

1. Start before they’re hired. Orientation of a new team member begins before you’ve even made an offer. You influence someone’s impression of your organization and culture from your first interaction with them as a candidate. Make those first moments matter for everyone you consider for the job, and the one you eventually hire will start with a positive and solid grounding.

2. Assign pre-work. Sure, you can’t really put people to work before they’ve started, and you don’t want to overwhelm your new hire. But by giving a new team member some pre-reading material before their start date, you can heighten their commitment and excitement for the new opportunity they’ve said “yes” to. What to share? Perhaps your organization’s strategic plan, a project outline, or other relevant background materials that give deeper insight into the long-term goals and day-to-day work. We tend to keep the pre-reading at a high altitude at HopeLab, providing materials that give context for the particular work a new employee will be doing. It helps them feel more prepared on Day 1.

3. Help them feel they belong. This one’s so simple but so impactful, in our experience: After the offer, send a note card of congratulations to your new hire signed by everyone who interviewed her. On Day 1, let your receptionist know when your new team member is arriving so she can be warmly greeted and announced. Have flowers or a small gift on her desk. Begin the day with a walk around the office and quick introductions. Schedule social time (lunch, coffee, tea) with key staff throughout the first week. Make sure she has a few lunch companions that first week, and seed conversation by suggesting topics. These are ideas – the point is, take time to do one or two small things that make your new colleague feel welcomed into the organization.

4. Have everything up and running. I began a job once and didn’t have a working phone or computer for almost two weeks! No surprise, this didn’t leave a good impression. It takes some planning, but ensuring that everything – desk phone, cell phone, computer (desktop and/or laptop), etc. — works on day one helps a new staffer settle in and get to work.

5. Show them the ropes. Support immediate productivity by showing the new employee how things work around the office – where the coffee is, how to use the copy machine, using the phone system, location of office supplies, how to access the fileserver, calendar meetings, etc. An introduction to these office practices will help make the new employee feel “at home” quickly and able to hit the ground running.

6. Make it personal. We each learn in unique ways, socialize in different ways, and enter into new situations with different interests and needs. Customize the onboarding process for your new hire. First, find out the preferences of the new employee and craft an orientation and onboarding experience that honors their style. For example, ask if your new employee prefers to get up to speed by reading or learning through talks or presentations, then build in time during their first week’s schedule accordingly. Bonus tip: If you’ve hired an introvert, schedule quiet time throughout the day or week for reflection. They’ll be more energized and engaged.

7. Share through storytelling. Stories are a powerful way to share an organization’s history and culture. We take full advantage of storytelling by giving each new employee a deck of cards that contains images of staff, events, and cultural artifacts. During their orientation, the employee is invited to choose a card and ask their new colleagues to tell the story behind each image. A myriad of tales are told in the process, even about a single card! In this way, the new employee gets an inside view into the organization’s culture.

8. Help them experience progress. Identify short-term wins. Successful accomplishments early in a new job empower and fuel excitement for greater contribution later on. We often set these up within the frame of a 30-60-90 day work plan.

9. Invite questions. We introduce new employees in our agency-wide staff meetings. One of the questions we have them answer is “How can we be most helpful to you in your new role?” We invite new employees to ask any question that they might have because we’re all invested in their success.

10. Be transparent. Every organization has practices that are spoken and known or unspoken and implicit. Be fully transparent in orienting new team members. Answer their questions honestly and share openly about both the positive aspects of your organization and culture and also where you struggle. No workplace is perfect and this kind of openness can create opportunities for new staff to contribute to your organization’s success in ways that might not be a part of their job description.

Many organizations provide a “sink or swim” onboarding experience. Although this may work in some cases, it leaves a lot to chance and may not work when you’re trying to create a culture where people feel like they matter and belong. By paying greater attention to the beginning of an employee’s experience with your organization, you help ensure that your staff are engaged, productive, and happy in their roles and in your organization.

To me, that’s a key success metric for any organization.