All new hires will always take three things away from their onboarding experience:
Whether you have an intentional program or not, and regardless of how long it takes, new hires will come away from their introductory period with a baseline for these categories. In the absence of a program designed to guide these three things, new hires will start their work using their old habits, any information or instruction that others at your company may or may not have given them, and any gaps will be filled in by their imagination – all for better or worse.
Onboarding is an ideal time to influence all of these things; the new hire’s world has changed dramatically – even if your business hasn’t – and those times of significant change make us a little vulnerable but also very open to new information and new habits. It is an excellent opportunity to establish the norms for your organization across these three categories, and you can do so by exercising just a little intentionality and effort.
What do you want your new hires to know after their onboarding?
Beyond the standard “compliance” knowledge they’ll need (HR paperwork, IT logins, etc), decide how much information and training your new hires need. A good way to think about it is to provide them with the “5 Ws and H” of their team:
- Who is on their team?
- Where is everyone located? (either in the office or geographically)
- When is everyone typically working/available?
- What are the team’s current goals?
- Why does the team have those goals? (i.e. How does the team fit into the business?)
- How does the team make and track progress towards those goals?
Some of those same questions can be extended to the organization as well for a more complete picture. They don’t need elaborate, finely detailed answers, either – just enough to orient the employee in their new surroundings.
Then decide the level of technical knowledge your onboarding program should bestow, and at what pace. Does it need to include:
- training resources?
- practice projects?
Is there any evaluation component?
What habits do you want them to come away with?
As they work through the onboarding stage, hopefully you’re checking in regularly to not only see how things are going, but also to add context and to set expectations. As the leader of a team, it is up to you to set the tone for the team. Anything you permit will become permissible for the team.
Author James Clear writes,
This is equally true of the processes you have set up for your team. The current status of your team is a direct result of the processes you’ve put (or left) in place and the habits you’ve permitted to form. If your onboarding program is designed with intent, and if you’re present and available as new hires progress through it, then you can use the opportunity to advise on the tools they should be using and the processes they should be following, which will quickly influence the habits they develop for their new environment. Absent a guiding presence in the program, new hires are left to fill in the gaps themselves, and that may or may not be what you want.
I’m not saying your onboarding program needs to dictate exactly what an employee does in every single moment; that would be a nightmare for everyone involved. I’m advising that you be aware of the critical habits for success on your team, and ensure your onboarding program intentionally encourages said habits.
What impression would you like them to come away with?
In addition to establishing their habits, your new hires are also forming a strong impression of the culture at this time. Every interaction they have is setting the tone for how it feels to get work done around here:
- Is this a democracy or a dictatorship or anarchy?
- Is this a relaxed team or an intense team?
- Is it safe to ask for help?
These (and many others) are the types of questions and uncertainties your new hires are feeling out as they integrate into the team. Once again, absent any other answers, they’ll just fill in the gaps with their imagination. And here yet again, you have an opportunity to reduce that uncertainty for them in the way you structure your program and interact with them and the team. Your actions especially will speak volumes during this time – more so than they will normally – so make sure they’re the right ones for your team.
Make sure they know the resources at their disposal, and give them the means to quickly establish the relationships that will lead them and the team to success.
Your current processes are perfectly designed to deliver your current team. If your new hires aren’t “hitting the ground running”, then it’s time to put some intent behind their onboarding.