New Employee Onboarding: The Honeymoon Phase

October 8, 2012 — 6 Comments

OnboardingDan Miller estimates that the average job lasts about 3.7 years.  If your career experience has been at all typical, this means you’ve probably gotten the chance to “onboard” as a new employee many times.  The new employee onboarding process can be an adventure, for sure.  On one end of the spectrum, it can be the first of many great experiences. On the other end, it can leave employees wondering right off the bat if they made a huge mistake.  The reality is that onboarding presents each organization a grand opportunity to make a positive and lasting first impression on new joiners as they embark on their employment journey.

While it’s true onboarding is an art and not a science, are there some strategies positive onboarding programs utilize?  Whether you work in HR or not, here are some ways you can create or recognize a quality onboarding program:

Actually be prepared for the arrival of your new joiners.

If you invited a handyman to do work in your home, at the very least you’d make sure someone was home to let him inside.  And you wouldn’t invite him in only to leave him sitting in your living room until he got uncomfortable and starting looking for you to find out what work actually needed to be completed.  Unfortunately this is the rule in some organizations rather than the exception.  New employees show up their first day, are shown to their desk, and have to take the initiative themselves to figure out who their boss is, when their computer will arrive, and what they need to start working on.  You may consider having a workspace, equipment, and supervisor to be bare minimum requirements, but having these things lined up already gives you a slight head start.

Deliver a personal and welcoming first impression.

When many people think of orientation, they think of paperwork and boring presentations about company dress codes and evacuation procedures.  To make new joiners feel truly welcome, make sure the welcoming coordinator is a first-class host.  Make sure the initial presenter brings the energy.  And always highlight the vision and purpose of the organization above the administrative details.

Enlist executive participation.

At some point during the onboarding process, have an executive join the fray.  The executive might give one of the presentations or simply welcome the new joiners and talk about his or her experience or answer questions.  Have the executive share what he or she was thinking during the onboarding process.  This shows new joiners that from top to bottom, the organization is glad to have them there.  (This is especially relevant considering how relatively few people inform our views of any organization).

Help new joiners build connections quickly.

It stinks being the newbie.  Solve this dilemma for new joiners by helping them connect with other new joiners (for starters).  Emphasize the importance of building their network, beginning with their “start group.”  Additionally, provide them with short-term sponsors or “buddies” not in the reporting chain who can help them get acclimated quickly and answer questions.  Provide information on extra-curricular activities or opportunities where it is easy to get to know others in the organization.

Deliver a memorable experience.

A couple years ago I got to observe an onboarding pilot for FBI analysts.  On the last afternoon of the onboarding program, they were divided into groups and shown day-by-day news footage of the DC Sniper Case in 2002 and provided real-time tips as they had come in during the case.  Each group was then asked by a facilitator to give their input as to what they would conclude and do based on the real-time situation and information.  It was an energetic, gut-wrenching, and inspiring experience.  Do you think any of those new joiners went home that night to complain about their new lame employer?  I bet they couldn’t wait to tell someone what they got to do at their new job!

In the end, no matter how much the talent acquisition function invests in recruiting the “right” talent, not every new joiner turns out to be the right person and not every job is the right fit.  But just like two newlyweds should never have severe doubts about the relationship while on their honeymoon, new joiners should never have to question their choice of employment based on the onboarding experience.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or   follow him on Twitter.