Strategic Onboarding

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By Jordann Mullenax

Developing, implementing, and maintaining a strategic and successful employee onboarding program can be difficult and demanding.

From managing the paperwork and processes required for regulatory compliance purposes, to making sure the new hire feels comfortable and empowered to work effectively, there is a lot of ground to cover. To elevate your current onboarding program, or develop a new one, organizations will need to provide new hires with the right resources, information, and technology at the right times.

DAY 1

Onboarding begins before the new hire’s first day. Formal offer letters are generally sent back to the human resource contact, however, it’s a good practice to have the assigned supervisor send a proper welcome to the company email to the new candidate. This helps cultivate the trust that the new hire has made a good decision by selecting this position over another. Next, it’s important to send an email to each department that your new hire will be working with for introductions. This step supports a smooth and professional transition and aids the team in staying connected. It also allows your new hire to feel welcomed and expected. When your candidate arrives for their first day, they will have an inbox full of introductions and resources.

Accepting a new job is an exciting, yet intimidating, time for a new hire. Therefore, it is important that the welcoming phase continues past the initial emails. Giving your new hire a warm welcome sets the tone for the relationship between the employer and the employee and even the smallest details mean a lot. These gestures can be conveyed by a welcome note on their desk, or a simple welcome banner over their workspace. How you welcome a new team member affects their inclusion with the already established office culture and overall involvement in your organization going forward.

Before getting into the day-to-day responsibilities, you must cover important compliance items. You can help your new employees understand legal and policy-related rules and regulations by encouraging them to complete all necessary documents and training. This is arguably the driest and most mundane material necessary during the onboarding process. So, it’s helpful to plan a few breaks and even allow colleagues to interrupt to introduce themselves and allow conversations to better get to know each other. Afterall, this is usually what your new hire is most interested in during their first week. Newly hired individuals want to become familiar with those they will be working with and, when they go home at night, they will most likely share these interactions at the dinner table with their loved ones, rather than the processes they learned.

TRAINING MATTERS

As a supervisor, or trainer, it’s also important to take a moment yourself to get to know your new colleague. Consider sharing your own journey with the company and blend in the company’s culture and core values. Share what the company’s mission means to you personally, and why it drives you to succeed at work each day. This type of exposure to the company’s values cements expectations and creates a foundation for the new hire to build up both themselves and the company. Employees who recognize and agree with the company’s core values will have a clearer understanding of their role and the ideals and attitudes they will need to adopt to perform at their best. They will also comprehend what the company is trying to achieve, and thus, use the core values to guide their actions in new or difficult situations.

A key component of onboarding is on-the-job training, and this is perhaps the most demanding part of adding support to your team. Training is something we all believe we don’t have time for; however, it will pay out exponentially if done well. Effective training helps employees understand their new role, responsibilities, and expectations by using techniques tailored to how they best learn—visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. The first few weeks of learning a new job is overwhelming. New hires are trying to retain a wealth of information while striving to work independently. During this time, you should plan to spend a lot of time with your candidate because it is easier to retain valuable information in smaller doses. This will allow your new co-worker to work through many examples until they need minimal reminders. Consider helpful tools like policies and procedures and onboarding checklists to help ensure this process goes smoothly. Repetition will help adhere the process and provide structure, but you should also allow time for self-discovery. New hires have fresh eyes and can often recognize areas needing improvement and can offer suggestions and changes.

Once you have empowered your new employee to feel confident in working independently, assign a mentor or leave them with resources they can access when you are no longer nearby. This integrates employees by encouraging them to build interpersonal relationships and will help them create a personal network for support or assistance when needed. Open communication, and ongoing training, are key to empowering your new employee and to ensure training knowledge has transferred and is being employed correctly. Providing further ongoing training ensures that they understand that they will not be abandoned once the initial training is complete.

Once the new employee exhibits confidence in their position, remember to schedule meetings to check in and make yourself available to them so they feel supported. Continue the conversations about the organization’s norms, involvements, and commitments. This is especially important in the absence of in-person onboarding or for dispersed workforces to help employees understand and feel part of the culture. Next, be sure to introduce new hires to clubs, affiliated groups, and professional networks, and give them plenty of information about how to get involved. Even if an interest group won’t be their passion for the long term, the chance to join early is a critical step in getting integrated.

Often, new employees will evaluate staying with the company, or will debate leaving around the six-month mark, so it’s best to follow up with them around month three. It is vital to check in with them to be sure they still feel supported, empowered, and that work accomplishments are aligned with the company’s expectations. Listen to your new co-worker, validate their commitment and work effort; this will give them a reason to stay before leaving even crosses their mind. This conversation is another opportunity to set employees up for success by providing them with all the right coaching, learning opportunities, and feedback. Providing mentorship and coaching programs in conjunction with succession planning will support employees’ growth trajectory within the company. Additionally, organizations with effective succession planning programs are more likely to use mentoring and coaching initiatives.

Many new hires will feel proficient in their work within a couple of months, but one year is required to truly understand the full circumference of the position. There are many ebbs and flows of the importance between quarters or seasons and a job needs a full year’s review to comprehend the larger picture. With this in mind, it is critical to complete performance reviews with your employee. If the review reveals they are productive and efficient, you can move forward and plan for future development to show them what their career looks like with the company. At this time, you can shift from on-the-job training to continuous development.

If you create, and follow, a detailed onboarding program, you will set your new hires on a path to success. When new employees are onboarded successfully you will also set your company up for success by turning those new hires into seasoned and vested employees. 


Jordann Mullenax

Jordann Mullenax is the Regional Clinic Administrator for IRG-South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy in Washington State. She can be reached at Jordann.Mullenax@irgpt.com.

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