During a catch-up session with a recruit, the oft-discussed point of a successful onboarding experience came up, which prompted me to reflect on my learnings over the years. Here are my key takeaways:
Successful onboarding starts with the hiring manager:
The hiring manager plays the most important role in the onboarding experience of a new employee. Typically, this is where the lapse happens. After the initial welcome meeting, the new employee is often told by the manager that the next catch-up will be after 30 days to discuss their observations and their 100-day plan. If the hiring manager does not invest in the new employee, who will? It is recommended that the hiring manager sets up weekly catch-up sessions, at the very least, to ensure an effective onboarding experience and any issues are promptly recognized and addressed.
The onus for this lies on both the recruit as well as the people they interact with. Many new hires are hesitant to ask questions or share views. Existing employees just assume, unconsciously, that the new kid on the block understands everything that is going on, even if they do not articulate everything! The key is to communicate, communicate, communicate - all the time.
Buddy / mentor:
The new employee is finding their feet, all the time. Existing employees have their day jobs as well. So, it becomes important to assign a go-to person for any queries the recruit may have. This can become a deal-breaker, so to speak. If the person does not get to know the informal rules & ways of working, they are very likely to be out of tune with the norms of the organization. This is where a buddy or mentor can help them read between the lines.
Often under-estimated, the simple effort of letting a person know company policies can help them navigate through the administrative machinery of an organization and help them be at their productive best once the honeymoon period is over.
Informal organization chart:
This is one where the onus is squarely on the recruit. The organization will take you through the formal organization structure. It is for the new joiner to figure out, through his interactions & observations, the informal organization chart – who are the players who matter? Whose views can help carry through a proposal? Six sigma rigor in terms of a RACI matrix or an ARMI structure can certainly help so that the person can quickly figure out promoters, detractors, etc.
Assumption to articulation – while most organizations have one-liners on their mission statements etc., typically, leaders are much more elaborate during townhalls, annual planning meets etc. It is extremely important to let the new employee know what the key missions are (going beyond the statements) for the organization, various departments etc. are. Very often, this is assumed. The key is to move from assumption to articulation.
All-pervasive but difficult to pin down on a piece of paper! This is the real test – if folks who have been in the company for many years cannot articulate what the culture is, how is the recruit expected to assimilate it? Also, this is dangerous territory – the oft-stated view “not the right cultural fit” needs to be probed and asked to be proven with data, to rule out any biases. Effective organizations get this right by placing the person in a variety of situations – with colleagues, with partners, in various scenarios etc. And, in order to get this right, a very high degree of meticulous planning is called for.
As you can see from the elements above, effective onboarding revolves around 2 pillars – human connect & meticulous planning. You get this right, you score on many parameters. An employee who is motivated right at the start will likely have a successful onboarding experience, which will be a huge saving on conducting a search again (interviewing, negotiating, hiring etc.) As Jim Collins said, great vision without great people is irrelevant. So, get on the bus!"