Why It's Time to Dump Your Outdated and Impersonal Onboarding Process

It's critical that you get started on the right foot with new employees by developing an onboarding process that makes them excited -- not bored by – the idea of working for your company.
Why It's Time to Dump Your Outdated and Impersonal Onboarding Process
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The following excerpt is from Caroline Stokes’s book Elephants Before Unicorns. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound

An impersonal, grindingly slow onboarding process is an unnecessary elephant keeping your unicorns (aka star employees) from reaching their full potential. Think of the excitement you felt when you got the “yes” from your new hire. Think of the excitement the new hire feels. Her enthusiasm and passion are likely what impressed you when you met her. But now, all that energy grinds to a halt.

You want to take advantage of your new hire’s excitement and work to maximize it. You can do this from day one. Here are some tips to make the onboarding process more personal -- and a lot more enjoyable.

Related: The Biggest Mistake You Can Make When Hiring for a Job (and How to Fix It)

1. Automate whatever you can.

No one likes to waste time with repetitive data entry. Look into software to streamline your onboarding so that new hires don’t have to reenter information they’ve already given you.

2. Make it memorable.

Just because you and your unicorn are now in a committed working relationship doesn’t mean you should stop treating him with special care. How can you make your new hire’s first day memorable? Does your company have a quirky tradition that gets everyone in a loose, silly mood? Are you near an especially cool part of the city to which your new hire and his teammates can take a little field trip? You only have one first day at a new job. Do what you can to make your unicorn’s experience special from day one.

3. Connect new hires to the team before they start.

aving a connection to someone -- even a slight one -- can ease anxiety before a new venture begins. Is it possible for you to connect your new hire to their teammates before they start, via social media or some other tool? How can you encourage and incentivize your current team to reach out to the unicorn before his start date? Be creative.

If done right (rather than in a way that scares the new hire, the existing team, or both), your efforts can do more than simply make your unicorn feel welcome. If he feels more at home from the beginning, your unicorn is likely to deliver on his potential faster.

Related: Navigating Your Best Leadership Path with EQ

4. Begin before you begin.

Let’s take that previous suggestion a step further. Rather than just connecting a new hire to his team before day one, what else can be accomplished before the start date? If you don’t yet have technology that allows for a quick and easy, automated “paperwork crunch,” can you have your new hire fill out these forms before his first day? Just like a doctor’s office asks new patients to fill out forms ahead of their visit, you can have new hires get their paperwork out of the way before beginning work. Other information to consider delivering to the new employee before day one includes:

  • Employee directory (with pictures!)
  • Orientation plan
  • Information about their soon-to-be mentor
  • Details about the office location
  • The best spots to grab lunch, coffee, after-work groceries, dry cleaning, etc.

The more information your unicorn has, the more in control of the process he will feel.

5. Ask for feedback.

Hiring managers should consider developing a system for receiving feedback on the onboarding process, which will serve two purposes. First, candid feedback on what’s working and what isn’t will help you continually improve. Second, your unicorn will feel like his input is welcome from the very beginning. This will only work, of course, if you’re actually interested in the new hire’s feedback and communicate this openly. Most people are scared to give criticism, no one more so than a brand-new employee. Yet the faster you can get to a place of honest sharing with your new hire, the more quickly you’ll be able to drive toward goals together.

6. Embed coaching in your onboarding.

I once coached a new hire at a large tech company who had worked there for months without meeting with the hiring manager. Everyone was plowing ahead with the best intentions, attempting to do their work without actually having formed relationships. In cases like these, it’s helpful to have a coach or another third party say, “Everybody STOP!” I was able to fill this role, reminding the chief people officer that the new hire was an actual person! Without this official “coming together” time, that hiring manager might have simply viewed my client as a number on a spreadsheet (“How much are we spending on this person, anyway? Is he really worth it?”) rather than as a teammate whose personal success is crucial to the larger success of the company.

Related: Are You Wasting Employees' Talent? Here's How to Know

Everyone needs a coach in their first 100 days, although this will look different depending on your level in the company. CEOs need an executive coach. For lower-level employees, a mentor is a must. The key is for all parties -- the new hire, the mentor/coach, and the boss -- to come together and determine what metrics they are going to hold themselves to. What will success in the first 100 days look like? How will it be measured? In what areas does the new hire need to grow, and how can a coach help her get where she needs to be? Then regularly set aside some time -- at least once a week -- so that the new hire can have sessions with her coach or mentor.

Can you imagine how connected and supported your unicorn would feel with this system as part of the onboarding process? With seasoned professionals, there can often be a dangerous assumption that we’ve all done this before. The new hire will be fine on her own and will reach out if she really needs help. The “bigger” the job, the less importance is given to onboarding. But you can’t skip this crucial step. Employees who have strong relationships at work are more likely to stay and achieve their potential. The best way to help your unicorn feel supported is by showing her from day one that her team has her back.

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