The biggest onboarding mistakes and how to avoid them
It is widely known that a highly engaged employee is more dedicated and more productive.
So why aren’t more companies committed to a thorough onboarding process?
Nerissa Chaux, Managing Partner of Brown & Chase Talent Acquisition & Advisory, says a lot of time and money goes in to finding the right person for a job so there is a lot of comfort to be had in making sure you have the right on-boarding process to fast-track them to a point where they are productive.
Onboarding, says Chaux, is much more than creating a good first impression, it is about laying the foundations for a strong, lasting and productive working relationship.
“If you have someone cemented in your business, who understands your business goals and objectives – and who feels part of the family – they want to come to work, they treat the business as if it is their own and you get more productivity out of them,” she says.
And, says Chaux, if you get it wrong, you are leaving your business at risk financially and competitively.
There are many reasons why onboarding should be done, but for many it is the how that brings them unstuck.
Onboarding is not training
One of the most common mistakes people make, says Emily Wilson, Managing Partner of FutureYou Executive Recruitment, is confusing training and on-boarding.
“Training is on systems, terms of business, on the product they may be being asked to sell,” says Wilson.
“Onboarding should focus on the building blocks of the company – the vision, values, culture and relationships.
“They are two very different things and they shouldn’t be tied together.”
The human element is key to onboarding successfully
Wilson says while the practical side is necessary – where the coffee machine is or an explanation of the organisational structure of the business – the key to onboarding success is in relationship development.
Be wary about sticking the new recruit in a boardroom for three days and having different people give presentations about need-to-know information.
She says your time would be much better spent taking them to meet the key stakeholders to develop those relationships early.
Wilson also recommends incorporating a social gathering during a new recruit’s first week – even if it is just for a sandwich in the coffee shop. It helps them understand the motivations of the team and its culture, so they can start to find where they fit and what ideas they can bring.
Chaux suggests connecting the new person with a mentor or a buddy. It doesn’t have to be someone in their team, it could be the receptionist or the head of the social committee – someone who knows everybody and who can point them in the right direction when they need information.
It is also important for that person to fill them in on the office traditions. If you follow casual Friday, give the new person a heads up. Chaux says put yourself in the shoes of the new person who is going to feel pretty uncomfortable if they turn up in corporate wear while everyone else is in jeans.
Make the time
Onboarding isn’t something that is over with in a day. A good process, says Chaux, begins the moment they sign the contract and keeps going for 3 - 6 months into their employment.
She says a quick phone call the week before they start to go over the basics, such as parking and starting hours, can settle new job nerves and let them know you value their arrival to the company.
Chaux says you don’t know what their current employer is doing to try to retain them, so setting up a good relationship with them before they even start at the company can ensure you don’t lose a good employee before they have even begun.
“I heard a story about someone who started on a Monday to find their manager was away sick and no one in the company even knew who they were or what they were there for. They didn’t even know their name so they sent them home – can you imagine how that person was feeling?” says Chaux.
Wilson says when someone is looking for a new job there are often two or three opportunities in the pipeline when they accept a role, so if you don’t take the time to ensure they are settled in and excited to be a part of your company you could find the temptation to explore another job offer could be too great.
Wilson says on-boarding needs to be the responsibility of the manager.
“Outsourcing it to someone else, such as an EA, is a wasted opportunity for that employee to develop a good relationship with their manager,” says Wilson.
She says too often people just assume everything is making sense and don’t bother to ask the new recruit what else they need to know.
“At the end of the first week ask them how they are feeling, what they have learnt and if they are coming back next week,” says Wilson. “If they are, it won’t be because they were shown where the coffee machine is, but because they have made strong connections.”
Chaux says you should check-in with the new employee at 30, 60 and 90 days so you can flag any potential issues early on, and set new goals for the next review.
Talking to them about a career development plan can show them you have invested in them as a person and believe they have a solid future with your company.
It is also a good opportunity to hear how fresh eyes see the company and if there are any suggestions for how you can improve things.
Everyone, says Chaux, should be given the same on-boarding treatment whether they are the receptionist or the new CEO.
“Everyone should feel they have a purpose and a place and be kept aware of the business goals. Everyone should understand where the company is headed,” she says.
First impressions last
Making sure they have a desk, their log-on is ready and they understand their goals is an obvious, but often overlooked, first step.
Chaux tells the story of a man who turned up to work for a senior position to find no business cards had yet been ordered for him.
“It doesn’t look professional and it doesn’t reflect well on the organisation,” says Chaux.
As a contrast, Chaux says the promotions company that left a bunch of flowers waiting on the desk of their new employee found that small gesture was still being talked about years later.
“Little things matter,” she says.
Andrew Jewell is the Principal Lawyer at McDonald Murholme, a company specialising in employment law.
He says during dispute resolution the employee’s first impressions are often raised.
Legally, he says it is very important to ensure you have clearly defined what the role requires and ensure they have been adequately trained to fulfill those requirements.
If you don’t get them integrated before their probation period is up you might find they have decided to take another job offer – and legally they have the right to walk out on you with a maximum of a week’s notice.
“I’ve been told it takes about three months before an employee is really profitable, so to have them walk away because you didn’t go through the process properly sets the business back a long way,” says Jewell.
“We hear a lot of things during a claim such as ‘I didn’t have somewhere to sit on my first day’ or ‘the role wasn’t what I expected’.
“If you on-board properly you can avoid these disputes at the back end.”