Successful onboarding: a guide for the first day, week and month

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In the words of Daniel Cable, London Business School professor: “There is a new war for talent happening in the workplace today. And it’s not about wooing employees away from competitors, but unleashing the enthusiasm that is already within employees, just dormant”.

But when reading through the exit interviews of employees who resigned within the first few weeks or months, the reasons behind their decision keep repeating. “I never felt like I was fitting in”, “My manager was mostly absent during onboarding”, “I didn’t click with my team”. What happened to their enthusiasm?

In many instances, more than 30% of employees quit a job within the first six months due to poor onboarding.

 

The truth is…

The quality of your onboarding determines how long a new hire stays with the company.

The relationship between employer and employee has dramatically changed. People now treat jobs as more than paycheck providers. When they accept an offer, they sign up for a particular experience and are quick to leave if it doesn’t live up to their expectations. But this unnecessary loss of talent can be preventable.

Successful onboarding has become crucial to employee retention. Unfortunately, many companies are still slow in adopting best practices. According to a Gallup report, only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization has a proper onboarding process set up. And this comes with consequences. As Bill Conaty, former Senior VP of Human Resources at GE, notes: “Often times, the lack of a robust […] assimilation process leaves the new employee confused and disoriented.”

In contrast, according to a Brandon Hall report, a strong onboarding process improves new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. In the words of Michael Watkins, author of “The First 90 Days”: “Employee orientation centers around and exists to help the individual employee, but it is the company that ultimately reaps the benefits of this practice.”

So what does it take to build a successful onboarding process that is appreciated by new hires and has the potential to reduce early attrition?

 

Think structure and communication

In recent years, technology has played an important role in getting new hires up to speed fast with both their responsibilities and the company culture. But the bedrock of successful onboarding is structure and communication. When the process is ill-defined or supportive conversations are infrequent, new hires feel left out and insignificant. And digital tools do little to counteract these feelings.

At Moonstar, we did extensive research on what sets employees up for success during this critical time in a new role. Below are the best practices we’ve uncovered for the first day, week and month of onboarding. Consider what you’re doing right and what’s missing from your own onboarding process. And if needed, redesign it to provide your new hires with the knowledge and confidence to become productive team players.

First day – focus on the people

Walking into the office on the first day is like arriving in a new country and not knowing the language. The pressure to make a good impression and the overwhelming novelty often cause considerable stress. So be mindful of this and strive to make Day One as enjoyable and welcoming as possible. Send out all important information ahead. In this way, your new hire can spend the first day meeting her team and getting familiar with the company’s culture.

Here are two things you can do to take the hassle out of Day One:

  • Send her your Induction handbook. Video game developer Valve Corporation created a fun and quirky read, which helps new hires get up to speed, while showcasing the company’s culture.
  • Send her an introductory video of the company. Take the example of Dunkin’ Donuts. Their introductory video features the President, who introduces himself, the company’s goals and values.

    successful onboarding first team meeting

    The first team meeting is crucial

By providing basic company information prior to Day One, you free up the day for what is most important: your new hire’s introductory meeting with the team. Give a brief intro of her new role and invite her to say a few words about herself. One by one, team members should then present themselves, their role and their vision for the team. Nudge them to share something personal and why they are excited to have a new colleague. To create an informal and welcoming atmosphere, you can avoid the conference room and take your team to lunch instead.

At the end of the day, have a short debriefing session to make sure everything went well. This will show your new hire you want to create a great experience and are interested in her opinion.

First week 

1. Set expectations

Employees shouldn’t get to work without first understanding their new role and responsibilities. The challenge you face is providing your new hire with all necessary information without overwhelming her. For a successful onboarding, create a sequence of clear steps and provide important business intelligence in bite-sized portions. During the first week, set up one-on-one meetings with her manager to go over:

  • A short industry overview
  • The company’s goals and how the new hire can contribute
  • Team goals, milestones and success metrics

You can also create an informal organizational chart of her new department, mentioning who is responsible for what. This will help her understand where to seek guidance in different matters.

What’s more, together with her manager, help her create a learning agenda for the first month. This should include her learning priorities and a set of questions that will guide her inquiries. Decide together what type of hard data her job requires: financial, operating or strategic reports, surveys and industry-specific analyses. Then direct her to the people who have this knowledge and offer support in setting up meetings with them. Lastly, schedule regular check-ins to discuss progress on this learning process and offer support whenever needed.

2. Assign an onboarding buddy

onboarding buddy helping a new hire

An onboarding buddy proves invaluable

To help her learn the “soft” aspects of organizational life, such as culture and politics, assign her an onboarding buddy. This is an essential part of a successful onboarding process. A buddy can provide invaluable information that is absent from business handbooks. This knowledge includes how to navigate organizational silos, what cultural norms and unspoken rules govern the company and how to determine relevant stakeholders for her projects.

Take the example of tech company Percolate. Each new hire is assigned a “Percolator” – an experienced employee who has volunteered to guide his new colleague during the first weeks. His main tasks are introducing the new hire to her team, checking in often and providing context to her activities. Research at Microsoft found that after their first week, new hires with buddies were 23% more satisfied with their onboarding experience. At the 90 days mark, satisfaction increased to 36%.

First month – actively build a sense of belonging

While the learning should carry on well into the first 90 days, integrating your new hire in the company’s culture is equally important for a successful onboarding. New comers are more inclined to feel isolated and introverts even more so.

Gallup points out that perceived workplace isolation can lead to a 21% decrease in performance. Furthermore, new hires who don’t build relationships with their peers are more likely to seek other job opportunities.

That’s why a successful onboarding process focuses on creating opportunities for interaction and bringing the company culture to life. Here are three effective strategies.

  • Give a “Welcome to the team” pack. For example, every new hire at social media platform Twitter receives a branded tote bag, T-shirt, laptop sleeve and notebook. Not to mention a bottle of wine to celebrate the new beginning. This small gesture shows your new hire she’s part of the company and also turns her into a brand advocate.
  • Celebrate personal milestones. Turn work anniversaries and birthdays into joyous events. Invite all team members to the celebration and be festive: use props and provide treats. At Zappos, the online shoe retailer, all new hires work in the call center during the first month. When the stint is completed, Zappos organizes a ceremony. The company hands out graduation certificates and even invites employees’ families to join the party. Celebrating personal events in this way helps your team feel more connected.
  • Engage in frequent and meaningful conversations. One of the most cited reasons why onboarding fails is lack of managerial support. For a successful process, let your new hire know she can reach you at any moment, whether she has a question or is simply looking for advice. Encourage a two-way communication, be present and available.

Lastly…

…help your new hire secure some early wins during this period. These create value for the organization, while also building her credibility. Once results start showing, however small, she’ll feel more like a valuable addition to the team. Promising opportunities might include helping with a small part of a complex project or delighting customers in simple ways.

 

The cornerstones of successful onboarding are a clearly-defined structure and consistent, supportive communication. In the critical first days and weeks, what a new hire really needs is support and feeling like she belongs. Be human, be there when needed and help your new employee grow in her new role.

Set up your new hires for success with Moonstar’s First 60 days digital course. This learning journey offers strategies and actionable insights to help them adapt fast, navigate organizational context efficiently and deal with new and complex responsibilities.

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