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How to make your new hires’ first day a success (for both them and the company)

September 19, 2014
Borderless Leadership
Although it sounds like just one more business buzzword, ‘onboarding’ is critical to the success of your new hire — and to your company.
George Bradt, co-author of “Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time,” says employers are “generally terrible” at onboarding. As a result, he says, 40 percent of new leaders fail in their first 18 months on the job because, “they don’t get it, they don’t deliver, or they fail to adjust to changes down the road.”
The employees who wash out, he adds, often complain that former employers “weren’t who they pretended to be” and frequently failed to supply the support and resources necessary for their success.
That certainly proved true in a recent survey of new hires that found only 52 percent joined a company with an official onboarding program. More than 37 percent said their employer had no program, and just over 11 percent said they weren’t sure if a program existed or not.
With those numbers it’s not surprising that almost half of the new hires surveyed said their manager failed to send a welcome message to colleagues before their arrival. Nearly 20 percent didn’t have a workstation their first day on the job. More than 25 percent had to wait for a computer, and more than 35 percent didn’t have access to a phone or voicemail.
Inauspicious starts can quickly lead to a lack of engagement, says Dr. Bob Nelson, who has written extensively in the areas of employee motivation and recognition, including “1,501 Ways to Reward Employees” and “1001 Ways to Energize Employees.”
He related an anecdote about a manager who, on being introduced to his new teammates, told them that he would now be heading up their group. That was news to them; no one ever told them and the new manager ended up leaving a month later.
“The story of most people is that the most exciting day was their first day, and it went downhill from there,” Nelson said.
Bradt agrees that “it’s all about engagement.” He believes onboarding should start well before the new hire’s first day and that the hiring manager must own it.
“I’ve never met any person who’s been able to get a line manager excited about onboarding, but you can get them excited about delivering results,” he said. Well-prepared and well-positioned employees can begin contributing quickly, he says, which heightens their engagement and produces positive outcomes.
Bradt pointed to three “failure points” in the onboarding process: Lack of a recruiting brief, lack of an onboarding plan, and lack of alignment around the plan.
The recruiting brief, the book explains, is an in-depth look at the position’s mission and responsibilities, what success looks like, the talents and skills required for the job, potential motivators and qualities that comprise fit. The onboarding plan is done in partnership with the hiring manager before the new staffer begins work and includes pre-start discussions with key stakeholders as well as a timeline not only for the first day and the first week, but for critical milestones during the first several months.
Bradt stressed the importance of the manager working in partnership with the new hire to write the plan.
“If you want someone to commit, they must own it. You have to co-create the plan,” he said.
The Aberdeen Group, which produces business research, does an annual update on onboarding, and a preview of its 2014 data shows that “most companies focus solely on forms management and compliance.” And while benefits enrollment and other new hire forms are important, like Bradt, Aberdeen recommends an extended onboarding process — in some cases, as long as six months.
Aberdeen’s recommendations:
– Ensure hiring managers have the tools and resources to engage their new staffers;
– Communicate the company’s core values and missions;
– Integrate onboarding with learning and development, such as training, coaching and certification programs;
– Connect new staffers with colleagues, helping them create a network of relationships;
– Evaluate the effectiveness of the program with tools such as new hire engagement surveys.
Nelson’s son, 23-year-old Danny Nelson, recently joined San Francisco’s Good Eggs. The online company allows customers to order food from local farmers, butchers, pasta makers, bakers and other vendors and delivers it all free. Nelson said the company’s onboarding program allowed him to become a contributor right away.
Spending his first week meeting with colleagues from all different sections of the company allowed Nelson to form immediate connections. He then toured one of the company’s producers, a granola maker, followed by several days at Good Eggs’ receiving and packing facility that included driving a three-hour delivery route. (A job he’ll continue once a month throughout his tenure there). Next came several days getting acquainted with his engineering teammates before being paired with another engineer and jumping into development work.
Good Eggs put “a lot of care and attention” into his hire and orientation, Nelson says, which ensured that he was in sync with the company’s vision. As a result, he says he loves coming to work every day and is excited about the future.
“Everyone feels like they’re a part of what’s being created and can contribute in a significant way,” he said.
And the perks aren’t bad either. The dedicated vegan says Good Eggs’ chef prepares employees’ noontime meal using food offered by the site.
“They have an incredible lunch,” he laughed.
By Tammy Tierney

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