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Get off on the right foot. From workflows to templates – your journey to successful employee onboarding starts here.
Try to remember the last time you started at a new workplace:
➜ At what points did you feel excited, energized, and/or empowered?
➜ At what points did you feel anxious, overwhelmed, and/or helpless?
➜ What feelings do you recall feeling most prominently?
➜ How does it feel to reflect on the experience now?
Out with orientation, in with onboarding
An incredible onboarding program goes way beyond orientation. It’s the output of great work and lock-step collaboration across employer branding, culture, candidate experience, people operations, learning and enablement, good leadership, and more…with a healthy dose of first-day excitement thrown in.
If that alone has you feeling sticker shock (“uh, I thought I just had to help the newbs find the bathroom and make sure they don’t miss open enrollment…”), don’t worry. These common watch-outs (🚩) will show you exactly what pitfalls to look out for in designing a stellar onboarding, while these star student alternatives (️⭐) will clarify exactly what to build towards instead.
🚩: Your company’s onboarding is a one-person show.
Your best hiring manager, your CEO, or Midge from HR owns welcoming and orienting new hires, from offer through Day 1. There’s little (if any) input from others, and the program doesn’t rely on any collaboration.
⭐️: Onboarding is a dream team effort, wrangled by a directly responsible individual (or “DRI”).
A fantastic onboarding shepherds a new teammate from the candidate experience into the employee experience, clarifying expectations along the way. That means everyone who shapes those first few months - a new teammate’s direct manager and team, learning and development, company culture builders, leadership, and more - can and should inform design of the early tenure experience. While input and design are coordinated efforts, you absolutely want someone at the helm to own the outcome and manage facilitation. The best onboarding functions like an orchestra: lots of different parts, playing together at the direction of a single conductor, creating something beautiful.
🚩: Your company’s onboarding starts and stops with tactical orientation.
A tour of the office (physical or virtual), a glance at the handbook, reviewing benefits, and scanning the org chart are all important elements of a great orientation.
But the best onboardings are so much more than that…
⭐️: Onboarding establishes cultural, behavioral, and operational expectations.
Learning how to enter PTO is helpful, but doesn’t clarify how a new employee should communicate time away in your unique culture. The org chart is a great tool, but doesn’t give much insight into how decisions are deliberated cross-functionally.
See where I’m going with this? The best onboardings are rooted in showing how your company works together. Include decision-making processes. Outline cultural and behavioral expectations, up to and including what accountability for cultural harm looks like (this primer on cultural accountability is aimed at project managers, but does a great job of breaking down what to look out for and how to address harm). Clearly define the ins and outs of day-to-day operations, like which meetings are required vs. suggested, the hows/whens/wheres of your team communications, review cadences, etc.
Pro Tip 💡
Historical examples and narratives are your best friends here! Tell the story of that time your team came together to really live that value, or of how you arrived at the goal-setting cadence that’s worked best for your team. If you’ve never considered capturing these stories via an internal podcast, give a listen to the WTWT podcast episode about internal podcast content categories.
🚩: Your company’s onboarding generates more questions than it answers.
Who owns that process? Do I have to go to all these meetings? Should I wait to disclose my need for disability accommodations? Can I use my new perks ASAP? If your onboarding process generates an avalanche of questions, your new teammates are experiencing a lot of noise and distraction.
⭐️: Onboarding answers questions before they’re even asked.
Think of the questions everyone wants to ask when they’re new, but don't because it could "look bad." Answer those questions, early, often, and unprompted (Sidenote: if you've nurtured a culture where the concern of “is this gonna make me look bad?” is moot, that’s great! Unfortunately, it means nothing to new teammates if they don’t experience that safety firsthand in their first few days, so this is a great chance to practice what you preach).
Explain that historical inside joke or reference before it leaves a new teammate confused. Share the company vision before they request it. Offer accommodations options to everyone at the outset, before they ask. Give clear expectations for what communications, meeting cycles, or networking opportunities to interact with, and on what cadence. Direct folks to where they can safely leave feedback before they have any to give. Addressing your employees’ concerns and curiosities proactively shows that those concerns aren’t just safe to consider, they’re important.
Final Thoughts 💭
Especially if you’re a small shop, it can be daunting to think of incorporating every facet of the employee experience into the design of your onboarding program. What's more, anticipating every possible question and distilling the full picture of your company’s culture into something digestible for a diverse array of new teammates.
Well, I have good news: it’s totally doable, totally scale-upable or scale-downable, and totally worth it to revisit the state of your onboarding and make some tweaks for a more thorough, effective program. Get started with any of the guides below, or reach out for a consultation.
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