When an employee comes to work at your company, you naturally hope that person will immediately start making a contribution. But if you find that recent recruits are struggling, you may want to take a close look at your onboarding process. After all, every company is different and even the brightest people will need time to adjust to your culture and how you get things done.

Define objectives
The first and most important aspect of revamping your onboarding program is to decide on your objective. Here are three things to know about objectives:

  • Effective objectives describe the desired outcome. They represent a commitment: “Here’s what we pledge to accomplish.”
  • As you know, the best objectives are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound.
  • Of all the SMART attributes, measurable is most important (and often the most challenging).

What employees want
In revamping your company’s onboarding program, you first need to take a step back. Consider if your current program answers a universal set of questions that most employees want to know:

  • What business is our company in, and how do we stack up against the competition?
  • What’s our company history?
  • What is our company mission (why we exist) and vision (where we’re headed)?
  • Who’s in charge? What’s our current business structure, and who are the people on our management team?
  • Why should I care about these points? What’s in it for me?
  • How can I succeed here?

After answering these questions and before launching an onboarding plan, it’s important to first do research on employees’ preferences. The best research for this purpose is qualitative, which means conducting an open-ended dialogue with people. Here are some techniques to try:

  • Ask HR professionals from various businesses or locations what information new hires need to succeed.
  • Research why employees left the company within the first year.
  • Conduct a focus group with successful people in your company to find out which experiences and information helped them most when they were new to the firm.
  • Interview senior managers to see what they want every new person to know about the company.
  • Talk with representatives in key functions (Marketing, IT, Legal, etc.) to find out what they want new hires to know about their function.

Based on your research, you can set goals for your communication process and onboarding program, and then develop content and determine how to get additional feedback.

Manager communication
If your organization is like almost every other, you’ll find that the most important person in the onboarding process is the new employee’s manager. Your job is to make it easy for the manager to onboard the employee effectively. This starts with articulating the manager’s role, which includes:

  • Working with other groups to ensure the new employee receives the basics: a space to work, necessary materials, easy-to-use technology, etc.
  • Helping the employee understand expectations
  • Introducing the employee to everyone in the department — it’s important to meet all necessary co-workers on the first day
  • Sending an email to colleagues on the team with an overview of the new employee with facts such as previous work experience, skills, and fun facts — to make introductions run more smoothly
  • Providing meaningful work that the employee can do right away and giving prompt feedback, so the work gets done properly
  • Setting goals and providing coaching to help reach success

When you are defining the manager’s role, it’s important to remember that managers are action oriented. A manager’s main question is usually, “What do I need to do?” A good way to get the manager to understand his/her role is to create a playbook (or guide) that includes:

  • Steps involved in getting a new employee ready, with the supporting tools and information needed
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  • Detailed timeline that covers the entire process

Launching your orientation session
For as long as companies have existed, HR departments have been inviting new employees to spend at least a day learning about the company. But just because orientation sessions have been around a while doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make them more effective. Here are four ways to revamp your orientation process:

  1. Don’t treat orientation as a catchall for everything a new employee needs to know or do. The employee has to fill out forms, but those kinds of activities can be handled any time, including before starting the first day.
  2. Give new employees a forum to interact with each other. To give people a chance to get to know one another, you might schedule a couple of orientation programs a year and bring together employees from different departments/geographies. Building good relationships with colleagues from the start is an important step toward success for both the new employee and the company.
  3. Consider a virtual orientation. While it may be tempting to create an onboarding section on your website and move on, it’s not a best practice. Some of the most important advice a new hire receives will come from personal conversations, not by clicking one link after another. Research will help you determine what information will work best online and which needs to be in person.
  4. Break open the traditional boring agenda. If new employees have to sit still in their seats all day, listening to people lecture and watching PowerPoints, they won’t be excited about your organization. You’ve made a big investment in hiring these new people and bringing them together. An orientation session should be a motivating, participative experience.

Measure efforts
As with any newly implemented program/process, it is important to measure what’s been done and what to improve in the future. A few months after launch, host casual one-on-one interviews to gauge the effectiveness of your onboarding program. Then use the data to continually update and improve your program.

A comprehensive onboarding program will make a difference for all new employees. When you set employees up for success, they will make your company that much better.

Originally published on medium.com

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