Onboarding Done Better

An employee's introduction to the company is equally important to the later success of both the individual and the company. Here are some tips from top workplaces on how to handle new hires.
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Picture this: You've just hired some wonderful new talent to join your company but you don't have a specific role intended for them. Instead, you give them three months to explore all the different departments of the company and you train them so that they know your products and services backward and forward—and then you allow the employee to choose what department they feel is the best fit for them.

This scenario may seem unfounded, but that's exactly what Box.net, a cloud computing services provider, is piloting at their office in Palo Alto, California.

"We have a lot of smart, talented, entry-level junior employees that wanted to get a better sense of where Box would fit into their career," says Cecilia Wong, human resources manager at Box.net. "We started this program as a way for us not to lose a great employee, but also to help them find where they want their career to go."

While certain arenas are off-limits—for example, the engineering department—the marketing, support, and administrative departments are all open to aspiring employees.

"Our onboarding process is really critical to us building an 'intrapreneurial' company, where people feel they can take ownership of things regardless of what level they're at," Wong says.

This philosophy of putting employees happiness first is taking root in today's businesses.

"Almost nothing defines a culture as much as the transitions," says George Bradt, managing director at PrimeGenesis, an onboarding and leadership consulting company based in Stamford, Connecticut. "The way you manage the transition of somebody into your culture speaks volumes about the culture to the person coming in, because you're making those first early impressions and they know what's expected of them."

Companies are realizing this philosophy is necessary. It's not just about the bottom line; the key is to make employees enthusiastic right from from Day One.

Welcoming employees with an assortment of gifts and activities help new hires get involved right out of the gate. Having a diversity of ways to welcome a new hire is critical to establishing a healthy employer-employee relationship.

One company that exemplifies this well-rounded approach exceptionally well is Tastefully Simple, a gourmet food sales company based in Alexandria, Minnesota.

"That's an awkward day, that first day, for a lot of people," says Edgar Timberlake, vice president of team relations at Tastefully Simple. "Once the person gets here, we have a buddy that's assigned to them. That buddy's responsible for forming a relationship and offering assistance along the way. We assign someone who would have similar kinds of duties, and that person would know the ropes and be able to answer questions. They invite them to break and lunch together, and they do a practical tour to make sure they know how to get around."

For employees that are new to town, Tastefully Simple has a local realtor ready to take them and their loved ones on a tour of the town. Meanwhile at the office, the help desk prepares the employee's work station with a phone and computer, and will drop by later to say welcome to the new hire and ensure everything is working properly. 

"You would be just shocked how many companies don't get that piece right," Bradt says about having a desk, computer and phone ready before the new hire arrives.

Involving new hires right away is a surefire way to make an employee feel needed and important. Getting new employees up to speed is a priority at Quantum Health, a health plan care management and service provider based in Columbus, Ohio.

"We're dealing with people's lives and with people's health, so we think it's really important to invest this amount of time into training," says Carey Miller, people and culture coordinator at Quantum Health.

Quantum's three-month training process for its "Care Coordinators" involves classroom training, simulation training with a mystery shopper, and the "training pod," where Care Coordinators are routed simple calls from patients and doctors to get used to the process.

"What makes the root of care coordination work is the people, so we try to make sure that they're adequately trained to do the very challenging job of coordinating care for patients and employees of our clients," Miller says. The Care Coordinators evaluate patients' claims, previous calls, medicines, and benefits, and answer patients' health-related questions accordingly.

"There's a fair amount of auditing and evaluation that happen to make sure that we're putting people on the floor that understand the concept and reality of care coordination, and how to use all the information in front of their fingertips," Miller says.

Helping new employees build relationships within the company will make them feel much more invested in their work and the company. 

"As you're bringing somebody into your environment, the way you behave toward them models the way you want them to behave," Bradt says. "Your attitude towards them impacts the attitude they're going to have to others. The values you evidence—in the way you bring them in, and the environment you create for them—are all both communicating the culture, modeling the culture, and forming the culture."

Companies are using new tools and procedures to assimilate its latest hires. Veson Nautical, a Boston-based software developer for risk management for the maritime industry, just instituted a new program in January called "FastStart," an online tool from consulting firm BlessingWhite that aligns work styles and priorities between new employees and managers.

"The manager ranks the skills important and less important to the job, and the employee does the same," says Sarah Taffee, director of human resources and organization effectiveness at Veson Nautical. "The employee has the opportunity to compare their own answers with their manager's answers, and then the system guides them through how to have an open discussion about those things."

The actual score doesn't matter, however.

"Even if they answer differently about something, the score is only highlighted so that they can have an open discussion about it," Taffee says. "It's purely a way of getting up to speed quickly and building the relationship quickly."

Many companies vary on this issue. Even among the companies cited here, Veson Nautical's onboarding plan lasts two weeks, while Tastefully Simple's lasts three months. Of course, true winning workplaces know that the onboarding process is never really over.

"Too many companies cut off the onboarding too early," Bradt says. "It's not about helping them for a month or even a year and then leaving them on their own; it's about sticking with them and giving them help and support."

IMAGE: Getty




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