By Mette Søs Gottlieb, Learning Expert
Imagine arriving for your first day of work, eager to begin the next step in your career. The HR director greets you, hands you a giant binder, and leaves. You stare at the binder, wondering if this is your cue to run for the exit and never look back.
Welcoming new employees to the organization with effective onboarding sets them up for success and makes them feel like valued members of a team from the start. Why are so many organizations bad at it, then? And how can they step up their onboarding game? With the right strategy and tools, employers can ensure they’re providing their workforce with the best chance for success.
New technologies and new opportunities have created a workforce segment that thrives on moving from one gig to the next—the “gig economy.” There are innumerable blogs and Instagram accounts that tout a work-from-anywhere lifestyle of coding while traveling the world, for instance, or becoming your own boss by choosing which and how much freelance writing or graphic design gigs to take on.
This comfort among millennials with switching jobs has led to the creation of yet another label for them: the “job-hopping generation.” The days of employees joining a company after college and then staying for 20+ years aren’t the norm anymore.
The reality is that employees may only stay with your company for a short time, which makes it even more important to be able to hit the ground running from Day One. The sooner this happens, the sooner your new hire will be an effective employee who feels like a valuable contributor.
One complicating factor is that many companies don’t have an onboarding process to begin with. New hires come on and are handed a binder of information to read—that’s the extent of it. Other companies don’t approach onboarding in an agile way with continuously updated sets of collateral, documents, and procedure aids. Instead, it’s treated as a one-and-done, point-in-time activity as if things don’t change—even as the world around us does.
When companies do take the time to onboard, new hires learn from HR about expense reports, timesheets, travel policy, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), codes of conduct, compliance, and so forth. But then they are thrown into the business function pool and expected to swim.
Perhaps they will find a mentor or “work buddy” who can show them the tricks and tips of the company, but as an employer, you can’t always be sure that person will explain things the correct way. Or maybe the person you partner the new employee up with isn’t happy with how certain things are done or they’re only explaining the things they want the new hire to know.
That leads to a whole crop of new challenges, such as having to later re-teach employees things they were taught incorrectly from the get-go, which is harder than doing it right the first time.
Establishing a successful onboarding program starts with creating a checklist of everything a new employee needs to know about the business (culture, key meetings, code of conduct, and so on). That list also needs to include information about who needs to be involved with each step/segment, and how to ensure new employees get the information and training they need. The progress of new hires should be monitored from their very first day—an onboarding checklist for the employee would allow for any hiccups in the project to be caught early. This maximizes the probability of an aligned and successful project completion.
The onboarding process needs to go well beyond just a week or two. The first week should focus on fundamentals, certainly. But after a month or so, start adding to that basic knowledge. You must spread out onboarding to ensure the information sticks with the trainee. People can only absorb so much at once, so spreading training out and chunking information helps with knowledge retention.
Give new hires and contract workers easy, on-demand access to communications with the other members of your team as necessary to complete their jobs. Offering freelancers access to online chat and file-sharing systems ensures that not only do employees have the information where and when they need it, but they can also feel like a part of the overall organization. This can go a long way toward boosting engagement and collaboration.
Employees are better able to receive and digest important company information if it is available when and where they need it. Making it easy for new hires, freelancers, and short-term employees to access and interact with important onboarding information is imperative to the overall effectiveness of your onboarding and your employees moving forward.
You also need to have business goals centered on things like, “When would you consider any employee fully onboarded?” and “How can you actually measure that?” This is how you can determine whether your program is successful; otherwise, you risk losing the people that you hired. It’s very expensive and difficult to find the right talent. Plan to not fail.
Workforce expectations and opportunities continue to shift in what is often a gig-driven, job-hopping environment. This new scenario is good for workers in search of greater flexibility and for employers who wanted a greater variety of aptitudes. However, it can make onboarding tricky. Employers need to get value from new hires from Day One since there’s no telling how long they will stay, and contract workers also need to get up to speed for immediate productivity.
Rather than handing these new workers a manual to read, onboarding needs to be strategic, interactive, relevant, and ongoing. Use the above best practices to design an onboarding program that is accessible to everyone and encourages communication, informal mentoring, and collaboration. With this approach, you and your employees will see value quickly and for however long they remain with you.