Onboarding a New Employee – Part 1

The internal pressure for a onboarding a new employee and getting them to begin contributing right away is almost always very high. The need for someone with those skills was there even before the job was posted. While the search was progressing and the interviews were taking place, even more projects were flagged “for the new person.” And now that the person is finally on-site, with no commitments to speak of, just about everyone in the department has a “special project” for them.

As the manager of that new hire, the easiest thing to do is turn the new employee
loose and let them learn in real-time. It’s the “sink or swim” approach. Deep down, however, we all know that making someone learn the hard way is not the best way – even if the person was hired for their ability to “hit the ground running.” In reality, it’s your responsibility to create the conditions that will help the person contribute in meaningful ways. As busy as you and your co-workers are, it’s going to take time and effort to bring the new person up to speed. They need time to acclimate.

While it can be argued that employees are responsible for their own productivity, the new employee is in a unique situation. This is a person working at a distinct disadvantage. A new hire may very well have the necessary experience, job skills, and even existing knowledge of your industry, but they don’t know your company’s culture, your department’s work style, the processes co-workers use, the employee reporting structure and much more. Those are the things you need to help this new addition adjust to.

It all starts on day-one, when new employees are most prone to learning the wrong way to do something (behaviors that could lead to costly mistakes, and are almost always more difficult to unlearn later). Included below is a 9-step plan for a successful new hire onboarding program:


1. Make Sure the New Hire’s Workspace is Fully-Functional

If you want the newest member of your team to start contributing right away, make sure their workspace is fully functional a few days before they arrive. That includes computer, phone, office supplies, network access and more. Sit down and personally make sure these things are functioning before the new hire is on-site.

2. Avoid Overwhelming the Candidate with Paperwork on the First Day

The best way to deflate the enthusiasm of a new employee and distract them from learning is to push a big stack of new-employee paperwork in front of them on their first day. Instead, post this information online and provide the new hire with a link to it from a welcome email a week before they actually report for duty. That way, they can take the time to carefully review it, make decisions with their spouse, get questions answered, and show up for work with all that busy work out of the way. Once the new hire is on-site, take that opportunity to explain the unwritten rules, nuances and traditions (the things not included on the policy pages of the new-employee manual).

If most employees work 10-hour days during the week, and a seven-hour day on Friday, say so. If keeping a cluttered desk is frowned upon, explain that. If the CEO likes to pop in unexpectedly to see what people are working on, and you have some tips on how to best handle that, pass them along. Don’t make the new person learn the hard way.

3. Explain Why You Hired the Person (and how they’ll create value for the company)

Don’t assume the new employee understands why you chose them – or has a grasp of exactly what it is that you want them to really focus on. That’s just the kind of information that usually gets lost in the shuffle of interviews.
Be specific. Be honest. And narrow your comments to just two or three critical factors with a statement like, “We selected you for this position because you’re a standout at A and B. And we’re counting on you to use those skills not only to support C, but to also take the lead on D.”

If helpful, highlight the skills, experience and knowledge the new hire should be focusing on. Then, using the same clear and concise approach, explain how the person’s role will create value for the company. For example, “As the [job title], you’ll create a more direct link between A and B and, hopefully, decrease the time it takes for our department to deliver the applications they’re requesting.” That kind of information not only makes the new person feel proud, it also clarifies their role and provides them with a sense of job security (a vital building block for immediate productivity).

4. Clearly Describe What Sets the Company Apart from Others in the Industry

After confirming what makes your new hire so special, take some time to explain what makes the company a standout. As a candidate, the person surely researched your company and its position in the industry. But it’s up to you, the hiring manager, to set the record straight. Explain the company’s value proposition, and the key advantage(s) it holds over competitors. Be clear and specific. Create a sense of excitement, and give the new hire something big to believe in.


5. Map the Internal Customers the New Employee will Support

No job exists in a vacuum; and your new hire needs to understand who it is they’re supporting. Map out the new employee’s internal and external customers (not on a white board, but rather on something the employee can refer back to time and again). And take the time to explain the role and importance of each of those customers so the new person can effectively prioritize projects when all those constituents are asking for things at the same time.


6. Explain the Inner-Workings of Your Department

While there are likely some aspects of your IT operations that could be considered standard practice across any company, chances are your organization has its own quirks, processes and nuances. For a newcomer, it is helpful to know of these details right up front, in order to address any confusion or frustration that may arise during a hectic development cycle. These specifics could cover software and platform versions, peer-review cycles, sprint schedules or coding approaches; but being transparent about such topics up front can help to minimize issues and discrepancies down the road.


7. Introduce the Team

The sooner you can start building interpersonal relationships between the new hire and existing team members,
the easier it will be for the group to gel and increase productivity. Consider assigning a welcome mentor to make the introductions (someone who knows the team just as well as you, but has more time to make proper introductions). The person making the introductions should provide the following information for each member of the team:

  • The person’s job title and role in the department.
  • The expertise and skills the person brings to the team. For example, “Jake is our resident QA ninja. Believe me, if there’s a bug in the system, Jake will be the first to find it.”

Most people are too humble to provide this information on their own. However, do ask each member of the team to also share a personal insight about themselves (a favorite hobby, a recent personal accomplishment, etc.), which gives the new hire an entrée they can use to break the ice in future interactions. If your team is made up of more
than 15 people, consider posting headshots of each person, together with a summary of the information above, to an intranet site that all new hires can use to refresh their memory regarding who’s who. Also consider posting the contact information for helpful resources from other departments.

Onboarding a New Employee

If there are opportunities for the new hire to network with coworkers outside of the office (sport teams, a favorite bar, etc.) pass that information along, as well. The more interaction there is, the easier it will be for the newest member of the team to assimilate the corporate culture and start building rapport.


8. Establish Concrete, Immediate Goals

Nothing makes a new employee feel more like a valued member of the team than showing up on their first day of work to find a roadmap of tasks and projects they can focus on in their first quarter, their first month, the first week, even that very first day.

Day one

After meeting co-workers, completing any final paperwork and learning the layout of the office, there won’t be much time left. However, if you can think of a task that can be accomplished in a few hours, it’s a great way to get them contributing – and feeling more at ease – right away.

Week one and beyond

Any manager can toss hot projects at the new guy on an as-needed basis. However, a manager who truly wants to encourage success will create a project roadmap, a list of projects the new-hire will be expected to complete in their first week, month and quarter. Ideally, this roadmap will not only tackle necessary tasks, but also, ultimately, provide the new associate with the engagement they need to learn their new role and interact with key co-workers and customers.

Embed training

For the first few weeks, try to make each day a mix of training and accomplishment by breaking large tasks into manageable learnings. That way, the new person is always learning, and always producing.


9. Start Providing Feedback Right Away

Feedback is key for a new employee. Eager to please, they want to know when they’re doing well, and when things could be better. Try to provide small course corrections (“Next time, let me review your expenses before you turn them in to Accounting.”) and compliments (“I understand your presentation was a big hit today.”) on a daily basis. Then, at the end of the first week, have a sit-down discussion with the new hire. Ask for their honest feedback, and provide your own observations, advice and criticism.

In these situations, providing compliments comes easily for most managers, while criticism is more difficult. The best criticism is direct, honest and constructive. Don’t beat around the bush. Make clear what didn’t work, provide your opinion why, and make clear how you would like things handled differently next time.

After three weeks, provide your recruiter or staffing partner with an update. Let them know the specific areas where the new employee is meeting or exceeding expectations, as well as the areas where they are falling short. Honest, on- the-job feedback is the only way staffers can evaluate the processes and research used to recruit candidates. Target sometime around day 45 for a formal, written review that will go in the new hire’s employment file.

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