June 9, 2015
It’s been over a year and a half since I joined HopeLab, and I’m still wistfully thinking about my onboarding experience. Who does that? Well, apparently I do. It’s one of my idiosyncrasies, but we’ll get to those in a moment.
Typically the onboarding process for a new employee is an uninspired affair, filled with lectures, videos, and other transactional interactions. They can be impersonal and tedious. But onboarding doesn’t have to be that way.
I’d like to share some personal observations of my experience getting started at HopeLab in the hopes that an idea or a practice sticks with you as you onboard someone in the future. I’m utterly convinced that effective onboarding consists of highly repeatable practices that are easy, no or low cost, and can be transferred from one workplace to another, no matter what sector, industry, or business you’re in.
First contact. My onboarding experience at HopeLab actually started in the interview process, long before I accepted or had even been offered the job. Staff treated me with warmth, kindness, and engaging curiosity. They inquired about my interests and talents, my strengths and weaknesses, and my learning and working styles. Past successes and failures (perceived or real) were openly discussed in a spirit of empathy and understanding—and ultimately acceptance. The experience left an overwhelmingly positive impression that deeply influenced my expectations of the company and its organizational culture.
The call. In a simple yet meaningful gesture, the hiring manager called me to offer the job – not a recruiter or an HR business partner, but the actual hiring manager. He shared his enthusiasm for me as a candidate and then asked me to join the team, in a truly human-to-human moment. Next time you want to hire someone, make the call yourself. It starts the relationship off on the right foot and signals the importance of organizational values like respect and accountability.
Hallmark. A few days after I accepted the offer, I received a good old-fashioned card in the mail, signed with personalized notes by everyone I met during the interview process. Even a few people I didn’t meet chimed in to share their excitement and congratulate me on joining the team. I felt welcomed before I was even physically onsite.
Gift. On my first day in the office, I received a small friendly-looking plant, some sort of succulent, I suppose, that I promptly starved of light and drowned with water. No, I’m not a plant guy. But the thought itself took root, and that’s what really counts.
Coffee. In the first 60 days, I met with staff across every major function, typically somewhere out of the office but nearby and almost always over coffee or tea. We talked about work, life, and stuff in general. By establishing personal connections early on, I was introduced to the organization and its work. Plus, those 1:1 interactions helped build relational reserves that I now call on when workloads (and tensions) run high or when projects go sideways, as they invariably do at some point.
Personalization. Some people are parts-to-whole learners. Me, I’m a whole-to-parts learner, all the way. I prefer a broad vista from which to survey the landscape. I’m also an introvert, meaning that extended time with people depletes my energy, turning my attention and focus to mush. When you combine those two quirks, you’ve got yourself a colleague who needs space and time to process things, from strategies to tactics—and beyond. My hiring manager customized an onboarding experience with my temperament in mind, building space into my orientation schedule for time to think, take notes, and prioritize.
From me to we. Like any collaborative effort, effective onboarding takes a village, at least a small village of people who are willing to help new hires get established in their new roles within the company. One of the most frequent questions I met with was, “How can I be of help to you?” This question came to me from all quarters, from R&D, finance, IT, and even the executive team, who knows the importance of setting tone at the top, especially when creating an atmosphere where everyone—including new hires—enjoy a sense of belonging and shared purpose.