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Preparing to Onboard New Employees

Starting a new job is exciting and nerve-wracking. Here's how to do onboarding right so that employees are set up for success.

Matthew Reeves

Onboarding – An Overview

There is no feeling quite like starting a new job. When a new employee starts, they are usually faced with a mixture of uncertainty and excitement. The fear of the unknown can bring on anxieties that may cause them to wonder if they made the right decision taking a new position, especially if they have just left somewhere they were comfortable.

When a company adopts a successful onboarding program, the premise is simple; to integrate new employees efficiently within the business, and provide support from day one so that these fears can be alleviated. 

Ultimately, the reason for recruitment is to ensure the continuity of company success with the right people in the right places who all have the opportunity to add to the growth of the business. Unfortunately, statistics show that many companies are not using onboarding advantageously. This results in new employees being twice as likely to start looking for new jobs within their first 90 days than their more tenured peers. 

Another survey by Gallup suggests 88 percent of employees don’t believe that their company has a great onboarding program. Many companies are failing to follow the process through the first couple of weeks. As a result, employees cite inconsistency and lack of engagement as reasons they felt that an onboarding experience they were involved in failed. 

So, just what are businesses supposed to do when integrating new employees? To ensure longevity in new employee careers, it is so important to make them feel welcome from the beginning. Realistically, this isn’t about rolling out a red carpet for every new starter, but setting expectations, being transparent about who they are and helping them to navigate unfamiliar territory with full support and guidance. New employees need to understand where they fit in and what part they have to play. Without this context the expectations of the role can become skewed and new starters can start to fall behind from the first hurdle. 

Pre-onboarding Checklist

Having an onboarding program as part of an integrated company initiative is a great start. Even with the best intentions of running it successfully, getting the preparations ready for new starters is critical to get off the ground running. 

  • Departmental Collaboration – It takes more than just one team to ensure the success of the onboarding process. Starting with the HR department carrying out necessary checks, overseeing completion of required paperwork and documents related to rules, policies and pay. It may be necessary to collaborate with an onboarding supervisor or ambassador who oversees the program. They will need to communicate to fill in any gaps in paperwork, to answer questions and provide support and resources needed for the process. The HR department is often the best to oversee the whole process, which may, for example, include working with the IT department. 

The IT department will need to make sure that computers, tablets and other devices are available from day one if the job requires it. New employees will also need passwords, log in details and access to online learning that may come from IT departments. 

Managers should also be included in the collaboration so that they are up to date with time frames and expectations. Once the new employee joins their team, there shouldn’t be any surprises or delays. The most fundamental element of an onboarding program is getting the new employee access to everything they need from day one to do their job. 

  • Schedule review periods – A great onboarding program usually lasts a minimum of 90 days, although it may be longer or shorter depending on the job.However, 90 days allows for interim reviews (usually at 30 and 60 day intervals) and sufficient learning opportunities. Onboarding as a general process should carry on for the employee’s first year of employment. Employees will feel settled after this amount of time and, on the flip side, their supervisors and line managers will be able to totally feel them out. 

Before running an orientation for new employees, schedule review periods with relevant people, i.e. HR department or managers so that meetings can be scheduled and adhered to. 

  • Prepare learning platforms in advance – training is no longer solely tied down to classroom style learning. Although it has been effective in the past and is still necessary to deliver certain types of training, in an onboarding program it can be hugely beneficial to consider online and digital learning platforms. These  allow individuals to learn at their own speed. 

When a group of new employees start to work for a company at the same time they will usually have come from a wide range of backgrounds. unless presented with the opportunity to take charge of their own growth and learning it can be difficult to know what their specific learning style is from day one. 

Many companies now opt for e-learning packages that can be tailored to specific groups and individuals to help them increase their knowledge. By putting the onus on the learners to a degree, it assists with managerial observations to show how well a new employee is doing and showing initiative to learn within the first 90 days. 

  • Use a buddy system – Once orientations have taken place, everybody will have had a chance to meet each other and understand working styles as well as personality traits. This is a great point to assign a buddy to each new employee to help navigate their way through new territory and become a great contact to help bridge the gap between employees and supervisors. Buddy systems work because it helps new starters feel at ease and be able to relate to somebody who is already familiar with the role. 

The way buddies are best assigned is by matching personalities and learning speeds. Before the orientation has even begun it is difficult to know who to match. But in terms of preparation and getting ready for a new group of employees getting started in an onboarding program, the team of buddies will need to be selected, notified of their duties and also provided with support to help work through potential problems and questions that may be raised during the process. 

A buddy system can work really well for onboarding in terms of the new employees getting to grips with their role, but also to assist in their own development and potential career boosts.

Onboarding – Beyond Orientation

As touched on earlier, the process of onboarding ideally begins when the new employees accept the job offer and continues well into their first three to six months or up to a year. Engagement is at its highest within the first three months of onboarding has been done right but all companies should be focused on keeping momentum beyond this initial period. 

If everything has been prepared and executed according to an onboarding checklist, the new employees should be feeling comfortable with their role, their tasks and who to contact for further support. They should be well aware of their expectations and have been set goals to work toward for their next milestone in the process. 

Looking at the steps that were taken to ensure a smooth transition from accepting the job to working live within a team, the processes now should change a little, but with the same vision and values in mind. 

  • Role Familiarity – Beyond orientation where training has been provided, new employees should be well underway with their new role. It can’t be expected that they will know everything overnight. This is why the longer onboarding process works better to give a fairer overview of performance.

This is the point where active dialogues need to take place between employee, manager and HR departments to assess whether they are at the point of expectation or if more guidance and support is needed. 

Progress should be noted and discussed, keeping the process formal and consistent and allowing for feedback that will be beneficial to the new employee. By adopting a longer onboarding program, employees are less likely to succumb to the pressures of a short turnaround between training and going live in their job role and thinking they must know everything within 30 days. 

  • Talk about Career Planning and Progression – The great thing about a longer onboarding process is that it provides plenty of opportunity to observe new employees while they settle into their role in a formal capacity. 

In an ideal world, resources would allow for this kind of attention to all individuals throughout their career, but as time is a commodity within the business world, this period of onboarding should be used to its full advantage. With this kind of investment in time and resources, it would be a waste not to prioritise the development of all individuals including new employees to promote loyalty and to encourage developmental opportunity. 

In a survey by Gallup, 60 percent of people said they were driven by recognition over money. Lack of career growth opportunity is one of the biggest reasons people consider leaving their job, second only to pay. So, if the conversation around career development happens early and continues throughout the review period, it allows for goals to be planned as well as promoting a positive culture within the workplace. 

  • Setting Goals and Objectives – Onboarding processes aren’t just about reviewing and observing but actively working toward certain goals. Without a formal onboarding process goals have no context and can become disorganised and inconsistent. It is understandable that everyone learns at their own pace, but what usually happens without a formal process is that some individuals take over others in terms of their learning and progression curve. This can not only be disheartening but also disengaging if they think they haven’t received the same support as others. 

Setting goals for new employees in terms of their own learning and reviewing those goals throughout the onboarding process puts a clear directive in place for each person. If this can lead to conversations about career progression and further objectives that may lead to promotion within the first year, then the onboarding program will have overall been successful.

Onboarding – The Future

Onboarding in a formal capacity is a relatively new process and is beginning to be accepted globally in terms of a full recruitment process for new employees and promoted employees. However, it does put a strain on time and resources that even bigger companies would struggle to keep up with, especially in mass recruitment. 

There are now specified onboarding programs through automated software that is similar to mentor software and takes the strain out of organising training, reviews and paperwork. an automated system can send out offer letters and correspondence, calendarize dates and provide a record of training. It would be advantageous for larger companies to take control of this kind of software to ease the workload for HR departments. 

This doesn’t mean that one to one training, buddy systems and verbal or face to face support isn’t required. The direct focus from supervisors and managers is what the workforce is in need of to feel appreciated and valued in their job. automated systems can help pair buddies with new employees based on learning, goals and personalities, so the technology allows time to focus on more urgent aspects of the program. 

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