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3 Ways to Supercharge Your Onboarding Process

They were hired with good intentions, but they never really fit in. Their fault? Think again. If your company is like most, your onboarding process is a big part of the problem.
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Remember your first day on the job? You probably made some judgments right away about the company and your decision to work there.

Your employees do the same. Over their first few days, they learn what leaders think is a good use of time, how their time will be spent, and what’s expected of them.

What does your onboarding process communicate? Does it help bring them into the organizational network, or does it force them to waste time on paperwork?

Too often, people’s onboarding experience leaves them feeling bored, frustrated, or confused. Instead, design a process that sends powerful messages about the company and employees’ roles in it. Here are three ways to supercharge your onboarding process.

1. Start Before They Start

Why waste someone’s time filling out HR forms on Day One when that can all be handled before they start? After all, who really wants to spend time on rules and regulations when they can be acclimating to their new jobs?

Companies like Seagate now send automatic email welcome letters upon job acceptance. The letter includes a link to the new employee portal (outside the firewall), which contains employment forms, benefits pamphlets, and all the other necessary paperwork needed to establish the employee. By the time employees show up for Day One, all of the necessary documentation is done. No long, boring form-filling meetings for new employees at Seagate. Instead, they start before they start so they can get right to the important work of learning their jobs.

Challenge your HR department to figure out how to complete as much paperwork as possible before Day One.

2. Expand the Time Horizon

People can’t learn everything they need to know about their new jobs and company in one day. Yet too many organizations think about onboarding as something that only occurs on Day One. That’s a mistake.

Progressive organizations expand their conception of onboarding beyond the first week. L’Oreal USA, for example, sponsors a two-year, six-part program designed to fully integrate new hires. Their system includes training and roundtable discussions, individual mentoring, field visits, and shadowing programs.

Zappos is another onboarding standout. They devote a full month to new employee orientation, which includes cultural immersion, team building, and how to deliver Wow! service. At the end of the orientation period, new hires who feel they are not a good cultural fit are offered $2,000 to quit--an important indicator of how Zappos values people’s time and protects the company culture.

Think about what new hires need to be fully productive and integrated, not just on Day One but also in Month Six.

3. Build the Network

When new hires fail, it’s not usually because they lack skills. Instead, new hires fail when they don’t fit in culturally, when they have difficulty building relationships, and when they can’t get things done effectively through others. These challenges all come back to a new hire’s ability to build and work through networks.

Help your new hires build the networks they need by integrating network development into the onboarding process. Take inspiration from some of these creative ideas already in practice:

• Show up for work at Intel’s Mobile Platform Group and you might find that your calendar is fully booked. That’s what happened when Jacqueline Lopez arrived on the job. Her manager had set up meetings with subject matter experts, cultural insiders, and savvy political players who helped her understand the context in which she needed to operate and how to be successful within it.

• Want a customized guide to the political terrain you’ll need to navigate at work? That’s just what you'll get at Capital One. Before new employees begin, an internal coach interviews stakeholders such as direct reports, peers, and customers. The resulting “Customized New Leader Transition Guide” outlines the key challenges associated with the role, performance expectations, goals, and political dynamics.

New employees can’t be successful without a strong network consisting of the people they need to do their jobs. How does your onboarding process help new hires build their networks?

Bonus: Get Clear on the Goal

Here’s one extra thought courtesy of Joel Peterson, chairman of JetBlue Airways:

"When I hire someone, I start by making the new employee’s success an explicit personal goal, he says. "This might sound something like: 'By the end of 90 days …

• I want the team to wonder how they got along before Mary joined.
• I want Mary to say, “I never thought I’d enjoy a job so much.'"
• I want to be excited about Mary’s contribution to the organization’s future.'"

Unlike Peterson, most leaders have never explicitly articulated their expectations for their new hires. What do you want them to think, feel, and experience by the end of their first ninety days? Once you know that, put the pieces in place to make it happen. Don’t forget to start before they start, extend the time horizon, and help them build their networks.

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Last updated: May 5, 2014

MAYA TOWNSEND | Founder, Partnering Resources

Using the science underlying human relationships and networks, Maya Townsend uncovers sound, practical methods for making soft skills generate hard results. Co-editor of The Handbook for Strategic HR and founder of the consulting firm Partnering Resources, she'll happily tell you why most HR departments need a total makeover.




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